No Multiculturism in Al Andalus?

Are we in for revisionist historical assessments when it comes to Arab cultures? It may be too early to say, though if the article by medieval historian Francisco Garcia Fitz, published in German translation in Die Welt on 1 June, is anything to go by, this could certainly be happening. Garcia Fitz claims the much celebrated tolerance in Islamic Spain to be nothing more than a multicultural myth. It seems to me, however, that the facts, laws and cultural regulations mentioned by Garcia Fitz where known and seen as limitations by other writers on the subject too — thinking here of the likes of Maria Rosa Menocal and of Ammiel Alcalay, two very different writers — but Garcia Fitz (a medievalist specialized in military history) seems to judge them not in relation to the medieval world but in relation to 20th century values of multiculturism, which is all too easy a way of denigrating what in its temporal setting was a truly extraordinary cultural achievment. But the tendentiousness of the article is clear from the title (be it Garcia Fitz’ or the newspaper’s) which points directly into present fears and misapprehensions: “On the way toward Jihad.” Here is signandsight’s rather uncritical resumé of the article:

“Undisputedly, the cultures did draw from each other and have peaceful trade relations. But this relationship was never based on equality or acceptance. “Christians and Jews, for example, were denied leading positions in the army and the administration. They had to pay specific taxes – individual and property taxes – that were much more onerous than those paid by Muslims. Add to that all kinds of belittling disparagements and snubs. For instance Christians and Jews were forbidden from practicing their religion in public by ringing bells or holding processions, or by building new churches or synagogues. And it was strictly forbidden to express their religious views in public.”

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