First of all, sorry this is so late, but my husband was updating my machine to Windows 10 so it was not reachable/useable by me, and I occupied myself with unpacking suitcases (one to go. Since we spent yesterday out of the house dealing with pets/house/and such I only could do it today.) On windows ten, rest assured this was done over my kicking and screaming. Mostly because not only do I hate having my work space disrupted, but because it did some really weird stuff to my travel computer, including making it impossible to connect to my phone as a hotspot. So connecting from Portugal had to be done over a VM in windows seven, which I could not write on, as it didn’t have access to Word. And it wouldn’t let me switch back and forth easily.
Because I’m that kind of a cheerful person, and because (I think I’ve mentioned it here once or twice that in stressful situations I read non-fiction because it needs less emotional involvement than fiction. And though the trip back — economy premium on Lufthansa is more like what we think of as first class, except for the chair not FULLY reclining — was quite pleasant, I was sleep deprived and generally depressed/exhausted.)
What I’ve been reading a debunking of the myths of the “Convivencia” paradise that Al Andalus and generally Islamic Hispania is supposed to have been.
It’s not exactly a shock to me. First of all, my preferred reading, as soon as I could read, was history, most of it written in the early 20th century, and a lot of it local histories or histories of regions of Portugal and Spain. I won’t say that the authors universally rejected the myth of Islam as a civilizing/science-bearing force. I will say that when they applied it (in elementary school we were forced to memorize the improvements the Arabs brought to the peninsula — we did that with each invader, and boy did the area get invaded — almonds, pillows (al-mofadas), the sort of fountains that spout by themselves (you build them by making the water gravity fed from above where you want it to spout. I’m explaining very badly, but I am still not fully sleep recovered, and there’s a hole where the name for the fountains should be, orange trees. There might be something about the way oxen were yoked, but I doubt it. Oh, yeah, the way we write our numbers.) it left me curiously unconvinced.
It was little things, you see, having actually been born/grown up in one of the areas/near the area where this supposed paradise existed. yeah, sure, the North of Portugal got off lightly. We were freed fairly early on (we were a crusade land and were freed mostly by French crusaders, one of whom, having married a daughter of the king of Castille became father to our first king.)
More specifically, though there are no specific histories of the village (duh) I heard more than once from people I trusted, that we were the sort of place that got by with one or two Berber supervisors, and local toadies… er, I mean functionaries.
But Portugal is a small place, and I went to other places. And there are things…
In a truly multicultural society, with REAL religious tolerance, the local church wouldn’t have been commandeered as a mosque (apparently this was a standard humiliation technique for captive populations.) It was returned to use as a church, and has been such for centuries now, the interior having been ALMOST completely scrubbed clean of arabesque decorations. ALMOST. Why almost, you ask? The wall near the door, around the door, where you can’t avoid seeing them as you leave, was left “decorated.” It was left so that people would never forget.
Then there are churches that were pulled down by the Muslim invaders, and into which people were buried through all the years of occupation. It was the only consecrated ground around, you see. The poor bastards weren’t allowed to have their own religious cemeteries/bury their dead in peace. Oh, and this was often in areas that were considered solid Muslim (this ties in to something else later on, so stay tuned.)
But there is more than that. I never BOUGHT the idea that Muslims were kind and gentle overlords for a more bone-deep reason.
Look, people with ancient cultures all in the same place REMEMBER. They remember in ways that no academic gaslighting, no professorial assurances to the contrary can erase. For instance, do you know how you can tell which Roman emperors were considered decent by the local people? they give their names to their kids. Still. Trajan, for instance. And then there are the bad ones, that are also still remembered, but whose names are given to dogs (Nero.) And then there are the unspeakable ones. Neither child nor dog is named Caligula.
Well, in the local area, you find some kids named Ibrahim (though that is a bit confusing since local custom does weird things to spelling) but NONE named Mohammed. (This might be different now, since the Conquista II — this time we pretend to be innofensive — is in progress.) But back then there were no Moes around.
And that is plain weird in a place that has forgotten nothing. (Seriously, there are still people around named after Roman gods, because the name runs in the family. And Greek Heroes. And Carthaginian heroes, too. My brother went to school with Hannibal, Hasdrubal, and a bunch of Roman historical names — I want to say Cipius, but I’m probably wrong.)
So I never bought it. There were also very old writings with casual throw-away lines that made you go “Uh.”
None of the authors I read was trying to sell the Islamic occupation as a paradise, mind, though one of them did his best to try to convince us it was better than the Romans (maybe better than the falling apart Roman empire, but even then I doubt it. Look, there simply weren’t enough people, at the end of 500 years of occupation, (roughly, though I REMEMBER hearing a linguist say the village was settled in the 4th century BC. I HAVE to be wrong — or he was — since I know the village was on the wrong side of the punic wars) Roman citizenship and intermarrying who didn’t CONSIDER themselves Romans, so trying to portray the locals as impatiently waiting for someone to free them from the Romans and turning gratefully to Islam is coming it on rather too strongly. Even if there had been Carthaginian sentiment still around. (More on that later.) OTOH more importantly if the locals wanted to be freed from Rome that had already happened since the region had been invaded by the Suebians. Anyway. His thesis didn’t pass muster.
I didn’t meet the “Andalusia and more broadly Islamic Hispania was a paradise” thesis until the late eighties in, of all things, a Romance novel.
I wasn’t/still am not a romance reader, but the local Sunday supplement promoted this woman as a local writer, and I thought I might run into her somewhere (heaven knows where, since I never went anywhere writers gathered, back then) and might as well read her book. Also it was historical and set in the peninsula, which peaked my curiosity.
The book was … very odd. It starts with a Christian girl watching a Muslim man being burned (circa the 11th? century, dating by the royalty involved) and he throws her a little, beautiful miniature koran he wears at his neck (?) She goes on to (while hiding this) marry a (of course) brutal and abusive Lord, from whom she’s saved one night, when she’s kidnapped to become a Moorish sex slave.
Muslim culture and Al Andalus is portrayed throughout as having near modern sensibilities, hygiene, etc. Think NYC but it raids for slaves, and there is polygamy — both of these things danced around so fast if you weren’t paying attention you might think they weren’t there.
Anyway, our kidnapped noblewoman becomes a wife of a Muslim Lord who is in all effects a sweet, gentle modern man, and she falls in love with him and converts, and it ends with a little thing about their grandchildren running to the North of Africa from the onslaught of the reconquista.
It was like reading about a parallel universe. Oh, sure, there were some fulminating things written against bathing by less than sane hermits (and some Church fathers) but the middle ages were not nearly as dirty as we tend to think, and Christians still averaged about a bath a week, which is what populations today, who have no running hot water/central heating do, with washing of hands, face, and other crucial parts every day. (What mom called a cat-bath. No it doesn’t leave you feeling as clean as a full body shower, but it keeps you decently socially acceptable.)
Oh, sure, some Medieval Lords abused their wives, but so did the Muslim men of the time (and still, in mostly Muslim countries) since wife-beating is enshrined in the religion and culture.
And no, polygamy is never better for women, WTF?
Also, the historic personages I KNEW were not precisely portrayed recognizably.
Oh, also, they didn’t at that time burn Muslims for being Muslims. The area she set the thing in (and I can’t remember where exactly, sorry, but it was in Portugal — which btw, made her ending up in Al Andalus semi-implausible — was at the time a frontier between the two civilizations. Think of it as the old west. There were some Muslims on the Christian side, under their parole (it was a couple of centuries before they became suspicious-persons and were forced to convert, deported, whatever) and there were some Christians on the other side (as dhimmis by that time, mostly) and there were starcrossed romances and what not, but what there wasn’t that early on was an inquisition, which crazy writer chick thought there had been. (And the inquisition didn’t burn Muslims for being Muslims, but for breaking a supposed conversion– Never mind.)
I thought this was an isolated case of insane writer (I never did meet her) and shrugged it off.
It wasn’t until the late nineties that I started running into this versoin of “but it was a paradise” everywhere. And I started getting seriously disturbed. I suspected (apparently rightly) that Saudi-Arabian money was softening the West to the idea that Islam was benevolent and civilized.
(By the way, no invaders at the time were benevolent and civilized, but Islam brought with it some of the dysfunctions only an invading desert-culture could bring in. Like a tendency to cut down all trees and turn entire areas into deserts. Or a disdain for work, and a preference for plunder and baksheesh. Or–)
If this book — The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise by Dario Fernandes Morera — is right, then the pattern of invasion was much like we’re seeing, a lot of it having to do with the West being considered a soft target, while the West considered Islam either not that much of a threat (at the beginning, when treaties were attempted) or being softened by continuous acts of terror (like killing entire villages) so that some surrendered preemptively (not that we’ve seen anything about that.)
And the counter-offensive only got going when half the lands were destroyed and the aggression couldn’t be hidden/ignored any more. (Part of it being that life standards in the Islamic areas steadily declined, since the dhimmis are supposed to be the ones working/paying for the Muslims to live in style, but over time dhimmis either “convert” truly or not, or run away, leaving the terminal Muslim state rather like the terminal socialist state.)
So, what can we do?
The only way we can get out of this semi-peacefully is to have Islam reform. This won’t stop crazy acts of terror, but if Muslims can be convinced they can’t win this, and that it’s in their best interests to be decent human beings who don’t bomb and don’t support bombing (or killing, or sexually assaulting, or) other people of different religions, and there is an alternative that’s loud and open and isn’t afraid of communal backlash (the reason most decent Muslims don’t talk against acts of terror is that they are also afraid of the crazies) eventually it will become the predominant form in the west and community pressure will go the other way.
What are the chances of that? Less than zero, I’d guess.
First of all, our genuinely pluralistic society CAN’T demand forcible conversions. (And to what would we convert them, anyway, given we are a pluralistic society.)
Second, forcible conversions SORT OF work. Given enough time families and even regions forget they were ever anything else. But only sort of. See above where I said the defeat of Carthage in the punic war might have meant local sympathy with Islam (from same general region) and doors open when they arrived as invaders. And then there is Algarve, the last province of Portugal to be freed, and a rather pleasant/touristic sea side enclave. People there still listened to Arabic radio stations, when I vacationed there in more innocent times. I overheard a weird remark about people down there more or less mumbling about supporting Jihad. I hope the person was joking. BUT they might not have been. I find it interesting that suddenly the North of Portugal, which has yes, historical charm and depth, but also has the climate of Scotland in Winter and California without air conditioning in summer is now a touristic hub, more so than the South. I wonder if hearing Arabic singing worries tourists. (It would worry me.)
And short of a really hard ass position, the sort of thing a civilized and decent people don’t do — like killing everyone from the same area as a terrorist, or everyone who might have known, or… — we are on a train that has only one stop.
Eventually — it took centuries before, I don’t think it will take as long now, but it might take another decade or two. Less if the attacks keep coming closer together — the West will lose patience. And this time we do have weapons that mean predominantly Muslim areas simply stop existing.
We are in fact, trying to convince Muslims to allow us to let them live.
And it’s not going well.
And the last thing we need — the very last thing — about this as about communism or socialism, we can afford is to be gaslighted by an industrial/media/entertainment/educational complex who is on no one’s side but theirs.
Because if we are, then when we lose patience we’re going to lose patience harder and more thoroughly and the world that emerges will be remarkably short on “convivencia” not just for Muslims (who might have all but stopped existing) but for everyone non-standard or who sticks out.
And that’s not a world I wish for my descendants.
So its time to start seeing past the lies, even when they’re so thick around us we see nothing else. And start plotting our course with open eyes.
Even when it’s unpleasant.