Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I just read a wonderful book: The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, by Maria Rosa Menocal. Abd Al-Rahman I's Cordoba was described as 'the ornament of the world' by a certain nun whose name escapes me. Menocal means it to apply more generally to Islamic Spain under the Ummayads and in the post-Ummayad but pre- Almodovar period of the "taifas," where various city-states competed for power. She calls Islamic Spain in this period a "first-rate" place, citing F. Scott Fitzgerald (in The Crack-Up): " the mark of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time."

Speaking of which, Brad Delong, one of my favorite bloggers, recently did another of many periodic posts featuring Edmund Burke. I have always wondered how he squares his evident admiration for Burke's thought (which I share) with his otherwise by-the book utilitarianism (which I don't share!) I suspect Brad is a first-rate intelligence! Me, not so much.


Bruce Webb said...

Muslims in Cordoba tolerated Christians and Jews. didn't work in reverse during the Reconquista. 1492 marked by two points: Isabella of Castille sponsoring Columbus and her and hubby Ferdinand completing the Re-Conquest and immediately ejecting those soon to be Sephardic Jews.

Maybe I need to read the book but nothing I see about late medieval Spain translates to Kumbaya

kevin quinn said...

Hi Bruce. Of course you are right about late medieval Spain. Menocal's period lasts into the early 12th century. At this point, Pope Urban is on the warpath and the tolerant Islam of the Ummayads has been replaced with the Almoravid and then Almohad intolerance.

Jimbo said...

I've worked a lot in the Muslim world. Basically, the farther you are away from the Arab (Hijazi) heartland, the more Muslims needed to accommodate the non-Muslim world in the long past. This is because Islam fundamentally is a cultural religion the same way that Judaeism, Hinduism or Shintoism are. Obviously,it is closest to Judaeism in its cultural commandments. Islam scholars often claim that Islam is a world religion as Christianity claims to be but they actually make few accommodations to local cultures, officially. The Salafists, i.e. the al-Quaeda people and their Saudi backers are absolutists (Sunni Puritans). They make no accommodations. Hence the conflicts. The Internet and modern communications (globalization) has enabled the Salafists to hugely maximize their influence and the USA has consistently enabled this (sigh). I myself am a religious agnostic pessimistic in the short term about US foreign policy.

kevin quinn said...

Jimbo: not just the internet but the strategic use of Saudi oil wealth!