Akbar Ahmed has a sterling reputation as a “moderate” Muslim and thoughtful academic, but there is a sinister undercurrent to his new book Journey Into Europe: he calls for a “New Andalusia,” which to non-Muslims who have forgotten their own history conjures up the newly-minted historical myth of a paradise of peace and tolerance, under the benign rule of Islam. In reality, however, as I show in my forthcoming book The History of Jihad From Muhammad to ISIS (which you can preorder here), Jews and Christians in Muslim Spain did not enjoy anything remotely close to equal rights with Muslims, and were subjected to the Sharia-mandated discrimination and harassment of dhimmitude, punctuated by occasional outright persecution, characterized by enslavement and massacres. Since Islamic law has not changed since then, one wonders what Akbar Ahmed is really recommending to credulous and unsuspecting Europeans.
And now he is calling upon Italy to “remember its pluralist past.” Once again, it is the responsibility of non-Muslims in the West, and no one else, to be “pluralist” and prove their “tolerance.” No one ever calls upon Saudi Arabia to remember its pluralist past, when Jews, Christians, and polytheists lived in Arabia. No one ever calls upon Sharia states to be more tolerant of non-Muslims. The onus is always only on the West.
Ahmed characterizes the foes of mass Muslim migration in Italy as if they were all neo-Nazis, neo-fascists, and antisemites, with the strong implication that no one would have any reason for opposing that migration except for racism and xenophobia. He retails, in highly misleading fashion, some historical incidents, but leaves some others out. In The History of Jihad From Muhammad to ISIS I offer some information about Islam and Muslims in Italy that Akbar Ahmed doesn’t mention.
The Muslim conquest of Sicily began in 827. By 829, the jihadi invaders had been almost completely driven off the island when they received unexpected help: an invading Muslim army from al-Andalus, led by Asbagh ibn Wakil. Although they ultimately took Palermo, the Muslims were not able to secure the eastern part of Sicily, stymied both by the ferocity of the native population and their own inability to unite their various factions. The fighting went on for decades.
In 878, the Muslims finally took Syracuse, and the booty was immense. According to the eighteenth century historian Edward Gibbon, “the plate of the cathedral weighed five thousand pounds of silver; the entire spoil was computed at one million of pieces of gold [about four hundred thousand pounds sterling].” Along with the treasure, the Muslims enslaved over seventeen thousand Christians. The exact number is not known, but according to Gibbon, it exceeded the number of the seventeen thousand Christians who were captured when the Muslims took Taormina and were sent to Africa to lead lives of slavery.
The warriors of jihad were finally able to secure complete control of Sicily in 902. The conquerors treated their new domains with extreme severity, brutally suppressing the Greek language and forcibly converting thousands of young boys to Islam.
Later the Sicilians were able to drive the invaders out, but the devastation they wrought was immense. Convivencia, eh?
Preorder The History of Jihad From Muhammad to ISIS here.
“Italy must remember its pluralist past,” by Akbar Ahmed, Daily Times, March 31, 2018:
Immigrants and asylum seekers in Italy are facing an onslaught these days. A former candidate for the far-right Northern League recently went on a shooting spree targeting African migrants, wounding six people. On March 5, a Senegalese street vendor in Florence was murdered, terrifying the city’s African community. The man was married to the widow of his cousin who was killed by a far right gunman in 2011 in Florence. In recent years, anti-migrant mobs have chanted such slogans as “let’s burn them all, let’s make soap out of them.”…
Italy, like other countries in Europe, has seen the rapid rise of the far right amidst an immigration wave and distrust of the political establishment.
I have studied these trends in a new book, Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity, which explores Islam in Europe and the place of Islam in European history and civilization. It is the fourth book in a quartet of studies examining relations between the West and the Muslim world and based in fieldwork across the length and breadth of Europe.
To understand what is happening in European politics and society today, it is necessary to understand European identity, which can be interpreted in three distinct categories-primordial identity, predator identity, and pluralist identity.
Primordial identity emphasizes one’s unique culture and traditions, and predator identity indicates the aggressive, even militaristic lengths that people will resort to in order to protect their identity. Predator identity can be triggered due to perceived threats including globalization, unemployment, economic instability, and the greed and failure of elites. Add the presence of immigrants, and a society can move in extreme and bloody directions which challenge the very notion of a modern democracy.
Pluralist identity, on the other hand, emphasizes racial and religious coexistence, and in Europe was seen in Andalusia, where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived, worked, and created together. It is this fruitful period in Europe, which the Spanish call convivencia, that contributed to the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the development of European humanism.
This pluralist period also existed in Italy, and Italians describe it as convivenza. Italy produced Christian leaders such as Roger II, the King of Sicily, and Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor, King of Sicily, and King of Italy, who spoke Arabic, had Muslim bodyguards, and featured Arabic inscriptions on their royal mantle. Muslims and Jews were permitted to live by their own laws, and the jewel of Sicilian architecture, Roger’s twelfth-century Palatine Chapel, incorporated Christian, Muslim, and Jewish influences. Frederick, shocked by the killing of Jews in the name of the infamous “blood libel,” absolved the community of this crime. He even successfully took Jerusalem for Christianity at the height of the Crusades without a drop of blood being shed through his friendship with the Egyptian sultan and respect for Islam….
In this time of political and social turmoil, Italians and Europeans must remember this pluralist part of their history and the contributions it has made to Italian and Western civilization. Italians need to address what Orlando called the “emergencies” of problems like unemployment without reviving a predator identity that led to destruction on a catastrophic scale in the last century. They must act before it is too late.