As history and human experience proves, utopia can never be achieved, and islam is not peace.
A Myth Demolished
by Srdja Trifkovic
The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise:
Muslims, Christians, and Jews Under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain
by Darío Fernández-Morera Wilmington, DE: ISI Books 336 pp., $29.95
Over the past two decades a great chasm has opened up between the tenured American professoriate specializing in the humanities and social sciences, and the meaningful discussion of its subjects in the public arena. It is hard to find a recent work by an academic authority on social, historical, and cultural anthropology in general, or on the specific issues of religion, family, race, immigration, education, gender, and sexuality, that is not “informed” by the legacy of critical theory and its conceptual and methodological framework. The authors may divide themselves into different “schools” (constructivist, postmodern, poststructuralist), but they are all initiates of the same sect.
Almost a century after Julien Benda coined the phrase, the trahison des clercs has morphed into a new form. By rejecting the notions of objectivity, truth, and historical reality in favor of the approved forms of ideological “antihegemonistic discourse,” the treasonous clercs of our time have severed the link between what can or should be known and the knowledge itself. The result is a myriad of myths covering every area of human endeavor, past and present. Some have had far-reaching political consequences: The myth of “diversity” has engendered a massive state apparat dedicated to social engineering and control, while the chimera of “human rights” has produced an assault on the institution of marriage hardly imaginable a generation ago. What they all have in common is their visceral antipathy to Western civilization, and to the Christian concept of personhood (dignitas personae) and its related historical “constructs.”
Seen against this cultural and ideological backdrop, Darío Fernández-Morera’s Myth of the Andalusian Paradise is doubly subversive. It is a first-rate work of scholarship that demolishes the fabrication of the multiethnic, multiconfessional convivencia in Spain under Muslim rule. The book is also an exposé of the endemic problems of contemporary Western academe, as manifested in the dishonesty, corruption, and dogmatic intolerance of the Islamic-studies establishment both here and in Europe. The author ascribes this phenomenon to a mix of “stakeholder interests and incentives,” “motivated blindness,” “Occidentalism” and “Christianophobia,” and to the corrosive influence of the multimillion-dollar grants that many leading Islamic-studies departments receive from the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and others.
Fernández-Morera’s book presents a clear and present danger to the “stakeholders.” It undermines one of their cherished orthodoxies so comprehensively that it potentially threatens many careers and reputations. They will take note. An optimistic reviewer has predicted that “[i]t will soon find its place on the shelves of premier academic institutions,” but there is reason to fear the opposite. It is more likely to be demonized, as Sylvain Gouguenheim’s debunking of the myth of Islam’s key contribution to the late-medieval civilization of Europe was demonized in France in 2008; or else ignored, as Raphael Israeli’s prescient Islamic Challenge in Europe was in that same year and after.
The book’s seven chapters deal with the Islamic conquest and subsequent Christian reconquest of Spain; the jihadist destruction of the nascent Visigothic civilization; the daily realities of al-Andalus; the myth of Ummayad tolerance; and the condition of women, Jews, and Christians. Each chapter starts with two or three quotations by prominent academic authorities asserting some elements of the myth, which Fernández-Morera proceeds to discredit point by point. His narrative is supported by massive research: There are 95 small-font pages of Notes, citing hitherto unknown or neglected Muslim, Christian, and Jewish primary sources. Fernández-Morera also relies on dozens of scholarly monographs and articles, many of them published in Spanish and duly ignored—with breathtaking arrogance—by the promoters of the establishmentarian narrative who write in English.
In dealing with the central myth—religious tolerance, the harmoniously multicultural coexistence of Muslims, Jews, and Christians who willingly accepted the enlightened order, and the civilizational flourishing of al-Andalus—Fernández-Morera refutes a host of subsidiary postmodern myths and historical judgments, which now serve as canon law for Western academia. They include: Generations of medieval Muslim scholars and warriors failed to grasp the Koran’s true message of peace and tolerance. They also misinterpreted jihad as a divinely ordained duty to wage perpetual war against infidels, rather than as inner spiritual struggle for moral improvement. Old Muslim chronicles (primary sources, or “texts embellished by legends, serving political and religious agendas”) should not be taken at face value when they celebrate violent conquest, murder, and subjugation of infidels. On the other hand, those same chronicles are completely reliable when they celebrate the splendor of the civilization of al-Andalus, or denigrate El Cid as a sordid mercenary. The political and social change in Iberia in the first half of the eighth century was not a “conquest” but an “expansion,” similar to spontaneous migratory processes through the ages. A primitive Visigothic realm collapsed swiftly because it had reached an advanced stage of social decomposition and was devoid of any excuse for continued existence. The expansion was facilitated by peaceful pacts, generously offered by the new authorities and willingly accepted by many natives. That expansion was materially rather than religiously motivated, and it certainly had nothing to do with the misunderstood notions of jihad. By contrast, the Reconquista was a ruthless war of aggression waged by greedy Christian zealots who were unrelated to the inhabitants of pre-Islamic Iberia, and who replaced tolerance with the Inquisition and ethnic cleansing. And in speaking of all of this, we should refer to Iberia, which evokes a diverse entity comprising Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Arab, European, and other “essences,” rather than Spain, which is an inherently Euro/Christocentric name for something that did not exist at the time. (Islamic Spain is right out!)
Space does not allow us to list all of the fables—some bizarre, others laughable, most of them infuriating—that Fernández-Morera dispatches with unassailable logic and ruthless efficiency. Occasionally, his joy at getting the job done almost radiates from the printed page.
The book ends with a short Epilogue that summarizes the record: In Islamic Spain there was no tolerant convivencia, but a precaria coexistencia. In cultural terms alone, the invasion, conquest, and colonization of Christian Spain by Islamic warriors was a disaster for her population because a promising young civilization—far superior to that of the coarse North African invaders—was nipped in the bud:
This Christian Hispano-Roman-Visigoth population “deserved” to be conquered and enlightened by Islamic rulers no more than the population of the Americas deserved to be conquered and enlightened by the Christian Europeans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, or that the population of India deserved to be conquered and enlightened by the Christian British in the eighteenth.
A similar hypocrisy, one might add, applies to the academic establishment’s treatment of the Crusades. The meta-message is the same: Islam’s “expansion” into the Holy Land was normal and even desirable—the Eastern Roman Empire’s southeastern flank was as “deserving” of conquest in the seventh century as Visigothic Spain was in the eighth—but any subsequent attempt by Christians to turn the tables was deemed a barbarous crime. Fernández-Morera is right to say that few periods in history have been more misrepresented than that of Islamic Spain. The same verdict applies to the two centuries of Outremer.
In this age of rampant victimology, the largest group of victims in history—tens if not hundreds of millions of Christians who were murdered, enslaved, terrorized, or marginalized by Muslims from Muhammad to our time—is consistently denied its rightful status in the Western academy. This is a scandal, and in the final pages Fernández-Morera abandons his restrained tone when he summarizes the condition of the Christian Mozarabs (italics original):
[T]hey were by definition a subaltern group, a fourth- or fifth-class marginalized people in a hierarchical society . . . the victims of an extortion system, the dhimma, that gave them the choice that gangsters give to their victims: pay to be protected, or else.
To claim that the Christians might have been “content” with their status under medieval Islamic rule—in Spain, or later in the Balkans under the Ottomans—is even more preposterous, Fernández-Morera adds, than saying that American blacks might have been “content” with their treatment by paternalistic slaveowners in the antebellum South. Given Islam’s religious laws, the subaltern status of Christians was inevitable within the Islamic empire at all times and in all places.
Without the Christian resistance and eventual Reconquest, Darío Fernández- Morera concludes, “Spain today could well be an extension of the cultures of North Africa and the Middle East.” She would not have been able to develop the greatness of her own late-medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque civilization, culminating in the Spanish Golden Age, which yielded marvelously rich fruits in every field of artistic, literary, and intellectual endeavor. Compared with the splendor of post-Reconquista Spain, the fruits of medieval Islam were meager, and Islamic Spain failed to deliver much considering its early promise. I hope that in the second edition (and there will be a second edition) Fernández-Morera will devote more attention to the myth of Andalusian intellectual brilliance, which is also in need of a touch of Darío. A few scholars living under Islamic rule, not necessarily Muslim by faith or conviction, made limited use of Greek, Persian,
Hindu, and other pre-Islamic sources, and that’s about it. Claiming that the work of Averroës was the product of a distinctly “Islamic” civilization is on par with asserting that the performances of the Kirov ballet company in the 1940’s, or the launching of Sputnik a decade later, was the outcrop of Stalin’s enlightened cultural and scientific policies. Andalusian translators made a peripheral contribution to the popularizing of Aristotle in Christian Europe, but his works had already reached the Frankoi by way of the Greek Romei: St. Thomas Aquinas wrote detailed commentary on “the Philosopher” in the 1250’s, Barlaam of Calabria taught Aristotle in Italy in the early 1300’s, and Leontius Pilatus promoted Greek studies all over Western Europe a generation later. No Muslim good offices were needed for the flourishing of Greek language and learning in Florence under the Medicis or elsewhere. More importantly, Christian (not Muslim) thinkers actually built upon the legacy of Hellas. They were able to accommodate the pursuit of scientific knowledge within the framework of divine revelation, and to test their findings by adversarial method of proof. In the early 13th century, after al-Ghazali, Sunni Islam abandoned reason and logic and entered a long period of decline-without-fall, which lasts to this day. In that same century after Aquinas, Christian Europeans were able to “invent invention” and foster the exponential growth of knowledge. This theme may be worth an additional chapter.
My only criticism of Fernández-Morera’s Myth of the Andalusian Paradise does not concern what he has written but what is missing: an afterthought on the demographic and cultural peril in which Spain finds herself today. His book ends with the victory of Christian Spain over the most relentlessly anti-Christian project the world has known; but the drama of Spain’s relationship with Islam is not over. Her liberation from Muslim misrule in 1492 may not be as final and irreversible as it had seemed to be for half a millennium.
For the past three years I have been spending a quarter of my time in Gran Canaria, in Spain’s southernmost province 800 miles south of “the Peninsula” (as the locals call the mainland). Even in that short period of time a perceptible change has taken place in the ethnic mix of the island. Mostly Moroccan immigrants are gradually taking over the working-class suburb of San Fernando, just over a mile north of the beaches, hotels, and boutiques of Maspalomas. Their women—easily recognized by their hijabs and many children in tow—make up a large contingent of shoppers in the local Mercadona supermarket, while their men sip tea, talk, and smoke outside the mosque at the nearby Yumbo shopping center in Playa del Inglés. There are visibly more of them now than when I first came, and there are definitely many more balconies with the telltale satellite dishes pointing east to Africa.
Nationwide, there are just over two million Muslim immigrants in Spain, not counting hundreds of thousands of illegals. They account for four percent of her 46 million people. This is lower than the population of Muslims in France or Germany, but the rate of increase is higher in Spain than in any other major member-state of the European Union. (In 1990 Muslims numbered under 100,000.) As is the case in all other countries with a large Islamic diaspora, its leaders in Spain are making ever-escalating, sometimes outrageous, demands. They range from the suppression of the traditional celebrations of the Reconquista—Fiestas de Moros y Cristianos—to the granting of Spanish citizenship to millions of descendants of Muslims expelled after the reconquest, so as to rectify “the injustice inflicted on the Muslim population of Andalusia who are still suffering in the diaspora in exile since 1492.”
What amounts to the re-reconquista will likely continue for as long as Spain’s political, media, and even ecclesiastical establishment remains gripped by the same spirit of “Christian ideas gone mad” (Chesterton) that has made much of Europe unable to resist the ongoing migrant invasion. The writing was on the wall in 2004, when Church authorities wanted to remove the statue of St. Iago “the Moor Slayer” from the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela because it was deemed offensive to Muslims. (They were forced to rescind the decision “for the time being” following a public outcry.) In December 2011 politicians in Madrid inaugurated a major exhibition, “Between the Two Worlds,” to commemorate the 1,300th anniversary of Spain’s “social and cultural transformation”—i.e., the Muslim invasion. Esperanza Aguirre, then-president of the Autonomous Community of Madrid, called it “one of the most thrilling moments in the history of Spain.” There are countless similar examples of the Spanish elite’s moral and cultural decrepitude.
The situation is critical, the consequences are potentially tragic, and the quest for a solution has not even started. It is long overdue. It demands the attention of an accomplished scholar who knows and understands Spain, who can examine her present condition in all its complexity, and whose heart in the right place. I suggest to Darío Fernández-Morera that his next book should be The Threat of the Andalusian Nightmare.
Srdja Trifkovic is Chronicles’ foreign-affairs editor