A history lesson:
“In late 1492 King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castille succeeded in driving the Muslims from Spain” – posted at a website
This statement, so often made, seems at first glance both true, and innocuous. I mean, wasn’t that what happened? Wasn’t 1492 the year that those Christians expelled from Spain the Jews and the Moors? I can hear it even now being used at some Interfaith-Healing Meeting, possibly by an unctuous Muslim cleric oozing sincerity and goodwill and attempting to win points from some terminally naÃ¯ve rabbi, as he insists that “the fates of the Jews and Muslims are linked” and “we Muslims like you Jews have been victims” and “why should we, the Muslims, pay for the crimes of others – the Christians of Europe?” and, as the piece de resistance, “we Muslims are the new Jews.” And among the statements to be made in passing will be a reference as to how, as a symbol of that shared pain, both “the Jews and the Moors were expelled from Spain in 1492.”
But that isn’t true. That assertion – that “the Jews and Moors were expelled from Spain in 1492” — constitutes a small but significant example of the many half-truths, the slightly-off-truths, the complete untruths, that by themselves may not mean too much, but when they are added up, manage to provide a pseudo-narrative that Muslim apologists have proven adept at exploiting, particularly as they appeal to the West’s misplaced sense of guilt. If the Moors can be likened to the Jews, expelled in the same year, and impliedly, out of the same baseless bigotry that the West exhibits, then the Muslims can claim or at least try to claim victimhood equivalent to that of the Jews. That in their own lands, and in their own lives, Muslims treat Jews terribly, and regard them with an inculcated hatred that comes not from European traditions of antisemitism but, quite independently, from sources in Islam, does not embarrass them in the slightest (although that Islamic-inspired antisemitism is no doubt, here and there, given the flavoring nowadays of the antisemitism that was part of Western Christendom, sometimes virulent, sometimes dormant, sometimes acted upon, sometimes not). They are happy to exploit that victimhood and to appropriate it as their own, or as something shared by them, in order to score points against the quite properly alarmed Infidels all over the West.
By “misplaced sense of guilt” I mean that many, though not all, of the current inhabitants of the West often unthinkingly assent to all kinds of charges made against them. And they do this gladly, even with relish, without doing the work to find out if indeed the charges are true or only partly true, or possibly false. Many enjoy, it seems, owning up to the sins of “colonialism,” but these same people seldom ask nowadays for a precise definition of this term. They do not ask ourselves if there were differences in the way colonialism worked itself out, if there were gains as well as losses even to those held to be victims of colonialism. And they do not inquire too deeply into what position, what “original position,” to appropriate, shamelessly, and apply differently, a Rawlsian term, many of these colonized peoples would be in had the Europeans never arrived. Would they everywhere have been better off? Or only in some places? Or perhaps colonialism brought benefits that should be recognized, as the writer N. S. Chaudhuri argued should be done by Indians in regard to the British.
Nor do we ask ourselves, or ask others to start asking themselves, about the other forms of domination and conquest that have transformed lands and peoples far more devastatingly and cruelly and completely than Western “colonialism.” We just don’t know enough, don’t know enough even to raise the matter. Who was it who first enslaved vast numbers of black Africans? Which slave trade was it that started long before, and ended long after, and claimed as many or more victims than, the slave trade in Africa conducted by Europeans? Who enslaved Europeans, too, raiding the coasts of Europe for many centuries? Who established slavery as a way of life and way of governing? Who was it who conquered territories and managed to convince or force many peoples to abandon their own faiths, their own ways, to forget their own histories, or to ignore them, to forget their local languages, to succumb to cultural and linguistic imperialism?
When we let a little untruth go by, the kind of untruth that plays into an Arab or Muslim or Muslim Arab narrative of victimization, we do ourselves harm, for we aid the forces of Jihad.
Let’s start, one more time, back in 1492.
Four important things happened in Spain that year.
Let’s go over them again.
First, of course, Columbus, a Genoese explorer, having been rejected by the kings of Portugal and England as potential sponsors for his trip to find a new way to the Indies (the old route having been blocked by the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Muslims, and the consequent sealing-off of land routes to the East by the Muslim conquerors), finally found new sponsors in King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Los Reyes Catolicos. And after many months, and the nautical dangers he had to pass, Christopher Columbus discovered – surely this comes as no surprise – the New World, and he claimed it for Spain.
And the second important thing that happened in Spain in 1492 was that over more than 500 years of the Reconquista, the forces of Christian Spain conquered the last remaining Muslim redoubt in the Iberian Peninsula, the Kingdom of Granada.
And the third thing that happened in 1492 in Spain was the expulsion of the Jews, who were given only a short time to end their presence (a presence that went back to long before the time of the Visigoths), and to leave Spain forever. They were expelled not because they had once ruled over Spain and remained a potential threat, but in the main because they could be expelled, and because the fanaticism of the Inquisition had transformed anti-Judaism into racial antisemitism, perhaps because the Christians of Spain had become more ferocious during the Reconquista. The influence of fighting the Reconquista might also explain the particular ferocity of Spanish treatment of the indigenous inhabitants of the New World by some – not all – of the conquistadores and their men. The Leyenda Negra, consisting of an uninterrupted narrative of Spanish atrocities, has been subject to withering criticism by historians.
But the Moors were not expelled in 1492 along with the Jews.
With the conquest of Granada, the Spanish rulers Ferdinand and Isabella now had within their dominion large numbers of Muslims, unwilling to be forcibly converted, and still a potential source of trouble, unsettlement, and revolt. The wisest policy would be to take that into account, rid Catholic Spain of the other alien element – as the Reyes Catolicos saw it — that was understood to be too weak to resist, that is, the Jews, simply because they could be expelled without trouble, and because that might serve as a warning to the Muslims as to what might happen if they didn’t behave.
As to the Moors, the Catholic kings would bide their time. In the terms of the Capitulation and treaties, the Muslims of Granada were permitted to continue to practice their religion. But in 1499, Cardinal Ximenes (he of the celebrated Complutensian Polyglot), insisted that the Muslims should not be allowed to remain, as practicing Muslims, in Spain. They began to leave, not all at once, and not overnight. And many stayed, stayed and practiced Islam openly (where the Spanish government’s writ did not completely run) or covertly, as secret Muslims. They were not reconciled to their defeat, and they harbored — how could they not, given what Islam taught? – revanchist dreams. It was only in 1568, however, under Philip II, that the Muslims of Spain, the so-called “Moros,” were given the command to leave. And even then many stayed, and it was not until the reign of Philip III, in 1609, after a century of intermittent troubles and uprisings, that the definitive expulsion of the Moors took place.
Why does any of this matter? Why make a big deal of this, given that in the end both the Jews and the Moors were expelled? Why worry about that phrase “the Jews and the Moors were expelled in 1492”?
Well, because it is indeed used by Muslim propagandists, and also by those in the West who want so eagerly to believe that Muslims have been the victims of Europe, of European “colonialism” and European “racism.” And in that false narrative, the phrase “the Spanish expelled the Jews and the Moors in 1492” is valuable. Those who use such a phrase, and efface the difference between the two groups, allow themselves, and those who listen to them, to ignore the fact that the Jews had been inoffensive, had contributed greatly to Spanish culture and development, had never ruled over the Christians, not in Spain and not anywhere else, and had no designs to do so, whereas the Muslim armies had arrived in the eighth century, and had conquered almost all of the Iberian Peninsula save a strip in the far north. Some – Maria Rosa Menocal being only the latest – have sung the praises of a “convivencia” of whose existence they are convinced and make much of, but apparently the people who lived through that “conviviencia” were not quite so convinced. For Maimonides wrote, in his famous Epistle to the Yemen, to other Jews telling them that the treatment of Jews by Muslims in Spain was horrifying, and as for the Christians of Spain, apparently they did not agree that “convivencia” really existed either, because they spent half-a-millennium trying to push out the Muslim (Arab and Berber) invaders.
The Jews were expelled in 1492 not because they were constituted a real threat, but because they were largely helpless. The Muslims were expelled only over time, because time after time they were given chances to prove that they would not harbor revanchist plans of re-conquest of what they had lost, and over the next century, they proved that they could not be trusted.
And now, more than 500 years later, we have Muslim propagandists telling us that “Muslims are the new Jews.” They want us not to find out that for many centuries, right up until the 18th century, Muslims raided up and down the coasts of Western Europe, seizing property, killing many, kidnapping others – men, women and children – and bringing them back to Muslim lands where they were enslaved. They went as far as Ireland, and even once to Iceland. The people of the coasts of Europe were well aware, for centuries, of the Muslim threat from the south. And when Europeans became military more powerful, so they could defend those coasts, the Muslims continued to attack Christian shipping in the Mediterranean, seizing cargoes and ships, and kidnapping Christian seamen and enslaving them. Only the reaction of the Americans against the Barbary Pirates, and then the final exasperated seizure of Algeria by the French in 1830, put an end to those attacks. And in Eastern Europe, too, and in the Caucasus, other Muslims enslaved south Slavs – took them as slaves – and raided, too, especially for Christian women who were brought back for harems from Georgia and Circassia.
Yet we are not to understand that the Jihad never let up, that is, never let up until the Western world managed to become militarily stronger and fight back successfully. There was not, then, any foolish because vain attempt to win Muslim hearts and minds. It was understood by everyone who had anything to do with the matter – John Quincy Adams, as a diplomat, or General Gorchakov, as a military man – that Muslim mendacity and duplicity and enmity toward the Infidels was permanent and only other measures would succeed in protecting the non-Muslims from Muslim depredations. Of course no one in his right mind, for the past 1400 years, in the Western world, would ever have contemplated allowing Muslims to settle deep within their own, non-Muslim, midst – that is, no one until the last few decades, when in a collective act of criminal negligence, the political and media elites of the Western world, forgetting all of their own history, allowed exactly that settlement deep within by Muslims, that is, by those who regarded their Infidel lands as a still-to-be-conquered Dar al-Harb.
Part of the criminal negligence was based on extraordinary forgetfulness about their own history. And part of that forgetfulness is expressed in that phrase that is so misleading, the one with which I started this little essay, about how in 1492, “the Jews and the Moors” were expelled from Spain.
Now, about forgetfulness. I wrote that there were four important events that took place in Spain in 1492. The first was the sponsoring by Ferdinand and Isabella (with the actual funding coming from a Monjte, one of the tribe of the soon-to-be-expelled Jews) of the voyages of Columbus to find a new route to the Indies, given that the conquest of Constantinople, and final triumph of the Osmanli Turks over the remaining Orthodox all over Anatolia barred that land route to the East that had remained to merchants from Western Christendom.
And the second was the conquest of Granada, the last Muslim stronghold. Much later, in the early 19th century, that conquest would become a subject for Romantic writers both in North America and in Western Europe. When Chateaubriand wrote “Le Dernier des Abencerages” and Washington Irving wrote “Tales of the Alhambra,” both wove fictions about the marvels of Muslim Spain, and that celebrated “convivencia.” Later, careless people right up to the present day would take those fictions about the Moor’s last sigh, and so on, and present it as historical truth. See, do, The Ornament of the World by Maria Rosa Menocal or, still better, google and find out what has been written about her book at this site.
And the third thing was the expulsion of the Jews, Spain’s great loss and Amsterdam’s (and later, Salonika’s) great gain.
But I seem to remember that above I wrote that four important things happened in Spain in 1492. My god, what was the fourth?
Oh, yes, I remember. The fourth thing was the publication of Nebrija’s Gramatica de la Lengua Castellana, the first grammar not only of Spanish, but of any Romance language. For Spain, and for philology, what the good doctor of Salamanca did was important. So remember that name: Antonio de Nebrija, or Antonius Nebrissensis in his fashionably Latin version, and his place in the annals of philology. Come to think of it, some philologists in modern Spain have a literary significance that philologists in other lands (save possibly Russia) do not have. Think of Menendez Pidal, Menendez y Pelayo, and the man Borges called, in polemical fashion, “Don Americo Castro.”
There. Now when someone asks you, not what you had for breakfast, or what did grandfather do in the war, daddy, but rather, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, in fourteen hundred and ninety-two, what else happened in Spain, you will be well-prepared, you will be ready to tell them. Please do. And please make sure you do not say that “in 1492 the Jews and the Moors were expelled.” And be ready to explain exactly why it didn’t happen that way, and why it matters.
Here endeth the lesson.