Islam in Europe: Lessons from Medieval Spanish
Why all of Macron’s measures against “extremism” are doomed to failure.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
A critical question arises in light of the recent spate of fatal terror attacks in France and other European nations: How do you once and for all eradicate “extremism” from Muslim communities living in the West?
Western leaders usually respond by citing anything and everything from new “initiatives” meant to foster closer relations between Muslim communities and their host nations, to surveillance measures of hot spots and mosques.
Lamentably, history has already proven that even much more draconian measures against Islam—of the sort that modern Western man cannot even conceive let along implement—are doomed to failure.
Consider the historical experiences of France’s neighbor, Spain. In the eighth century, Muslims from Africa invaded and brutally conquered the Iberian Peninsula. Christians were massacred and subjugated; churches were destroyed and/or converted to mosques. By the late fifteenth century, however—after centuries of wars to liberate Spain from Islam (AKA, the Reconquista)—Christian rule finally extended to every corner of the peninsula.
Muslims, however, remained, mostly centered in Granada. Originally, they were given lenient terms: Muslims could continue practicing their religion, enforce sharia in their own communities, and even travel freely.
Even so, whenever the opportunity arose, Muslims rebelled and launched many hard-to-quell uprisings, some “involving the stoning, dismembering, beheading, impaling, and burning alive of Christians.” Muslims also regularly colluded with foreign Muslim powers (e.g., North Africans, Ottoman Turks) in an effort to subvert Spain back to Islam.
Fed up with this “enemy within,” the Spanish crown finally decreed in 1501 that all Muslims had two choices: convert to Christianity or leave Spain. The motivation was less religious and more political; it was less about making Muslims “good Christians” and more about making them “good citizens.” So long as they remained Muslim—thereby operating under the highly divisive doctrine of “loyalty and enmity”—they would remain hostile and disloyal to Christian Spain; and because secularism, atheism, multiculturalism, or just general “wokeness,” were not options then, the only practical way Muslims could slough off their tribalism and be loyal to a Christian kingdom was by embracing its faith.
Spain’s entire Muslim population—hundreds of thousands of Muslims—responded by openly embracing Christianity while remaining crypto-Muslims, in keeping with the Muslim doctrine of taqiyya. It teaches that, whenever Muslims find themselves under infidel authority, they may say and do almost anything—denounce Muhammad, receive baptism and communion, venerate the cross—as long as their hearts remain true to Islam. So, in public, these newly converted “Christians” went to church and baptized their children; at home, they recited the Koran, preached undying hate for the infidel, and plotted how to destroy Christian Spain.
That these “Moriscos”—that is, self-professed Muslim converts to Christianity who were still “Moorish,” or Islamic, as they came to be known—went to great lengths to foist their deception cannot be doubted, as explained by one historian:
For a Morisco to pass as a good Christian took more than a simple statement to that effect. It required a sustained performance involving hundreds of individual statements and actions of different types, many of which might have little to do with expressions of belief or ritual per se. Dissimulation [taqiyya] was an institutionalized practice in Morisco communities that involved regular patterns of behaviour passed on from one generation to the next.
Despite this elaborate masquerade, Christians increasingly caught on: “With the permission and license that their accursed sect accorded them,” a frustrated Spaniard remarked, “they could feign any religion outwardly and without sinning, as long as they kept their hearts nevertheless devoted to their false impostor of a prophet. We saw so many of them who died while worshipping the Cross and speaking well of our Catholic Religion yet who were inwardly excellent Muslims.”
Christians initially tried to reason with the Moriscos; they reminded them how they became Muslim in the first place: “Your ancestor was a Christian, although he made himself a Muslim” to avoid persecution or elevate his social status; so now “you also must become a Christian.” When that failed, Korans were confiscated and burned; then Arabic, the language of Islam, was banned. When that too failed, more extreme measures were taken; it reached the point that a Morisco could “not even possess a pocketknife for eating with that did not have a rounded point, lest he savage a Christian with it.”
A Muslim chronicler summarizes these times: “Such of the Muslims as still remained in Andalus, although Christians in appearance, were not so in their hearts; for they worshipped Allah in secret. . . . The Christians watched over them with the greatest vigilance, and many were discovered and burnt.”
Such are the origins of the Spanish Inquisition (which, contrary to popular belief, targeted more Muslims than Jews). For no matter how much the Moriscos “might present the appearance of a most peaceful submission,” a nineteenth century historian wrote, “they remained nevertheless fundamental Musulmans, watching for a favourable opportunity and patiently awaiting the hour of revenge, promised by their prophecies.”
Thus, when a rumor arose in 1568 that the Ottoman Turks had finally arrived, Spain’s crypto-Muslim fifth column, “believing that the days under Christian rule were over, went berserk. Priests all over the countryside were attacked, mutilated, or murdered; some were burned alive; one was sewed inside a pig and barbequed; the pretty Christian girls were assiduously raped, some sent off to join the harems of Moroccan and Algerian potentates.”
In the end, if Muslims could never be loyal to infidel authority—constantly colluding and subverting, including with foreign Muslims—and if conversion to Christianity was no solution, then only one solution remained: between 1609 and 1614, all Moriscos were expelled from the Peninsula to Africa, whence Islam had first invaded Spain nearly a millennium earlier.
This decision was not taken lightly. Many Christians in Spain—and the pope in Rome—deemed it too harsh; some suggested the castration of all Morisco males as an alternative. Yet, in the end, the monarchy concluded that there was no other guarantee against the constant subversions and sporadic bouts of terrorism than the complete elimination of Islam from Spain.
The point here is that Spain did everything humanly possible to get its Muslim population to assimilate and forsake their hate for Christian “infidels”—including by forcing them to convert to, and their children to be born in, Christianity, and monitoring their commitment—and even that was not enough, thanks to the dispensation of taqiyya, which still informs much of Europe’s Muslim population.
As such, surely any and all “anti-extremist” measures France and other Western nations take—none of which will ever be anywhere near as extreme as premodern Spain’s, and most of which currently revolve around silly platitudes such as “They will not divide us,” to quote Macron after a beheading—are doomed to failure.
Note: Quotes in the above narrative were excerpted from and documented in the author's Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West. Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.