The Fairy Tale of Al-Andalus

The book reviewed below by Thomas Bertonneau follows on the heels of Emmet Scott’s work, and adds further layers of well-documented information debunking the notion of the “Golden Age of Al-Andalus”.

Dario Fernández-Morera’s Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Spain

Reviewed by Thomas F. Bertonneau

In The Twilight of the Idols (1888), Friedrich Nietzsche expressed his wish to philosophize with a hammer, that is, to make smithereens of the false images that leeringly prevent a candid vision of life, the world, and history. Nietzsche wrote that “there are more idols than realities in the world.” He wished, with his instrument, preliminarily, to “test” the idols — expecting to detect “as a reply that famous hollow sound which speaks of bloated entrails.” If that were the sign, the hammer might come fully into play. Like the supreme iconoclast of the German language, Dario Fernández-Morera, a Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Literature at Northwestern University, has decided to test a certain gallery of idols, the much-revered ones connected with a persistent, but, in light of accessible knowledge, dubious legend. The old legend of Islamic Spain (for that is the story in question), of its tolerance and enlightenment, and of its convivencia of all peoples, has gained new currency with the rise of the anti-Western, anti-Christian ideology known as multiculturalism. The university departments of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, having transformed themselves into publicity businesses for the new militant phase of Islam, their acolytes, politically correct to the core, have propagandized the utopian narrative of the Umayyads, Almoravids, and Almohads in Spain. Those same acolytes have either ignored the achievements of Visigothic Spain and its successor polities in the northern part of Hispania or have denigrated them by invidious, non-factual comparisons. Honoring the facts, which he has patiently gleaned in a decade of impressively disciplined study, Fernández-Morera has written The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (ISI, 2016), which, with its handsome dust jacket, is nevertheless a warrior’s cudgel. The myth of that supposed paradise will not withstand its prodigious action.

The basic vocabulary of the Andalusian Myth reflects a mendacious agenda, as Fernández-Morera takes care to point out in his opening chapter, on “Conquest and Reconquest.” In modern accounts of Spain under the Muslims, scholars of the departments invariably refer to a geographical entity called Iberia. In a detailed summary of the historical background to the centuries of Muslim hegemony, Fernández-Morera reminds his readers that the Romans, who were active in the peninsula from the time of the First Punic War, never named it by any other name than Hispania. That same Hispania became a province of the Roman Empire, providing it with emperors and artists over the centuries, and playing a role within the imperial structure in the west only second to Italy. When the imperial administrative structure in the west broke down in the Fifth Century, and the Visigoths inherited the Roman mantle south of the Pyrenees, they too still called the region Hispania. Spain had thus been Spain to its inhabitants for nearly a thousand years before the Muslim invasion. After the invasion, Spain remained Spain to its Spanish-Christian inhabitants, as Fernández-Morera demonstrates by bringing into evidence documents from the period in question. The academic use of the term Iberia conveniently deletes these facts, just as it deletes the spiritual resistance of the actual Spaniards (the Spanish-Roman-Christian-Gothic people of Spain) during the relevant centuries to their militant overlords of another religion. Fernández-Morera therefore prefers the terms “Spain, medieval Spain, and Islamic Spain” to Iberia. Indeed, Fernández-Morera characterizes both the Muslim attempt, beginning already in the Eighth Century, to replace standing Latin toponyms with Arabic labels and the modern recursion to that replacement-nomenclature as imperialistic gestures. He writes that medieval Spaniards “considered the lands conquered by Islam to be part of Spain, not part of Islam, and therefore they did not use the term Al-Andalus,” the Muslim name for the subdued region.

Fernández-Morera remarks another verbal sleight-of-hand in contemporary discourse about Spain under the Muslims: that discourse tends to treat the invasion, conquest, and exploitation of native wealth and resources of Spain as a non-event — something that casually happened — perhaps during a collective blink, after which the Muslims were mysteriously and benevolently there — but without a motive and without an agenda and meanwhile lacking any context, things that might permit an assessment of it. Fernández-Morera addresses the dodge by emphasizing the actual context of the original cross-Gibraltar incursion and its sequels, so disastrous for Spain: It belonged to Islam’s violent jihad across North Africa and took place simultaneously with Islam’s campaigns of terror and conquest in Christian Anatolia. “Muslim and Christian chronicles tell us,” Fernández-Morera writes, “and archeological evidence corroborates, that, in the second half of the Seventh Century, the Islamic Caliphate’s armies from Arabia and the Middle East swept through North African coastal areas held by the Christian Greek Roman Empire.” These regions had been bastions of Christianity since the Third Century and, like Spain itself, productive provinces of the Empire. The Muslim armies that marched out of newly-subdued Egypt under the banner of their prophet set the pattern of jihad by besieging and capturing cities, killing all adult males who refused conversion, and taking women and children into slavery; they burned and demolished churches and synagogues. Such grabuge, rapine, et saccage honored the commands of Allah and venerated through imitation the life of the “perfect man.” As Fernández-Morera writes, “Jihad was so widely understood as Holy War in Islamic Spain that the famous work on jihad as Holy War by Abu Ishaq al-Farazi… remained popular in Spain long after it had ceased to be edited in other lands.”

That last quoted sentence points to another recurrent feature of Fernández-Morera’s exposition: His reliance on Spanish-Muslim sources for indications of how the conquerors and hegemons of Spain understood their own offices and functions. While it is possible to find a few mitigating discussions of jihad in Islamic religious discourse elsewhere than in Spain — among Sufis, perhaps, or other mystics — in Spain nevertheless the centuries-dominant Maliki school of religious commentary entertained no ambiguities with respect to the term. Thus, as Fernández-Morera writes, “extant letters from Islamic Spain that use the word jihad display no other meaning but Holy War (‘al-jihad’).” Thus again, “in Islamic Spain, Muslim clerics regarded as particularly worthy the combination of personal virtue and a willingness to make war against the infidels — jihad.” Such dedication to regular violence against infidels meant that during the period of Islamic domination leaders not only felt obliged yearly to conduct campaigns against the dhimmis and raids outside the borders of the realm, but they positively relished doing so. Fernández-Morera’s research has revealed, for example, that “Maliki jurisprudence advised holy warriors to spare from destruction during jihad only bees, small children, women, decrepit old men, and monks and hermits who lived by themselves and posed no threat.” As the conquest of the Visigothic principalities took a mere decade, and as the final phase of the Reconquista happened only at the close of the Fifteenth Century, the call for jihad implies hundreds of years of internal campaigning against any recalcitrance about dhimmitude, whether real or imagined.

That Spain endured the ordeal of more than seven hundred years under various Muslim regimes is a fact known to most literate people, although poorly, and only in the distorting form of the Myth. Few people, however, know anything about what preceded Islam in Spain. Here too The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise serves superlatively in the educational cause. Before Islamic Spain there was Visigothic Spain. Now a general misunderstanding prevails concerning the early Medieval Period of the West: That, for example, it was a “Dark Age,” illiterate, impoverished, and superstitious, dominated by ragged Teutonic barbarians, who could at best plunder the ruins. It is possible to trace this picture of the immediate Post-Roman centuries to the Eighteenth Century and to writers of the Enlightenment such as Edward Gibbons, for whom the Glory that was Rome succumbed to spiritual sapping by Christianity and barbarization by unshaven foreigners. As Gibbon saw things, Christianity was fundamentally incapable of building or preserving a civilization. The story is a persistent one that suits the requirements of political correctness; it is also as false as the Myth of the Andalusian Paradise. As Henri Pirenne showed in his study of Mohammed and Charlemagne (1937), Classical Civilization, Christianized but vital, went on in many places around the Mediterranean for centuries after the legendarily baleful date of 476, in France, Italy, and Spain. The polities were Gothic monarchies, but the general pattern was that, whether or not the king was effectively autonomous, he accepted formally that he was a vice-regent of the actual emperor in Constantinople. In Marseilles or Ravenna or Saragossa life went on according to longstanding and fully civilized customs. Indeed, when the Gothic kings saw themselves as the rescuers and continuators of the Romans, they had justification in doing so.

In the chapter on “The Effects of the Jihad,” Fernández-Morera characterizes the Visigoths in Spain as “the most Romanized of all the peoples that took over the Roman Empire,” adding that, “they played an important role in the making of Western civilization.” The Visigothic princes of Spain were educated men who spoke Latin as well as they spoke their own Germanic tongue. The Muslim conquest, in Fernández-Morera’s words, “interrupted the process of cultural and ethnic fusion of Christian Hispano-Romans and Visigoths, and therefore the emergence of a new Christian Hispano-Gothic civilization.” Although the earliest kings tended to espouse the Arian version of Christianity, and although the people were largely of the Nicene profession, the kings refrained from interfering in religious matters, while nevertheless seeing to the maintenance of existing churches and the building of new ones. In 589, six years before Pope Gregory sent Augustine on a mission to convert the still-heathen Anglo-Saxons of Britain, Spanish King Recared converted to Catholicism. Christian Hispano-Gothic civilization shows the marks of enlightenment and tolerance that its replacement does not. On the material level, the Goths committed themselves to civic renewal. As Fernández-Morera writes, “recent discoveries of urban archeology have underlined the importance of Visigothic architecture in Spain, its magnificent metallurgy, [and] its great city of Recópolis.” Christian Hispano-Gothic civilization produced a code of law the precepts of which demonstrate “a guiding desire to limit the power of government many years before the Magna Carta.” In contrast with their much-altered situation once Muslims ruled, “Visigoth women enjoyed a [noteworthy] degree of autonomy in the public sphere.” That would have been consistent with both Late-Roman society and Romanized Gothic society elsewhere than in Spain, where women were visible, active, and in possession of rights. As Fernández-Morera points out, Christian Hispano-Gothic civilization can even count female monarchs in its list of rulers.

Contemporary critical thinking, as it likes to call itself, remains mired for ideological reasons in the falsehood of Visigothic benightedness and poverty. Fernández-Morera quotes Muslim sources to the opposite effect. The historian al-Maqqari recorded the impression made by Córdoba on its captors: The city was replete with preserved Roman and Greek buildings as well as newer buildings, including a royal residence that, in al-Maqqari’s words, as quoted by Fernández-Morera, “were so magnificently decorated as to dazzle… the eyes of the beholders.” Christian Hispano-Gothic civilization cultivated scholarship as well as the arts and could boast a secular literature. In the same chapter on “The Effects of Jihad,” Fernández-Morera makes the case that far from endowing a lost Greco-Roman heritage on their Germanic inferiors, the barbarous Muslims learned much of what they subsequently knew about medicine and other sciences from the Goths, who were the actual conscious custodians of the Classical achievement. The Muslims in Spain supposedly innovated in poetry. Fernández-Morera shows that a much-touted verse-innovation, the muwassahah, originated as a device of Christian Hispano-Gothic popular song. In matters of High Culture, the Visigoths had appropriated the canons of Roman education directly from their precursors and indirectly through continued communications with the Greek-speaking Roman Empire of the East. Visigothic scholars continued the project of the Greek and Latin Church-Fathers in reconciling paganism with Christianity. Muslim rule naturally brought the cessation of all such activities. It is once again documentable through Muslim sources that the destruction of Christian Hispano-Gothic civilization in Spain was the deliberate and implacable policy of the invader-conquerors.

Fernández-Morera suspects that modern ignorance of Christian Hispano-Gothic civilization in Spain is the result of another, contemporary, and equally deliberate policy. Professor of medieval history at Boston University Thomas F. Glick furnishes Fernández-Morera with a telling example. Glick, claiming “the economic regressiveness of Visigothic Spain,” asserts that the Visigoths abandoned various Roman-era mining enterprises. Relying on Emmett Scott, Fernández-Morera can assert contrarily that no archeological evidence attests to the claim; but, oppositely, that the evidence suggests that the mines and quarries remained in operation as active components of the Visigothic economy until the conquest. “Indeed,” writes Fernández-Morera, “Glick… seems to have no idea about such cities as the Visigoth Recópolis, the magnificent treasures of wrought gold and jewelry that the Visigoths buried to protect them from the rapaciousness of the Islamic invaders, or any of the other achievements of the Hispano-Roman-Visigothic culture.” In sum, “Too many of those scholars who make pronouncements on Islamic Spain display an ignorance of — or perhaps even a blatant disregard for — what the primary sources and archeological findings show.”

In the chapter on “The Daily Reality of Al-Andalus,” Fernández-Morera takes his hammer to the notion of a convivencia between the Islamic conquerors and their Christian dhimmi subjects. The notion of a convivencia communicates with the other notion (really a non-notion) that the Islamic invasion and takeover of Spain were together a non-event, but that once having (as it were) found themselves in Spain, the Muslims instructed the indigenes in the arts of civilization. Professor Glick makes another appearance in this chapter, arguing that Islamic Spain is the benign prototype, aborted in the Reconquista, of the multiculturally diverse utopia that liberals would like to conjure into existence and then impose on everyone else, whether everyone else agrees to it or not. As Fernández-Morera writes, “The daily realities of al-Andalus bear little relation to the fashionable mythology.” The realities express themselves in a single word: Sharia, or Islamic Law. The copious details that Fernández-Morera marshals in this chapter exclusively support the conclusion that Sharia never has and never will, and certainly never did in Spain constitute anything like a convivencia of Muslims and dhimmis. Drawing once again on Muslim sources, Fernández-Morera documents how, in fact, the imposition of Sharia in Spain was particularly acute and debilitating. Fernández-Morera writes, “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 it was in al-Andalus.” The practical separation of Church and state, characteristic of the Visigothic dispensation, vanished into the assimilation of the state by the religion that is characteristic of Islam. The ulamas issued edicts against drinking wine, making music in public, or enjoying any kind of entertainment. The chapter on “The Myth of Umayyad Tolerance” amasses an encyclopedia of atrocities and oppressions that are entirely consistent with the picture that Fernández-Morera paints in the chapter on “The Daily Reality of Life in al-Andalus.”

Although of course they never will, feminists should read the chapter in The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise on “Women in Islamic Spain.” The familiar Islamic institutions suddenly impose themselves on the freedom of Western women — and on Muslim women who came with their men or arrived as brides of arranged marriages or whose Christian husbands made the existential decision to say the Shahada and submit. The rules largely confine women, whether Muslim or dhimmi, to the home; the law, through its ever-vigilant agents, assiduously polices them when they go out in public. As elsewhere under Islam, girl-children have their sex-organs mutilated. Except for their own internal affairs, there is no Christian law for dhimmis; Islamic law — of the Maliki School — applies to everyone. Women when accused of adultery, and therefore when inevitably convicted, because of the bias of Sharia in favor of the male, face death by stoning. The law-treatises fill out long sections with the sadistic details of how the executioners should carry out the sentence. In a summary, Fernández-Morera writes: “The twelfth-century expert on the Maliki School of Islamic jurisprudence in Spain, the Córdoban Ibn Rushd (known by Western scholars only as ‘the great philosopher Averroes’), confirms that the punishment for adultery in the case of a mushan woman must be stoning; and that no pit need be dug for the punishment (whereas, according to al-Shafi, a pit must be dug to stone a woman, but not a man).” A mushan, incidentally, is a free Muslim woman who is either a wife or a widow.

The discussion of “Women in Islamic Spain” maintains a connection with the discussion of Christian Hispano-Gothic civilization in the chapter on “The Effects of Jihad.” Here Fernández-Morera again demolishes a tenet of the Myth — the one that attributes to Islamic Spain an anomalous (for Islam) cult of the free and sexually appealing woman to whom refined rhapsodists compose remarkable erotic poems that anticipate the Troubadour poetry of Thirteenth-Century Provence. According to this idea, not only was Islamic Spain philosophically enlightened and socially tolerant; it also produced and honored an amazing anticipation of the modern liberated woman, highly cultured and smartly beautiful. If the idol rang hollow, and it does, its echoing emptiness would hardly come as a surprise. The women in question, Fernández-Morera demonstrates, were sexual slaves. If these girls could dance and sing, or if they could converse learnedly with men, that was because they had been instructed in these arts, in a way grimly consonant with their enslavement. The verses of praise therefore constitute proprietary, rather pornographic claims by lascivious slave-holders of young women who might best be described as sexual chattels. The contrast with Troubadour and Chivalric poetry, as practiced in Catholic Europe, could not be greater. In addition to describing the dire plight of women in Islamic Spain, Fernández-Morera does his readers the complementary favor of providing a description of the condition of women in Christendom and the Greek-speaking Roman Empire in the East.

The chapters on “The Truth about Jewish Community’s ‘Golden Age’” and “The Christian Condition” tell similar stories, massively documented, about the humiliating severity of life in dhimmi status. Concerning the Jews, Fernández-Morera documents how the Muslims cynically used them against the Christians by stationing them as tax-collectors and in other annoying offices, where they had no choice but to do Muslim dirty-work against the infidels. (This happened also in the Balkans and Central Europe. The Islamic contribution to Western anti-Semitism is another topic deserving of study.) Life under Islam proved so intolerable to Christians that eventually, as the Reconquista proceeded, the Catholic armies, on defeating the Muslim defenders, would discover that there were no dhimmis left. Christians had either to contrive to seek refuge in the north or in Italy or they had to convert. A certain grim humor inheres in this situation, at which Fernández-Morera subtly hints, but which he refrains from hammering into the ground. Dhimmitude in effect pays for Muslim domination; it forces non-Muslims who wish to practice their religion or simply keep to their inherited customs into a costly protection racket. Pay up or die! Islam makes life so intolerable for dhimmis that they fly from it whenever they can or convert, when that is the only alternative, until eventually there is no easy mark left for Muslims to tap financially or to scapegoat in order to relieve constant massive social tensions associated with the Religion of Allah.

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise gains plausibility by its communion with other recent critical books about Islam and its impact on the West. When Fernández-Morera attacks the false picture of Visigothic Spain as a temporary polity of barbaric plunderers, he is taking up a counterargument that goes back at least to Pirenne’s Mohammed and Charlemagne. In a section of his concluding chapter on the early Medieval Period, under the subtitle of “Intellectual Civilization,” Pirenne writes of the “rapid… Romanization of the Burgundi, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, and Lombards.” Pirenne argues in his Conclusion, moreover, that “the Germanic invasions destroyed neither the Mediterranean unity of the ancient world, nor what may be regarded as the truly essential features of Roman culture as it still existed in the 5th century, at a time when there was no longer an emperor in the west.” Fernández-Morera’s specialized thesis about Visigothic Spain is perfectly consistent with Pirenne’s general thesis. Fernández-Morera’s history of Spain between the Muslim conquest and the Catholic Reconquista, is likewise consistent with Pirenne’s other conclusion, namely that what destroyed the Roman heritage everywhere that it had the opportunity to do so was — Islam.

In The Impact of Islam (2014), Emmett Scott devotes a chapter to “Islamic Spain.” Scott’s exposition is relevant to Fernández-Morera’s contention that the Myth reverses the objective achievements of Christian Hispano-Gothic civilization and the Islamic occupation that replaced it. Scott quotes from the English historian Moss, an early advocate of the Myth, about the quality and extent of architectural and artistic splendors of Umayyad Spain in the Eighth Century. “The picture Moss paints,” Scott writes, “was derived from medieval Arab chroniclers, who spoke of a city [Córdoba] of half a million inhabitants, of three thousand mosques, of one hundred and thirteen thousand houses, and of three hundred public baths — this not even counting the twenty-eight suburbs said to have surrounded the metropolis.” There is a problem, however, with this fantastic vision. Scott writes: “Over the past sixty years intensive efforts have been made to discover this astonishing civilization — to no avail. Try as they might, archeologists have found hardly anything, hardly a brick or inscription, for the first two centuries of Arab rule in Spain.” In The Impact of Islam and the earlier Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited (2012), Scott shows, on the other hand, how archeology has attested the ambitious and robust character of the Visigoths, not only in their desire to maintain inherited Roman monuments, but to build new ones incorporating elements of the Roman pattern.

In Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited, Scott concludes that in the post-imperial centuries, “evidence of every kind leads to the conclusion that Spain under the Visigoths, like North Africa under the Vandals, experienced not a decline but a great revival of culture and prosperity.” Here again Fernández-Morera’s exposition, which often calls on Scott, is entirely consistent with Scott; and, more importantly, with the facts, which the Myth itself ignores or downloads (so to speak) out of nothing when it feels the need of fictions to stand against evidence. One feature of the exposition in The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise is that its author has prefaced each chapter extensively with quotations from purveyors of the Myth — and the farther one reads in the book, the more one recognizes not only the fatuity, but the mendacity of the claims contained in those quotations. But did Visigothic Spain, as Fernández-Morera claims, really help to shape Early-Medieval Europe beyond the Pyrenees? This position too can — and must — be vindicated. Why the claim is true is suggested by a passage from late Dominique Venner’s Histoire et tradition des Européens: 30,000 and d’identité (2011).

Venner recalls for his readers the admiration of the early Ninth-Century Catalans for the Emperor of the Franks, Charlemagne, after the retaking of Barcelona in 801. Venner writes:

La conquête musulmane de l’Espagne avait commencé au siècle précédent. Seules avaient échappé les régions montagneuses du nord et le petit royaume des Asturies. Établie par Charlemagne, la marche d’Espagne avait redonné l’espoir aux people de péninsule Ibérique de se libérer… Il n’est pas indifférent que La Chanson de Roland, œuvre fondatrice de là littérature française, ait pour thème l’un des premiers épisodes de la Reconquête. Roland le Preux fut célèbre dans toute Europe, bien au-delà des pays de langue romane. En lui s’accomplissait la figure spécifiquement du chevalier, l’homme “clair de visage et de cœur.”

The Muslim conquest of Spain had begun in the previous century. Only the mountainous north and the small kingdom of Asturias escaped it. Established by Charlemagne, the Spanish March had restored hope to the people of Iberian Peninsula to be free… It is significant that The Song of Roland, the founding work of French literature, takes for its theme one of the first episodes of the Reconquista. Roland the Doughty was famous throughout Europe, beyond the Romance language countries. In him was fulfilled specifically the figure of the knight, the man “clear of face and heart.”

Westerners would do well to remember that Islamic ambition, which knows no limit, did not experience any ultimate satisfaction in the domination of Spain but looked beyond the Pyrenees, sending an expedition into France that was famously repulsed by Charlemagne’s precursor, Charles Martel, at Poitiers in 732. “Martel” means “hammer,” making the Merovingian war-leader a kind of namesake of Nietzsche, whose philosophical cudgel in Twilight of the Idols forecasts Fernández-Morera’s book. Venner’s reminder that High Medieval Literature begins with La Chanson implies that the plight of Spain was central to the consciousness that produced that literature. Trans-Pyrenean Europe was, moreover, actively involved in Spain’s trauma under the Muslims, and the Franks, in particular, aided the Spanish cause when they could. Spain would repay the gesture, not least by its contribution to the victory over the Turkish armada at Lepanto in 1571.

Thomas F. Bertonneau has been a college English professor since the late 1980s, with some side-bars as a Scholar in residence at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal, as a Henri Salvatori Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and as the first Executive Director of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. He has been a visiting assistant professor at SUNY Oswego since the fall of 2001. He is the author of over a hundred scholarly articles and two books,Declining Standards at Michigan Public Universities (1996) and The Truth Is Out There: Christian Faith and the Classics of TV Science Fiction (2006). He is a contributor to The Orthosphere and the People of Shambhala website, and a regular commentator at Laura Wood’s Thinking Housewife Website. For his previous essays, see the Thomas Bertonneau Archives.

34 thoughts on “The Fairy Tale of Al-Andalus

    • It’s not a lie when the instructor believes what he teaches. There was no way outside the prison of lies until someone who had the expertise to examine the evidence (and new technology for doing so) could find the door and open it.

      Emmet Scott took Belgian historian Henri Pirenne’s work from the 1920s (yep, it was dropped into the oubliette during that frenetic period) and built on it, using new techniques. Scott doesn’t claim to have done anything original (though he did). He used new archeological information, new historiography, and like any good historian, he delved and re-organized. The West -those not afraid to know – will be forever in his debt for that work.

      When I finally finished that book and closed the cover, I sat for a long blank time just trying to accept the awful sense of loss of everything I thought I’d known about “Western” history and the so-called “Dark Ages”. Later on, reading Pressburg’s book (on our sidebar) regarding the so-called original documents of Islam, I’d grown a callus or two; it wasn’t nearly so bad. The title of his book is a disgrace; in email exchanges with him I found out it had been his publisher’s decision to go with that thing- it makes him look un-serious when, in fact, he’s a German scholar intent on studying original sources. And yes, he does write under a pseudonym. After so long in this field, I have become paranoid about the motives of those whose job it is to sell the works they publish. Why would they make a book appear trifling when it’s not? Do they think we’re so ignorant that we’d be more attracted to a denigrating title than we would a serious one?

      A good online source is Bill Warner’s work. His site is called Political Islam and among other endeavors he sells booklets that deal with various aspects of Islam. His video “1400 Years of Fear” explains our massive cultural repression of the chronic bleeding at our borders…

      Anyone who has studied chronic, overwhelming fear can immediately see his point – I mean about how we were hoodwinked into not looking. Isn’t a hoodwink something they use with falcons? If so, it’s apt.

      • BTW, I had the same sense of loss after reading Diana West’s book. She changed the whole paradigm. What we thought we knew about the undermining of the West by Communism was one big, fat lie. Had they not hogtied our thinking with strictures like political correctness or always rooting for the ‘victim’ or cultures being “equal” we’d never have stood still for the fathomless evil of Islam…

        Long before I was to learn the truth about our national history I knew we were in trouble when I read a college brochure promoting a class on “victimology”. At first, I thought the concept must a joke; later, the realization that it was dead serious made me queasy. I was supposed to take this class for my work with ‘battered women’ but I refused to go along with the party line. The women I knew may have been bruised and used but with few exceptions, they would never have agreed to define themselves as victims. Many of them were proud of the skills they’d acquired in lowering the risks for themselves and their kids. Their experience parallels that of the people who decide to push back against Islam.

        • I was taught the “Enlightenment” meme in school. This was taught in tandem with Evolution and the United Nations as the One World government savior. This was taught in 1963. Imagine the consternation when Kennedy was shot. Their worldview suffered a near fatal blow. Claremont is a rather liberal place and always has been. My insatiable curiosity, especially when things do not add up, has been my undoing as I am the student in the class who asks those embarrassing and rather impertinent questions. So when I started asking I was told to be quiet and listen. I have the book, “Lindberg versus Roosevelt.” And you though O’Bama was trouble? We could have ended World War II before it started, but then there would have been all those impoverished mouths to feed. Let them go off to war and thus decrease the surplus population. Yes, if and when I have the time I would like to read Diana West’s book as well as this one. I will see about adding them to the library.
          BTW, I sent the article about the lack of archeological evidence for Mahomet to Jay Smith, Pfander Foundation. Look him up, he is a brother-in-arms.

  1. Baron, what I find strange is that… well, I grew up under communism. We had good schools, apart from certain topics, and since I loved history, I remember reading up about medieval Spain as well. And they too told this “myth”. (Later, I also read the same said by Jewish scholars.) So I am puzzled… it could not have begun recently with the multiculti crowd. Who would have originated it, and why?

    • Read the review more closely — it began in the 18th century, and was especially promoted by the British, but also the French, especially Napoleon. It was a product of the Enlightenment, which needed the Dark Ages meme to emphasize the brilliance of their rediscovered Classical illumination.

      • The 18th century was the time when an anti-Christian materialist world-view triumphed among European intellectuals. Those who accepted this philosophy had a visceral hatred of Christianity – just read Voltaire or d’Holbach or anyone of this circle to see real samples of ‘hate speech’. These intellectuals bear responsibility for the mass murders of priests and desecration of churches in revolutionary France.

        They hated Christianity – and, first of all, Roman Catholicism – so much that they believed anything was better than it, even Islam. This explains their enthusiasm for Islamic reign in Spain – as their admiration of the ‘noble savage’ (who existed only in their heads).

        Well, the long dispute between Christianity and the French rationalist philosophers is coming to an end. This generation of Europeans will have a lot of chance to look at the heirs of Al-Andalous and various noble (or not so noble?) savages, experience the joys of convivencia with them and – who knows? – the dhimmitude status. They will be able to see whether it is better to live in a Christian Europe or in a modern version of Al-Andalous made possible by the secularists’ victorious war against Christian civilisation.

          • One can find two different positions towards Islam during the so called Age Enlightenment.

            The first is fundamentally critical towards any religion, the other was trying to use Islam as an idealized (but unrealistic) counterpart for Catholicism.
            Some of the lather often were Protestant Christians or Jews.
            And espacially in Germany it did go hand in hand with Romanticism (Herder, Lessing).

    • I would think the victorious muslims would have been the originators of that story. Dead men tell no tales and all that. Dhimmis were too busy bowing and scraping and thinking of ways to flee the boot on their neck and no one of any influence would take them seriously anyway. Same with women, young children and decrepit old men. From our place here we cannot imagine 700 years of brutal muslim rule. It’s amazing that it ended finally, but disheartening that it took that long.
      Looters, that’s what they were, looting a culture that far surpassed their own in everything but brutality. That worked until the loot ran out and all the dhimmis were gone.

  2. Thank you for posting this. I will order this book. I had heard bits and pieces of this explanation of history before, but never so well laid out. Bookmarked Thomas Bertonneau’s archives too. I always learn such fascinating things here. Thank you again.

  3. A very thorough review. It displays Dr. Bertonneau’s impressive range of knowledge, since he brings to bear on his review a number of other works that further illuminate the topic.

  4. Thomas Glick’s influential book “Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages” is prominently used by today’s apologists for Islam. It is full of lies, and contradictions. He presents the Islamic conquest of the Mediterranean as good for trade because the Moslems erected no barriers to commerce. The Islamic world was a free trade area and there was no barrier to movement. The Moslems allowed free trade where anyone could participate in a new world economy, regardless of origin. The Moslems unified the region and allowed for exchanges of all kinds. But it was the Christians of Europe who erected barriers because the Moslems were culturally different. He says that in pursuit of trade and commerce, people easily crossed frontiers. I wonder how easy it was for Christians to enter Moslem held territories. They risked being victims of all kinds of crimes from robbery to kidnapping to being sold into slavery. Glick is a well know purveyor of the myths of the golden age of Islamic Spain.

  5. I ordered this book immediately after reading this article.
    Once again I am filled with sadness and a sense of loss. That magnificent classical civilization, raped and looted by islam.
    I am also filled with hate. Hate against those who did it, kept doing it ever since, and would do it again.
    My hands have been turning into fists, more and more, lately.

    • I experience similar feelings when I read books on the Byzantine Empire and think of what Turks have done to it.

      • Bertonneau’s essay here made me think EXACTLY the same thing. The Anatolian peninsula was once wholly Christian with a Jewish minority and now it is … Turkey. Which is plainly becoming an economic and cultural train wreck of a nation-state under Erdogan.

        How can anyone with any knowledge of history not look at Turkey, with its mass ethnic cleansing of Greeks, Armenians and Jews less than a century ago, and not conclude that Islam is a supremacist, violent, expansionist and dangerous ideology.

        A prominent contemporary Burmese Buddhist monk and political activist against Islam, whose name escapes me, has famously stated words along these lines : “You can be a kind and loving person, but that doesn’t mean you want to sleep next to a vicious dog”. Bingo!

        • Egypt was once a Christian nation, too; its Macedonian city of Alexandria being, in Late Antiquity, the metropolis of Christian culture. And North Africa was Christian. Before Islam, the whole Central Asian region region now indicated on the map by the names of Pakistan and Afghanistan was home to a hybrid Greek-Buddhist civilization!

          • There we have it, the trifecta: Spain, Anatolia, and Coptic Egypt. Only the first has been re:Christianized. Imagine a world where the other two will be. Such imagining leaves John Lennon’s stupid song sorely lacking.

  6. I’ve just purchased this book via the link on the cover illustration above. Thanks for publishing the review and drawing the book to our attention!

  7. I recently participated in a short online course given by the University of Groningen entitled “Religion and Conflict”. It turned out to be an exercise in looking everywhere but in the scriptures to prove that all religions are the same – six weeks and not one verse quoted from any religion.

    The star turn was visiting sociology professor Jose Casanova. Citing state-formation as an underlying cause of violence usually attributed to religious differences, he gave the example that “…Jews, Muslims and Christians could live together in Spain “convivencia” under Muslim and Christian kingdoms”.

    When I looked the word up I found that even Wikipedia, not generally regarded as a bastion of Islamophobia, had noticed that the idea had been debunked by, among others, Darío Fernández-Morera. You would think that, as a Spaniard, Casanova would be aware of that.

    What is it about sociologists that seems to render them so outstandingly gullible? Here is another one:

    • And he was even wrong in using the term “convivencia”.
      Because Convivencia describes the terms and conditions for living together under christian rule.
      Basically a reverse Dhimmi System.

      Which was ended by an uprising from the Muslims in Spain in accordance with an attack from Northern Africa.
      Only after that the last remaining devoted muslism got kicked out.
      But the war against christian Spain continued on for decades (now under turkish leadership).

  8. I too was sold this myth as fact. Even then I thought it odd, even as a young woman, that a cult which produced absolutely nothing in its 1400 year history, was able to create a seemingly delightful civilisation in the arid desert of Western barbarism. Islam is a true parasite. It locates a rich civilisation and battens on to it, sucking it dry, and destroying the civilisation’s ability to innovate and create. When it is a dry, dead husk, it then moves on to a fresh juicy victim. We in the West, are at a point in history that is pivotal. If we keep welcoming and blindly apologising for these parasites, we are doomed. It may take another 30-50 years, but it will happen. If we can open our eyes and have the courage to acknowledge the truth – and act – we may yet save our civilisation. Personally, I think the army of eager victims, saying “please suck my blood, and have my children’s too!” are too many and too powerful. I hope I do not live to be a Dhimmi.

  9. We must be strong, in our culture, to be a beacon, so that is ok to become an ex muslim, and they can be assured that Western Culture is strong enough to protect them.
    That is why Osama bin Ladin quoted the “strong horse” “winners” that will draw people to support the islamic course.

    The option is up to muslims, whether to honestly join a nation, that is forsake islam, or leave and go to one of the 57 genuine islamic states.

    Spain’s “reconquista” of 700+ years, was not fast or easy.
    Identify the problem, and some of the reasons.
    “ A landmark was set by the Christian Chronica Prophetica (883–884), [160 years after the first invasion], a document stressing the Christian and Muslim cultural and religious divide in Iberia and the necessity to drive the Muslims out.”

    A definition of the problem and differences, though far from perfect was

    Chronica Prophetica (883–884)
    This is one of the earliest Latin lives of Muhammad. Three other versions that were then circulating have survived, and one other is known to have been kept in the library of the monastery at Leyre in Navarre in 850. The clear intention of the author of this tract, written for a Christian audience, was to denigrate Islam’s founder as a false prophet and a wicked man. Probably it was included in the Chronica to add justification to the war against Córdoba. ,

    though it does have a wiki slant on christianity history.
    The fact is that the Chronica Prophetica identified and named the ‘enemy’ and where the problem was.

    A full translation of “Chronica Prophetica”

    Where one can go easily to the heading of “HISTORY OF MUHAMMAD”, (a long paragraph) where there is a summation of just some of the deeds of Muhammad, ending in

    Indeed he accomplished many sins of various kinds which are not recorded in this book. [section is like a long paragraph] This much is written so that those reading will understand how much might have been written here.

    It is the calling out of very much of what Muhammad is about, to name the difference , and in those days it was naturally from an old style Christian perspective.
    The problem was named, and despite hitches, politics, it was 600 years, before the job was completed, but always with the knowledge and saying exactly that islam was not compatible with Christianity.
    In today’s terms there is no getting around that islam, being in considerable part an ideology, is not compatible with democracy either!

    The other major part of our problem is also how to expose the “double think” in our institutions, and through out the general public.
    Calling out Mohammad is exposing both “double thinks”

    This seems to be one of the guiding beacons in defining the problems of islam, and why it had to be not only resisted but in the end proved it had to be removed from Spain.
    It was done in a sense of nationalism, which today is almost forbidden in Europe

  10. I propose that if it wasn’t for the Scandinavians, or rather the descendants of the Vikings who imposed themselves onto Europe outside Scandinavia, there would have been no Spanish reconquest, no crusades, and Italy, Sicily, and France would have been overcome by the Mohammedans. In addition, the northerners would have been more successful in the East (Greece and Asia Minor) if they weren’t hampered by the duplicitous Byzantines.

    The Scandinavians were untouched by Roman civilization and remained warlike for a longer time than the Romanized Germans. They sought warfare wherever they went and they won battle after battle. It was a virtue to be a successful man of arms. The Goths, the Vandals, and the other northern people absorbed Roman culture and became civilized and soft. Eventually, the Scandinavians became soft as well. Fortunately for Europe, they became so only after driving the Mohammedans out of Europe.

  11. We spent last Winter in Malaga and toured around Andalucia quite a bit.

    I was astounded at the benign slant put on the muslim invasion of Spain by guides etc. the official line of talk went from the Romans straight to the muslim “benefactors” and the Al Andalucia. The Visigoths, as the last christians in the area, were hardly mentioned.
    The guides made it sound like hundreds of years of “kumbaya” until the nasty Ferdinand and Isabella put an end to it!

    The whole thing was very confusing to us because we were there for Holy Week and without doubt this area is a Catholic Christian part of Spain.

    • What a coincidence. I am writing this from my hotel in Seville Spain. Yesterday I took the tourist bus around the city and listened to the English language description of the architecture and its history. What struck me was the inconsequential attitude to the Muslim conquest.

  12. “If therefore anyone of you might have weighed going to Asia, may he [instead] strive to consummate the desire of his devotion right here. It is a virtuous thing for Christians to rescue from the Saracens in one place, thus exposing the Christians to the tyranny and oppression of the Saracens in another place. May Omnipotent God both stir your heart to the love of fraternity and administer victory to your army over your enemies.”1 With these words Pope Urban II granted the same papal indulgences he would later offer the Franks at the Council of Clermont to the Spanish Catholics fighting the Reconquista.

    This unfortunate recrafting of European and Christian history is my particular bugaboo, Islam has provided absolutely ZERO to the development of humanity and it is easy to decipher Urban’s words that these fights with the Moors and Saracens were defensive and conducted to rescue Christians from the violent and oppressive tyranny of the followers of Mohammad.

    Off topic, Emmitt Scott makes an effective case for the refutation of an actual Mohammad, however I believe Ali Sina and Ibn Warraq both argue there was an actual Mohammad and much of the compendium of texts in Koran, Hadith and the Sura are likely the product of a fevered and insane man. Ali Sina points out the biography of Mohammad as drafted by Ibn Ishaq was so repulsive, that ibn Hisham was forced to soften the edges, still leaving the portrait of a brigand without a single redeeming quality, minus the full breadth of his outrages.

    1 Urban II to the Counts of Besalú, Empurias, Rousillon, and Cerdaña (1089-91)
    [P. Kehr, Papsturkunden in Katalanien, II.23, pp. 287-288]. Retrieved from:

    • I, too, am reluctant to endorse the theory that there was no historical Mohamed. It resembles the theory that there was no historical Jesus of Nazareth. Effects are good evidence for effectuators. In both cases, the effects suggest an effectuator. Mohamed might, however, have been a Syriac Monophysite Christian, not the recipient of original revelation, as purported by the Koran. Mohamed might have been a war-leader of the Nabataean Arab Empire that inveigled itself into suzerainty over Persia; not a king, but a general, and a fanatical religious crusader against everything that a cultic transformation of Arabian Monophysite Christianity regarded as not Arabian Monophysite Christianity. The origin of Islam are much murkier than the origins of Christianity.

  13. Two names that lay proof for the high cultural standard of christian Spain before the muslim conquest.

    Theodulf was an important figure in the Carolingian Renaissance.
    And Isidor propagated the Septem artes liberales with his work Etymologiae.(, which were the basic curriculum for every educated person during the Middle Ages.

  14. Wow a very thorough review! I will have to reread it when I can go into town and get on my laptop. I will have to read it several times to digest it. I never really studied the Islamic conquests of Spain much but having studied the conquests of Byzantine Christian lands I know how brutal political Islam can be. That would be a fun class to teach – the myth of Al- Andalusia. 😉

  15. Great book. Kicked myself when the author pointed out that all Greek knowledge was available for Western Europe to study until 1453.

  16. Thank you for this book review.

    While indeed it gave me quite some additional insight into the history of Spain and I agree with the claim, hat pre-Al-Andalus-Spain (not only Roman and Visigoth! also Celtic, East Roman, Suabian et alt.) does not play a sufficiently prominent role in the debate – I do not think its basic thesis is very convincing – at least as presented here.

    What the author (both of the book and of the review) appears to fight is a view, according to which supposedly “Islamic Spain is the benign prototype, aborted in the Reconquista, of the multiculturally diverse utopia that liberals would like to conjure into existence and then impose on everyone else, whether everyone else agrees to it or not. ”

    But who holds such an inconsistent and naïve view? Already the formulation of this sentence shows a lack of an attempt of doing justice to those whose concepts it attacks, by not first adequately demonstrating their claim.

    Mulitculturalism might be attacked on many grounds – but its central aim is to have a concept of a society in which people of diverse identities live peacefully together.

    The normative and non-empirical interest in the topic is peace and respect for human individuals, independent of their background and belief.

    It is an empirical question, whether, to which extent, under which circumstances and preconditions this is possible or vice versa prone to fail, illusionary is an empirical question. A scientific and critical history can contribute to this. And whether multiculturalism may in some interpretations – as unlimited – acutally lead to disrespect for individuals (by not securing indivduals from culturally motivated ways of suppressing their development) – is a question one may with justice ask within its conceptional framework. Such differenciations are not seen in the polemic of this central thesis.

    What also appears wrong to me is that there is a thesis of the benign and tolerant Al Andalus. Now I might not know enough about the subject. But from what I had read so far, what had often been claimed, is, that in some (far from all) periods and under some (not all) rulers, muslim Al Andalus was much less intolerant than the so-called Christian medieval world in most of its known periods and that thus, Al Anladus, was, with all is inconsequences, intolerant and brutal sides, relatively tolerant. This refers for example to the way Jews were treated during the crucades in Rouen, Cologne, Prague, Mainz, Worms or York; the claim is therefore, that with the reconquista even this relative and never secure tolerance was brutally ended. I do not read anything about this here. But it would be interesting. Perhaps we would then find out that within medieval Europe the extremely brutal intolerance towards Jews, Catharism, Pataria, Hussites and later Anabaptists and others were also interrupted by much less intolerant times of living together.

    As far as Christianity and Christendom play a role here (it is not openly discussed):
    Whoever talks about Al Andalus at least impicitly talks about how it was ended. It has to be clearly stated here, that the reconquista was not any such thing as a a Christian act, much less the following inquisition of suspected non-believers within what was supposed to be Christianity and the equally brutal secular persecution of jews and others considered non-believers. It was, as were the crusades, essentially horrible violence carried by the enthusiasm and a false concept that wrongly identifies Christendom with places, with secular power and with distancing oneself from the different other: not being non-Christian. It forgets the most central Christian concepts of love for the enemy, of the possibility that even essential truth shows through acts of the wrong-believer (Samaritan), of that it is belief, not physical superoiority, what counts. The sword is not a christian idea; to make it such is a particularly clearly blasphemic. One may just read the chapter “The Grand Inquisitor” in Dostojevski’s “Brothers Karamazov” for an adequate image of how it might look, if Christ were confronted with medieval or early new age Christendom and its structures – in Spain.

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