Friday, September 25, 2009

Before European Hegemony - Blog 3

Although the Papal injunction dictated that Christians should not trade with Muslims, their trade continued because the only land paths to the Indian Ocean were through Muslim territory. Egypt especially blocked Europeans from trading with the East, most likely because it was a way to reestablish power after the Crusades failed. Baghdad was the main intersection for trade, at least until the Mongols destroyed it. Location alone was not enough to stimulate the Gulf. However, the Islamic empire was so unified that it facilitated large amounts of trade. India was in the middle of everything, which forced all traders to go through it. However, they were not proactive enough to sustain this position. India had been completely satisfied to let traders come to it, but when its position was challenged, it did not have the manpower or military to counteract the charges. India could have become a hegemonic power if it had tried to expand, but it merely profited from its central location. Egypt and India both decreased in power after being weakened by the Black Death and other influences, but it was the Portuguese that defeated their fleets and took over the trade routes. Abu-Lughod then discusses China. China could easily have taken over, but it lacked the will to do so. China actually withdrew from the seas due to assorted reasons, including a desire to isolate itself from the tenets of the Mongols, such as involvement in international trade. This signifies the institution of the West as the hegemonic power. It is Abu-Lughod’s point that it was necessary for the East to fall before the West could rise. She also sufficiently defends the view that the West became the dominant power more as a coincidence, and it could have been another area that ended up being the hegemonic area. She points out that the West simply chose the correct time to attack the weakened East.

I thought it was very interesting to learn that capitalism developed so distinctly in the Islamic society. It had long been understood that Islam was adverse to capitalism. However, Abu-Lughod points out that numerous types of partnerships, contracts, and credit were created by Islamists, which is where the Italians garnered many of their techniques. I also found it interesting that the Portuguese seemingly came out of nowhere to destroy the Egyptians and Indians. It would have been intriguing to see how the Portuguese developed and why they chose that moment to enter the world trade system. I understand that it is part of Abu-Lughod’s mission to show what happened from an Eastern point of view, but I still would have liked to see this part from both sides.

The part that I would have liked to have been elaborated upon was how the Egyptians succeeded in blocking the European traders. Christians were forbidden to trade with Muslims, but that did not prevent that trade from actually occurring. I suppose it makes sense that that mandate was not followed while the other one was, since the first was not enforced with military action where the second one was. However, it seems like at least a handful of European traders still should have been able to slip through the cracks. If nothing else, since the trade with the East was so valuable, I would have expected a talented group of smugglers to have existed. Another point that I would have liked to know more about was the taxes that were instituted while India was the main crossroads. It has been pointed out that if India had established taxes then it could have made a much larger profit. However, some amount of taxes and costs for protection must have existed. It would have been interesting to explore the possibilities of what would have happened if India had changed its policies. For example, would India have lost a lot of its trade if it had instituted higher taxes, eventually leading to its downfall that way?

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