“History” via Pajamas Media/Raymond Ibrahim and “history” as the rest of the world knows it are not always the same thing.
The famous description of Cordoba as “the brilliant ornament of the world” was applied by a visitor from Christian Europe, the 10th Century Saxon nun Hroswitha of Gandersheim. This interpretation of medieval Cordoba’s history, the one favored by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf et al of the Cordoba Initiative, is the mainstream and, generally speaking, accepted view virtually everywhere except on the American far right and, historically, among devotedly anti-Muslim sources.
I strongly recommend the book God’s Crucible by David Levering Lewis for anyone interested in the larger story of early Islam’s relationship with “Dark Ages” and later Medieval Europe, but to give one example why Ibrahim’s depiction and speculations should be treated with caution, consider the end of the excerpt you quote in your post, where Ibrahim describes a “Christian city… conquered by Muslims around 711, its inhabitants slaughtered or enslaved.” “Enslaved” is rather an historical joke: The Muslim invaders were replacing the Visigoths, who had dominated Iberia ever since they completed their own invasion several centuries earlier, and who were part of the larger Gothic wave that helped spread “plantation slavery” across Northern Europe, where the institution had not previously been known. They ran a thoroughgoing slave economy that was also marked, especially in the years immediately prior to the arrival of the Muslims, by terrible oppression of the Jews, as well as longstanding measures against heretical Christians. King Egica and successor Witiza (who ruled until 710) imposed draconian measures eventually ordering that, barring conversion, all adult Jews be sold as slaves, their children to be distributed among Christian families.
Thousands of Jews fled. Those who remained can perhaps be forgiven for collaborating with the Muslims. The medievalist Richard Fletcher concluded that, in light of the Visigoth’s determination upon a “final solution,” “We can hardly doubt that the Jews of Spain looked upon the Arabs as liberators.” This observation touches upon an important larger theme of Lewis’s that also illustrates a typical Islamist-Islamophobic convergence. Both Osama Bin Laden as well as the likes of Andy McCarthy and Raymond Ibrahim (and many of my former colleagues and associates at HotAir) like to depict the early Islamic conquest as a vast triumph of fundamentalist arms by overwhelming conquerors. In truth, the reason that early Islam was able to spread so far and so fast is that it was pushing over straw men (exhausted, already war-ravaged and depopulated former Roman and Persian territories) often in cooperation with non-Muslims.
As for the supposed “slaughter,” Lewis describes how, when the Visigothic leaders fled Cordoba, the Berbers under Mughith al-Rumi (himself a Christian Greek convert to Islam) “found themselves welcomed by a large portion of the populace, the Jews in particular.” After capturing and, indeed, killing the former rulers – I’m not trying to depict the Muslim conquerors as saints – Mughith returned to Cordoba and “established a precedent of historic political and religious impact”:
He assembled all of the Jews in the city and left them, “together with willing Christians and a small detachment of Muslims,” in charge of Cordoba’s defenses. Mughith’s precedent established the conditions for the vaunted Muslim-Judeo-Christian interdependence that was to distinguish Islam in Iberia for several centuries. His collaborative precedent was also, to be sure, an astute response to the numbers on the ground – a Muslim force of infinitesimal size pragmatically manufacturing auxiliaries from the local population. King Egica’s insensate proscriptions casting all unconverted Jews into slavery and confiscating their property had driven these people to save themselves by reaching out to the conquering Arabs. After so many years of living under the Damoclean sword of property expropriation, forced conversion, and expulsion, Jews throughout Hispania welcomed the Muslim invaders as deliverers.
All such historical narratives are subject to debate and dispute, of course, but, since the main question is reading the Cordoba people’s minds and assessing the meaning of Cordoba as a symbol, the fact that the above approximates the standard view, and is backed up by subsequent events as well as by practical considerations (the “numbers on the ground”), is telling. I don’t see a good argument for taking the views of Ibrahim (a scholar of Egyptian Coptic heritage, publishing at JihadWatch and PajamasMedia) at face value. The very fact that he would refer to the eventual expulsion of the Muslims from Spain as “overthrow[-ing] the Islamic yoke” tells you that you are dealing with an ideologue: By the time the Reconquista was finished, Muslim control of the Iberian Peninsula had already been reduced to a small southern pocket. The completion of this “overthrow,” which Ibrahim implies amounted to a liberation, was also accompanied by two typical orders of the new Catholic regime: the expulsion of the Jews in 1492 and the Royal Decree of 1502 ordering the forced conversion or expulsion of the remaining Muslims. The systematic murderousness and cruelty of the subsequent treatment of the latter population, the Moriscos, is sometimes treated as a forerunner of modern “ethnic cleansing.”
Ibrahim makes an interesting if wildly overdrawn point about the Cordoba Initiative’s reference to “800 years ago,” when he notes that the high point or “Golden Age” of Cordoba/al-Andalus is more frequently dated 200 years earlier than that (around the time that Sister Hroswitha was on tour), but I believe it’s inarguable that, overall, what “Cordoba” broadly stands for is much more what the Cordoba Initiative says than what Ibrahim’s slanted readings prepared for Islamophobes suggest. It’s worth noting in addition that 800 years ago would have been around the last time that the interfaith cooperation and high culture that generally typified al-Andalus was still in effect, in particular in the city of Toledo, where Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars working closely together safeguarded the transmission of the great works of “Western” literature to Europe, according to Lewis “the entire corpus of the recovered ancient learning known today.”
There is much more to be said on these subjects, including comparisons of Andalusian life and culture to contemporaneous Western alternatives, observations on the relationship of the Ummayyad Caliphate of Iberia to the Abbasid Caliphate (there was not one unified Muslim empire for most of this period), the comically myopic “architectural talisman of conquest” theory, the persistent use of Joe-McCarthyite as well Andy-McCarthyite tactics against Rauf and associates, and much else. As you likely are aware, I’ve written on various aspects of this topic already, both at HotAir and more extensively, both in my own posts and in lengthy thread-discussion, at my own blog. For now, I’d like to refer you to a thoughtful take on the Cordoba Initiative controversy by Robert Wright – “A Mosque Maligned.” Wright is an author whose book The Evolution of God covers the origins and development of all three Abrahamic faiths in detail from a sympathetic agnostic/materialist perspective, and will be especially helpful to those who tend to “get their Islam” exclusively from hostile sources.
Congratulations at least for acknowledging, unlike the vast majority of anti-mosque ideologues, the existence of “a principled, small-government case to be made on behalf of the mosque project, based on the protection of property rights and the free exercise of religion.” Odd choice of words on your part, however: “not self-evident.” Thomas Jefferson and pals beg to differ.
Rather than a continued screwing with the rule and saying some laudatory thing, tempting as that is, about this post…..
I’ll go with
is a really, really tiny bit of business and might have well been foregone.
( It serves to help set up, but you’ve style enough )