Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The myth of the Andalusian paradise

The myth of a medieval Muslim kingdom in al-Andalus where different races and religions lived harmoniously has captivated academia, tourists, even journalists. Yet, argues Dario Fernandez-Morera, an associate professor at a US university, in The Intercollegiate Review (Fall 2006 issue), it has no basis in fact. Even the myth's propagators admit that the multicultural idyll went through a few rocky patches, notably the invasion by the fundamentalist Almoravids and Almohades. But even at the best of times, Spain's Muslim rulers had to keep the lid on a seething cauldron of tensions and violence. In the words of one historian, "tolerance at this extreme is not easily distinguished from intolerance."(With thanks: IndependentObserver)

"Abdul al-Rahman lll (912 -961), 'The servant of the merciful', declared himself Caliph of Cordoba. He took the city to heights of splendour not seen since the days of Harun-al-Rashid's Baghdad, financed largely through the taxation of Catholics and Jews and the booty and tribute obtained in military incursions against Catholic lands. He also punished Muslim rebellions mercilessly, thereby keeping the lid on the boiling cauldron that was multicultural al-Andalus. His rule presumably marks the zenith of Islamic tolerance. Al-Mansur (d.1002)'The one made victorious by Allah implemented in Andalus in 978 a ferocious military dictatorship backed by a huge army. In addition to building more palaces and subsidising the arts and sciences in Cordoba, he burned heretical books and terrorised Catholics, sacking Zaragoza, Osma, Zamora, Leon, Astorga, Coimbra, and Santiago de Compostela. In 985 he burned down Barcelona, enslaving all those he did not kill.(...)

"How then can one explain the persistence of the belief that Andalusia was a land of peaceful coexistence? The historian Richard Fletcher has attempted one possible explanation." In the cultural conditions that prevail in the West today the past has to be marketed, and to be successfully marketed it has to be attractively packaged. Medieval Spain in a state of nature lacks wide appeal. Self- indulgent fantasies of wonders for sharpening up its image. But Moorish Spain was not a tolerant and enlightened society even in its most cultivated epoch."

"Another explanation could be what one might call Spanish self-hatred, the obverse of what once was Spanish self-aggrandisement."

Read article in full (PDF)


Anonymous said...

A visit to Morocco's Jewish community:

Drak Druk said...

Excellent posting ! Thank you so much for it. I guess you already know the books


Drak Druk said...

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