Tag Archives: Egypt

Time Out’s cities: Astoria! and…Kypsele? No Pera propaganda, brother Turks of mine :( — and Belgrade…

29 Sep

Ok!

Time Out has come out with the fifty coolest neighborhoods in the world, and two — arguably three — of them are Greek; one in Athens, Kypsele, and another in the capital of the Greek diaspora, New York: Astoria.  (Yeah, Melbourne…ok…chill).  Now there are only what, 14 or 15 million of us in the whole world, and we corner 8th and 16th outta 50.  Not just not bad, but figures that make it clear there’s a connection between Greek-ness and urbanity — even Greek villages are really just tiny Greek cities — the polis and everything political life implies, that runs deep.

Ditmars

AstoriaAstoria

KypseleKypsele

What if you have no Greeks (or worse, no Jews).  Well, brother Turk, take a walk, or a nerve-wracking tourist shove, down what you’ve turned yourİstiklâl” into: its new garish, overlit, Gap-outlet, Gulfie, Saudi hideousness…  And weep.  That we left.

Oh, and what’s arguably the “third” Greek neighborhood…  Ok, I scrolled down the list, nervously expecting to find Pera (Beyoğlu) there, the formerly, largely Greek mahalla — the formerly Greek, Jewish and Armenian heart of the City actuallybecause Turkey’s American public relations firms deserve every dollar they get from the Turkey accounts and they manage to shove a fictitious Turkish tolerant multiculturalism in our face whenever they get the chance, and Pera has, for about the past 15 years, taken pride of place in this masquerade of Istanbul hipness and Turkish cosmopolitanism — quite an accomplishment since the Midnight Express days. (Too bad Turkey itself reverts back to Midnight a little bit more every day.)  And Pera wasn’t there, not on the list!

istiklal-caddesi-nde-insan-seli-3273337

The old Grande Rue — Pera

And…  Well, and…a few years back I wrote a post here called: Nobody really cares about Gezi Park: Greek thoughts on the protests of 2013.  And perhaps the biggest stinger in the article was:

“All – I thought a lot about whether I should use “almost all” in this sentence and decided against it –because all the hippest, funkiest, most attractive, gentrified neighborhoods in the historic parts of İstanbul are neighborhoods that were significantly, if not largely, minority-inhabited until well into the twentieth century: not just Pera and Galata, but Cihangir and Tarlabaşı, and Kurtuluş — of course — and up and down the western shores of the Bosphorus and much of its eastern towns too, and central Kadiköy and Moda and the Islands.  (And if serious gentrifying ever begins in the old city it’ll be in Samatya and Kumkapı and Fener and Balat; I wouldn’t put any big money into Çarşamba just yet.)”

And so, happily, I didn’t find Pera being prostituted again by Turkey as a symbol of a multiculturalism that the Turkish Republic eradicated, exterminated, expelled and that no longer exists.  But I scrolled a bit further down…and there was Kadiköy and Moda, #42, also, until well into the 60s, heavily Greek and Armenian.  More sweet justification!

(I’ll take Egyptians on for the empty, dingy Alexandria they got stuck with after our good-bye party in another post.)

KadikoyKadiköy

Finally, came the sweetest of all, my beloved Dorćol in my beloved Belgrade.  50th on the list of 50.  You have to be pretty attuned to the Serbian soul to know what coming in 50th out of 50 means.  It doesn’t mean being last.  It means: “You think we’re cool?  Who asked you?”

img_0828.jpgThe Rakia Bar in Dorćol

Plus, Belgrade comes in in waaaaaay first place over aaaaallll of these cities in one important way: the guys.  For real.

Some restaurant notes:

Don’t go to Çiya in Kadiköy.  Unfortunately, the food is spectacular, and I’m a sadist for posting this picture:

CiyaBut the unfortunate part is that Çiya is owned by a sociological type: the newly comfortable, if not rich, provincial, pious middle-class; that’s the AKP’s and Erdoğan‘s political power base.  What that means on the ground is that your great food is prepared by puritans who won’t serve you alcohol, so you can’t have a leisurely rakı or beer dinner, but have to scarf it all down and leave, paying with dough that might indirectly end up in the AK’s coffers or ballot boxes.  The same goes with the otherwise excellent Hayvore in Pera.  Amazing Black Sea dishes but no booze.  Go ahead if you want.  You can go to Saudi too if you want.  I refuse to.  Even if I didn’t want to drink: just on principle.  And they make one of my absolute favorite dishes which I can’t find anywhere else: an anchovy pilav.  But I’ll live without.  Or make it myself.

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And then, a little less geopolitically charged, there’s the completely baffling phenomenon of Cyclades in Astoria.  I can’t argue with the fish.  And if fish is their mission statement then fine, because it’s always fresh and expertly cooked — even if the owners are Albanian and hadn’t seen the sea till they were sixteen.  But you do want to eat something along with the fish and everything else is awful.  The cacık and eggplant salad is made inedible by that crazed Greek overuse of raw garlic, so that all you have is the bitterness of the bulb and not even the taste or aroma.  The zucchini and eggplant are fried in old oil.  The raw oil served for greens or salad is horrible — cheap, and I’m not even sure it’s 100% olive.  And in a Greek fish meal, where almost everything is dressed with raw oil, it really needs to be the best quality or everything else is shot.  The bread — and one thing we do well, γαμώτομου, is bread — is nasty and old.  This place reminds me of food in tourist traps in the old days before the foodie revolution in Greece in the 00s.

And they commit one incomprehensible abomination.  They serve oven-baked potatoes — with lemon, fine… But. With. The. Fish.  These are potatoes, that according to the taxonomy and order of Greek food, if such a primitive cuisine can be said to have such order, are baked in the oven with meat in a composite dish or casserole.  It’s a sin of commission to serve them with fish, with which they haven’t even been cooked, unless you’re going for plaki which means tomatoes and a whole different palate.  And they taste as if they’ve been soaked overnight in lemon.  And I dunno, but the yellow color is so suspiciously bright that it looks like yellow dye #2.  Investigate them; I’m sure I’m right.  And, of course, everything comes garnished with piles of more lemon wedges, to satisfy that deep Greek urge to obliterate the taste of everything else on the table.

And people — Manhattan people — come out to Queens and wait, for over an hour, malaka, to get a table at this Soviet cafeteria (the lighting is awful; the music is deafening).  They’ll often go cross the street to wait to be called, to get a drink at Michael PsilakisMP Taverna, where the food is phenomenal.  It’s only slightly reinterpreted Greek — it’s deeply faithful to the roots but Psilakis — I dunno — freshens things, and combines traditional ingredients in ways that make you wonder why no one else had ever tried this.  It’s generally full and has a great and friendly bar that looks out on the bustle of Ditmars Boulevard.  But it should be a destination spot and it’s not.  And Cyclades is.  It makes me think that white people will eat bad food if they think it gives them woke and authenticity street cred.  And convince themselves it’s good.

He dicho.

comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“What Christian Artifacts of the Middle East Can Show Us About Tolerance” — and let’s rethink “Tolerance”

18 Nov

Not much.  Though this Times review of Parisian exhibit seems to think so.  The money quote is still…

On one news channel Jack Lang, the former culture minister who is the director-general of the Institut du Monde Arabe, called Christianity an “essential component of the Arab world,” and warned of an “emergency” for eastern Christians, who constituted 20 percent of the region a century ago, but make up no more than 4 percent now [my emphasis], according to the Pew Research Center. Their continuing migration, and persecution, threatens the diversity and the vibrancy of the Arab world itself.

And let’s start budging the idea of Muslim egalitarianism a bit by rethinking the word “tolerance.”  “To tolerate” is actually a fairly unpleasant word when used in other contexts; it means to put up with, to be able to stand.  Saying you tolerate an — I dunno — asshole brother-in-law or a friend’s semi-racist ideas, is not a description of a pleasant condition or emotion.  And though “tolerated” is a good, very general, description of the position of non-Muslims in Muslim history — they were “put up with” — let’s hold Islam up to the brighter lights of words like “accepted” or “included” and see how well the myth of tolerance holds up.

Screen Shot 2017-11-18 at 3.04.17 PM.pngRoger Anis’s “Blessed Marriage,” taken in Cairo, addresses contemporary Christians in the Middle East. Credit Roger Anis

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“Call Me By Your Name” — Wait, is there anybody who read the novel and DIDN’T think it was Jewish?

21 Oct

The trailer:

Jewcy article:

‘Call Me By Your Name’ Is Jewish

In case you missed it: Another side to the upcoming queer romance film.

By / October 16, 2017
 –

“You may have already heard plenty about Call Me By Your Name, the upcoming Luca Guadagnino film. There’s original music by Sufjan Stevens, Oscar buzz, and even some (misplaced) controversy. But you may have missed that this film is not only a queer coming-of-age romance— it’s a Jewish one.

“Call Me By Your Name is based on a 2007 novel of the same name by André Aciman about Elio, a teenager in Italy in the 1980s who falls for Oliver, a young academic who comes to stay with his family over the summer. Both the family and guest are Jews, a minority in a very Catholic country.

“This shared bond is one of the things that brings Elio and Oliver together; Elio is enchanted by how Oliver wears his Jewishness on his sleeve (or literally, on his chest, in the form of a Magen David), and he tries to emulate him, despite the fact that his family describes themselves as “Jews of discretion.” Elio even wears his own Star of David (“My Star of David, his Star of David, our two necks like one, two cut Jewish men joined together from time immemorial,” writes Aciman in the original novel). In the novel, at least, this has a mixed effect for Elio:

Judaism never troubled [Oliver] the way it troubled me, nor was it the subject of an abiding, metaphysical discomfort with himself and the world. It did not even harbor the mystical, unspoken promise of redemptive brotherhood. And perhaps this was why he wasn’t ill at ease with being Jewish and didn’t constantly have to pick at it, the way children pick at scabs they wish would go away. He was okay with being Jewish.

“In the novel, despite his secularity, Elio understands his own sexuality through the lens of Jewishness:

I remembered the scene in the Bible when Jacob asks Rachel for water and on hearing her speak the words that were prophesied for him, throws up his hands to heaven and kisses the ground by the well. Me Jewish, Clean Jewish, Oliver Jewish— we were in a half ghetto, half oasis, in an otherwise cruel and unflinching world where fuddling around strangers suddenly stops, where we misread no one and no one misjudges us, where one person simply knows the other and knows him so thoroughly that to be taken away from such intimacy is galut, the Hebrew word for exile and dispersal.  [my emphasis]

“How Aciman writes Jewish characters is reminiscent of his personal essays about Jewishness; he treats the subjects with ambivalence and great poignancy. Aciman was born to a Jewish Egyptian family, living as a tiny minority until the family was forced to leave when the writer was a teenager.

“As far as the film is concerned, much of the cast is Jewish as well. Armie Hammer, of Jewish descent, plays Oliver, and Jewish-American newcomer Timothée Chalamet plays Elio. Elio’s father is played by Michael Stuhlbarg of A Serious Man.

“It’s exciting that an Oscar film for this season is also a Jewish queer one. The movie doesn’t come out in wide release till November, but you can enjoy the decadently Sufjan Stevens-laden trailer in the meantime (see if you can spot the Jewish star necklace)…”

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If you haven’t, homework for Jadde readers is Aciman’s first novel, Out of EgyptIt’s one of the best — and earliest — English-language novels of the ‘Destruction-of-eastern-Mediterranean-cosmopolitanism’ genre.

Aciman Out of Egypt

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

From Tablet: “…Sukkos?”

7 Oct

Something I never knew and was really moved by:

“But, Jews being Jews, the here-and-now of nature itself is nothing without history, and Leviticus makes it clear that the festival is also a time to commemorate the Israelites’ triumphant past: “You shall live in booths seven days,” it reads. “All citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” To hark back to our times of wandering, Jews are commanded to take all their meals in the sukkah, Hebrew for booth or hut.

“This temporary reminder of our temporary dwelling in the desert, however, needn’t be just a solemn occasion to contemplate our historical hardships. Another key Sukkot tradition is welcoming ushpizin, or guests, into our sukkah. [My emphasis]  This custom, too, is not without its bit of religious significance: As the holiday lasts for seven days, we welcome in seven symbolic guests: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.”

sukkotFAQ

WHAT IS SUKKOT?

The year’s first harvest holiday, Sukkot celebrates the pilgrimage Jews made to the Temple in Jerusalem, bearing fruits and sacrifices. Traditionally, people build temporary dwellings—sukkahs—eating and sleeping in them during the holiday.

WHEN IS SUKKOT?

In 2017, Sukkot begins at sundown on Wednesday, October 4 and ends at sundown on Wednesday, October 11.  [And B&H is closed – my emphasis]

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?

Sukkot is without doubt the most action-packed of all Jewish holidays. We’re commanded to build a temporary dwelling, take our meals al fresco, shake special tree branches, and so on. This, in part, has to do with the fact that Sukkot (together with Shavuot and Passover) is one of shloshet ha’regalim, or the three festivals of pilgrimage, occasions on which the ancient Israelites traveled to Jerusalem and worshipped at the Temple. This means it’s both a religious and an agricultural celebration, calling for all manner of ritual.

The holiday, the Bible instructs us, is to be celebrated “at the end of the year when you gather in your labors out of the field,” after you’ve gathered your harvest “in from your threshing-floor and from your winepress.” Sukkot, then, is the time to survey—and give thanks for—the land’s bounty, a classic agricultural feast for a classic agricultural society.*

A remnant of the ancient traditions is still visible in simchat beit ha’shoeva, or rejoicing at the place of drawing water, a celebration immediately following Sukkot. As Sukkot is also believed to be the time of year when God determines the world’s rainfall for the coming year, a special ceremony was held in the ancient Temple called nisuch ha’mayim, or the water libation ceremony, in which the priests would draw water from a Jerusalem pool and pray for rain. Following the ceremony, the worshippers would make their way to the Temple’s outer courtyard, where they would sing, dance, and give praise to God. While there’s no more Temple, and no more water-drawing ceremony, it’s still customary for Jews to get together in song and dance.

But, Jews being Jews, the here-and-now of nature itself is nothing without history, and Leviticus makes it clear that the festival is also a time to commemorate the Israelites’ triumphant past: “You shall live in booths seven days,” it reads. “All citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” To hark back to our times of wandering, Jews are commanded to take all their meals in the sukkah, Hebrew for booth or hut.

This temporary reminder of our temporary dwelling in the desert, however, needn’t be just a solemn occasion to contemplate our historical hardships. Another key Sukkot tradition is welcoming ushpizin, or guests, into our sukkah. This custom, too, is not without its bit of religious significance: As the holiday lasts for seven days, we welcome in seven symbolic guests: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.

While the first two days of Sukkot are considered the holiday proper, the following five are referred to as Hol Hamoed, or the weekdays of the festival. During these days, none of the holiday’s religious restrictions apply, but Jews are forbidden from strenuous work and are commanded to use that time for enjoyment.

WHAT DO WE EAT?

Unlike other holidays, there are no specific foods uniquely associated with the holiday. That said, because Sukkot celebrates the harvest, some people like to prepare seasonal vegetables and very often they decorate their sukkahs—in which it is a mitzvah to take meals—with gourds, strung popcorn, and other food stuffs.

ANY DOS AND DON’TS?

Perhaps the best known Sukkot custom involves the Four Species, or arba minim, as they’re known in Hebrew: a palm frond (lulav), myrtle tree boughs (hadass), willow tree branches (aravah), and a citron (etrog). Throughout the holiday, the four are held together daily and waved around daily along with an accompanying prayer, a commemoration of a similar ceremony practiced by the Temple’s priests in the ancient days.

The Four Species, tradition has it, symbolize both nature’s offerings and humanity’s taxonomy: the lulav has taste but no smell, symbolizing those Jews who read the Torah but don’t bother with good deeds; the hadass is fragrant but tasteless, symbolizing those Jews who do good deeds but don’t read the Torah; the aravah has neither taste nor smell, just like those Jews who care for neither good deeds nor the good book; and the etrog has both, symbolizing one perfect Jew.

And while it’s important to fulfill every mitzvah to the letter, when the Four Species are involved, Jews are traditionally far more careful with hiddur mitzvah, literally meaning the beautification of the good deed: rather than just buy the four species and perform the waving ritual, Jews take great pains to find absolute perfect exemplars of each four items, often paying top dollar in the process. This is particularly true of the etrog, which, the Bible tells us, must be flawless to be considered kosher.

ANYTHING GOOD TO READ?

Sukkot being a major festival, the Mussaf, or additional fourth daily prayer customary on significant holidays, is read daily. Synagogue congregants also sing the Hallel, a prayer consisting of six psalms [our hexapsalmo?] and designed as a joyous expression of thanksgiving to God. A final liturgical tradition is that of the Hoshanot, or supplications.

Throughout the holiday we commemorate the ancient ritual pilgrims to the Temple by circling the altar carrying willow branches and the four species and reciting the Hoshanot. The seventh day of Sukkot, therefore, is called Hoshana Rabbah, or the great supplication, and is marked by a special ceremony in which congregants circle the synagogue seven times carrying the lulav and the etrog and reciting Hoshanot. Many communities also blow the shofar after every circling. The ceremony, tradition has it, marks God’s final judgment of the world. After deciding our fate on Yom Kippur, and mulling over the downfall of rain throughout Sukkot, the Almighty finally adjudges future precipitation, the final aspect of human life that must be determined.

ANYTHING ELSE TO DO?

• Watch the five best sukkah time-lapse videos on YouTube.

• Make Joan Nathan’s Ultimate Stuffed Cabbage—the perfect one-pot recipe for Sukkot.

• Use your etrog to make preserves or liqueur.

• Meet America’s only large-scale etrog farmer, a Presbyterian named John Kirkpatrick.

• Print out some Girls-themed Ushpizin decorations for your sukkah.

• Read Ecclesiastes, the classic biblical text for Sukkot.

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*These harvest markers for a no-longer agricultural society have always reminded me of the Transfiguration, when Constantinopolitan Greeks — the most deeply urban of any Greeks — bring part of their grape harvest, or now just grapes from the manave, to church to be blessed and distributed to parishioners.  See Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration:

“In parts of rural Greece, it’s the day when the season’s first grapes are – or were — brought to church and blessed and distributed as praśad to the congregation.  I was moved to find this tradition oddly observed in most Greek parishes in Istanbul, by the most profoundly urban Greeks of all Greeks, with grapes from the manave. [greengrocer].  I remember wondering what it was they needed to remember by doing this.”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Do Kurds need to do this right now, just at this very moment?

22 Sep

At the end of 2015 I wrote this piece: Syria, Russia, ISIS and what to do about everything where I expressed my hopes that Iraqi Kurds not declare de jure independence, since that would destabilize the region even further:

The Kurds: ‘I have a dream,’ as they say, for Kurds: that they will recognize the fact that Iraqi Kurdistan with a capital at Erbil is already a de facto independent state and not complicate things in the neighborhood by please resisting the urge to declare de jure independence.

Kurds

Kurdish-inhabited regions of the Middle East and Caucasus, according to tribal break-down.

“This centrally located political entity can serve as the hub of a wheel of still-to-be-worked-for, autonomous, Kurdish regions encircling it, and by not insisting on independence and union, they will be able to put more resources and energy into developing what they have and not fighting to defend it forever. I don’t know; maybe the future of the world will involve the devolving of nation-states into affiliated groups of semi-autonomous units with perhaps overlapping or varying degrees of jurisdiction – Holy Roman Empire style – and the Kurds may be the first to experience this as a people and benefit from it: that is, to see diaspora (if that word really applies to a non-migrating group), or political ‘multiplicity,’ as a finger in every pie and not as separation, and be able to reap the advantages of that.”

And my what-to-do suggestions:

“The Kurds: Give the Kurds EVERYTHING they need. They’re creating a society, both in Iraqi Kurdistan and in the internal socio-political life of Turkish Kurds that is nothing short of revolutionary in its civic-mindedness, democratic tendencies and secular steadfastness. Yes, nothing’s perfect there either but it’s by far the best we have. And the loose confederation of Kurdish regions that I spoke of earlier may have perhaps an even more strategically valuable position to offer the rest of the world than Turkey does. Beg Turkish Kurds to swear to abide by ceasefire terms despite all provocations by the Turkish state; insist that Iraqi Kurdistan not declare independence. And then give them everything they need, even if it means billions in aid. Because, along with the Russians, they’re the ones who’ll probably have to do even more of the ground fighting when the airstrikes campaign reaches its inevitable limits – and starts harming civilians, which it unfortunately already has — even though they now insist that they’re not spilling any more of their own blood for anything outside of Kurdish-inhabited regions.”

Well, it looks like “Hope” as Poles say, “is the mother of stupidity” and nobody cares about my wish-list.

The above was written before the relationship between Turkish Kurds and the Turkish government went to hell again and descended into crazy violence, before supposed anti-Erdoğan coup, massive purges, HDP’s Demirtaş’ imprisonment, and all the other fun stuff that’s happened in Turkey since.  I hate, more than anybody, to look like I’m catering to Erdoğan’s peeves, but an Iraqi Kurdish referendum on independence just at this time is a provocation for him that may turn out to be disastrous.  Erdoğan is already massing troops on Turkey’s southern borders, and though I doubt he’ll have the balls to invade what’s pretty much an American satellite, Iraqi Kurdistan, I don’t put it beyond him to send troops into the Idlib region in Syria — maybe even hold a “referendum” and annex it like the Turkish Republic did to the neighboring region of Antiocheia in the 1930s.  A friend in C-town thinks that the third and newest Bosporus bridge is named after Sultan Selim 1st (“the Grim”) not just to stick it to Alevis (he was the ruler who committed widespread massacres of them during his reign, 1512 – 1520) but to emphasize Selim’s wresting of Mesopotamia from the hated Safavid Shia of Iran and the Levant from the Mamluks of Egypt and underline Erdoğan Turkey’s role in the region.  His Neo-Ottomanism may yet find its perfect expression in post-ISIS Iraq/Syria.

Read Barzani in the Guardian: Barzani on the Kurdish referendum: ‘We refuse to be subordinates’: “Iraq’s Kurdish leader tells the Guardian why the independence vote is so vital, and how he will defy global opposition”.

Interesting times.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Durrell on Cavafy: “He was by divine choice only a poet…”

21 Sep

Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 8.39.51 PM

Durrell with wife Nancy and a young Cavafy (below)

Durrell Nancy

Cavafy young

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“The Myth of the Andalusian paradise…” — “…just modifying the history in a declared desire to extract a pre-established moral.”

7 Sep

71YwotMWVL

One reader’s comment that delves deeper into the book’s subject matter, repeats some of my thoughts and questions, especially that Spanish Christianity developed its militance and triumphalism in almost a millenium of constant warfare “in a society organized for war” against what for me is arguably a militant and triumphalist religion primarily organized for war, etc.; emphases are mine:

on April 16, 2016
Format: Hardcover
In ‘Al-Andalus au Miroir du Multiculturalisme; Le Mythe de la Convivencia dans quelques Essais Nord-Américains Récents’, the Arabist Bruna Soravia has reflected about the total absence of references to recent studies in books and articles published in the USA about Muslim Spain, including the important advances in essential fields such as archaeology, numismatic or epigraphy, as well as the lack of any work published in Spanish, French or Portuguese in the bibliographies of these American authors. Outside the United States, nobody doubts that the essential investigations in this subject are published in those languages, but the multiculturalism apologists obviously scorn any advance that proceed from their Spanish or French colleagues; they have paradoxically converted in a epitome and paradigm of intellectual endogamy.

The myth of that paradise of peaceful coexistence and cultural enlightenment had its origin in the long shadow that Américo Castro left in the United States (always copied, rarely cited), something obvious due the repetitive use of the Spanish word ‘convivencia’. A term created by Castro that gives the false impression that it was actually used in Spain during the Middle Ages. Today, there is no specialist who takes seriously the ideas of Castro, a Spanish scholar specialized in medieval literature that wasn’t actually a historian and openly admitted his lack of interest in the scientific methodology.

Darío Fernández-Morena not only demonstrates a remarkable knowledge about the modern European investigations in this subject but also a great knowledge of the primary sources. This is a well-written book that destroys, one by one, almost all the myths about al-Andalus repeated by those who pretend to refute the ideas of Samuel Huntington and his followers just modifying the history in a declared desire to extract a pre-established moral.

‘The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise’ follows the path of Serafín Fanjul’s works and present some similarities with ‘Al-Andalus y la Cruz’ by Rafael Sánchez Saus, also published this year, although independently. Both books reach the same conclusions, something that is not strange as both have the virtue of proving something that any Spanish historian has learnt in the first year at the university. I would say Fernández-Morera has done a better work, and his book has a great importance because it is an opportunity for the English readers to get the historical information that use to be conveniently omitted by the mainstream publications.

Fernández-Morena wrote a courageous introduction citing ‘political incorrect’ but true facts, as the financial dependence of many Western historians to foundations controlled by the governments of some Arab countries, the millionaire donations to American and British universities from Saudi and Muslim sources, the censorship that exists in the Muslim academic world and the risk that any investigator has to be labeled as ‘islamophobic’ if his publications refute the idyllic narrative about the medieval Islamic world. As happened with the academic lynching of Sylvain Gouguenheim, after the publication of his excellent ‘Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel’ in 2008.

Just to summarize, during the High Middle Ages the Iberian Peninsula was the most militarized territory of all Europe and the Islamic world, where it was actually known as Dar Djihad, ‘the house (land) of the jihad’. The Christian kingdoms were involved in an almost constant war with the emirs and caliphs of Córdoba, that organized annual military expeditions to the north to get prisoners and looting; something that Roger Collins has defined as ‘an economy based in institutionalized banditry’ (‘Caliphs and Kings: Spain, 796-1031’). Just during the government of Al-Mansur (977-1002), the hajib of the caliph Hisham II (controlled by him as a puppet ruler), were organized 56 military raids, and only in the campaign towards Barcelona of 985, according to the Arab sources, 75,000 prisoners were made, mainly women sold in Córdoba as sexual slaves.

Maybe Fernánez-Morera should focus this chapter in the socio-economical and institutional implications of this state of constant war that created, using the words of James F. Powers and Elena Laurie, ‘a society organized for war’. The records in the Muslim and Christian textual sources about the great amount of severed heads are true anyway. The first thing any traveler saw when he visited Córdoba crossing the Roman bridge was hundreds of severed heads decorating the Azuda gates of the alcázar, the fortress of the caliph situated 100 meters from the great mosque. The textual sources even describe muezzins calling to oration over a mound of severed heads after the raid of Ubayd Allah to Bacelona in 811, or after the Battle of Uclés (1108).

Regarding the domestic policy, Christians and Jews of Al-Andalus lived into an authentic apartheid. The Dhimma implied the legal interiority of the ‘protected peoples’, their judicial defenseless against any Muslim, their fiscal exploitation and their constant humiliation; something that forced the conversions and the mass emigration of the Mozarabic population to the Northern Christian kingdoms. The Muslims become majority during the Umayyad caliphate (929-1031) and soon the mass killings began, as the slaughter of 4,000 Jews in Granada in 1066. During the period of North African domination, the conditions for the ‘peoples of the book’ were even worse and ended with the mass deportation of the Christians to the Magreb in 1126. Since the middle of the 12th century, there are no Christians or Jews in al-Andalus.

As Fernández-Morena pointed out, Andalusian society was a theocratic state (or ‘states’, during the Taifa period) dominated by the ulema of the Maliki school of jurisprudence, the most strict of all after the Hanbali (now used in Saudi Arabia), that controlled every aspect of the daily life. It’s really hard to understand why any historian with a basic knowledge of the primary sources can ignore these facts that have so many implications in all the aspects of the Andalusian society, politics, economy and culture, and instead prefers to focus his research in the ‘spirit’ of the poetry and literature created in (and for) a courtesan context.

Finally, another important myth that maybe Fernández-Morena should consider deeper is the transmission of the ancient knowledge through the Arabic translations, that supposedly were the foundations of the European Renaissance. Anyway, as I have said, this book is essential for any English reader who wants to know the reality of the Medieval Islamic Spain.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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