Camels and Wheels

I read through Martin Amis’s long piece in yesterday’s Observer, and was struck by one thing in particular: he writes in the third part that

The tradition of intellectual autarky was so robust that Islam remained indifferent even to readily available and obviously useful innovations, including, incredibly, the wheel. The wheel, as we know, makes things easier to roll; Bernard Lewis, in What Went Wrong?, sagely notes that it also makes things easier to steal.

It’s a while since I flipped through a book called The Camel and the Wheel by Richard Bulliet that deals with the fascinating story of the disappearance of wheeled transport from the post-Roman Middle East, but I don’t remember the story there having much to do with the “intellectual autarky” of the Islamic world, and a glance at this article, in which Bulliet summarises his argument, suggests that my memory’s working along the right lines.

So is anyone seriously making the case against Bulliet that Muslim “intellectual autarky” (rather than the good old-fashioned historical materialist reasons of geography, political economy and camels) was a major cause of the collapse in the use of the wheel (whose decline, in any case, predated the rise of Islam), or is this just becoming something people like Bernard Lewis and Martin Amis can say in order to make the Islamic world sound more unreasonable than it in fact was?