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The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise

myth of andalusion paradiseIslamic Spain in Middle Ages no paradise for Christians, Jews, women


There is a widely held belief that in Spain, during the European Middle Ages, Islam, Christianity and Judaism co-existed peacefully and fruitfully under a tolerant and enlightened Islamic hegemony. Dario Fernandez-Morera, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern University in the US, with a PhD from Harvard, has written a stunning book that upends this myth.

The myth itself has been a comforting and even inspiring story that has underpinned the so-called Toledo Principles regarding religious tolerance in our time. It has buttressed the belief that Islam was a higher civilisation than that of medieval Europe in the eighth to 12th centuries and that the destruction of this enlightened and sophisticated Andalusia should be lamented.

“Focus Today” video with Prof. Fernandez-Morera  here 

The great Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, a century ago, saw it that way. US President Barack Obama and The Economist magazine have both very recently cited Muslim Andalusia as evidence that Islam has been a religion of peace and tolerance. In short, the myth of Andalusia has been a beacon of hope for working with Islam in today’s world with a common commitment to civilised norms.

This vision was spelled out in Maria Rosa Menocal’s The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (2002) and reinforced by David Levering Lewis’s God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 (2008). But it has deep roots. Edward Gibbon, in his famous 18th-century history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, wrote in glowing terms of the 10th-century Umayyad caliphate in Spain as a beacon of enlightenment, learning and urban living, at a time when Europe was plunged in bigotry, ignorance and poverty.

As someone who has long taken this vision for granted, it came as a considerable shock to me to discover that the conventional wisdom is quite unfounded. In The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, Fernandez-Morera systematically refutes the beguiling fable. The picture he draws is starkly different from the conventional one, troubling in what it reveals and compelling in its arguments.

If we are to satisfactorily resolve current disputes about Islamophobia and the future of Islam as a world religion, this book is required reading. International reviewers have greeted it as a desperately needed corrective to delusion and propaganda. That will invite pushback from those who either remain committed to the myth or believe it is too important a beacon to allow it to be extinguished.

However, Fernandez-Morera argues trenchantly that we must shake off the sense of the superiority of Islam to medieval European culture. He makes the point, for example, that, given Islam’s antipathy to graphic art and music, had Europe been Islamised in the 8th century, we would never have had Gregorian chant, orchestral music or opera. No Bach, Mozart, Beethoven or Verdi. No Caravaggio, Michelangelo or Titian. Ponder that, at least as a thought experiment.

He shows that the Muslim invaders of Spain in the 8th century did not arrive as a higher civilisation conquering Visigothic barbarians. They arrived as barbarians intruding on a strongly Romanised, Catholic and materially sophisticated culture. As other scholarship has shown, the Arabs in the 7th and 8th centuries were barbarian invaders every bit as much as the Germans or Bulgars in Europe. They plundered, enslaved and sacked from the Middle East across North Africa and eastwards to Central Asia and India. As the great Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun would put it in the 14th century, war in the name of religion was integral to Islam.

Secondly, Fernandez-Morera argues that Islam was not the vehicle through which classical Greek learning was preserved, as is so often claimed. It was chiefly Constantinople that archived and protected the patrimony of Greek antiquity, philosophical, medical and mathematical. The Arabs acquired all this through Greek Christian scholars translating the classics for them. Greeks from the east and Christians in the west later revived such learning for themselves. Meanwhile, the rise of Islam had disrupted the flow of trade and ideas between the Greek east and the Latin west, thus harming rather than fertilising European civilisation.

Even these background theses will strike many readers as controversial, but they are only the beginning. The real thrust of Fernandez-Morera’s critique of the myth of Andalusia is that Islam in Spain, far from setting a high bar of tolerance, was characterised by plunder, domination, the harsh application of sharia law, the persecution of Christians or Jews who openly avowed their non-Muslim beliefs, and the violent suppression of ‘‘heresies’’ and apostasy within the Muslim community.

He also points out that the Christian and Jewish communities tended towards dogmatism, enclosure against the other religions and the fierce persecution of both heretics and apostates. Andalusia has been extolled as a convivencia, he remarks, but in reality it was what he dubs a precaria co-existencia between the three monotheistic religions that eventually dis­integrated.

Chapter four, The Myth of Umayyad Tolerance: Inquisitions, Beheadings, Impalings and Crucifixions, and chapter five, Women in Islamic Spain: Female Circumcision, Stoning, Veils and Sexual Slavery, reveal what has been airbrushed from history. The Moroccan Muslim feminist Fatema Mernissi and others have laboured to argue that the sexual slaves in Andalusian harems were somehow ‘‘free’’ women. Fernandez-Morera draws attention to the considerably greater freedom of women in Christian Spain, by contrast, in terms of everyday outdoor work and access to political power.

The myth of Andalusia has been based on neglect of primary sources and selective adulation of worldly Muslim rulers, as if they were representative of the clerical ulema and Muslim masses. In fact, as Fernandez-Morera shows, both mullahs and masses tended to bigotry and anti-Semitism. There were anti-Semitic pogroms every bit as violent and irrational as those in Christian Europe. And many Christians were expelled from Muslim Spain.

Among the many shocks to my settled beliefs in reading this book was learning of the atrocities committed, publicly and privately, by Muslim rulers I had long seen as models of enlightened despotism, notably Abd al-Rahman I (731-788) and his descendant two centuries later Abd al-Rahman III. Both committed abhorrent deeds of torture and murder.

Far more shocking is Fernandez-Morera’s documentation of the harsh sharia law in Spain under the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence, something endorsed even by the celebrated 12th-century philosopher from Cordoba, Averroes (Ibn Rushd). It was neither pluralist nor ‘‘secular’’. It offers no model at all for what we might want or do now in civil society.

I learned things reading this book that I wish were not true, but the documentation is voluminous and compelling. There are occasional errors of fact and some surprising omissions — no discussion, for example, of the great library of Cordoba or of its other public amenities in the 10 century — but the overall impact is profound. His book will surely run into hostility, but Fernandez-Morera is a formidable scholar.

The classic works of Patricia Crone or John Wansbrough on the origins of Islam are the best comparison with what Fernandez-Morera has achieved. They demonstrated that the Koran as a canonical text dates from long after the traditional death of Mohammed and the hadiths (sayings attributed to Mohammed) were overwhelmingly just made up by storytellers long after he was gone.

In Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam, Crone argued that the traditional story of Mecca as a great spice-trading centre where Mohammed founded Islam from whole cloth (‘‘revelations’’) does not stand up to scrutiny. The actual history of early Islam and the traditional religious ­account of it diverge radically. Yet this extraordinary finding has never sunk in. It is, understandably, resisted strenuously by Muslim believers and an academic establishment that makes a living out of writing about that traditional story.

Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam and books like it are vital works. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise is one of these books. Rather than accepting conventional or politically correct views about either Islamic Spain or the rise of Islam ‘‘in the full light of history’’, read these probing works of historical scholarship.

We do need the ‘‘cultural secularism’’ that Menocal and others think they can point to in Muslim Andalusia. We do need to find a way for those who still adhere to the old religions to live in reasonable harmony. We should want a tolerant, cosmopolitan order here and abroad. What we cannot do any longer is take Muslim rule in Spain as our model for accomplishing that laudable goal. We need to invent something new. There is no Andalusian golden age to emulate.

Paul Monk is a consultant, writer and speaker. He is the author of Opinions and Reflections: A Free Mind at Work 1990-2015.

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews Under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain

By Dario Fernandez-Morera   ISI Books, 336pp, $59.95 (HB)

Original article here

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise

29 May 2016

I cannot recall reading a work of historical scholarship clearly written out of sheer irritation until I read The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain by Spanish-American historian Dario Fernandez-Morera.

Fernandez-Morera is clearly irritated and annoyed by recurring failures of Anglophone scholars to acquaint themselves with Spanish and French language scholarship on medieval Spain when writing about medieval Spain. He is clearly irritated by the failure of many such scholars to use the available Muslim and Christian sources; by their preciousness about using the word Spain (which, as he points out, many Muslim writers happily used); by their presenting medieval (particularly Muslim-ruled) Spain as some sort of golden age of multicultural co-existence; he is irritated by the notion that the invasion by Arab-led mainly Berber armies somehow raised the cultural level ofVisigothic Spain; he is irritated by the dismissive treatment of Christian resistance to Muslim rule; he is irritated by the positive, even glowing, treatment of Muslim conquest and rule.

One way to tell he is so irritated–apart from simply reading the text–is his habit of starting chapters with quotes from noted scholars which the chapter then presents evidence clearly contradicting. There is no doubt about who his scholarly jeremiad is aimed at: he tells you in general in his Introduction and then by quoting from specific scholars at the start of chapters. Nostrawpersons allowed; they are hardly necessary, when so many large targets present themselves so clearly.

The irritation clearly helped motivate writing the book, and it does add a certain spice or zest to the reading, but it in no way detracts from the scholarly value of the book, which is very extensively footnoted–reading the footnotes is an education in itself–and filled with quotes from Christian, Muslim and Jewish sources. (The book is a particularly informative entree into the Jewish communities of medieval Spain.) He may push some arguments a bit far, as this sympathetic reviewer suggests, but effective rebuttals would have to be at least as well supported in the evidence.

Fernandez-Morera is also quite cutting about some obvious, and persistent hypocrisies–such as turning the Christian calendar into “Common Era” but being very respectful of the (equally religious) Muslim calendar. Or being dismissive of wider Christian connections but respectful of Islamic ones.

Really, it was jihad
It is startling to read claims by contemporary scholars stating or implying that jihad was not a significant motivating factor in the original Muslim conquest of most of the Iberian peninsula by Arab-Berber armies. Fernandez-Morera points out that the nice, sanitised, “inner struggle” contemporary Western construing of jihad is not actually supported by the Muslim or Christian chronicles. He is not above a bit of pointed irony in doing so:

Now, it is certainly possible that, for centuries, the medieval Muslim scholars who interpreted the sacred Islamic texts, as well as Muslim military leaders (including perhaps Muhammad himself when he led his armies into battle against infidels unwilling to submit), misunderstood (unlike today’s experts in Islamic studies) the primarily peaceful and “defensive” meaning of “jihad” and that, as a result of this mistake, Muslim armies erroneously went and, always defensively, conquered half the known world. (Chapter 1)

Moreover, when the texts of the Maliki school of Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence) which dominated inal-Andalus are consulted:

… they talk of war against infidels–a Sacred Combat, or Holy War, or Holy Struggle or whatever other name one may choose to give this religiously mandated war against infidels. … Thus what many Islamic studies academics call today “little jihad,” as opposed to “greater jihad” (the “spiritual” one), turns out to be the only jihad examined in Maliki religious treatises and actually practised in Islamic Spain. (Chapter 1)

I started reading The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise while I was finishing Perfect Soldiers, veteran journalist Terry McDermott’s book about the 9/11 hijackers. It was striking, even startling, to come across the same rhetoric from Islamic sources across a gap of over 1300 years; one contemporary, the other from early periods of Islamic conquest. Notably:

This willingness to die is found, for example, in the words of the Islamic Caliphate’s Arab commander Khalid Ibn Walid in 633, ordering the Persians to submit to Islam, or else: “Otherwise you are bound to meet a people who love death as much as you love life.” (Chapter 1)

The same rhetoric can be heard in our times from Hamasfrom Osama bin Laden, from the Fort Hood killer, from jihadis in the US, in Francein the UK.  All ultimately derived from the QuranSura 62:6.

Fernandez-Morera cites or quotes a series of Maliki and other medieval Islamic sources emphasising jihad as fighting the infidel who do not convert or submit, citing Medinan suras, noting that Bukhari’s collection of hadith elevated such jihad to a key obligation on free Muslim males after believing in Allah and His Prophet.

Fernandez-Morera also notes some controversy about how late in Islam the notion of inner struggle jihad and defensive jihad may have arisen. In Destiny Disrupted, Tamin Ansary dates the promotion of “inner jihad” as the “greater jihad” to Sufis during the Abbasid period, (p.107) though, as he also points out, some Sufi orders effectively became warrior orders (p.167). (Moreover, the original connection to Muhammad is via a statement of one of his companions of doubtful authenticity and apparently fails to appear in any of the six authoritative collections of hadith.) Fernandez-Morera is quite right to insist that the notion of Crusade (a late, and terminating, development in Christianity which required Papal authorisation) is quite different from jihad (a universal obligation on free Muslim males operating from the origins of Islam).

The original Muslim invasions included tabi’un, in charge of establishing proper Islamic rule and the first mosques. As with the invasions of Sassanid Persia, it included burning of captured books of philosophy and logic. The evidence of the religious motives are extensive, including from archaeology:

Coins minted in North Africa shortly before the invasion of Spain call upon the protection of Allah for jihad. (Chapter 1).

The notion of separate political and religious motives does not really apply, and the Islamic histories themselves are clear on the religious motives for conquest. Muslim chronicles mention the destruction of churches–usually in triumphal terms and often to celebrate their being turned into mosques (Chapter 1). Southern Spain has no churches built prior to the Catholic reconquest (Chapter 2).

Destructive conquest
The speed of the Islamic conquest (less than 10 years) was, as Fernandez-Morera points out, not that historically remarkable and was aided by deep divisions with the elite of the Visigothic kingdom. He uses the Arab conquest of Persia to illustrate the common patterns in both conquests at the opposite ends of the Mediterranean-Middle Eastern region. The willingness to offer protection for (humbling) submission as an alternative to war and death or enslavement was part of the conquest strategy. (The Mongols would later offer a very similar choice; most conquerors offer some version of it–with Islam, it is sanctified and incorporated as the default mode for dealing with non-believers.)

Without denying its weaknesses and oppression of Jews and heretics, Fernandez-Morera seeks to rehabilitate the Visigothic kingdom, arguing that the Islamic conquest saw the destruction of a nascent civilisation built on Roman, Germanic and Christian foundations. He notes that:

Spain was under Roman control and influence longer than any Western land outside of Italy and produced more Latin writers and emperors than any other Roman province. … the Visigoths were the most Romanized of all the peoples took over the Latin Roman Empire … (Chapter 2).

A civilisation that was legally innovative, included ruling queens and the establishment of which was much less disruptive than the subsequent Muslim conquest. Muslim sources refer to the wealth and splendour of the society they conquered (even if the major measure of the wealth was the acquired loot).

Fernandez-Morera points out how deeply implausible the notion is that an Arab-led army mainly of Berber nomads somehow raised the cultural level of a urban civilisation drawing on Roman and Classical heritage. Especially given that much of the cultural sophistication the Arab elite had acquired had come from their Iranian and Christian-Greek subjects. He is somewhat caustic on the notion that the Islamic world “preserved” the heritage of Greek thought, given that the Greek-Roman Empire never lost it and it was Islamic conquests and piracy that profoundly disrupted the previous connections across the Mediterranean (Chapter 2).

Being Romans
Fernandez-Morera shares my dislike of the “Byzantine” formulation for people who regarded themselves as Romans and were called such by their contemporaries:

… the term Byzantine Empire was invented in 1557 by the German scholar Hieronymous Wolf, who as a Protestant would not have been sympathetic to Eastern (or Orthodox) Christians. to indicate that these culturally Greek people of the Eastern Roman Empire were not Romans, and somehow not even Greek …
Eighteenth century Enlightenment scholars such as Montesquieu, who despised Orthodox Christianity perhaps even more than Roman Catholicism, adopted the term, thereby emphasizing that these presumably retrograde Christian Greeks had nothing in common with those pagan Greeks admired by the Enlightenment. (Chapter 2).

About the other
One of Fernandez-Morera’s continuing themes is how the juxtaposition of Muslims with Christians and Jews led to great concern (particularly among religious scholars, clerics, priests and rabbis) with not having defections among the faithful to the blandishments of other faiths. One of the strongest responses to living with other religious communities was to more strongly define what differentiated them.

In the case of the Jewish communities, that led to strong efforts against the non-rabbinical Karaites, who were pushed into marginal status. The rabbis clearly had an interest in encouraging hostility to those who denied their authority, but it is also clear that their success was partly based on their success in portraying the Karaites as being a path to defection from the Jewish community (Chapter 6).

But there were similar concerns, and analogous responses, within the Christian and Muslim communities. Except, of course, the Muslims were the ruling community, so Islamic law, administered by the ulama, the religious scholars, ruled all. The existence of significant Christian and Jewish communities tended to elevate the role of the ulama:

As several Spanish and French scholars have pointed out, in no other place within the Islamic empire was the influence of Islamic clerics on daily life as strong as in al-Anadalus. (Chapter 3)

Al-Andalus was dominated by the Maliki school of fiqh, which took decisions by early Rashiduncaliphs as sources of law, particularly Umar. Including the Pact or Condition of Umar. Andalusian Maliki jurisprudence was intolerant of adherents of other Islamic schools of jurisprudence, let alone non-Muslims:

… the practice of Islam in Spain was much more rigorous than in the East. If anything, the presence of large Catholic populations to the north and in their midst, along with the conversion to Islam of many of their earlier inhabitants, seems to have exacerbated the Andalusian clerics’ zeal in adhering to Maliki teachings. In other words, far from being conducive to tolerance, living close to Christians exacerbated Islamism in al-Andalus. (Chapter 3).

Andalusian Maliki fiqh forbade musical instruments and singing. The ban was less than entirely successful, but was a major impediment to the development of a musical culture. Strict purity concerns also got in the way of interactions as the founder of the school:

… forbade using the water left over by a Christian, or using for ablutions anything a Christian had touched, or eating food left over by a Christian. (Chapter 3)

These and other food purity rules meant that “breaking bread together” was not a practical option between a devout Muslim and a Christian. As I have noted before, it is not morality that buttresses the role of clerics as gatekeepers of righteousness, but moral taboos.

Just because three different religious communities lived in the same cities and under the same rulerships did not mean there was much in the way of mixing, beyond that useful for commerce. The public celebration of non-Muslim religious festivals was banned, for example. Living in different areas was a practical solution to the religious barriers to mixing:

… “fear of the “other” as a source of influence and possible conversion, the three religions’ marked differences in worship and purification practices, and the religious laws’ exclusionary dictates and warnings against socializing with other groups made living even in the same block difficult at best. (Chapter 3)

As the Reconquista proceeded, Muslim clerics issued fatwa calling on Muslims to leave Christian-ruled areas. The pressure on Christians in particular was such that the last Andalusian state, theEmirate of Granada, largely became a Christian-free state (Chapter 7). (Catholic Spain would, of course, eventually expel all its open Jews and Muslims.) The last Emir of Granada, in the treaty of surrender, insisted on a provision that no Jew would have authority over any Muslim or collect any taxes from them (Chapter 3). Fernandez-Morera notes that the Muwatta, a key source of Maliki fiqh in particular, says that:

Zakat is imposed on the Muslims to purify them and to be given back to the poor, whereas jizya is imposed on the people of the Book to humble them. (Chapter 1)

Yet there is this persistent myth of Andalusian convivencia.  Particularly under the Umayyad‘s, there was considerable repression internally and regular raids and attacks externally:

The celebrated Umayyads actually elevated religious and political persecutions, inquisitions, beheadings, impalings, and crucifixions to heights unequaled by any other set of rulers before or after in Spain. (Chapter 4)

Something Fernandez-Morera establishes from both Muslims and Catholic sources. The implications are not all that encouraging for simplistic multiculturalism:

… multicultural and pluralistic al-Andalus was plagued with religious, racial, political, and social conflicts, so that the most successful rulers must apply brutal and terrifying force to keep the place from disintegrating, as in fact it ultimately did. ….
In contrast, the relatively more ethnically and religiously unified Catholic kingdoms did not present the same problems for their rulers and therefore did not encourage the same drastic solutions. (Chapter 4).

And (to continue the story beyond where Fernandez-Morera takes it), having completed theReconquista, the eventual response of the Catholic kingdoms of Spain and Portugal was to use forced conversions and expulsions to re-create such unity.

Status of women
It is no surprise that concern for clear differentiation between the faithful and other faiths fell particularly strongly on women. Indeed, the higher the status of the Muslim woman (status which derived from the key man in her life), the more strict the requirements of separating differentiation.

The cultural and other activities of Andalusian women cited by those keen on pushing theconvivencia narrative were either slave girls (or, in the case of celebrated love poetry, largely aboutslave girls) or otherwise restricted to the private sphere. While, as one would expect in apolygynous society where stealing infidel womenwas sanctified, sexual slavery was rife. So rife, that (along with the aforementioned expulsions) there is very little Arab or Berber genetic imprint in the present-day Spanish population. Conversely, the situation of Catholic women in Catholic Spain was markedly better than that of even high status Muslim women in al-Andalus(Chapter 5).

Submission and domination
As for the dhimmi system for Christians and Jews, which is presented as enlightened toleration under the convivencia model:

The system of “protection” then, was in reality, a system of exploitation and subjugation. (Chapter 7).

With Muslim historians emphasising that the various conditions and requirements were structured to humiliate Jews and Christians. Nor can we look elsewhere for this alleged Andalusian tolerance:

There was no more a culture of tolerance in what remained of the Christian community in Islamic Spain than there was in the Muslim or Jewish communities (Chapter 7).

An issue which preceded the Muslim conquest. Upon the conversion of King Recared (r.588-601) to Catholicism (589), Visigothic law persecuted Arianism and Judaism, aiming for the extinction of both. In this it did not succeed, but it did alienate the Jewish community enough that the invading Muslims successfully used them as allies against the Christians. Fernandez-Morera notes various parallels in the exclusionary laws and rules of Christians, Muslims and Jews (Chapter 7).

Andalusian Muslim society was a stratified one:

Arabs were at the top of the social scale, with Berbers in the middle, followed by freed white Muslim slaves who had becomemawali; the muladis, further divided into first-generation converts and the rest, occupied a lower echelon, above that of only dhimmis and slaves. (Chapter 7)

With the muladis being a recurring source of unrest and revolt.

Something which clearly particularly irritates Fernandez-Morera is how Islamic imperialism in Spain often gets remarkably favourable treatment by Anglophone scholars, while Catholic resistance is ignored or belittled. As he notes:

… the relative scholarly neglect of the Christian sources on the Islamic conquest as testimonies of the Christians’ loss–a neglect of the vision de los vencides (“the views or testimonies of the defeated”) not present, for example, in studies of the Spanish conquest of the Americas. (Chapter 7)

He continues:

The implication is clear: these people should be grateful to the tolerant Muslim authorities for so graciously allowing them to practice their religion. Never mind the lowly status Christian dhimmis and even muladis occupied in Muslim society; the harsh restrictions they lived under; the extortion and humiliation they suffered through their special “taxes” (the jizya); the destruction of their ancient churches … or even harsher punishments Christians faced for violating Islamic laws. Those punishments included drastic measures such as ethnic cleansing … The punishments also included, as we have seen repeatedly, executions of the most painful and public forms.
Such was the spirit of Islamic Spain’s “convivencia“, which Norman Roth hails as “one of the many things that made Spain great, and which the rest of Europe could have learned from it to its profit”. (Chapter 7)

Fernandez-Morera brings the threads together in the Epilogue, including the central thesis of the book:

Few periods in history have been more misrepresented than that of Islamic Spain.

A misrepresentation that wildly over-praised Islamic tolerance and treats the achievements of Visigothic Spain, and subjugation of Christians and Jews, remarkably dismissively. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise is at once an informative corrective to much historical misrepresentation and a worrying documentation of scholarship going systematically wrong.

Motivated misrepresentation
In his Introduction, Fernandez-Morera wrestles with why this persistent scholarly mythologising has occurred. He raises various possibilities–including the significant flows of Muslim oil money into funding academic activity. With associated pressures:

Doubtlessly, professional self-preservation as well as political correctness and economics as well as political correctness and economics have affected academic research in certain fields of study in contrast to the fearlessness demonstrated by professors when unmasking horrors in such dangerous areas of investigation as Christian Europe (the burning of witches! colonialism!) and Catholic Spain (the ubiquitous Spanish Inquisition!). Islamic Spain is no exception to the rule. University presses do not want to get in trouble presenting an Islamic domination of even centuries ago as anything but a positive event, and academic specialists would rather not portray negatively a subject that constitutes their bread and butter. In addition, fear of the accusation of “Islamophobia” has paralyzed many academic researchers. (Introduction)

The farce over the Yale University Press published work on the Mohammad cartoons sans cartoons provides him with an excellent illustrative example. It is not surprising that the Introduction also includes a strong plea to focus on where the evidence leads us, while being aware of the context of what we use as evidence.

There is also, as Fernandez-Morera points out, something of a prejudice against religious motives as explanations:

Failing to take seriously the religious factor in Islamic conquests is characteristic of a certain type of materialist Western historiography which finds it uncomfortable to accept that war and the willingness to kill and die in its can be the result of someone’s religious faith–an obstacle to understanding that may reflect the role played by religious faith in the lives of many academic historians. (Introduction)

And even more so in other humanities and social sciences.

There is, of course, something of a tradition in Anglophone writings to be down on Catholic Spain; a tradition kept alive, at least in the popular mind, by the tales of Gloriana and theSpanish Armada. After noting the “stakeholder” problem, Fernandez-Morera suggests that:

Or perhaps since the eighteenth-century Enlightenment the critical construction of a diverse, tolerant and happy Islamic Spain has been part of an effort to sell a particular cultural agenda (Introduction).

Perhaps indeed.  Moreover:

In the past few decades, this ideological mission has morphed into “presentism,” an academically sponsored effort to narrate the past in terms of the present and thereby reinterpret to serve contemporary “multiculturalism,” “diversity,” and “peace” studies, which necessitates rejecting as retrograde, chauvinistic or, worse, “conservative” any view of the past that may conflict with the progressive agenda. (Introduction)

Something that the decreasing ideological diversity of the academy (particularly in the humanities) tends to aggravate.

Still, while scholars such as Fernandez-Morera are willing to take a well-wielded scholarly axe to pretentious pieties, there is hope.

blog article here


About steveblizard

Steve Blizard commenced his financial planning career in 1988 from a background of life insurance broking, a field in which he still works. He is a member of the Financial Planning Association and the Responsible Investment Association. His experience ranges from administration of Superannuation to advice regarding insurance, retirement, remuneration and investment planning. Steve is an accredited Remuneration Consultant, specialising in salary packaging. He is a columnist for the Swan Magazine and the WA Business News


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