In Western accounts of the Middle East since 1789, Islam is often treated as a primary impediment to the spread of technology, science, and modern democratic values in the region. As a review of the historical record demonstrates, nothing could be further from the truth--for Islam encourages, and even demands, that Muslims acquire knowledge and reform society.
In this respect, the modern Middle Eastern experience stands in stark contrast to that of medieval Europe, where Christianity was indeed a real obstacle to intellectual progress. In Europe, where it first arose, the ideology of 'secularism' gave direction to a lengthy effort to emancipate humans from the hold of a corrupt religious institution. When the same ideology was belatedly introduced into the Middle East late in the nineteenth century, it became a tool of domination used to weaken local religious institutions as part of an effort to consolidate the cultural and social power of despotic authorities.