Manufacturing Islam Friendly History on CNN: Al Andaluz & the Mystical Golden Age

Journalistic Malpractice: Time Magazine’s Bobby Ghosh and CNN’s Ali Velshi on “Cordovan Ecumenism” in Muslim Spain

Andrew Bostom:

Whitewashing History

Moorish Spain was not a tolerant and enlightened society even in its most cultivated epoch.

The original Visigothic Church of St. Vincent, then Mosque of Cordoba, now Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption

Yesterday (Thursday 8/19/10) during the 1 PM hour CNN’s “Newsroom,” this exchange took place between CNN reporter Ali Velshi and Time Magazine’s deputy international editor Bobby Ghosh:

(Note that both, Ali Velshi and Bobby Gosh are Muslims, which is carefully omitted by their CNN biography)

VELSHI: The name Cordoba- some people are associating it with Muslim rule and bloody battles, when, in fact, Cordoba was one of the finest times in relations between the major religions.
GHOSH: Exactly right- in interfaith discourse-
GHOSH: And the great mosque of Cordoba that people are talking about and that Newt Gingrich was talking about- the man who built it, the Muslim prince who built it, bought it from a Christian group- paid money for it and bought it from a Christian group. And there was not a lot of alarm and anger raised then.

These statements are journalistic malpractice—ahistorical, whitewashed drivel—compounded by Ghosh’s ad hominem attack on Newt Gingrich.

Reinhart Dozy  (1820-1883), the great Orientalist scholar and Islamophile(i.e., by any objective standard, notwithstanding Ghosh’s uncontrolled spraying of the ridiculous charge of “Islamophobia”), wrote a four volume magnum opus (published in 1861 and translated into English by Francis Griffin Stokes in 1913), “Histoire des Musselmans d’Espagne” [“A History of the Muslims in Spain”]. Pace Ghosh’s distorted reportage, here is Dozy’s historical account of the mid-8thcentury “conversion” of a Cordovan cathedral to a mosque:

All the churches in that city [Cordova] had been destroyed except the cathedral, dedicated to Saint Vincent, but the possession of this fane [church or temple] had been guaranteed by treaty. For several years the treaty was observed; but when the population of Cordova was increased by the arrival of Syrian Arabs [i.e., Muslims], the mosques did not provide sufficient accommodation for the newcomers, and the Syrians considered it would be well for them to adopt the plan which had been carried out at Damascus, Emesa [Homs], and other towns in their own country, of appropriating half of the cathedral and using it as a mosque. The [Muslim] Government having approved of the scheme, the Christians were compelled to hand over half of the edifice. This was clearly an act of spoliation, as well as an infraction of the treaty. Some years later, Abd-er Rahman I [i.e., the “Muslim prince” in Ghosh’s redacted narrative] requested the Christians to sell him the other half. This they firmly refused to do, pointing out that if they did so they would not possess a single place of worship. Abd-er Rahman, however, insisted, and a bargain was struck by which the Christians ceded their cathedral….

Indeed by the end of the eighth century, the brutal Muslim jihad conquest of North Africa and of Andalusia had imposed rigorous Maliki jurisprudence as the predominant school of Muslim law. Thus, as Evariste Lévi-Provençal (1894-1956)—the greatest modern scholar of Muslim Spain whose Histoire de l’Espagne Musulmane remains a defining work—observed three quarters of a century ago

The Muslim Andalusian state thus appears from its earliest origins as the defender and champion of a jealous orthodoxy, more and more ossified in a blind respect for a rigid doctrine, suspecting and condemning in advance the least effort of rational speculation.

For example, the contemporary scholar J.M. Safran discusses an early codification of the rules of the marketplace (where Muslims and non-Muslims would be most likely to interact), written by al-Kinani (d. 901), a student of the Cordovan jurist Ibn Habib (d. 853), “..known as the scholar of Spain par excellence,” who was also one of the most ardent proponents of Maliki doctrine in Muslim Spain:

…the problem arises of “the Jew or Christian who is discovered trying to blend with the Muslims by not wearing the riqā [cloth patch, which might be required to have an emblem of an ape for a Jew, or a pig for a Christian] or ẓunnār [belt].” Kinani’s insistence that Jews and Christians wear the distinguishing piece of cloth or belt required of them is an instance of a legally defined sartorial differentiation being reconfirmed…His insistence may have had as much to do with concerns for ritual purity and food prohibitions as for the visible representation of social and political hierarchy, and it reinforced limits of intercommunal relations

Charles Emmanuel Dufourcq (1914-1978) , another important modern scholar of Muslim Spain,  provides these concrete illustrations of the resulting religious and legal discriminations the subjected non-Muslim “dhimmis” suffered, and the accompanying incentives for them to convert to Islam:

A learned Moslem jurist of Hispanic Christian descent who lived around the year 1000, Ahmed ibn Said ibn Hazm (father of the famous mid-eleventh-century author Ibn Hazm) gives glimpses, in several of his juridical consultations, of how the freedom of the “infidels” was constantly at risk.  Non-payment of the head-tax by a dhimmi made him liable to all the Islamic penalties for debtors who did not repay their creditors;  the offender could be sold into slavery or even put to death.  In addition, non-payment of the head-tax by one or several dhimmis – especially if it was fraudulent – allowed the Moslem authority, at its discretion, to put an end to the autonomy of the community to which the guilty party or parties belonged.  Thus, from one day to the next, all the Christians [or Jews} in a city could lose their status as a protected people through the fault of just one of them.  Everything could be called into question, including their personal liberty… Furthermore, non-payment of the legal tribute was not the only reason for abrogating the status of the “People of the Book”;  another was “public outrage against the Islamic faith”, for example, leaving exposed, for Moslems to see, a cross or wine or even pigs.

…by converting [to Islam], one would no longer have to be confined to a given district, or be the victim of discriminatory measures or suffer humiliations…Furthermore, the entire Islamic law tended to favor conversions. When an “infidel” became a Moslem, he immediately benefited from a complete amnesty for all of his earlier crimes, even if he had been sentenced to the death penalty, even if it was for having insulted the Prophet or blasphemed against the Word of God: his conversion acquitted him of all his faults, of all his previous sins. A legal opinion given by a mufti from al-Andalus in the ninth century is very instructive: a Christian dhimmi kidnapped and violated a Moslem woman; when he was arrested and condemned to death, he immediately converted to Islam; he was automatically pardoned, while being constrained to marry the woman and to provide for her a dowry in keeping with her status. The mufti who was consulted about the affair, perhaps by a brother of the woman, found that the court decision was perfectly legal, but specified that if that convert did not become a Moslem in good faith and secretly remained a Christian, he should be flogged, slaughtered and crucified

Finally, expanding  upon Professor Jane Gerber’s thesis on the “garish” myth of a Golden Age, the late Richard Fletcher (in his, “Moorish Spain”) offered a fair assessment of interfaith relationships in Muslim Spain, and his view of additional contemporary currents responsible for obfuscating that history:

The witness of those who lived through the horrors of the Berber conquest, of the Andalusian fitnah in the early eleventh century, of the Almoravid invasion—to mention only a few disruptive episodes—must give it [i.e., the roseate view of Muslim Spain] the lie. The simple and verifiable historical truth is that Moorish Spain was more often a land of turmoil than it was of tranquility…Tolerance? Ask the Jews of Granada who were massacred in 1066, or the Christians who were deported by the Almoravids to Morocco in 1126 (like the Moriscos five centuries later)…In the second half of the twentieth century a new agent of obfuscation makes its appearance: the guilt of the liberal conscience, which sees the evils of colonialism—assumed rather than demonstrated—foreshadowed in the Christian conquest of al-Andalus and the persecution of the Moriscos (but not, oddly, in the Moorish conquest and colonization). Stir the mix well together and issue it free to credulous academics and media persons throughout the western world. Then pour it generously over the truth…in the cultural conditions that prevail in the west today the past has to be marketed, and to be successfully marketed it has to be attractively packaged. Medieval Spain in a state of nature lacks wide appeal. Self-indulgent fantasies of glamour…do wonders for sharpening up its image. But Moorish Spain was not a tolerant and enlightened society even in its most cultivated epoch.

8 thoughts on “Manufacturing Islam Friendly History on CNN: Al Andaluz & the Mystical Golden Age”

  1. Let’s rewrite history and repaint muslims as being intelligent contributors to mankind. On second thought Gosh, try and stop lying. Learn to tell the truth!!!
    Muslims were always the oppressors!!

  2. Is it not true that the concept of the numeral “O” as well as the numbers system was stolen from the Hindus in India?
    And the alphabetical system was stolen from the Jews and claimed by the Arabs?
    As a matter of fact everything that Muslims claim as their inventions were stolen?

  3. The Jews remained in Spain during Islamic occupation, along with the Chrisitans, forced to pay the jizya and live in squallid conditions.
    It wasn’t until the overthrow of Islamic Spain and the forced conversion of those who remained behind that the Sephardic Jews were free. Or were they?
    Along came the Spanish Inquisition where not only Muslims but Jews and Christians were tortured endlessly and forced into confession of their sins and conversion. Many Christians and Jews who had committed crimes, even murder, and had been forgiven by the Muslims, if they converted to Islam, were now put on trial during the inquisition.

    According to Prof. Jane Gerbers book “The Jews of Spain, the Sepharic Experience”,
    Before the brutal expulsion of 300,000 Jews from Spain in 1492, Sephardic Jews thrived on the Iberian peninsula for more than a millennium, as Gerber relates in this stirring and riveting saga, a remarkable story of creative adaptation, minority achievement and survival. During the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry, Sephardim excelled in medicine, science, philosophy, music and literature. Columbus, evasive about his origins, kept close company with Jews, and several Jewish converts sailed with him. Gerber, director of the City University of New York’s Graduate Center’s Institute for Sephardic Studies, charts the haunted lives of “New Christians,” secret Jews who were persecuted by the Inquisition, from Mexico to Peru, and surveys Sephardic communities that flourished openly from Romania, Syria and Turkey to the U.S. and Barbados. She examines the tensions between impoverished Ashkenazim (Jews of middle and northern Europe) and aristocratic Sephardim throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Betrayals and horrors of WW II and the Holocaust reinforced Sephardic Jews’ resolve to leave the Muslim world, and Gerber incisively looks at today’s Sephardic communities in Israel, France, the U.S. and Spain. “

    In 1492, the Jews were expelled from Spain, ending a centuries-long relationship with their Islamic and then Christian masters. During a part of this time, a veritable medieval golden age of poets and philosophers had flourished. Judah Halevi and Moses Maimonides are just two of the age’s legendary figures whose works are still avidly read today. However, as Gerber reminds us, the Spanish or Sephardic Jewish experience did not end in 1492. Sephardic colonies sprouted all along the Mediterranean and in the sea-faring countries of Europe. Jews looked toward the New World too. Gerber tells their continuing story in a lively, readable, yet learned manner. This book is recommended for most libraries. Larger libraries should also consider the 1992 reissues of two classic works from the Jewish Publication Society: Yitzhak Baer’s A History of the Jews in Christian Spain and Eliyahu Ashtor’s The Jews of Moslem Spain .
    – Paul Kaplan, Dakota Cty. Lib., Eagan, Minn.
    Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

  4. This was all very informative, Sheik, and I, like “kaw”, believe that attention should be brought to the Islamic propaganda and the truth should be told about “What it was really like living under Muslim rule in Spain”.
    A documentary, with interviews of Professors knowledgeable on the subject, should be broadcast throughout the western countries and Australia to counter the untruths.

  5. To verify your previous comment Al-Kidya,

    The concept of zero, and its mathematic properties was explored by the Hindus, and there is some evidence that the Mayan culture was also familiar with its properties. Muslims played NO role in its development. The details, dates and mathematicians have been listed at an earlier date by me. The base 10 decimal system was also developed by the Hindus. Muslims did however make contribution to optics and architecture, but these were soon surpassed in the west.

  6. Ali ibn al-Athir’s account of the bloody Fatah (conquest) of Visigoth Spain, from his “al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh”…

    “In 177 , Hisham, prince of Spain, sent a large army
    commanded by Abd al-Malik b. Abd al-Wahid b. Mugith into enemy territory, and which made forays as far as Narbonne and Jaranda . This
    general first attacked Jaranda where there was an elite Frank garrison; he killed the bravest, destroyed the walls and towers of the town and almost managed to seize it. He then marched on to Narbonne, where he repeated the same actions, then pushing forward, he trampled underfoot the land of the Cerdagne (district of La Cerdana, region around Puigcerda, near Andorra). For several months he traversed this land in every direction, raping women, killing warriors, destroying fortresses, burning and pillaging everything, driving back the enemy who fled in disorder. He returned safe and sound, dragging behind him God alone knows how much booty. This is one of the most famous expeditions of the Muslims of Spain. [p. 144]

    In 210 , Abd ar-Rahman b. al-Hakam sent a strong troop of
    cavalry commanded by Ubayd Allah – known by the name of Ibn al-Balansi – into Frank territory. This officer led razzias in all directions, embarked on murder and pillage, and took prisoners. In Rebi I, an encounter which took place against the troops of the infidels ended in the rout of the latter, who lost many people; our men won an important victory there. [p. 200]

    In 223 , Abd ar-Rahman b. Al-Hakam, sovereign of
    Spain, sent an army against Alava; it camped near Hisn al-Gharat, which it besieged; it seized the booty that was found there, killed the inhabitants and withdrew, carrying off women and children as captives. [p. 211]

    In 231 , a Muslim army advanced into Galicia on the
    territory of the infidels, where it pillaged and massacred everyone. It
    advanced as far as the town of Leon, which it besieged with catapaults. The terrified inhabitants fled, abandoning the town and what it contained, so that the Muslims plundered it as they pleased, then reduced what was left to ruins. But they withdrew without having been able to destroy the walls, because they were seventeen cubits wide, and they could do no more than open many breaches in them. [p. 222]

    In 246 , Muhammad b. Abd ar-Rahman advanced with many
    troops and a large military apparatus against the region of Pamplona. He reduced, ruined and ravaged this territory, where he pillaged and sowed death.”

    Moses Maimonides’ account of the discrimination under the Dhimma in his “Iggeret Teiman” [Epistle to the Jews of Yemen]…

    “Remember, my coreligionists, that on account of the vast number of our sins God has hurled us into the midst of this people, the Arabs, who have persecuted us severely, and passed baneful and discriminatory legislation against us, as God has forewarned us: Our enemies themselves shall judge us [Deut. 32:31]. Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase, and hate us as much as they. Therefore, when David king of Israel of blessed memory, inspired by the Holy Spirit, envisaged the future tribulations of Israel, he bewailed and lamented their lot only in the kingdom of Ishmael, and prayed on their behalf for their deliverance in the verse: Woe is me, that I live with Meshekh, that I dwell among the clans of Kedar [Ps. 120:5]. Note the distinction between Kedar and the children of Ishmael, for the Madman is of the lineage of the children of Kedar, as they readily admit. Daniel also alludes to our humiliation and degradation like the dust in threshing [2 Kings 13:7], suffered only at the hands of the Arabs, may they be speedily vanquished, when he says: And it made fall to the earth some of the host, yea of the stars, some of which it trampled [Dan. 8:10]. Although we are dishonored by them beyond human endurance, and have to put up with their fabrications, yet we behave like him of whom the prophet said: But I am like a deaf man, unhearing, like a dumb man who cannot speak up [Ps. 38:14]. Similarly, our sages instructed us to bear the prevarications and lies of Ishmael in silence. They found it in a cryptic allusion to this attitude in the names of his sons, Mishma, Dumah, and Massa, which have been interpreted to mean listen, be silent, and endure. We have acquiesced, both young and old, to inure ourselves to humiliation, as Isaiah instructed us: I offered my backs to the floggers, and my cheeks to those who tore out my hair [Isa. 50:6]. All this notwithstanding, we do not escape this continued maltreatment and pressure, which well-nigh crush us. No matter how much we suffer and elect to remain at peace with them, they stir up strife and sedition, as David describes: I am all peace; but when I speak, they are for war [Ps. 120:7]. Most certainly therefore if we start trouble, and claim power from them absurdly and preposterously, we surely give ourselves up to destruction.”

  7. Wonderful, Wonderful Cordoba

    Posted By David Solway On August 27, 2010 In FrontPage

    The proposed construction of the “Cordoba” mega-mosque near Ground Zero has served as a catalyst for a renewed interest in the history of Cordoba under Islamic rule in Al-Andalus (Spain). Many of those who are opposed to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s presumed “bridge building” initiative, as represented by the project first called Cordoba House and now renamed Park51, have gone back to the history books, or have decided to speak out and address the purport of the designation: “Cordoba.” For instance, Victor Davis Hanson in a recent interview [1] alludes to “the rather silly evocation of Cordoba; in toto, it was not really a utopian medieval city of understanding.” And Lisa Graas shows [2] that “things started out rather bad under Muslim rule…and went downhill over time…The history for us is clear and it is a history that no Catholic would like to see a repeat of in Manhattan.” Cordoba Jews fared better for a time, as Jane Gerber lavishly chronicles in The Jews of Spain [3], but they too eventually fell victim to persecution. Even the renowned Jewish sage Moses Maimonides [4] was forced to flee the city, escaping to Fez where he lived for years disguised as a Muslim.

    And yet all this should have been evident in the weeks and months after the Twin Towers were destroyed and nearly three thousand people were murdered by so-called “Islamist” terrorists. For it would not take long before Muslim and non-Muslim apologists for the “religion of peace” would hearken back to the ostensibly genial and temperate era of Moorish Spain, a time, we were instructed, when Christians and Jews were welcomed by their Muslim overlords and peacefully integrated into the life of the realm, permitted to worship freely and even received into the learned professions, many as katibs (secretaries) to the Caliph. Such conjurings by journalists and pundits constituted nothing less than an intellectual embarrassment. Mutatis mutandis, these fairy tale votaries resembled an updated version of Danny Kaye and crew singing “Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen [5],” that “friendly old girl of a town.”

    I recall coming across numerous references to the splendors of Cordoba in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, which were obviously intended to deflect indignation and fury and to distill for a supposedly vulgar multitude the deeper meaning of Islam. For example, in order to strengthen and validate a benign conception of Islam, attention was (and still is) frequently drawn to the intellectual activity of Cordoba, in particular to the translation and transmission of the seminal texts of the classical world that would otherwise have been lost to mankind. What such advocates for the great Islamic contribution to the Western library forgot is that none of this material was original to Islam.

    As David Bentley Hart writes in Atheist Delusions [6], “Islam was the beneficiary of Eastern Christendom.” It was “Syriac-speaking Christians who provided an invaluable caste of scholars and physicians, and through them the achievements of Greek and Roman antiquity passed into Islamic culture.” In fact, not Moorish Spain but medieval Italy was “perhaps a more important port of entry for Greek texts into Western Europe…in the late eleventh century,” when scholars, poets, clerics and doctors fled from the Muslim conquest of Constantinople to Pisa, Venice and Palermo. But resonant specifics are precisely what the glib justifiers of a presumably Islamic monument to human progress, of Cordoba as a shining city on the hill, have labored to suppress.

    The point they were (and are) trying to make, of course, is that this particular epoch represents the essence of Islam, a religion which, according to President Obama, advances “the dignity of all human beings,” and which was later hijacked by extremists who perverted the root message of the faith. The destruction of the WTC and the human carnage of the event was, somehow, an aberration, a “man-caused disaster” which had nothing to do with the real Islam. Ground Zero was only a grotesque distortion of the true Islamic inglenook where marchers for peace warm their bunions.

    In order to maintain this fantasy, there is no recognition of the fact that the suicide terrorists, as Charles Krauthammer points out in an article titled “Moral Myopia at Ground Zero [7],” “were the leading, and most successful, edge of a worldwide movement…with cells in every continent, with worldwide financial and theological support, with a massive media and propaganda arm and with an archipelago of local sympathizers.” Those who defend the Cordoba project, dreaming the dream of pastoral reconciliation betokened by what is, at least in part, an Andalusian mirage, facilitate the task of the jihadists.

    As I argued in The Big Lie [8], which I began writing in September 2001 a few days after the catastrophe (and which was published in 2007), the golden age of Moorish Spain that features in the history books and glitters in the public imagination is, to a significant degree, something of a historical fiction: the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties were by no means an unbroken halcyon interregnum in the annals of Islam but cruel and intolerant dispensations given to fervid and prolonged outbursts of savagery. Even the famed Caliphate of Cordoba, as Hanson and others indicate, was not the uniformly enlightened Castle in Spain of popular fancy. Islamic tolerance, as Bat Ye’or in her The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians Under Islam [9] unpacks for us, is more of a modern fable than a historical verity.

    Nothing is ever uni-dimensional when it comes to historical exegesis; complexities must always be allowed for. The history of Cordoba, which Richard Fletcher masterfully elaborates in Moorish Spain [10], was exceedingly chequered: “years of peace and plenty under the Caliphs of the tenth century,” patronage of the intellectual and scientific disciplines and economic prosperity, broken by years of turbulence, political intrigues, exactions of tribute, fratricidal strife, sumptuary laws, vestimentary differentiation, slavery and in general the ill treatment of minorities. Ultimately, as Fletcher writes, “The simple and verifiable historical truth is that Moorish Spain was more often a land of turmoil than it was a land of tranquility.” One wing of the historical diptych is impressive in the context of the age; the other is disfigured with the limning of atrocities. It is this second panel that is left out of the picture of Cordoba that has been painted for us.

    And that is the trouble. A half-truth readily morphs into a complete lie. The misery and spoliation of conquered peoples, the executions and martyrdoms, the humiliation and oppression which is also Cordoba, are airbrushed out of the historical register. Amnesia and “bridge-building” are the order of the day. The pristine figment of an idealized Cordoba, the cherished beacon of tolerance and enlightenment in an otherwise dark and barbarous period, is meant to disarm skepticism in the present. “Cordoba” is, paradoxically, code for both grandeur and deception. I would respectfully suggest that the Shanksville memorial [11] in honor of the heroic victims of Flight 93, currently under construction and scheduled to be dedicated on September 11, 2011—which is, interestingly enough, also the slated opening date [12] of the Cordoba mosque—might be a far more relevant and exalted pledge of remembrance than a minaret at Ground Zero.

    Meanwhile, a vast chorus of Islamophiles are still busy warbling a melodious ditty to the pleasures, delights and glories of an immaculate Cordoba, a wonderful, wonderful Cordoba with its “welcome so warm and gay,” the Copenhagen of its day of which the Park51 mosque is touted as an exemplar and a revival. It is pitched to an increasingly dubious public as a metaphorical “bridge” to the long-desired destination of ecumenical harmony. Perhaps it should just be called al-Qantara, “the Bridge,” rather than the inscrutable Park51.

    A bridge, however, is not always what it seems. Richard Fletcher reminds us that “the first mosque in Cordoba was built on a central site in the city near the Roman bridge over the river Guadalquivir.” The parallel is striking. The thirteen-storey high Cordoba House mosque is planned for the “central site” in New York City near the place where an architectural cynosure once stood. Is the mosque a bridge or a structure meant to overshadow it?

    Questions remain. Assuming it is some kind of bridge, who is crossing it? Which way does traffic flow? Both ways? Or is it rather a permanent and grandiose pontoon intended to facilitate an inexorable invasion under cover of “mutual understanding,” what former Muslim and author [13] Sayed Kamran Mirza calls [14] “an iconic symbol of Islamic victory”? And where exactly will we find ourselves once the bridge has been crossed? In the modern or the medieval age? In New York? Or in Cordoba?

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