Amerika

How Islamic Multiculturalism In Medieval Spain Shows Us The Future Of Diversity

In the middle of the tenth century, Muslims dominated the southern and central areas of the Iberian Peninsula and would continue to do so for roughly two centuries. Despite the façade of  unity under the Eastern Caliphate, the Muslim occupiers were torn internally by the greed and selfishness of captains and lieutenants looking out for their own glory. More revealing, however, was the deeply entrenched ethnic strife within the Muslim army between Arabs (warrior caste) and the lower caste Berbers who were traditionally oriented more toward mercantile behavior. Among the ranks, other ethnic groups from the Middle East which despised each other caused no small manner of bloody political conflict.

These problems did not disappear during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, but increased the more that “multiculturalism” intensified. Here is where the myth of Muslim occupation crumbles down. The dissent of locals of different parts of Christian and Pagan ethnic groups across the peninsula never ceased, even when they were completely crushed, and the landscape and the deeply seated differences made it hard to effect permanent thought-control and cultural imposition. The northern mountainous regions (Leon, Castile, Asturias) were never Islamized, even if they were sometimes humiliated and ravaged.

Reading Joseph F. O’Callaghan, A History of Medieval Spain, published by Cornell University Press in 1975, provides a clear view of medieval multiculturalism in Muslim-occupied Spain. O’Callaghan writes:

Though a dependency of the kingdom of Asturias-León, Castile at an early date developed a distinctive character and identity. The hardy men of the Cantabrian and Basque mountains who settled Castile were pioneers filled with a spirit of adventure and self-confidence. Freemen and free proprietors, they firmly resisted the constant assaults of the Muslims and refused to yield their liberty to any man. Their law was custom, rather than the written law of the Visigoths prevailed in the more conservative regions of León. Their language too was different, and they developed a literature of an epic and popular character in the Germanic rather than the Isidorian tradition.

The Visigoths originally did not have written laws, relying on their Germanic personal barbarian will-to-power, but set out written laws in trying to imitate Roman custom as they attempted to start a civilization of their own in the Iberian Peninsula centuries prior to the Muslim conquests of the eighth century.

When saying “Isidorian tradition,” O’Callaghan refers to the priest, Isidore of Seville, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who is the main historian of the Visigothic period. It takes two centuries for a ruler of mixed blood to try to level the intrinsic ethnic and religious discrimination of Muslim rule. Writes O’Callaghan:

Abd al-Rahman III (912-961), the first caliph of Córdoba, mounted the throne at the age of twenty, already respected for his courage and intelligence. Designated successor by his grandfather, Abd Allah, he was of mixed blood, the son of a Frankish mother and grandson of a Basque princess. Contemporaries describe him as handsome, blue-eyed, and light-haired…

By 932 al-Andalus again enjoyed internal tranquility under the firm hand of Abd al-Rahman III. In part his success was due to the death of rebel leaders, but he also tried to eliminate some of the causes which had provoked discontent among the Mozarabs and the muwalladun [European converts]. He guaranteed the former full freedom to practice their religion without harassment and offered to all his subjects equal opportunity to participate in public affairs and to rise in his service…Given new impetus, the assimilation of all the disparate elements in the population proceeded more rapidly than before.

Abd al-Rahman III was one of the most successful rulers of Muslim Spain, and presided over one of the few moments of relative peace for al-Andalus. He had the audacity of claiming the title of Calipha and acted very much as a proper monarch. He passed away, and turmoil rose, the Christian states fought, and disorder seized the land.

Eventually, through situation and deception, a clever advisor/government clerk of ethnic Arabic descent, Ibn Abi Amir, gained power and displaced the rightful heir (who was a child when his turn had come) to a mere symbolic position. In order to gain even more consent for his ill-gotten power outside tradition and any semblance of propriety, he catered to minorities and pandered to dogmatic pseudo-intellectuals (theologians then, professors of academia today). O’Callaghan says that

Ibn Abi Amir continued the policy of tolerance and assimilation carried out by the first two caliphs. He gave the muwalladun every opportunity to participate in government and there is no evidence that he persecuted the Mozarabs. His armies included numerous Christians who were well treated and permitted to celebrate their festivals even on campaign. To win favor with the rigorous theologians of Córdoba he despoiled the great library formed by al-Hakam II and burned many books of philosophy and science.

The most successful Islamic rulers in the Iberian occupation period of several centuries, like the ones previously mentioned there, achieved even more control by doing something that will remind you of the present day: strategically displacing or sinking the relative influence and authority of the Arabic nobility, the learned higher castes, while at the same time exalting slaves and freedmen (lowest castes) to positions of more equality, and by systematically bringing in hordes of ethnically different Africans into organizations that purposely mixed disparate groups to make them uniform and more subject to authority.

Though not trained as a military man, he maintained a highly efficient military machine and took the important step of abolishing the tribal organization of the army; he preferred to rely on Berber mercenaries imported from North Africa, who were grouped in units without regard to their tribal origins. The Berber and Christian mercenaries who served him proved extremely loyal, in part because they profited immensely from the booty taken in his wars. Muslim authors reported that he led fifty-two expeditions against the Christian states…

Though he wrought great destruction, his campaigns did not extend the frontiers of al-Andalus nor did they destroy any of the Christian states. In fact his expeditions may have cost more than the booty gained, but they served other purposes. By conducting a nearly continuous holy war he was able to make the Christians appear as a threat to Islam, thus consolidating popular support behind himself while diverting attention from his own usurpation of the caliph’s power.

The result of this strategy was that the leader in turn who adopted it had temporary iron fealty from these “equalized” and “upstarted” groups, drowning the opposition he might encounter among the nobility first of all, but more generally those who made up he originally prominent ethnic group, a strategy seemingly used today in European countries. However, this only worked while there was bounty to be had. Once a crisis was faced, or a time where wealth faded, and these groups from the lower strata quickly tore the system to pieces, and went their own ways almost always following ethnic patterns first, and then going after booty.

In the late tenth century, Almanzor, distrusting both the palatine guards and the Arab aristocracy, reorganized the army by abolishing the tribal units on which it was based. In the new army, men were grouped together without regard for ties of family or patron. Many Muslims were exempted from military service in return for a monetary payment. With these sums Almanzor began an intensive recruitment of Berbers from North Africa and, to a much lesser degree, of Christians. The Berberization of the army transformed it almost exclusively into a cavalry force. Although these barbarians were staunchly loyal to Almanzor, they had much to do with the destruction of the caliphate and the plundering of palaces and towns after his death.

After things went amiss with the Caliphate of Córdoba during the eleventh century, O’Callaghan tells us that:

For the next fifty years until the advent of the Almoravids from North Africa, Muslim Spain consisted of numerous small states or taifas ruled by petty kings (reyes de taifas, muluk altawaiftaifas basically fell into three broad groups representing different ethnic strains.

…As one might expect, the taifas were constantly at war with one another, but gradually the larger states conquered or absorbed the smaller ones, so that by the late eleventh century the numbers had been considerably reduced.

The Iberian peninsula is and was a place of naturally limited resources in terms of arable land and all that, and so the population prior to the Islamic invasion wasn’t that large nor the settlements densely populated. The Islamic invasion brought a huge influx of Middle Easterners and African ethnic groups. By the tenth century Spain was unable to produce enough wheat for its population (although they did have lots of vineyards) and relied on imports from the rest of the Islamic world.

Since it is unnatural and forced, this integration of peoples requires the government to act with the utmost intolerance and dogmatism. This is not dissimilar to the false, totalitarian “consensus” one sees in European mainstream political and academic channels today.

So successful were they in suppressing dissident views and hounding dissenters out of the kingdom that al-Andalus never had to endure the religious quarrels so prevalent in other parts of the Muslim world.

More interestingly, and resembling modern equality, on top of the different kinds of taxes burdening the multi-ethnic mass of peoples in al-Andalus, the Caliphate decided to make paying for general welfare of indigents obligatory.

Imposts authorized by divine law included alms contributed by all Muslims to the community. Though originally a voluntary act, alms-giving became a fixed obligation and a major source of public revenue.

Planned multiculturalism was and is a purposeful distraction from reality, exemplified a thousand years ago in well-known medieval multicultural regions where such multiculturalism did endure by force but ultimately failed.

With the exception of the Mozarabs and Jews, the diverse ethnic groups in al-Andalus were gradually assimilated to one another by their acceptance of Islam with its laws and customs touching almost every aspect of public and private behavior. While conscious of belonging to a world-wide Muslim community, the Spanish Muslims were also inspired by sentiments of a more particular character, and were bound together by common aspirations and attitudes, an attachment to their ancestral traditions, and an affectionate regard for their homeland, al-Andalus, the Hispania of their forebears.

What brief glory Spain later had was not as a mixture of European and Arabic state, but as a strongly European one with vassal multicultural mini-states, liberated from the Islamic grip by the northern Iberian warrior kingdoms who never submitted despite all manner of cruelty and oppression. It was the strongly dissident European Castile which consolidated what we later called the Kingdom of Spain, the European Kingdom that conquered the greater part of the American continent with a handful of warriors throughout the sixteenth century.

While Spain achieved glory by going back to European roots — an observation which does not deny the cultural Mozarabic developments contributed to by the triad of natives, Muslims, and Jews (who shortly thereafter created the foundational Qabalistic texts under the influence of European thought) — the truly multicultural Muslim world was a chaos in which collective ethnic strife raged on below individualistic political strife and betrayal under the fiction of religious unity.

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