The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise

Roger Kimball is, in my humble opinion, one of the best conservative wordsmiths out there, unparalled when it comes to culture. Via the weekly email newsletter from The New Criterion comes Kimball’s brief review of a new myth-busting book about Islam’s reign over Andalusian Spain:

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews Under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain, by Darío Fernández-Morera (Intercollegiate Studies Institute): “Islam,” said Barack Obama in his notorious speech at Cairo in 2009, “has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia.” In his forthcoming book The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews Under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain, Darío Fernández-Morera, who teaches at Northwestern University, shows in meticulous detail just how preposterous the story Barack Obama repeated is. In fact, in Andalusia, as in every place where the phrase “under Islamic rule” pertains, intolerance, segregation, formal inequality, and brutality were the order of the day.

Jews and Christians, Fernández-Morera shows, were second-class citizens in Spain, subject to the arbitrary and tyrannical whim of their Muslim conquerors for whom there was no disitinction between religious and civil law: sharia, Islam law, ruled all aspects of daily life. Fernández-Morera also shows that “the oft-repeated assertion” that Islam preserved and transmitted forgotten classical knowledge from Aristotle and other Greek thinkers “is baseless.” “Ancient Greek texts and Greek culture,” he points out, “were never ‘lost’ to be somehow ‘recovered.’”

You cannot read far into the academic literature on Muslim-controlled Spain without encountering the assertion that it represented “a golden age” of “enlightened rule” under the Umayyad dynasty in the latter half of the eighth century. Fernández-Morera shows that, on the contrary, “of all the dynasties of Islamic Spain,” the Umayyads were the cruelest and most energetic in their persecution of non-Muslims.

Inquisitions, beheadings, impalings, and crucifixions were rife, as were expropriations and the destruction of churches and synagogues. In a passage that might have been drawn from today’s news reports about the activities of ISIS, one scholar that Fernández-Morera quotes notes that the Muslim rulers of Andalusia “carried out indiscriminate beheading of prisoners of war.” Furthermore, in another passage that might be drawn from today’s headlines, we read that the Umayyad rulers “imposed brutal punishments on the dhimmis [i.e., the non-Muslims] who dared to openly proclaim their religious beliefs.” It was ever thus.

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise is a useful corrective to the emetic tripe about Islam being a “religion of peace” and “jihad” being essentially an effort of self-perfection that one hears endlessly repeated by people who should know better.

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