Northwestern University Scholar Dario Fernandez-Morera tilts at the windmill of the Andalusian Myth – and the myth topples.
I am in awe of The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain. Author Dario Fernandez-Morera, a Northwestern University Professor and Harvard PhD, argues that elite scholars are peddling a myth – that Islamic Spain, c. 711 AD -1492 AD, was a paradise. Fernandez-Morera's job is to expose historical realities. The main text is 240 pages. There are 95 pages of notes, a bibliography and an index. It was published in February, 2016 by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
This book is an intellectual boxing match. The author shreds not just one opponent, but a series of intellectual bigots, prostitutes and manipulators of the common man. Fernandez-Morera's biceps gleam as his lightning footwork and peerless preparedness dazzle. Our hero risks much, from hate mail to non-person status.
The reader is plunged into vast landscapes, international intrigue, arcane customs, and timeless heroism. One envisions veiled women and bejeweled slave girls, the smoking ruins of churches, enslaved, whipped Christians forced to carry their cathedral bells to be melted down to embellish mosques, heartbreaking suffering and eventual victory.
Fernandez-Morera allows the propagandists enough rope to hang themselves. All he has to do is quote them. Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, The University of Chicago, Boston University, Sarah Lawrence, Rutgers, Indiana University, Cambridge, Oxford, The University of London, NYU, Norton, Penguin, Routledge, Houghton Mifflin, the Pulitzer Committee, Tony Blair, Barack Obama, Carly Fiorina, children's textbooks, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, PBS, The New York Review of Books, First Things all are in the dock, tripped up in their own false testimony. The inclusion of First Things might surprise; it is a Catholic publication. In it Christian C. Sahner praises Muslims who "exhibited a surprising degree of religious flexibility" because they waited a few decades before razing the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Damascus, rather than destroying it immediately upon arrival. Really.
What is the propagandists' motive?
Follow the money. See, for example, Giulio Meotti's "Islam Buys Out Western Academia" See also the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University. Or the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies at Cambridge University. Or the Alwaleed Centre at Edinburgh University. Or the Abdallah S. Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization at Yale. Or the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown. The whorehouse cash register overflows with petrodollars.
Follow the pitchforks and torches. In 2008, Sylvain Gouguenheim, a French medievalist, published Aristotle at Mont Saint-Michel, arguing that the West is not in debt to Islam for awareness of Ancient Greek texts; most of those texts were preserved, translated, passed on and used by Christians. For that rather modest claim, Gouguenheim was subjected to an "academic exorcism."
And follow the agenda. The Middle Ages matter to propagandists for one reason only: today's projects. Al-Andalus proves that "Islam can effectively navigate a pluralistic world." Al-Andalus proves that there are no "essential differences" between Islam and the West. Al-Andalus proves that Israel can be replaced with a "Palestinian model in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims can live again under [Islam's] protection." And of course the Ground Zero Mosque was dubbed "Cordoba House" after a caliphate in Muslim Spain.
What tactics do the propagandists use in their publications?
They smear Christians. In one Oxford University Press book, Christians are "a fanatical fringe" resistant to "benefitting" from the great good fortune of living in Muslim Spain. How do the propagandists deal with the forty-eight Christian Martyrs of Cordoba? They mock them, pathologize them, and blame them for their own deaths. These dead were "troublemakers," "self-immolators," guilty of "extremism" for preferring death as Christians to life as Muslims. They were masochists who really wanted to be tortured and killed.
Pelagius was a young Christian boy desired by Abd-al-Rahman III. Pelagius, aka Pelayo, resisted. Islam's scholarly apologists don't condemn the caliph's desire to rape a child. They waste no time respecting the boy's pain – a pain that is representational of countless other kuffar boys raped, castrated, and killed, all in line with the rules of jihad. Rather they condemn Christians for "demonizing Muslims" and having hang-ups about man-boy sodomy. In this academic deflection, one hears echoes of the blame-the-victim response to the mass sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year's, 2016, or the 2015 order to US soldiers to ignore "boy play" in Afghanistan – a "boy play" that in one instance involved a child sex slave chained to a bed. "We can hear them screaming," one Marine reported. Respect their culture, he was told.
Another scholarly method of obeying Saudi paymasters and distorting the past: leave out significant details. One book, published by an Ivy League University Press, "makes no mention of stoning, female circumcision, crucifixion, beheadings, or sexual slavery."
Muslims called Christians "pigs." The peddlers of the Andalusian Paradise myth omit mention of that telling tidbit. They mention "delightful Andalusian love poetry" without mentioning that it was written about non-Muslim sexual slave girls, not about love between free, adult, Muslim men and women. They leave out the market price of slaves; these numbers speak volumes. A male black slave commanded a much lower sum than a white girl – obviously a man can do more labor than a girl. If these slaves were bought primarily for labor the prices would be reversed. Muslim rulers stockpiled thousands of such slaves in their harems. "Kiz," a Turkish word used for a sexual slave girl, came to mean "Christian woman." "Sakaliba," in Arabic, is from the word for "Slav," commonly the ethnicity of enslaved persons. "All the Slav eunuchs that one finds on the face of the earth come from Spain," a Muslim wrote. Blacks were held in similar contempt. A Muslim in Toledo wrote, "They lack self-control and steadiness of mind and are overcome by fickleness, foolishness, and ignorance."
Islam's apologists leave out the ethnic cleansing of Christians, including, in one event, the mass deportation of twenty thousand families to Africa. They omit mention of how hierarchical and stratified Muslim Spain was, with Arab Muslim males at the top and their various victims occupying lower ranks. Non-Arabs who converted to Islam were not equal, nor were their children. Three hundred such Muslims with Christian ancestors were crucified. Five thousand were beheaded. After one such expression of "tolerance," an Andalusian poet celebrated the "massacre" of "sons of slaves. They had as relatives only slaves and sons of slaves." Remember – the dead were Muslim. But their ancestors were Christian non-Arabs – thus the epithet, "Sons of slaves."
Another method of airbrushing the past: simply ignore inconvenient material. Ignore material published by a military historian. Ignore material in any language but English. Especially ignore material written in Spanish. And ignore contemporaneous Christian accounts.
There's another support for the Andalusian Paradise myth that Fernandez-Morera does not dwell on. Audiences tend to apply to medieval Spain the context of the twenty-first century West. European Christians in 711 were not former imperialists whose languages, English and Spanish, dominated entire continents. Jews were not powerless, nor were Muslims. Europe in this era was still a place where Christians were murdered for being Christian, by Pagans as well as Muslims. In 614, during a Persian invasion, Jews massacred Christians in Jerusalem. Jews were among the most prominent slave traders. At times, Jews allied with Muslims against Christians in Spain. Propagators of the myth dub Muslim institutions dedicated to memorization and study of the Koran "universities." They weren't universities. They are more properly labeled "madrassas."
One might ask, if all the best universities in the world insist that the Andalusian Paradise is truth, not myth, isn't Fernandez-Morera the conspiracy theorist? In the same class as the guy who insists that the government is hiding alien bodies at Area 51?
Fernandez-Morera, with the command of an Olympian fencer, deploys the best weapons of scholarship. He rescues the scholarship that Political Correctness has reduced to the status of a streetwalker. He pulls her up, cleans her up, and reminds her of her better days. He uses research and objective facts to make his case. Nothing could be more transgressive in academia today. His facts carry the thunderous voices of long-silenced cathedral bells.
Reading this book, I felt as if I were running after a speeding freight train. It's an exhilarating experience. Fernandez-Morera's exhaustive notes reference material in at least eight languages. Fernandez-Morera cites ancient and modern works, scholars he agrees with and those he excoriates. He strikes sparks between ancient texts and up-to-the-minute news accounts – including the 2016 American presidential race. He uses primary texts, for example Muslim legal documents. He quotes scurrilous satire and epic sagas. Given his breadth of knowledge, all that's missing from the bibliography are citations to the personal emails he exchanged with Cervantes, Maimonides, Teresa of Avila and El Cid.
In the midst of his educating his reader about contemporary blatant lies and richly rewarded liars, past massacres and crucifixions, Fernandez-Morera remains, as true scholars do, utterly calm. Never does he resort to hate-mongering, or hyperbole. He acknowledges Catholics' discrimination against Arians and Jews. He does not indulge in a lazy, sloppy, relativism: "Everybody did it." He systematically and frankly compares Muslims, Christians, and Jews, including mainstreams and minorities in each group. There is nothing in Medieval Christian Europe to compare to Al-Andalus' slavery, harems, treatment of women, or huge number of beheadings, he insists. While Jews and Christians also discriminated against each other and against their own minorities, only in Islam does he find the thorough, universal, scripturally protected, implacable structure of dhimmitude.
Fernandez-Morera divides the Andalusian myth into seven claims. Quoted material below is found in influential scholarly texts.
- The movement of Muslims into Spain was a "migratory wave." Jihad "is not a motivating factor." Jihad is an "inner struggle" "to resist temptation and overcome evil."
- Christian Europe was "an arena of unceasing warfare in which superstition passed for religion and the flame of knowledge sputtered weakly." The Christian inhabitants of Europe were rednecks. "The men of the woods never strayed far from there." They lived in "gloom and depression," "dramatic decline," "decadence," and "decomposition." Charlemagne could not write his own name.
- The Muslim Conquest brought "flowering" Islam to Spain. Al-Andalus "was a beacon of enlightenment to the rest of Europe … among its finest achievements was its tolerance … in keeping with the principles of the Koran." The Koran is a "monument of tolerance." "Moorish leaders helped to build Christian houses of worship." Unburdened by priests, Muslims were "animated by equality … and respectful of all religious faiths." Their Islam was typified by a "pan-confessional humanism." Were it not for its "abortion" by the Spanish Inquisition, today's Islam would reflect Al-Andalus' fully "reformed" version. In short, Muslims were "full of wit and fire, always in love, writing verse, fond of music, arranging festivals, dances, and tournaments every day."
- The Umayyad Dynasty was "enlightened" and "tolerant."
- Muslim Spain was a feminist utopia. "Ninety-nine percent" of European Christians were illiterate but Muslim women "were doctors and lawyers and professors." Today it is Western polices that create "the harsh conditions in which distant others live," including Muslim women. "We [the West] are all implicated."
- "Jews lived happily and productively in Spain."
- Muslim Spain was a fairyland for Christians. "Neither churches nor monasteries were directly threatened." Muslim Spain was "a place of refuge." Christians "were treated well" and "allowed to worship freely." Muslim Spain "nourished" Christians.
Fernandez-Morera corrects these claims.
The Muslim Conquest of Spain was a ruthless, religiously-sanctioned Blitzkrieg that was recorded, in the words of one jihadi war criminal, as his bringing "Judgment Day" to his victims. Invaders, not peaceful immigrants, burned all the churches in their path and pilfered the wreckage to build their mosques that were, as Muslim chroniclers attest, inferior in construction and design to the Christian monuments they replaced. Jihadis expressed their lust for sexual slaves as war booty and their "love of death." One "burned in his desire to hurt" Christians. Libraries were burned, as in Zoroastrian Persia and Christian Alexandria. Jihadis butchered Christian corpses and boiled the meat in cauldrons. Crosses were so abhorrent that looting Muslims had to shatter them before distributing their gold as booty.
No, indigenous Christians in Spain were not extras in the cast of Deliverance. Their culture was more advanced than that of the invaders; the invaders said as much in their histories, boasting of the eye-popping wealth and meticulous crafts they looted, and the great beauty and refinement of the women they carried off to be raped. Ibn Khaldun commented on the ignorance of Arabs and the low level of their culture, and how they needed Christians and Jews to handle their affairs.
In 981, Al-Mansur demolished Leon. He left one tower standing as testimony to the high quality of the city he was able to destroy. This anecdote tells the reader much about the resumes of jihadis, from Al-Andalus to the World Trade Center, the Bamiyan Buddhas, and Palmyra.
Fernandez-Morera writes that the popular idea that Islam preserved classical knowledge and passed that knowledge on to Christian Europe "is baseless." He reports that Arabs were astounded by the knowledge of the ninth-century Saint Cyril. Cyril replied that the Muslim Arabs were like someone who carried around a container of ocean water and thought he was pretty special. Eventually he met a Greek who lived on the coast and who told him that to brag of such a container would be crazy; his homeland possessed an endless abundance of sea water.
In his chapter on the daily reality of life in Al-Andalus, Fernandez-Morera pays much attention to Muslim law. Any questioning of Islam or Mohammed could result in being tortured to death. Simple pleasures like wine, garlic, pork, silk and music were condemned. Muslim judges ordered that musical instruments in private possession be confiscated and destroyed. There was music – in spite of condemnation. Musicians were often non-Muslim slaves.
Christians and Jews were polluting and extra care was taken to avoid contact, even with utensils once used by a Christian or Jew. Christians must not even walk past Muslim graves; in doing so, they pollute the dead. Muslims must not accept Christmas invitations or greetings. Once a Jew took water from a well, Muslims refused to use that well.
Physical and cultural alienation of one group from another surpassed co-existence; this is reflected in language. Only six percent of Spanish words have Arabic roots; by comparison, thirty percent of the words in English, a Germanic language, have French roots, as a result of the Norman Conquest of 1066.
I often had to take a breather while reading the chapter on the tolerant Umayyads. "The celebrated Umayyads elevated religious and political persecutions, inquisitions, beheadings, impalings, and crucifixions to heights unequaled by any other set of rulers before or after in Spain," Fernandez-Morera writes. They even crucified the dead, disinterring corpses of alleged Christians in order to desecrate them. They crucified fellow Muslims – at one point, seventy-two Muslim scholars of religious law.
Crucifixions were stage-designed to be "spectacular" and cause onlookers to "faint with horror." Some victims were sliced to death slowly: first hands, then feet, then heads. One victim was crucified on the Cordoba palace door. The corpses of black children hung from a well's ropes as a counterweight.
Innovation is condemned in Islam and innovators were found out and eliminated. A Muslim historian praised this surveillance: spies "penetrate the most intimate secrets of the people, so that [Abd al-Rahman III] could know every action, every thought of good and bad people … the explicit and hidden vices of the … population … God showered gifts upon him … because of his … subjugation of men … to interrogate the accused and carry out an Inquisition against them … terrifying them and punishing them severely." That same Abd al-Rahman III, the "servant of the most merciful," declared that Muslims deviating from strict adherence "deserve extermination."
Al-Andalus was no paradise for women. Consider just this one law. A man who buys a non-Muslim sex slave must mutilate her genitals. Does that fact not tell you volumes about Muslim Spain? Muslim Spain ran on slaves; one of its main exports was slaves. Countless thousands were castrated.
Islamic law tells the rest of the story: the veiling, the stoning, the paralyzing, silencing, and erasing command that a woman requires a male relative to go out in public or to speak for her. "A Muslim wife" a legal manual instructs, is permitted "to have fun with other women with whom there are not men – but only during the day and only once a week." Many of the celebrated women of Muslim Spain were slaves. They were allowed skills and education it would be unseemly for a Muslim woman to exercise. Female "doctors" were probably the ones to perform FGM. Averroes put it succinctly, "Women are used only for procreation."
Life for Jews was also not a bed of roses. Islamic law and custom held Jews in contempt. Jews had to know their place. When they rose too high, they and their coreligionists were killed. Muslim Spain managed to extirpate Christian populations in the area under its control. "When Christians entered Granada in 1492, there were no Christian dhimmis in the city."
Those Christians and Jews who were allowed to live were not allowed to live out of any concept of "tolerance." Umar was Mohammed's father-in-law, companion, and successor. His title is "Farooq," he who separates right from wrong. Umar explicitly stated that Muslims must keep Christians and Jews alive in order to parasitize them. "The Muslims of our day will eat from these people as long as they live … our sons will eat their sons forever." How? Through jizya, the tax on Christians and Jews.
Future editions of The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise would be enhanced by the following changes. Fernandez-Morera does not mention Edna Bonacich's pioneering work on middelman minorities. He should.
Full-color illustrations would also enhance the book. What did the Basilica of San Vicente look like before it was destroyed by Muslims? Illuminated manuscripts, maps, construction styles: all could be depicted in images as well as words. A glossary of the many non-English terms, and a timeline, with dates, milestones, and personages, would also be helpful.
Fernandez-Morera's ninety-five pages of footnotes, in eye-straining tiny print, contain much that really should be in the main text of the book itself. Yes, the book is a streamlined, accessible read, and including the footnote material might make the main text longer and its route a bit more circuitous, but there is much in the footnotes that even a casual reader should not miss.