Islam and Europe
April 8, 2004 3:01 AM   Subscribe

Eurabia? WTF? An interesting article by the ultra-prolific Niall Ferguson obliquely raises the question: wouldn't Europe (and the world) be happier if Islam still had a hold on the West? Al-Qaeda's longings for Andalusia and the Algarve apart, the truth is that Southern Spain (until 1498) and Portugal (until 1297) were very happy under Muslim rule. Isn't it sad that the three great monotheistic religions, plus the great atheist belief, can't live together anymore? [ NYT registration required. Via Arts and Letters Daily.]
posted by MiguelCardoso (25 comments total)
Also worth noting on the same topic is Oriana Fallaci's new book with the same title ("Eurabia").
posted by dagny at 3:15 AM on April 8, 2004

Aaaah! What a xenophobic and zealous article. As if the decline in the number of worshipping Christians could signal the end of Western civilization, which developed, by and large, in spite of Christian beliefs rather than because of them.
posted by yoz420 at 3:40 AM on April 8, 2004

Interesting article, but I don't think that the question if Europe was more secure (or happier) in such
a case makes sense, since the terror we experience is IMO not a clash of religions or beliefs.

You love life and we love death is not a prophet's message, it is a modern, secularly slogan.
Concerning Al-Quaeda, I'd not call it islamism or dschihadism, but fascism without Duce or Fuehrer.
It's uneasy for us europeans to look into that mirror of islamo-fascism and discover the grimace of our own history.

A creeping Islamicization of a decadent Christendom is one conceivable result: while the old Europeans get even older and their religious faith weaker, the Muslim colonies within their cities get larger and more overt in their religious observance

I think this is an interesting point.
While the birth rate in muslim countries rises or stagnates at a high level, most european countries have massive problems with the age pyramid.

Yes, religious faith in europe gets weaker (I am not concerned about that personally) , maybe there have been historical reasons for that.

The 20th century was dominated by agony and sorrow in most european countries, today europe has immaculate democracies and a "never again" in its mind. Individual claims became more important than the power of the state.
Our dealings are (mostly) appointed by compromise and consent, therefore secularization has proceeded so far that Europe has sort of "De-Christianized" itself.
posted by tcp at 4:25 AM on April 8, 2004

Clarly, birth rates soar whrever decent education is lacking...people know that raising children is expesnive if they are to have a good life and a good education. They cut back on child production...then those with little or very poor education swarm all over the globe and take up the best parking spots at local malls
posted by Postroad at 4:35 AM on April 8, 2004

Well said, tcp. Made me think. In fact, is making me think as I write.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:37 AM on April 8, 2004

Migs, your question presumes that the three religions and atheists lived together previously. To which I say, I don't think so.
posted by mischief at 4:55 AM on April 8, 2004

Shouldn't it have been mentioned that as Muslims started immigrating mid-century(?) or earlier, they weren't welcomed or accorded citizenship, or steps leading to it in many places, but treated as second-class (or worse) or as "guest workers"? And that rather than see an invading horde of people different from the native population, it might have been (and still is) advantagous to welcome and accept the immigrants--needed as they are offset the decline in birth rates and population?

mischief, I believe that Spain flourished under Muslim rule way back when, with tolerance for all, and great strides in all areas of life. It wasn't like modern-day Saudi Arabia or Iran or anything.
posted by amberglow at 6:01 AM on April 8, 2004

Fascinating subject. I lived in Córdoba, Spain for quite some time and that was the seat of power for "Muslim Spain" for centuries. I was lucky to have befriended a professor at the Universidad de Córdoba who happens to be one of the foremost experts on Spain during Muslim rule.

This time period - roughly 711-1250 (the more or less highwater mark) was absolutely fascinating. One of the only time periods when Islam, Christianity and Judaism coexisted with relative peace. One of the only rules handed down from the Caliphates to the Christians was this: don't ring your church bells.. Otherwise, worship and have fun.

Anyone who wants to understand the Iberian peninsula and its relevance to medieval Europe must study this period heavily. The city of Toledo, Spain became a translation center where Christian monks would translate Arabic texts into Latin and then this knowledge filtered its way north into the rest of Europe.

All in all, it's pretty fascinating stuff.
posted by tgrundke at 6:11 AM on April 8, 2004

Islamic Spain. Indeed, this period is well-known for being one when the three monotheistic religions lived in peace and mutual respect, for the most part (although this may not have been extended to atheists, had there been any...)
posted by plep at 6:13 AM on April 8, 2004

And yes, Amberglow, Muslim Spain could be referred to as the "light" during the "dark ages" of European history. While the rest of the continent was collapsing, Spain was fluorishing. Ironically, the Muslims were highly tolerant of the Christians and Jews living in the Iberian peninsula at the time and it was the northern Christian kings (namely the Principality of Asturias) who were the fanatical 'crusaders' trying to push the Muslims from the peninsula. After 700 years of fighting, they were able to beat the Muslims off of the Peninsula.

Many academics will aruge that Spain's resultant rise in power from roughly 1492-1650 came as a direct result of the transfer of knowledge that occurred during this period. Most notably, the Muslims brought with them great strides in navigation and sea faring technologies that Spain then utilized when it began colonizing the "New World".
posted by tgrundke at 6:15 AM on April 8, 2004

I also believe that, generally speaking, the Muslim conquerers during the expansion years of Islam tolerated Jews and Christians, since Islam accepts both Abraham and Jesus as prophets. If I recall correctly, however, conquered peoples were given the choice of converting to Islam or paying a "religious" tax.
posted by sic at 6:26 AM on April 8, 2004

Interesting fact: the problems of an ageing cannot be solved by immigration. The average immigrant into Western Europe barely pays his/her way vis-a-vis the welfare state unless they are highly skilled and adapt quickly (academic paper going into this). That sort of takes away the ground underneath the article.
posted by thijsk at 6:53 AM on April 8, 2004

This is perhaps true for the a great number of individuales of the first wave of immigrants, but it is their children and their children's children that are going to save the European social security system. You see, immigrants from developing nations almost always have more children than citizens of the European countries and they will replenish and aument the tax paying work force in the long run.

That is the key.
posted by sic at 7:18 AM on April 8, 2004

A truly interesting look at the possibilities of different histories can be found in Kim Stanley Robinson's book The Years of Rice and Salt.

Briefly he examines what would have happened if Europeans had actually been wiped out by the plague and Islamic, Chinese, and eventually native american societies rose to power. Good read, reflects many different ideas of spirituality, as well as a massive amount of research on Robinson's part.

I will say though that the end drags a bit, and the evolution of technology is largely lifted from reality and used in this novel as a cheap and effortless device for developing plot. Still, its worth the read and provides a different perspective on all these societies. Oddly the fact that western society is excluded from the novel provides the reader with many chances to compare and contrast different ways of living.

If any one else has read this novel I would be interested in hearing your reactions, as it is not a book that I have had much time to discuss with others.
posted by sourbrew at 7:28 AM on April 8, 2004

The Rise of "Eurabia".
posted by hama7 at 8:22 AM on April 8, 2004

Isn't it sad that the three great monotheistic religions, plus the great atheist belief, can't live together anymore?

To a degree this is the effect of modern nationalism. What about Algeria, where the tables were turned, and a Christian nation ruled over a north african country where Muslims and Christians co-existed? Or how about Ottoman Turkey where, until 1922 or so, Turks, Arabs, Greeks, Armenians, and Circassians, of both Muslim and Christian faiths, co-existed?

The reason these places no longer exist is because the modern nation-state has no room for different national identities occupying the same space. Every ethnic group demands its own autonomy, and being treated as second-class by the ruling authority is no longer tolerated as it once was. And the ruling authority no longer tolerates minorities with their own legal systems, own cultures, own schools, etc. They must be eliminated in the name of "national unity."

In part, I think this relates back to the Enlightenment thread. When spiritual and cultural practices are reduced to mere personal preferences, of prime importance for a government of a nation-state is to implement a logical, unified legal and cultural framework that everyone must follow in order to unify the nation. That these spiritual and cultural practices might have legal and national consequences for those who practice them are considered anathema-- and the reason it is considered anathema is because, in the modern age, said practitioners will then insist that everyone follow their practices.
posted by deanc at 8:41 AM on April 8, 2004

There is also an argument to be made that the First Crusade killed more Coptic Chistians that Muslims. They may not have been entirely comfortable under Muslim rule, but their right to worship was secure, and the one time a key shrine was distroyed by an Islamic ruler, the next ruler rebuilt it on his own dime.

The brutality of the Crusaders was so overwhelming that the city of Damascus chose to secretly surrender to Constantanople rather than be occupied by Rome. It took more than two centuries and the decision of Richard the Lionheart to massacre the population of Alepo because ransoming them would disrupt the timetable of invasion before an anti-Chistian radical sect developed.

In fact, a key turning point for Chistianity came with its rather strange marriage with the Romans. The Romans believed they had a mission to save the world's cultures by bringing the light of Roman culture to the heathens. The Chistians they had a mission to save the world's souls by bringing the light of Jesus to the heathens.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:06 AM on April 8, 2004

There is also an argument to be made that the First Crusade killed more Coptic Chistians that Muslims.

Coptic Christians are Egyptian by definition. I may be a bit vague on the First Crusade, but I don't believe that it went through Egypt. The original intent of the Fourth Crusade was to go to Egypt, but as we all know, that got diverted to sacking (Christian) Constantinople.

Now, if you're saying that there's an argument to be made that the first crusade killed more Christians in the middle east than muslims, it's certainly possible, but that's an argument for those more qualified about 11th century demographics of the middle east to argue.
posted by deanc at 9:22 AM on April 8, 2004

I wonder whether Muslim voters in Europe will care to tax themselves to pay for the pensions and health care of old white people? It's certainly not the custom of Turkey, Algeria or Pakistan (to name major sources of European Mulsims) for families to permit Grandma and Grandpa to become charges on the public account. Moreover, I don't see what common cause they'll have with the incumbent parties of the left, who are committed secularizers and firm allies of the same labor unions and civil service organizations which have marginalized non-white workers in Europe for decades.

If I were a 40-something dependent upon a government or government-sponsored retirement scheme in the EU, I'd be increasing my private savings.
posted by MattD at 10:29 AM on April 8, 2004

The thing about Islam is that it is the most modern of the three monotheistic religions, in that it recognizes and celebrates Judaism and Christianity. In essence, it's an "update". I think this is the reason why Muslim-ruled Spain and Portugal were so happy and prosperous: Islam contains and lives off the two previous faiths. Christianity is a sect of Judaism but it opposes itself to it. Islam embraces both faiths.

Some extremist 20th Century versions of Islam may try to change this fact, but that's just a temper of the times: Mohammed's vision was admirably inclusive and all-embracing and the great majority of Muslims I know are far more respecting of Christians and Jews than vice-versa.

(I'm Jewish, btw, but am abstracting from current times, which I consider to be untypical. Portugal and Spain under Muslim rule were happy and peaceful for centuries on end.)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:36 AM on April 8, 2004

Portugal and Spain under Muslim rule were happy and peaceful for centuries on end.

Now, this is just silly. Here's a brief summary:
Al-Andalus was rife with internal conflict between the Arab Umayyad rulers, the Berber (North African) commoners and the Visigoth-Roman Christian population.

In the 10th century Abd-ar-rahman III declared the Caliphate of Cordoba, effectively breaking all ties with the Egyptian and Syrian Caliphs. The Caliphate reached its peak around the year 1000, under Al-Mansur (a.k.a. Almanzor), who sacked Barcelona (985) and other Christian cities. After Almanzor's death the Caliphate plunged into a civil war and collapsed into the so-called "Taifa Kingdoms". Taifa kings competed against each other not only in war, but also in the protection of the arts. The Taifa kingdoms lost ground to the Christian realms in the north and, after the loss of Toledo in 1085, the Almoravides invaded Al-Andalus from North Africa and established an empire. In the 12th century the Almoravide empire broke up again, only to be taken over by the Almohade invasion. After the decisive battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, only the kingdom of Granada remained, until 1492.
Just because there was more tolerance than in contemporary Christian Europe doesn't make Andalus the earthly paradise—and even that tolerance was relative (read about the massacre of Jews in Granada in 1066).
posted by languagehat at 12:56 PM on April 8, 2004

Coptic Christians are Egyptian by definition. I may be a bit vague on the First Crusade, but I don't believe that it went through Egypt. The original intent of the Fourth Crusade was to go to Egypt, but as we all know, that got diverted to sacking (Christian) Constantinople.

Although the Coptic branch of the church was centered in Egypt, it's sphere of influence included Israel/Palestine and Ethiopia. Coptic liturgies are still frequent in Ethiopia. According to my brief reserach the Coptic Chistians preferred the Arabs over both the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic political forces at the time.

"Coptic" in this case refers to the traditional home of the head of the Church, and the liturgical language in much the same way that we talk about Roman Catholicism as practiced in Ireland or Greek Orthodoxy practiced in the Ukrane.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:18 PM on April 8, 2004

Also, don't forget that until very recently (the 1920s? the 40s?), there were many Jews living in Persia, and other Arab countries-- I think without much persecution at all.
posted by amberglow at 2:26 PM on April 8, 2004

One could conceivably refer to Ethiopian Christians as Coptic, given their tightly bound histories (Ethiopia was converted by Coptic missionaries and for a long time the "chief" bishop of the Ethiopians was recognized as the Egyptian bishop in Alexandria). However, the non-Chalcedonian Christians in Syria and Armenia, for example, have independent histories, even though they share the same theological common ground with the Copts. By the time of the Crusades, Crusaders would have encountered both "Greek" Orthodox ("Melkite") Christians (who had a Greek liturgy and spoke Arabic amongst themselves) and "Oriential" Orthodox (non-Chalcedonian) Christians (who were Syriac or Armenian-speaking and used liturgical versions of those languages in church). I really can't say which was more common.
posted by deanc at 2:35 PM on April 8, 2004

Or how about Ottoman Turkey where, until 1922 or so, Turks, Arabs, Greeks, Armenians, and Circassians, of both Muslim and Christian faiths, co-existed? The reason these places no longer exist is because the modern nation-state has no room for different national identities occupying the same space.

Agreed. It's curious that the post-WWI settlement in Europe could be criticised in retrospect for creating artificial nation-states, which have slowly broken apart into ethnic statelets. The yoking together of Yugoslavia was meant to offset the tensions at the edge of the Hapsburg Empire, and perversely did so thanks to the nationalistic iron grip of Tito.

But the Middle East settlement worked differently, for which you have to lay much of the blame with the British and French, because you've ended up with all sorts of claims to back-referenced ethnic identity, not least of which is the claim of Maronites in Lebanon to 'Phoenician' ancestry. (I'll try not to light a fire here, but have to mention the ongoing attempts by various Israeli authorities to rewrite history by literally digging through the Muslim and Christian layers of the land.)

Ironically, the Middle Eastern nation-state with the greatest religious tolerance these days is probably Syria, thanks to the fact that the Assad family represents a religious minority considered heretical by Wahhabis. Turkey used to hold that position, but Istanbul's Orthodox community is in savage decline, while the Anatolian denominations have been caught in the line of fire between Turks and Kurds. Ataturk's aggressive secularism was undoubtedly necessary to build the modern Turkish state, but the costs can't be denied.

Anyway, I think the article stretches Ferguson's 'virtual history' thing just a bit too far, because it jumps over two centuries of Empire. Most Muslims in the Netherlands trace their origins to the Dutch East Indies (i.e. Indonesia); those in France to north Africa; those in Germany to Turkey; those in Britain to the subcontinent. And yes, there's a religious commonality -- watching the stories of British Muslims on Hajj shows that -- but there's also a cultural diversity which can't be simply categorised as some kind of mass 'Islamicisation', just as you can't class the migrant input of WASPs, Irish Catholics, Italian Catholics, Polish Catholics, Scandinavian Lutherans, and Mexican Catholics as a homogeneous 'Christianisation' of the USA.

deanc: I'm absolutely loving your theological deep background stuff here. And learning lots. Thanks.
posted by riviera at 6:43 PM on April 8, 2004

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