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Editorial: The Rise and Fall of Civilizations
May 1, 2017

Many past civilizations believed – and in fact many still believe – that a solar eclipse was an omen of a great event, be it for evil or good.Some believed the eclipse happened because a deity swallowed the sun. Others blamed beasts, wolves, and even frogs for the sun’s temporary vanishing. Babylonians would replace their king after an eclipse, as they thought it was bad for a ruler. In the Shakespearean drama Othello, the eponymous character expected a solar or lunar eclipse after the loss of his wife, Desdemona.

Considering the limited astronomical technology these civilizations had, it would be unfair to expect our ancestors to know that an eclipse was just the moon coming between the Earth and the sun. But for believers, regardless of time or circumstance, nothing happens without a purpose. A celestial event as big as an eclipse can, at the very least, inspire a sense of awe in all of us. We are reminded how easy it is for darkness to descend upon our lives. But we are also aware that just as the eclipse doesn’t last for long, these periods of darkness will also pass. The light will return.

This issue’s lead article uses an eclipse as a metaphor for a reason. For the author, Fethullah Gülen, a real eclipse is not a celestial event, but when we are faced with weaknesses like “contempt for values, addiction to pomp and vanity, avarice and indulgence in pleasures, worldly ambitions and wishfullness for eternal life in this world, Machiavellianism … outrageous indifference, embarrassing heedlessness, being silent like in the face of sheer injustice, and closing our ears to the uproars of despots and oppressors and to the cries of innocents and victims.” Yet Gülen believes that if there are a few souls devoted to lofty ideals, who are patient and seek the Divine good pleasure, then there is always hope; and eclipses, however long they may last, will eventually end.

Complementing the lead article, Alice Bolton writes on Ibn Khaldun’s theory that a life of luxury is enough to bring down even the strongest civilizations. Considered the first sociologist in history, Ibn Khaldun argued that group solidarity is vital to political power. He believed that the sedentary lifestyles of urban city life gradually erode a society’s togetherness, eventually leading to civilizational collapse. Bolton introduces readers to the life and influence of this remarkable social scientist, whose theories seem relevant to many nations today.

Timbuktu provides a good example of Ibn Khaldun’s theory. Located today within the borders of Mali, in West Africa, Timbuktu was once a remarkable center of learning and trade, which West Africans perceived as a cultural and economic capital equal to “Rome, Fez, and Mecca.” Adam Penale, from the University of Buffalo, shows how Timbuktu rose to the heights of a vibrant center of education, only to fall into a city of sand and dust.

One country currently facing such serious “civilizational” problems is Turkey. In this issue, Fr. Thomas Michel of Georgetown University writes on the complicated recent situation in Turkey, especially with regards to the ruling Erdoğan regime and the Hizmet Movement. Under normal circumstances The Fountain does not cover politics as we have done in the last few issues. However, over the last few years, the Erdoğan regime has banned The Fountain – as well as hundreds of other media outlets – in Turkey. This obliges us not only to defend our rights in terms of freedom of the press and free enterprise, but also to give voice to those persecuted simply for being associated with the Hizmet Movement. We hope this tyrannical regime will soon be over, and we will not need to cover such stories any more in our future issues.