Friday, February 19, 2010


History is filled with examples of humans treating other humans terribly. The history of the Jews living in Spain under the Islamic occupational armies is no exception. What is different about this series of atrocities, however, is a concerted propaganda effort made to portray this era a one of tolerance. A public relations effort tells us that the Jews lived in freedom and prosperity after the Muslims invaded Spain. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As subjects of an occupational army (the Arabic word is "dhimmi"), Jews were denied civil rights, forced to pay extra taxes, and subject to harassment, persecution, and occasionally death at the hands of the invaders. At Princeton University, Professor Bernard Lewis writes:

The claim to tolerance, now much heard from Muslim apologists and more especially from apologists for Islam, is also new and of alien origin. It is only very recently that some defenders of Islam have begun to assert that their society in the past accorded equal status to non-Muslims. No such claim is made by spokesmen for resurgent Islam, and historically there is no doubt that they are right. Traditional Islamic societies neither accorded such equality nor pretended that they were so doing. Indeed, in the old order, this would have been regarded not as a merit but as a dereliction of duty. How could one accord the same treatment to those who follow the true faith and those who willfully reject it? This would be a theological as well as a logical absurdity.

Lewis explains the essential worldview which underlies the way in which the Muslim armies treated the Jews in Spain:

Unbelievers, slaves, and women are considered fundamentally inferior to other groups of people under Islamic law.

Also at Princeton, Professor Mark Cohen has exposed legends of Islamic tolerance in Spain as "myth" and "propaganda" used to justify the fact that Islam's invasion of Spain in 711 A.D. was an unprovoked attack against a peaceful region which offered no military resistance.

During the years after 711 A.D., the Jews in Spain were no allowed to build or repair synagogues, or to celebrate many of their usual feasts and holidays. As the years went on, Muslim soldiers orchestrated pogroms: large riots against the Jews, smashing the shops and houses of the Jews, murdering many of them, and forcing the others to flee the region. Major pogroms occurred in Cordoba in 1011, and in Grenada in 1066.

Jews fled for safety to regions of northern Spain which were being liberated from the Islamic invaders. Just as the propaganda tells us that the Muslims ushered in an era of tolerance, so it also tells us that, when Spain was freed from these invaders, the Jews would suffer intolerance. In fact, we see just the opposite: when the "Reconquista" was partially completed, the flow of Jewish refugees was away from the territories under Islamic control, toward the liberated territories, which offered them more liberty.

While Muslims were persecuting Jews in the south, other areas of Spain, enjoying departure of those occupational soldiers, opened up social and economic opportunities to the Jews: Garcia Fernandez, Count of Castile, (974), placed the Jews in many respects on an equality with Christians; and similar measures were adopted by the Council of Leon (1020), presided over by Alfonso V. In Leon, the metropolis of Christian Spain until the conquest of Toledo, many Jews owned real estate, and engaged in agriculture and viticulture as well as in the handicrafts; and here, as in other towns, they lived on friendly terms with the Christian population.

Alfonso VI, the conqueror of Toledo (1085), was tolerant and benevolent in his attitude toward the Jews, for which he won the praise of Pope Alexander II. To estrange the wealthy and industrious Jews from the Moors he offered the former various privileges. In 1076, he not only granted the Jews full equality with the Christians, but he even accorded them the rights enjoyed by the nobility.