How have Middle Eastern Islamic communities been a "case study" for continuity and change over time in Guns, Germs, and Steel?

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The book does not make it easy to trace continuity and/or change for the Middle East during and after the rise of Islam. In general, Jared Diamond pays little attention to religion. Islam is mentioned only twice in the index, and Muhammad not at all. The index heading for Religion does not include any specific religions. What is generally known as the Middle East today is not discussed in those terms. His discussion of the Near East is largely in regard to the Fertile Crescent and the origins of civilization there, along with its spread out from what is now Iraq.

The mentions of Islam appear on pages 247 and 257. On 247, this occurs within a discussion of gunpowder and gasoline, or combustibles. The “medieval Islamic alchemists” had expertise at distillation, and were able to turn petroleum into “powerful incendiaries. “Delivered in grenades, rockets, and torpedoes, those incendiaries played a key role in Islam’s eventual defeat of the Crusaders.” He then mentions some gunpowder recipes. On 261, he tells us that “medieval Islam [was] centrally located in Eurasia” and that it obtained inventions from India and China and inherited ancient Greek learning.” No mention of Islam as a religion could be located, and he also does not mention the spread of Islam across North Africa.

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The answer to this can be found in Chapter 13.  One of Diamond’s main purposes in this chapter is to argue that people of one continent are no more or less willing to accept new technology than people of another continent.  Some historians think that some societies end up being  poor and weak because their cultures do not accept change and new technologies.  Diamond does not believe that this is true.

Instead, Diamond says that different societies on the same continent can have really different attitudes towards technology.  As he says on p. 253 of the paperback edition of the book

…the development and reception of inventions vary enormously from society to society on the same continent.  They also vary over time within the same society.

In other words, Diamond argues that the success of Europeans was not due to them being more receptive to change and the failures of Australian Aborigines cannot be blamed on their unwillingness to change.

Diamond says that the Middle East is an example of this.  He says that Islamic societies were way more advanced than European societies in terms of technology and education.  It was not until about 1500 AD, he says, that things changed and Muslim societies became less receptive.

Middle Eastern societies, then, are a good case study because they show that there is a great deal of change, and not much continuity, in how receptive societies are to technology.

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