Ibn Khaldun

Al-Muqaddimah (c. 2.25)

Places that succumb to the Arabs are quickly ruined

(...) The reason for this is that (the Arabs) are a savage nation, fully accustomed to savagery and the things that cause it. Savagery has become their character and nature. They enjoy it, because it means freedom from authority and no subservience to leadership. Such a natural disposition is the negation and antithesis of civilization. All the customary activities of the Arabs lead to travel and movement. This is the antithesis and negation of stationariness, which produces civilization. For instance, the Arabs need stones to set them up as supports for their cooking pots. So, they take them from buildings which they tear down to get the stones, and use them for that purpose. Wood, too, is needed by them for props for their tents and for use as tent poles for their dwell­ings. So, they tear down roofs to get the wood for that purpose. The very nature of their existence is the negation of building, which is the basis of civilization. This is the case with them quite generally.

Furthermore, it is their nature to plunder whatever other people possess. Their sustenance lies wherever the shadow of their lances falls. They recognize no limit in taking the possessions of other people. Whenever their eyes fall upon some property, furnishings, or utensils, they take it. When they acquire superiority and royal authority, they have complete power to plunder (as they please). There no longer exists any political (power) to protect property, and civilization is ruined.

Furthermore, since they use force to make craftsmen and professional workers do their work, they do not see any value in it and do not pay them for it. Now, as we shall mention, labor is the real basis of profit. When labor is not appreciated and is done for nothing, the hope for profit vanishes, and no (productive) work is done. The sedentary population disperses, and civilization decays.

Furthermore, (the Arabs) are not concerned with laws. (They are not concerned) to deter people from misdeeds or to protect some against the others. They care only for the property that they might take away from people through looting and imposts. When they have obtained that, they have no interest in anything further, such as taking care of (people), looking after their interests, or forcing them not to commit misdeeds. They often level fines on property, because they want to get some advantage, some tax, or profit out of it. This is their custom. It does not help to prevent misdeeds or to deter those who undertake to commit (mis­deeds). On the contrary, it increases (misdeeds), because as compared to getting what one wants, the (possible financial) loss (through fines) is insignificant.

Under the rule of (the Arabs), the subjects live as in a state of anarchy, without law. Anarchy destroys mankind and ruins civilization, since, as we have stated, the existence of royal authority is a natural quality of man. It alone guarantees their existence and social organization. That was mentioned above at the beginning of the chapter.

Furthermore, (every Arab) is eager to be the leader. Scarcely a one of them would cede his power to another, even to his father, his brother, or the eldest (most important) member of his family. That happens only in rare cases and under pressure of considerations of decency. There are numerous authorities and amirs among them. The subjects have to obey many masters in connection with the control of taxation and law. Civilization, thus, decays and is wiped out.

'Abd-al-Malik asked one Arab who had come to him on an embassy about al-Hajjaj. He wanted him to praise al­Hajjaj for his good political leadership (for the benefit of) civilization. But the Arab said: "When I left him, he was acting unjustly all by himself."

It is noteworthy how civilization always collapsed in places the Arabs took over and conquered, and how such settlements were depopulated and the (very) earth there turned into something that was no (longer) earth. The Yemen where (the Arabs) live is in ruins, except for a few cities. Persian civilization in the Arab 'Iraq is likewise completely ruined. The same applies to contemporary Syria. When the Banu Hilal and the Banu Sulaym pushed through (from their homeland) to Ifrigiyah and the Maghrib in (the beginning of) the fifth [eleventh] century and struggled there for three hundred and fifty years, they attached themselves to (the country), and the flat territory in (the Maghrib) was completely ruined. Formerly, the whole region between the Sudan and the Mediterranean had been settled. This (fact) is attested by the relics of civilization there, such as monuments, architectural sculpture, and the visible remains of villages and hamlets.