“Cordoba”: A comment for Karl at HotAir


“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.

[emphasis added]

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.

17 comments on ““Cordoba”: A comment for Karl at HotAir

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  1. Rather than a continued screwing with the rule and saying some laudatory thing, tempting as that is, about this post…..

    I’ll go with

    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.

    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 )

  2. @ fuster:
    You’re right that the writing was a little sloppy in that general vicinity, and I’ve cleaned it up a tad, but I kinda liked getting the forced language – “overthrow” and “yoke” – from Ibrahim’s original piece. I suppose I could have restrained myself from calling Ibrahim an ideologue, and let the facts just stand for themselves. Will re-consider as I re-touch the piece here with a view to its status in the eternal archives.

  3. Moving on to the present day, we’re not dealing with Ummayads, Seljuks or Abbasids;

    the central figure behind the mosque project, has a public image as a devotee of the “contemplative” Sufi school of Islam, but his writings directed at Muslims are full of praise for Wahhabi fundamentalism. He has refused to “repudiate the threat from authoritative sharia to the religious freedom and safety of former Muslims,” a pledge issued nine months ago by ex-Muslims under threat for their “apostasy.” He refused to describe Hamas as a terrorist organization, and will not talk about the Muslim Brotherhood. He is an open proponent of integrating sharia into the law of Western countries. When speaking to Arabic audiences, he discounts the idea of religious dialogue. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Rauf said, “The Islamic method of waging war is not to kill innocent civilians. But it was Christians in World War II who bombed civilians in Dresden and Hiroshima, neither of which were military targets.” Many people convincingly argue that Dresden and Hiroshima were military targets, but more important in this context is that neither was ordered on the basis of Christian theology. Regarding 9/11 specifically, Rauf told 60 Minutes in September 2001 that “United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.”

    Rauf is a permanent trustee of NYC’s Islamic Cultural Center. The ICC employed Imam Sheik Muhammad Gemeaha, who claimed that ”only the Jews” were capable of destroying the World Trade Center and added that ”if it became known to the American people, they would have done to Jews what Hitler did.” That was bad publicity, so he was replaced by Imam Omar Saleem Abu-Namous, who opined that “we don’t have conclusive evidence that the World Trade Center attack was waged by Muslim elements.” He further stated that ”nobody would support Osama bin Laden” in the Muslim world, which gives one an idea of the sincerity of the people installed by Rauf.

  4. @ narciso:
    Sorry Narc – and Karl if you show up here – but we’ve been over this kind of thing so many times, I’m just going to sum it up: What you quote is as boring, dim, and, especially at the end, as McCarthyite as most of this guilt by association stuff that you’re so in love with.

    No one planning to build a cultural center with worship area acceptable to the local community should be forced to sign loyalty oaths or their equivalent, to subscribe to YOUR preferred language regarding Wahhabism, Hamas, and the co-responsibility of the US for Islamic fundamentalism and terror, or anything else.

    And US policy WAS an accessory to the crime of 9/11, in the way Rauf meant it, and to whatever extent such legalistic metaphors overlaid on foreign policy and war are useful, and anyone who can’t face that fact can’t face reality, and is living in a thumb-sucking ideologue’s dreamworld. Someone as widely read as you shouldn’t embarrass himself by pretending he believes anything else.

    For you, Rauf is retroactively responsible, via the statements of people he may or may not have actually had anything directly to do with, for an act that no one believes he had anything to do with or was in favor of, but WE’re not responsible for anything done expressly in our name and with our approval, by politicians we voted for, with taxes we paid, year after year, decade after decade.

  5. @ narciso:
    You instead of linking to this, that, or the other interesting thing, why don’t you try responding to the comments that are actually here – it would be polite to show you’ve actually taken into account something someone else has said – or take the time to explain why this, that, or the other thing should be of interest?

  6. You want to argue that not only the Park Place 51 mosque is legitimate, but a good chunk of Western History is not. I found that none other than that raging theocrat Tim Rutten, took exception to
    Lewis’s thesis, when the book came out two years. Which coincidentally was when professor Spellman raised a huge fuss about
    ‘the Jewel of Medina’ Is it a coincident that Baigent and Leigh’s
    Priory de Sion garbage, gets laundered by Brown and co, right around the same time. Bawer in his last book, does a fair survey of how the acceptance of Islamism including Shariah courts, which that decision in NJ seems to be a de facto version of. Now Archbishop Williams applauds this development, and apparently so did Imam Rauf

  7. @ narciso:
    I have no idea what you’re getting at – except that you have some strange idea that a family court ruling in NJ reversed on appeal is a grave threat to… something. And Rutten’s review, which Karl brought up over at HA, is ludicrously non-responsive to the book, a laughably cheap piece of journalism, 100% irrelevant to the matters under direct discussion.

    What do you mean when you conceive of a “legitimacy” that could equally apply to the Cordoba project and to all of Western History? In what universe are those two equal or comparable entities? One’s a building, maybe – the other is either an indefinite set of facts filling up a few thousand years, one thing after another as the man said, or a discourse or set of discourses of some kind.

  8. No one is really calling up the Carolingian call to arms, and I don’t want them to, This is why I want Gitmo to stay in place, and I’d rather not give AQ another base of operations, if at all possible, which Assuange’s leaks may help bring about

    I pulled up the Rutten review independently because it was atypical of his usual sentiments on the subject.

  9. …a set of facts, a discourse, possibly a process, if you accept Hegel or the Framers or are religious, possibly a cycle if you’re a classicist or into some other religion, otherwise nothing at all…

    …don’t know how you knit Assuange together with Cordoba… sometimes it seems like your output is the residue of an ongoing disastrous encounter between ideology and reality…

  10. CK MacLeod wrote:

    sometimes it seems like your output is the residue of an ongoing disastrous encounter between ideology and reality…

    as told by Marvin the droid.

  11. I’m much more chipper, than that, Herr Gosch, although I like Alan Rickman’s take on the character, Zooey Deschanel was the reason to sit through that.. The point is to credit that ‘supposedly’ reasonable
    objections to every technique in the war on terror are to be taken
    seriously. I had a collocquoy with young Master Friedersdorf and I found him very shallow then, a Frum in training, as if we would ever want such a thing. This is in part why Culture 11 collapsed like the

  12. Leaving out the link to Zuhdi Jasser’s comment in Jacoby’s Boston Globe article, I know you don’t care from Schwartz, and you dismiss
    ALi Ahmed:

    Jasser reminisced last week about his family’s history of building mosques in the heartland communities where they lived. His parents, Syrian immigrants to the United States, helped create the Fox Valley Islamic Center in Neenah, Wis., in 1980. “This was during the Iranian hostage crisis,’’ he recalled, “and some of the local residents wanted the Zoning Commission to prevent the mosque from going forward.’’ But the commissioners gave their blessing to the project, and the modest mosque — the construction budget was just $80,000 — became part of the neighborhood. Later the family later moved to western Arkansas, where they joined with others to create the Islamic Center of Fort Smith. As recently as March, Jasser came out in support of Muslims in Sheboygan, Wis., whose plans for a new place of worship were meeting with vocal resistance.

  13. CKM,

    You wrote above, “US policy WAS an accessory to the crime of 9/11, in the way Rauf meant it . . . .” Can you elaborate? What was the “way that Rauf meant it”? I have not watched the 60 Minutes interview, but I have trouble envisioning a context that renders Rauf’s statement as warranted or appropriate.

    Many thanks.

  14. Surely he didn’t mean the support of the vile Saud regime was worth 3,000 lives, Osama doesn’t think they were repressive enough to the human spirit, that is the quarrel between the Ilkwan, the Al Sheiks,
    and the regime. Bin Baz jr among a few is changing that, but is he enough of a counterbalance

  15. @ J-Bone:
    Thanks for your question, J-Bone. Rather than responding in a comment, I think I’ll put up a new post consisting of a draft rant on precisely this subject. Still need to proof it – and walk the dogs and do a couple of other things – and face some implications of what the attempt to answer has gotten me thinking – first.

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  1. […] instead refer oceanaris to recent posts on “The Other(‘s) 9/11 Truth” and “Cordoba,”and otherwise ask oceanaris and all readers impressed by historical recitations of the […]

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