the infidel, the bad and the ugly

How things can change in a thousand years, give or take a few decades or more. There was a time when Islam ruled Iberia. They hurled themselves out of the desert, and in Spain built a civilization that lasted almost eight centuries. In so doing, even though the dark ages were not as bleak and stark as we feel them to be, they brought pizzazz, sophistication and extravagance to the European continent. In the eight century, a ramshackle Visigoth regime had fallen, and new one, inspired by Mohammed, booty and slaves introduced the vitality, culture and refinement of the persian and Alexandrian Greeks mixed with the intoxication of easy victories.

Great mosque of Cordoba. The finest Arab mosque of the time and a great breach with all previous styles of building. The construction led to the discovery of the intersecting arch. Most of the original features of Spanish Arab architecture derive from this innovation, one of the few things in which Christian Spain was influenced by the Moslems. Image:

The rebound of course, was a militant Christianity and a character brought about not so much from learning from the Moors as by crusading against them. At first the Moslem invaders had it all their way: tolerance based on submission and a poll tax, although the wet, northwest Spain had no appeal for the Moslems and remained under Visigoth control. The Arabs brought their old feuds of the desert into Spain. The result was an Islam of rigid doctrinal control, the Malakite school of theology, in severity similar to the Spanish Inquisition.

History seems to bear out that Moslem states follow a peculiar rhythm of their own: a generation or so of stable government followed by periods of chaos typical of what happens under autocratic rule resulting in explosions over economic unrest or religious extremism. After al-Rahman II’s death in 852, utter chaos set in and it took twenty years for his son to reimpose his will on the country, eventually assuming the title of caliph, Commander of the Faithful. Cordoba was incredibly wealthy; half a million people, seven hundred mosques, nine hundred public baths and a new palace tha had fourteen thousand male domestics and six thousand women, including slaves, living in the harem. Apparently, about twelve thousand loaves of bread were needed daily just to feed the fish in the ponds. The idea, it appears was to match in opulence anything that King Solomon may have had; the same exceptional inlays, marbles, vaulted ceilings and so on with the Caliph as inaccessible divinity figure.To a northern European the court of Cordoba was a dazzling as 1910 Paris to a Mongol living in a yurt.

"Arabs Playing Chess," from the Book of Games (fol. 62v), by Alfonso X the Wise (1221–1284). Spain, 1283. Real Biblioteca del Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial. Photo: Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY

Who knows? If the policies of Almanzor, “The Scourge of the Christians” had not been to rape, sack, pillage and destroy; a scorched earth policy, things may be quite different today. No attempt was made to gain and occupy fresh territory. They were just razzias, raids made in fulfillment of the command of the Prophet to carry on a holy war against the infidel. The good business of running the economy on cheap slaves was a secondary advantage and pleasure. All male prisoners were put to death.

---Death of a Bull in the Ring, Alfonso X The Wise King of Castille and Leon - Giclee Print---Read More:

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