Interesting review by Lyn Julius, at Standpoint, of a new book on the supposed golden age of Muslim rule in Spain:
In 2008 France was rocked by a fierce controversy when a medievalist academic named Sylvain Gouguenheim published an essay. Contrary to majority opinion, “Aristotle at St Michael’s Mount” argued that Muslim Spain in the Middle Ages had not acted as a conduit for the transmission of classical Greek texts to the West. Syriac Christians, rather than Arab Muslims with barely a knowledge of Greek, he contended, had ensured the preservation of Greek civilisation.
Hundreds signed petitions and letters to the press, rounding on Gouguenheim and accusing him of Islamophobia. Few academics came out in his defence. His ideas fell foul of the politically-driven agenda to promote “Golden Age” Spain as a brilliant period of interfaith coexistence. The witchhunt demonstrated the dangers of attempting to dislodge prevailing myths.
Darío Fernández-Morera, a professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern University, must be commended for daring to wade into this hazardous arena. He has come well-armed: his The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise has 95 pages of notes, and the lionisers of political correctness will not find it easy to penetrate chinks in his bibliographical armour of primary and secondary sources, many not published in English.
In an exhilarating and unput-downable read, Fernández-Morera debunks the fashionable myth that Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together (convivencia) under “tolerant” Muslim rule. He prefaces each chapter with a quote by scholars, politicians and respected publications extolling the Andalusian paradise. World-class academics — hailing from Yale, Harvard, Chicago, Princeton, London, Oxford — look like fools in their apologetics for jihad: the violent Muslim conquest of Spain euphemistically described as a “gentle migratory wave”.
The very renaming of Spain (from the Latin Hispania) as al-Andalus in order to avoid offending non-Christians is one of several “hegemonic manoeuvres” to disguise a dystopia built on slavery and Islam’s “imperialist system” of strict separation and subordination for non-Muslims. According to Fernández-Morera, coexistence was never more than precarious. Jews and Christians lived as subaltern dhimmis who paid a jizya tax to live under Muslim protection. But, the author claims, the dhimmi system was never other than a Mafia-style protection racket....
Naturally, Fernández-Morera echoes Gouguenheim’s theory that Byzantine monks were already translating Greek texts into Latin. It was “baseless” to say that Islam preserved classical knowledge and passed it on to Europe. In fact Islam slowed down the exchange of science, art and poetry. Many of the so-called Muslim luminaries of the Golden Age turn out to be of non-Muslim or non-Arab ancestry, if not themselves Christians and Jews.
From the description at Amazon:
Historians, journalists, and even politicians uphold the Muslim kingdom in medieval Spain – “al-Andalus” – as a multicultural paradise, a place where Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived in harmony. There is only one problem with this popular account: it is a myth
In this groundbreaking new book, Northwestern University scholar Dario Fernández-Morera tells the full story of Islamic rule in medieval Spain. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradiseshines light on hidden history by drawing on an abundance of primary sources that historians have ignored, as well as archaeological evidence only recently unearthed.
This supposed beacon of peaceful coexistence began, of course, with the Muslim’s violent conquest of Spain. Far from promoting peace and religious tolerance, Muslim rulers maintained their power for centuries through brute force. Fernández-Morera documents the many ways in which Islamic rule led to religious and cultural repression – including the subjugation of Spain’s Christian population.
The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise provides a desperately needed reassessment of medieval Spain, proving that the Muslims were not, in fact, benevolent rulers. As professors, politicians, and pundits continue to romanticise the Islamic occupation, Fernández Morera sets the historical record straight - showing that a politically useful myth is a myth nonetheless.