The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise
by Norman Berdichevsky (February 2016)
The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain
By Dario Fernandez-Morera, ISI Books, Wilmington Delaware.
Advance Uncorrected Proof – Publication Date, February, 2016
I was fortunate to receive this book in advance of publication and am grateful to ISI, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and author Dario Fernandez-Morera.
The author is a noted scholar and like Cesar Vidal, the author of España Frente al Islam; De Mahoma a Ben Laden (La Esfera de Los Libros, 2004), is a Spaniard who pulls no punches. Both of them are not grinding an axe. The axe was already ground and polished by seven hundred years of history, waiting to be displayed. It reveals the awesome and awful truth camouflaged by many in the West who have written apologies for Muslim ruled Andalusia, stretching what at best was less than 200 years of relative “tolerance” when the invader-conquerors of the peninsular were initially a tiny minority of only 2 percent who had subjugated the masses and a sophisticated and proficient cadre of the majority and native-born Christians and Sephardi Jews.
Professor Fernandez-Morera uses the brilliant technique of introducing each chapter with quotes from Islamophile academics who have dominated much of the “debate” in American academia or outright spokesmen from among Muslim clerics, and other “authorities” wearing rose colored glasses in defending Islam.
The chapters touch on every aspect of the so called “Golden Age” and leave the reader cognizant of how these groups of writers have taken isolated cherry-picked anecdotes to present generalizations true only briefly in a few places amidst the seven centuries of oppression and intolerance. The chapters are A general survey, introduction to the field; 1 – The Conquest and Reconquest; 2- the Effects of Jihad (The Judgement of Mohammed is by the Sword); 3- The Daily Realities of Al-Andalus (Read them and Weep!); 4-The Myth of Umayyad Tolerance; 5- Women in Islamic Spain (Read and Cringe); 6- The Truth About the Jewish Community’s Golden Age (A Sad and Bitter Pill for our generation’s Jewish Liberals to Swallow); 7-The Christian Condition (Woe Were They and their Churches); 8-and the Epilogue. More than 90 pages of footnotes to contemporary sources in their original languages make his thesis unassailable. The book makes no attempt to “interpret,” “question” or “interrogate” the possible “subjectivities” of the scholars of the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence in al-Andalus – it takes seriously and at face value what they practiced and preached and had put into effect.
Dr. Fernandez-Morera has served in the United States National Council for the Humanities. His works include several books and many review articles in English and Spanish on cultural, historical and theoretical and methodological issues in Spain, Latin America and the United States, the encounter between Europeans and Amerindians, Cervantes, Islamic Spain, and Modernism. This book is a welcome antidote meticulously footnoted to original sources in Arabic, Spanish, Latin, and Hebrew of the more than six century long period of Muslim rule. It provides an accurate picture greatly at odds with the popular renditions of many current textbooks approved for American high schools by well-meaning but foolish officials paying homage to “diversity” and dozens of websites devoted to history and politics that paint a rosy and totally misleading picture that the “Golden Age” of Al-Andalus was a paradise of tolerance, intellectual curiosity and advanced technologies in numerous fields that were the sole product of Muslim architects, engineers, scholars, poets and wise and capable administrators.
Spanish Civilization is indeed indebted to both its founding Iberian-Carthaginian-Roman-Greek-Visigoth-Celtic origins and the invaluable contributions of both Jews and Muslims in the Middle Ages. The “Golden Age” was due originally to a wise policy of coexistence in a unified state under a single ruler but was inevitably short-lived and followed by centuries of chaotic conditions of fanaticism and fratricidal conflict among extremist Berber and Arab sects who followed policies quite reminiscent of those reminding us of Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Nusra and the ISIS of today.
This fundamentally flawed assessment of the apologists draws the wrong conclusion based on fragmentary evidence and distorts the much larger picture. It ignores the reality of enormous destruction wrought by the three Arab-Berber Muslim invasions that repeatedly sought to hold on to control and rule over the indigenous peoples of Spain who had been reduced to second class citizens in their own homeland. The desire to restore “Al-Andalus”, an Arabic corruption of the land they conquered that had previously been ruled by the Germanic Vandals (hence al-Andalus as “Land of the Vandals" in Arabic) and Visigoths has persisted to this day. Extremist support for the terrorist bombing of the Madrid Train Station on March 11, 2004 is viewed by some Muslims today not simply as just punishment for the pro-American government of former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar but as the first step in the re-conquest of what is still considered along with “Palestine” as land that must be returned to Muslim dominion.
Readers may do well simply to refer all attempts to portray jihad as some intellectual inner struggle, but was unconditionally understood in every reference to be sacred combat against the infidels and the warriors who carried it out were promised all the property and women (to be treated as sexual slaves) of the defeated enemy. The extent of Islamic “tolerance” can be judged by the fact that by the middle of the 11th century when Christian forces began to make serious headway in their Reconquest, they found almost no practicing Christians left in the territories South of Toledo.
For all those who bemoan the expulsion of the Muslims left in Spain following the Reconquest, it should be recalled that their right to remain as citizens (the so called Moriscos) was compromised by repeated attempts to act as a Fifth Column and aid renewed Muslim attempts to reinvade Spain from bases in North Africa.
The Muslim religious functionaries throughout Al-Andalus had the power to judge and enforce sharia in the most miniscule details of the people’s personal, family, social, sexual and commercial behavior which were regulated and subject to a draconian penal code. Muslims were strictly forbidden to share meals, or use the eating and bathing utensils of the infidels. Women were relegated to the single function of procreation and nothing resembling the ‘romantic’ notions of harems and Arabic love poetry can obscure this fact. An all-encompassing legislation reinforced the submissive and humiliating status of Jews including the first use of a type of distinctive clothing.
What makes the case for the Golden Age syndrome popular among so many Western Islamophiles is that, as the power and energy of the Christian Reconquest increased, many Muslim rulers out of necessity (just as in the initial first two centuries of their rule when, as a tiny minority, they depended on the skills of their Christian and Jewish subjects) they often were tempted to appoint clever and talented administrators among their Jewish subjects to stem the decline of the fragmented taifas (local mini-states) following the disintegration of the Cordoba caliphate in the mid-eleventh century.
The Epilogue summarizes the conclusion so studiously avoided by the apologists of Islam… “In Islamic Spain there was no convivencia,” no matter how many slogans on car license plates you may see today promoting “coexistence” using the religious symbols of different faiths including the crescent moon of Islam. Professor Fernández-Morera concludes…. “In cultural terms alone, the invasion, conquest and colonization of Christian Spain during the first half of the eighth century was a disaster for the Christian population….The pre-Islamic Christian population was in no need of being civilized….its level of civilization was far higher than that of the Muslim warriors.”
Note to the reader: See also my book Spanish Vignettes, many chapters of which also cover the period of the Islamic Middle Ages, used as the standard textbook for courses of the University of California in their summer program in Madrid on Spanish Civilization (Spanish 45).
Norman Berdichevsky is the author of The Left is Seldom Right and Modern Hebrew: The Past and Future of a Revitalized Language.
To comment on this book review, please click here.
To help New English Review continue to publish interesting and informative articles such as this one, please click here.
If you enjoyed this article and want to read more by Norman Berdichevsky, click here.
Norman Berdichevsky contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click here to see all his contributions on which comments are welcome.