No, Islamic Spain was Not Tolerant

So sayeth this review of The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise. (h/t Vox Populi)

And yes, the reviewer is an Orthodox priest, if you want to ready your ad hominems, and he is positively scathing regarding the myth, even working in a Gone With the Wind reference.

As Fernandez-Morera’s book points out, the picture of a tolerant Islam can only be drawn by selecting among the facts and zeroing in on a few of the upper classes, while conveniently ignoring the mass of people and suppressing certain other facts—even facts about those upper classes.

Now, the fact that medieval Muslims forcibly oppressed Christians in their lands does not and should not surprise. Religions, if they’re worth anything, are totalizing, thus religious tolerance always has the tendency to border on being a contradiction in terms. So the status of Christian dhimmis in Muslim Spain as fifth-class subjects should not really be a revelation.

But it is, and this indicaes a broader problem, of a spiritual cancer at the heart of the West. There are those among us who are prepared to believe, and repeat, anything, if it makes our own culture look bad. The same people who tut derisively about the Crusades train themselves not to notice the wars of conquest by which Arab Muslims destroyed Christian Visigothic Spain in the eighth century. Their stunted ideology requires them to deplore the first thing and attack anyone who mentions the second thing as a racist (because, you know, Islam is a race. Oh, we know that it isn’t, but you’re too dumb to make that distinction). Attacking your own culture makes you virtuous, you see.

Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair climbed on the bandwagon, saying in 2007, “The standard-bearers of tolerance in the early Middle Ages were far more likely to be found in Muslim lands than in Christian ones”.

Given that the early Middle Ages were the time when Muslims attacked other lands specifically in the name of their religion, this statement beggars belief. I’d be hard pressed to think that Tony Blair even really thought this was true. It’s just the sort of thing we’re expected to say, a reading from the Catechism of the Blessed Dictatorship of Post-Cultural Relativism.

We Do Not Understand the Middle East

That’s a pretty obvious statement, but Michael Totten’s article about the End of Hezbollah (his lips to God’s ears) underlines it wonderfully:

Part of Hezbollah’s support used to come from the fact that they were perceived as not being corrupt, but that’s over now, too.

“Even my family members who are big Hezbollah supporters are talking about the corruption,” she said. “One of my relatives told me she hates them now. And she has always been a huge resistance supporter.”

A large number of Lebanon’s Shia may not like Hezbollah so much anymore, but the support is still there because they feel like they don’t have any choice. They are afraid. Every sect felt this way during the civil war, when even people who are natural cosmopolitan pacifists supported one of “their own” sectarian militias because they were afraid of the others. It would happen to you, too, if you lived in an environment with a weak and dysfunctional state that can’t provide security while your neighbors are trying to kill you.

We discuss the Middle East in simple, monochrome terms, because drawing a distinction between radical Muslims seems like angels-on-pinheads territory. They all want to kill us, so what’s the difference?

But the Middle East is rife with faultlines and divisions: Shia, Sunni, Salafist, Alawite:

The Alawites—Bashar al-Assad’s minority sect—are not actually Shias, not really. Washington thinks they are, but that’s because back in the 1970s the Lebanese cleric Musa Sadr issued a fatwa declaring them Shias. For a thousand years before that, no one thought of the Alawites as Shias or even Muslims. What they are is a secretive and closed heterodox minority that fuses Christianity, Gnosticism, and Twelver Shia Islam together into something else entirely. Muslims have always considered them infidels.

I consider myself reasonably well-versed on the subject of basic Islam, and I’ve never heard of these people. I’d always assumed Assad was a Sunni Muslim, because I always figured the Tigris-Euphrates was the faultline between Sunni and Shia.

Until we learn these things institutionally — until the State and Defense Departments, the CIA etc. develop policy that exploits the complexities of the Middle East — we will make no headway.

Fortunately, it’s going to be a Long War.

“Islam is Alone in having a War Strategy”

So sayeth American Infidels. It’s all about deception, and it’s called taqiyya.

While many Muslim spokesmen today maintain that taqiyya is solely a Shi’ite doctrine, shunned by Sunnis, the great Islamic scholar Ignaz Goldziher points out that while it was formulated by Shi’ites, “it is accepted as legitimate by other Muslims as well, on the authority of Qur’an 3:28.” The Sunnis of Al-Qaeda practice it today.

Also, there is Muhammad’s statement, “war is deceit.” He also allowed for lying in battle and between a husband and wife. And when he gave permission to one of his followers, Muhammad bin Maslama, to murder one of his critics, Ka’b bin al-Ashraf, he also gave Muhammad bin Maslama permission to lie to Ka’b in order to lure him close enough to be killed.

And Muhammad is the “excellent example of conduct” for Muslims (Qur’an 33:21).

We do not understand our terrorist enemies half as well as we should. Fortunately, if we adopt the long war/containment strategy that we seem to be moving towards, we will have the opportunity to learn.

Arabia Before Islam at Medieval Musings

Medieval Musings is the kind of blog that I would like to write, if it didn’t already exist. The Middle Ages continues to fascinate, both for its seeming atavistic structure (men who work, men who fight, men who pray!) and the constant, chaotic change. Western Civilization went from seeming collapse to being poised to take over the world in those thousand years. Multitudes of things to be learned remain, even for the amateur medievalist.

There’s a similarly evocative post there about pre-Islamic Arabia, which points out some interesting, if not entirely surprising things:

It is evident from these finds that ancient Arabia was not only politically and linguistically, but also religiously diverse. Artefacts such as the al-Hamra cube (perhaps a pedestal or an altar) display religious motifs shared with Egypt and Mesopotamia, such as the bull-god Apis, while a large number of incense burners and altars evoke the sacrificial spirituality which characterises the old Testament. This plurality continued well into the Christian era, with the Byzantines exerting their influence from the north and a number of Jewish communities noted throughout the peninsula.

Like many places on the fringes of more powerful civilizations, Arabia was a mishmash. Which parts of that mishmash influenced and survived Mohammed is a damned interesting question to nerds like me.


The Cowardice of the Intellectuals

Not merely with regard to radical Islam: (h/t: Instapundit)

We flatter ourselves into believing that we are more liberated than our stuffy ancestors. A sobering corrective to modern self-satisfaction is to realise that an ex-Muslim novelist would never now dare do what Salman Rushdie did with The Satanic Verses and write a book that said the life of Muhammad was less than exemplary. Even if he or she did, no one would dare publish it.

Also with regard to the various fat-cats against whom the original yellow journalists fought:

In Britain’s case, any writer who had tried to research a book on the rapacious and authoritarian managers at the Royal Bank of Scotland or HBOS, for instance, or on the insanely reckless derivative swap and insurance markets in the London-based subsidiaries of Wall Street banks, would have run into the libel law. It is some barrier to overcome. The cost of a libel action in England and Wales is 140 times the European average. Contrary to common law and natural justice, the burden of proof is on the defendant. Even the few remaining wealthy newspapers, which have business models that have not yet been destroyed by the Internet, find it hard to afford a court case.

The conclusion is less satisfactory:

Editors are no longer frightened of politicians but of Islamist violence, oligarchs and CEOs. They worry about libel and the ability of the wealthy to bend the ear of their proprietors or withdraw advertising. But they are not frightened about leaking the secrets or criticising the actions of elected governments.

We need new ways of thinking about censorship. The first step is the most essential. Only when we have the courage to admit that we are afraid can we begin the task of extending our freedoms.

I dislike this because it seems to suggest that certain private actions should be made illegal. Certainly radical Muslims should be restrained in their ability to terrorize the rest of the population, and certainly Britain’s libel laws should be reformed. But not even the wealthy should be expected to pay to advertise something that they do not like. That is in itself a kind of censorship, if we’re going to come up with new ways of thinking about that.

But Read the Whole Thing.