Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited:
The History of a Controversy
by Emmet Scott
New English Review Press · 2012 · 270 pages
$19.95 · Kindle version $9.95
Throughout the coastal areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, archaeologists have uncovered a layer of subsoil that was deposited over a period of three hundred years beginning in the middle of the seventh century AD.
This stratum, named the “Younger Fill” by the geologist Claudio Vita-Finzi, covers the ruins of all the major cities and settlements that were established along the Mediterranean littoral during classical antiquity. It stands as a coda to Graeco-Roman civilization. For three centuries after the year 650 the archaeology of the region is all but barren. Wastelands or severely diminished primitive settlements have replaced the formerly great cities of the Roman Empire and the Near East.
One might surmise that the Younger Fill is the result of some yet unidentified climatic trauma that afflicted the entire Mediterranean basin. However, the same phenomenon has been observed in an entirely different watershed: Mesopotamia, the land drained by the Tigris and Euphrates in what is now Iraq, and also including the coastal regions adjoining the Persian Gulf.
During the same period — from the middle of the seventh century until the middle of the tenth — archaeology in the entirety of Europe and the Middle East virtually disappears. This civilizational interruption might be thought a result of the Dark Ages in Europe, except for the fact that it includes areas of the Middle East which were never part of the Roman Empire, and where advanced cultures independent of Rome and Greece had flourished.
What all these areas have in common, of course, is that they were conquered by the Arabs during the initial period of Islamic expansion, when the Near East, North Africa, and Iberia were subjugated within the space of less than a century.
Islam came to the Mediterranean and left as its principal legacy the Younger Fill.
The idea that Islam was the primary cause for the end of classical civilization has been out of favor for the last eighty years or so, ever since the Belgian historian Henri Pirenne first proposed it in his ground-breaking book Mohammed and Charlemagne.
In Pirenne’s time it was commonly understood — and still is — that the end of civilization began in the fifth century with the fall of Rome and the barbarian invasions, a full two hundred years before the legions of Mohammed raged across the eastern and southern littorals of the Mediterranean. According to the scholarly consensus, Roman civilization was already moribund by the time the Arabs arrived on the scene, and the Islamic incursion simply tipped the last vestiges of it into oblivion.
Using recent archaeological data, Pirenne concluded that classical civilization did not end in the fifth century, but rather in the seventh, when the fragments of the later Roman Empire were overrun by the Arab invaders. The Islamic predators terminated civilization wherever they encountered it, in whatever form it happened to take.
This thesis was not well-received in its time. It was relegated to the fringe, where it has remained ever since. In the politically correct 21st century, which extols the grandeur of the “Golden Age of Islam in Iberia”, Pirenne’s stock can only decline further. Our degraded culture is not receptive to the idea that it was Islam, rather than the Germanic barbarians, that destroyed the culture and civilization of Rome.
What happened to Pirenne in the 1920s and 1930s, however, reminds us that politically correct notions about Islam did not originate in the late twentieth century. The myth of al-Andalus was firmly established in the nineteenth century by British and German scholars, who discovered in Islam the “saviors of classical knowledge”. By the time of the Great War these ideas were firmly entrenched, so that Pirenne faced an uphill battle in his attempts to propagate an alternative theory.
Fortunately for his modern admirers, a wealth of additional archaeological data has accumulated in the eight decades since Pirenne first published his analysis. More recent evidence not only corroborates Pirenne’s assertions, it demonstrates conclusively that no other explanation can reasonably be adduced: the Islamic invasions wrecked the agricultural systems of the Mediterranean basin, all but destroyed literacy, and brought down the vibrant, prosperous, and civilized successor states to the late Roman Empire in North Africa and Iberia.
In writing Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy, Emmet Scott has published the most important piece of scholarship of this young century. The New English Review Press deserves great credit for making his book available to the general public.
Mr. Scott describes in detail the magnitude of the destruction — much worse than most of us had previously thought — wrought by Islam on classical antiquity. Far from saving the works of the ancients, Islam all but annihilated them, even as it destroyed the advanced civilizations that created them.
The destruction was both ideological and physical. When the Arab armies overran the Near East and North Africa, their heedless pastoral practices destroyed the topsoil, and thus the agriculture that sustained the wealthy economies of the region. By pillaging existing infrastructure and permitting complex irrigation systems to fall into ruin, they forced hardship and starvation upon what remained of the indigenous population. Hence the Younger Fill: the tangible evidence of what Arab culture brought to Mediterranean civilization.
Islam also systematically destroyed the ideas that underlay classical learning, bringing into disrepute any corpus of knowledge that did not agree with the Koran and did not further the spread of Islam. Entire fields of knowledge were consigned to the dustbin, further guaranteeing the poverty and backwardness of the Islamic states that displaced their classical predecessors.
Finally, Islamic piracy and predation brought sea trade in the Mediterranean to a virtual standstill. This was not only devastating to the economies of Europe, but it also halted the export of papyrus from Egypt to the rest of the region. The use of papyrus for written material was the major engine of widespread literacy in the Mediterranean. After the supply dried up, parchment proved to be scarce, expensive, and inadequate as a replacement.
Thanks to Islam, the Mediterranean basin was transformed from a peaceful, literate, civilized culture into a violent, illiterate, and backward one — all in the space of a generation or so.
We’ll return to Emmet Scott’s crucial work later on, but first a brief detour is in order.
Back in the late 1930s — long before Islam enjoyed a special status in official government policy — a federal employee, Dr. W. C. Lowdermilk, compiled an extensive survey of worldwide agricultural practices for the U. S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service. His paper, entitled “Conquest of the Land Through Seven Thousand Years”, was eventually published in February 1948.
We must presume that even in 1948 the American government was fastidious about offending the sensibilities of Muslims, because Dr. Lowdermilk’s report on the destruction of agricultural resources in the Maghreb refers only to invading “nomads”, making no mention of Islam or Arabs.
Still, his account of what happened to North Africa is clear: the “nomads”, through overgrazing and negligence, destroyed the agricultural basis of the regions they conquered. Every word corroborates the thesis that originated with Henri Pirenne and was extended by Emmet Scott:
In Tunisia we found that it rains in the desert of North Africa in winter time now as it did in the time of Caesar, who in 44 B.C. complained of how a great rainstorm with wind had blown over the tents of his army encampment and flooded the camp. It rains hard enough to produce flash floods in the wadies. At one place muddy water swept across the highway in such volume that we decided to wait until the next day until the flash flow had gone down before proceeding.
As we make a rapid survey of land use across Tunisia and Algeria from the Mediterranean coast to the edge of the Sahara, through the center of what was the granary of Rome, we shall begin at Carthage the principal city of North Africa in Phoenician times.
We stood on the site of ancient Carthage, one of the colonies of Phoenicia that grew to be great and powerful — the city that produced Hannibal and became a dangerous rival of Rome. In 146 B.C. at the end of the Third Punic War, Scipio destroyed Carthage, but out of the doomed city he saved 28 volumes of a work on agriculture written by a Carthaginian by the name of Mago, who was recognized by the Greeks and Romans as the foremost authority on agriculture in the Mediterranean. These works of Mago were translations in the existing works of such Roman writers on agricultural subjects as Columella, Varro, and Cato. This incident tells us that the traditions of conserving soils and waters that we believe were first discovered on the slopes of ancient Phoenicia had been brought by their colonists to North Africa; we suspected these measures furnished the basis of the great agricultural production that was so important to the Romans during the Empire.
Over a large portion of the ancient granary of Rome we found the soil washed off to bed rock and the hills seriously gullied from overgrazing. The valley floors are usually still cultivated but are still eroding in great gullies fed by accelerated storm runoff from barren slopes. This was in an area that once supported many great cities in Roman times.
Fig 10. This small flock of scrawny sheep graze on the scant vegetation that may be found near the ruins of Cuicul. This is about the only productive use the land now has; the gullied hillsides in the distance do not even support enough vegetation for that.
We found at Djemila the ghosts of Cuicul, a city that was once great and populous and rich but later was covered completely, except for about 3 feet of a single column, by erosion debris washed off slopes of surrounding hills. For 20 years French archaeologists had been excavating this remarkable Roman city and unearthed great temples, two great forums, splendid Christian churches, and great warehouses for wheat and olive oil. All this had been buried by erosional debris washed from the eroding slopes above it. The surrounding slopes once covered with olive groves are now cut up with active gullies.
Fig. 9. (L-132) In the middle distance may be seen the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Cuicul. It was a rich and prosperous city in North Africa when that region was known as the “granary [of] the Roman Empire.” Note that the ruin of the land, as seen in the distance and foreground, is almost as complete as the ruin of the city.
The modern village that falls heir to this once beautiful Roman city houses only a few inhabitants. The flat lands are still farmed to grain but the slopes once planted to olives are bare and eroding and wasting away. What is the reason for this astounding decline and ruin? [italics added]
Timgad, Lost Capital of a Lost AgricultureFig. 11 [see image at top of post]. The ruins of Timgad — another ancient Roman city of North Africa. The few squalid huts, seen in the middle distance, now house about 300 inhabitants; which is all that the eroded land will support at present — another example of a city that remains dead because the land that supported it is dead.
Further to the south we stopped to study the ruins of another great Roman city of North Africa, Thamugadi, now called Timgad. This city was founded by Trajan in the first century A.D., laid out in symmetrical pattern and adorned with magnificent buildings, with a forum embellished by statuary and carved porticoes, a public library, a theater to seat some 2500 persons, 17 great Roman baths, and, if you please, with marble flush toilets for the public. After the invasion of the nomads in the seventh century had completed the destruction of the city and dispersal of its population, this great center of Roman culture and power was lost to knowledge for 1200 years. It was buried by the dust of wind erosion from surrounding farm lands until only a portion of Hadrian’s arch and 3 columns remained like tombstones above the undulating mounds to indicate that once a great city was there.
“What is the reason for this astounding decline and ruin?” asks Dr. Lowdermilk.
He answers his own question when he says, “[The] city… remains dead because the land that supported it is dead.” And the land that supported it was killed by destructive habits of the Islamic invaders, whose seventh-century practices continue in the Maghreb to this day.
Returning to the work of Emmet Scott, here is his description (pages 128-131, Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited) of the reality of the Islamic conquests, based on the archeology, compared with the florid accounts relying on Arab sources:
The topic of Islam’s conquests, and their speed, is one that shall be dealt with fully in due course, For the present, it is sufficient to note that the lands conquered by the Muslims during the seventh and early eighth centuries were invariably the most civilized parts of the Roman and Mediterranean worlds. It was only when they reached the more barbarous and least Romanized regions, such as the north of Spain and central Gaul, that the Muslims began to face effective resistance.
In short, the evidence would indicate that Visigothic Spain fell (just like Syria, eastern Anatolia, and Egypt), not because it was too barbarous, but because it was too civilized. In the words of Roger Collins, “The relative speed with which most of southern and central Spain fell to the Arab armies (mostly consisting of Berbers recruited in recently conquered North Africa) is testimony more to the sophistication of the Visigothic monarchy than to the decline and decay that historians once thought was its hallmarks.” Again, “Once prevalent interpretations of the late Visigothic kingdom as being decadent and demoralized are now discounted.”
Before leaving the topic of Visigothic Spain, it is important to emphasize a crucial feature: The abundance of archaeology from Visigothic times contrasts sharply with the virtually complete absence of all archaeology from the first two centuries of the Islamic epoch. This is a fact that has only recently come to the attention of the scholarly community, and assuredly constitutes one of the greatest puzzles unearthed by excavation. We have traditionally been told that the first two centuries of the Spanish Emirate, supposedly founded in 756 by Abd’ er Rahman I, constituted a veritable Golden Age of Spanish history. The following description of eighth-tenth century Cordoba, written by English historian H. St. L. B. Moss in 1935, may be regarded as fairly typical of the genre: “In Spain … the foundation of Umayyad power [in 756] ushers in an era of unequalled splendour, which reaches its height in the early part of the tenth century. The great university of Cordova is thronged with students … while the city itself excites the wonder of visitors from Germany and France. The banks of the Guadalquivir are covered with luxurious villas, and born of the ruler’s caprice rises the famous Palace of the Flower, a fantastic city of delights.”
The picture Moss paints was derived from medieval Arab annalists, who spoke of a city of half a million inhabitants, of three thousand mosques, of one hundred and thirteen thousand houses, and of three hundred public baths — this not even counting the twenty-eight suburbs said to have surrounded the metropolis.
Yes, this is the scenario we’re all familiar with — the Golden Age of Islam, as exemplified by the splendor, tolerance, and enlightenment of Umayyad Cordoba. This story is still retailed by Muslim Brotherhood talking heads on Western television and pumped into school textbooks — whose curricula are also specified by the Muslim Brotherhood — throughout the West.
But the archaeology tells a different story:
Over the past sixty years intensive efforts have been made to discover this astonishing civilization — to no avail. Try as they might, archaeologists have found hardly anything, hardly a brick or inscription, for the two centuries prior to the mid-tenth, at which point substantial remains are indeed attested. According to the prestigious Oxford Archaeological Guide, Cordoba has revealed, after exhaustive excavations: (a) The south-western portion of the city wall, which is presumed to date from the ninth century; (b) A small bath-complex, of the 9th/10th century; and (c) A part of the Umayyad (8th/9th century) mosque. This is all that can be discovered from two centuries of the history of a city of supposedly half a million people. By way of contrast, consider the fact that Roman London, a city not one-tenth the size that eighth and ninth century Cordoba is said to have been, has yielded dozens of first-class archaeological sites. And even the three locations mentioned in the Guide are open to question. The city wall portion is only “presumably” of the ninth century, whilst the part of the mosque attributed to the eighth century is said to have been modeled by Abd’ er Rahman I. However, the latter character sounds suspiciously like his namesake and supposed descendant Abd’ er Rahman III, of the tenth century, who indisputably made alterations to the mosque (which was originally the Cathedral of Saint Vincent).
Even when real archaeology does appear at Cordoba, from the mid-tenth century onwards, the settlement is absolutely nothing like the conurbation described by the Arab writers. Indeed, at its most opulent, from the late tenth to the late eleventh centuries, the ‘metropolis’ had, it would seem, no more than about forty thousand inhabitants; and this settlement was built directly upon the Roman and Visigothic city, which had a comparable population. We know that Roman and Visigothic villas, palaces and baths were simply reoccupied by the Muslims, often with very little alteration to the original plan. And when they did build new edifices, the cut-stones, columns and decorative features were more often than not simply plundered from earlier Roman/Visigoth remains. A text of the medieval writer Aben Pascual tells us that there were, in his time, to be seen in Cordoba surviving buildings, “Greek and Roman. … Statues of silver and gilded bronze within them poured water into receptacles, whence it flowed into ponds and into marble basins excellently carved.”
So much for the “vast metropolis” of eighth to tenth century Cordoba. The rest of Spain, which has been investigated with equal vigor, can deliver little else. A couple of settlements here and a few fragments of pottery there, usually of doubtful date and often described as “ presumably” ninth century or such like. Altogether, the Oxford Guide lists a total of no more than eleven sites and individual buildings in the whole country (three of which are those from Cordoba mentioned above) which are supposed to date from before the first quarter of the tenth century…
The above meager list contrasts sharply with the hundreds of sites and structures from the Visigothic epoch — a comparable timespan — mentioned in the same place.
The reader is invited to read the entire book for more on the archaeology of the kingdoms that were conquered and replaced by Islam. There are entire chapters detailing the evidence for the rich civilizations of Italy and Spain under the “barbarians” of the sixth and early seventh centuries, and the near-total absence of any similar evidence for three centuries after the invasion and subsequent occupation by Islam.
Mr. Scott does not confine himself to the archaeological consequences of the Muslim invasions. Islam also made itself felt in cultural practices, and not just in those areas over which it exerted dominion. There is persuasive evidence that Christian countries contiguous to the Islamic areas of Europe, North Africa, and the Near East — including the Holy See in Rome — were contaminated with barbarous Islamic practices early in the second millennium. In effect, Europe was partially “Islamized” eight hundred years before the mass importation of Muslim immigrants began (pages 236-237):
From its inception, Islam regarded apostasy and heresy as capital offences, and almost immediately after the death of Muhammad there erupted serious and extremely violent disputes over conflicting claims to the leadership of the movement. Assassination and murder was the order of the day. Even those with no leadership pretensions, but with heterodox views, were subject to violent suppression. The most notorious early example is found in the fate of Mansur Al-Hallaj (858 — 922), the Persian mystic, whose death mimicked that of Christ — though before being crucified Al-Hallaj was first, it is said, blinded and otherwise tortured. And the killing of political and religious opponents, or those who deviated in any way from orthodox Islam, occurred at the very start and was continuous throughout Muslim history. So it was with infidels such as Christians and Jews who, though theoretically dhimmi, or “protected,” were in fact always the subject of violent attack. We know, for example, that in 704 or 705 the caliph Walid (705-715) “assembled the nobles of Armenia in the church of St Gregory in Naxcawan and the church of Xrain on the Araxis, and burned them to death. Others were crucified and decapitated and their wives and children taken into captivity. A violent persecution of Christians in Armenia is recorded from 852 to 855.” There even existed, in Spain and North Africa, at least from the time of the Almohads (early twelfth century), a commission of enquiry, a veritable “inquisition”, for rooting out apostates. We are told that the Jews, who had at this time been forced to accept Islam, formed a mass of “new converts” who nevertheless continued to practice their own religion in secret. But the “Almohad inquisitors, doubting their sincerity, took away their children and raised them as Muslims.”
Medieval Christianity, beginning in the late twelfth/early thirteenth century, adopted the same attitude. Christians now had their own Inquisition for exposing heretics, and the death penalty was now prescribed for such miscreants. The judicial use of torture too, “a novelty in Europe” at the time, became accepted practice. All of these practices were in fact novel in Europe of the eleventh or twelfth century: The barbarous treatment of criminals and dissidents which had been customary in Imperial Rome was phased out during the early Christian centuries. Constantine abolished crucifixion as a form of execution, and attempted to do away with gladiatorial displays. These were finally abolished in the time of Honorius (early fifth century). The condition of slaves was dramatically improved by the Christianization of the Empire, and the Church worked to end the institution entirely — a goal finally accomplished by the eighth or perhaps ninth century. Torture of prisoners, routine in Imperial Rome, was gradually done away with around the same time. Nor is there any evidence, in the early Christian centuries, of the lethal intolerance which characterized the Inquisition. It is true that in the early centuries, the Church was involved in a series of prolonged and bitter disputes over the correct interpretation of Christ’s life and mission. Those who disagreed with the mainstream dogmas, as laid down by various Councils, were decreed to be heretics, and fairly severe condemnation of these people and groups was common: indeed, it was almost endemic. Yet, intemperate as was the language used in these disputes, they rarely turned violent; and even when they did, the violence was on a very small scale and invariably perpetrated by those with no official sanction or approval. And the use of force to enforce orthodoxy was condemned by all the Church Fathers. Thus Lactantius declared that “religion cannot be imposed by force; the matter must be carried on by words rather than by blows, that the will may be affected.”…
Mr. Scott offers the following observations on the transmission of the traditions and practices of Islam to Christian Europe through scholarly exchanges (pages 239-240):
The world we call “medieval” was one in which the reason and humanism of the classical world had to some degree disappeared. Dark fantasies and superstitions became more prominent. Belief in the power of magicians and sorcerers, a belief associated with the most primitive type of mind-set, made a comeback. In the most backward of modern societies we still find perfectly innocent people accused of “witchcraft” and brutally put to death for a crime which they never committed and which does not even exist. By the end of the Middle Ages this mentality had returned to Europe; and in 1487 a papal Bull named malleus maleficarum (“hammer of the witches”) pronounced the death of witches and Satanists. Even in Innocent III’s time the “heretics” of the age, the Cathars and Waldensians, were believed to be under the inspiration of Satan.
Yet Europe, as she emerged from the so-called Dark Age in the tenth century, still bathed in the light of reason and humanitarianism. Thus a tenth century canon of Church Law criticized and condemned the belief among country folk that “certain women” were in the habit of riding out on beasts in the dead of night and crossing great distances before daybreak. According to the canon, anyone who believed this was “beyond doubt an infidel and a pagan.” Somewhat earlier, Saint Agobard, Bishop of Lyons, declared it was not true that witches could call up storms and destroy harvests. Nor could they devour people from within nor kill them with the “evil eye”. “Only a few generations later,” note Colin Wilson and Christopher Evans, “any person who did not believe in night flying and witches as the Church defined them was in danger of being burned as a heretic.” What, ask these two authors, had happened in the intervening years to change the Church’s attitude?
In answer to that question, let us recall how, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries inquisitive young men from northern Europe flocked to Islamic Spain to study the knowledge and learning to be found there. But, as Louis Bertrand remarked, it was not so much the “science” of the Moors that attracted them as the pseudo-science: the alchemy, the astrology and the sorcery. What the Moors taught was a far cry from the learning now so widely praised in the politically-correct textbooks that fill our libraries and bookshops.
Sorcery and alchemy were not the only things learned by the Europeans from the Muslims: they took also ideas directly from the Koran and the Haditha; ideas about how heretics, apostates and sorcerers should be treated. And it is scarcely to be doubted that in establishing his own Inquisition Innocent III was directly imitating the example of the Almohads in Spain, who had set up their own commission for investigating heretics and apostates fifty years earlier.
Innocent III is viewed by the enemies of Christianity as the bête noir, the living embodiment of everything that was and is wrong with Christianity. Yet the fact that his attitudes had Islamic — but not Christian — precedents is never mentioned.
And then there was the concept of Holy War, which did not exist in Christianity until it was borrowed from Islam (pages 240-242):
We have found that in the years after 600 classical civilization, which was by then synonymous with Christendom, came into contact with a new force, one that extolled war as a sacred duty, sanctioned the enslavement and killing of non-believers as a religious obligation, sanctioned the judicial use of torture, and provided for the execution of apostates and heretics. All of these attitudes, which, taken together, are surely unique in the religious traditions of mankind, can be traced to the very beginnings of that faith. Far from being manifestations of a degenerate phase of Islam, all of them go back to the founder of the faith himself. Yet, astonishingly enough, this is a religion and an ideology which is still extolled by academics and artists as enlightened and tolerant. Indeed, to this day, there exists a large body of opinion, throughout the Western World, which sees Islam as in every way superior to, and more enlightened than, Christianity.
By around 650 almost half the Christian world was lost to this new and “enlightened” faith; and by 715 the remainder was in serious danger. These events had an enormous impact. The closure of the Mediterranean meant the impoverishment of Western Europe, which was then compelled to improvise as best it could. The lack of papyrus forced the use of the immensely expensive parchment, leading naturally to a serious decline in literacy. The Viking Wars, which the Islamic Invasions solicited, brought enormous disruption also to the northern part of the continent. Desperate for a unifying force that could bring together all the Germanic kingdoms of the West for the defense of Christendom, the Western Empire was re-established, and Constantinople, fighting for her very survival, could do little about it.
Western culture changed radically. For the first time, Christians began to think in terms of Holy War, and the whole theology of the faith went into a sate of flux. This great transformation began in the years after 650, and the phenomenon we call “Crusading” began, properly speaking, in southern Italy and more especially Spain, during the seventh and eighth centuries, as Christians fought a desperate rearguard action to save what they could from the advancing Saracens. This action was to develop into a protracted struggle that was to last for centuries, and was to have a profound and devastating effect upon European civilization. Above all, it meant, by sheer impact of force and time, the gradual adoption by the Christians of many of the characteristics of their Muslim foes. Thus we note that, by the eleventh and twelfth centuries Christian kings in Spain and southern Italy reigned over arabized courts and had adopted typically Muslim (and utterly non-Christian) customs, such as polygamy The most famous, or infamous, example of this was the Emperor Frederick II, “the baptized sultan of Sicily,” who kept an expensive harem guarded by eunuchs.
The indirect damage to European culture was at least as significant as the violent effects of war, pillage, and slave-taking. The following passage (pages 242-243) also helps explain the English infatuation with all things Arab, which perhaps reached its apogee with Lawrence of Arabia:
As well as this direct influence, there was the barbarizing effect of the continual war into which the whole Mediterranean littoral was now plunged. The arrival of Islam brought to a definitive end the peace of the Mediterranean, the pax Romana that had even survived the fall of Rome. With the appearance of Islam, the Mediterranean was no longer a highway, but a frontier, and a frontier of the most dangerous kind. Piracy, rapine, and slaughter became the norm — for a thousand years! And this is something that has been almost completely overlooked by historians, especially those of northern European extraction. For the latter in particular, the Mediterranean is viewed in the light of classical history. So bewitched have educated Europeans been by the civilizations of Greece and Rome, that they have treated the more recent part of Mediterranean history — over a thousand years of it — as if it never existed. The visitor to Mediterranean lands, perhaps on the Grand Tour, was shown the monuments of the classical world; here Caesar fought a battle, there Anthony brought his fleet, etc.
This distorted and romanticized view of the Mediterranean and its past, which ignored the savagery and fear of the past millennium, was particularly characteristic of those of Anglo-Saxon origin, with whom there was the added problem of religious antagonism. With the reign of Elizabeth I, England became the mortal enemy of Catholic Europe; and the Catholic power of the time was of course Spain. From this point on, English-speaking historians tended to be heavily biased against Catholic Spain and, unsurprisingly, extremely favorable towards Spain’s Muslim enemies, who were romanticized and portrayed as cultured and urbane. It was then that the myth of the “golden age” of the Spanish Caliphate was born — a myth which, as we have seen, still has a very wide circulation.
Yet the reality was quite different: With the Muslim conquest of North Africa and Spain, a reign of terror was to commence that was to last for centuries. The war in Spain dragged on until the fifteenth century. By then, a new front was opened in Italy, as the rising power of the Ottoman Turks, having already engulfed Greece and the Balkans, threatened to penetrate Italy. This danger remained active and alive for the next three centuries, until the Turks were finally beaten back at the gates of Vienna in 1683. In the interim, the Pope was ready to flee from Rome on more than one occasion, as Ottoman fleets scoured the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, it seemed that all of central Europe, including Hungary and Austria, was about to be overwhelmed; and though the imminent danger was averted by the victory of John Hunyadi at Belgrade (1456), it was renewed again in the sixteenth century, when an enormous Turkish invasion force was stopped by the Holy League at the naval battle of Lepanto (1571). And it is worth noting here that the Turkish losses at Lepanto, comprising 30,000 men and 200 out of 230 warships, did not prevent them returning the following year with another enormous fleet: Which speaks volumes for their persistence and the perennial nature of the threat they posed. A short time before this, in the 1530s, the Turks had extended their rule westwards along the North African coast as far as Morocco, where they encouraged an intensification of slaving raids against Christian communities in southern Europe. Fleets of Muslim pirates brought devastation to the coastal regions of Italy, Spain, southern France, and Greece. The Christians of the islands, in particular, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and the Balearics, had to get used to savage pirate raids, bent on rape and pillage.
Hugh Trevor-Roper was at pains to emphasize that the epoch we now call the Renaissance, which we view as an age of artistic and intellectual achievement, as well as exuberant optimism, seemed very different to the inhabitants of Europe at the time. Even as Cortes and Pizarro conquered the vastly wealthy lands of Mexico and Peru in his name, the Emperor Charles V gloomily awaited the dissolution of Christendom. “We set out to conquer worthless new empires beyond the seas,” lamented Busbequius, the Belgian whom the King of the Romans sent as ambassador to the Sultan of Turkey, “and we are losing the heart of Europe.” Christendom, he wrote, subsided precariously by the good will of the king of Persia, whose ambitions in the east continually called the Sultan of Turkey back from his European conquests.
These events had a profound effect on the character of the Christian peoples of the Balkans and of the Mediterranean, a fact which has never been fully appreciated by northern Europeans.
A notable feature of the Myth of Al-Andalus is the assertion that Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together in tolerance and harmony under Islamic rule. According to this confabulation, anti-Semitism is a Christian characteristic rather than a Muslim one. Tales of the Golden Age would have us believe that the Islamic rulers of Iberia were the best friends the Jews ever had.
Emmet Scott points out that not only was Islam anti-Semitic from its very inception, but medieval Europeans almost certainly learned their Jew-hatred from Muslims in Spain (pages 247-251):
One of the most deplored characteristics of medieval Europe was its virulent and frequently violent anti-Semitism. Yet the extreme form of anti-Semitism encountered in Europe during the Middle Ages did not predate the eleventh century. Indeed, the first massacres of Jews in Europe were carried out in Spain by Muslim mobs early in the eleventh century; in 1011 (in Cordoba) and 1066 (in Granada). It is true of course that Christians had a long history of antagonism towards the Jews, one that preceded the appearance of Islam. The antagonism was mutual, and Jewish leaders were in the early centuries as vociferous in their condemnation of Christianity as Christians were of Judaism. Serious violence between the two groups was however uncommon; and the first real pogrom launched by Christians against the Jews in Europe did not happen until the beginning of the First Crusade, in 1096, that is, thirty years after the massacre in Granada. And it seems a virtual certainty that the German mobs who carried out the 1096 massacres learned their hatred in Spain.
From Roman and perhaps even pre-Roman times Spain was home to a very large Jewish community. Following the Islamic conquest of that land in 711, the Jews came under the domination of a faith that was from its inception virulently and violently anti-Jewish. For Muslims the lead was given by none other than their founder, the Prophet Muhammad. It would be superfluous to enumerate the anti-Jewish pronouncements in the Koran and the Haditha, where the Hebrews are portrayed as the craftiest, most persistent and most implacable enemies of Allah…
It is a widely-held fiction that, aside from the Prophet’s persecution of the Jews of Arabia, Muslims in general and Islam as a rule was historically tolerant to this People of the Book, who were generally granted dhimmi (“protected”) status in the Islamic Umma, or community. But dhimmi status, also accorded to Christians, did not, as Bat Ye’or has demonstrated at great length, imply equal rights with Muslims. On the contrary, dhimmis were subject, even at the best of times, to a whole series of discriminatory and humiliating laws and to relentless exploitation. At the worst of times, they could be murdered in the streets without any hope of legal redress. One of the most noxious measures directed against them was the requirement to wear an item or color of clothing by which they could be easily identified: identified for easy exploitation and abuse. Bat Ye’or has shown that this law was enforced in Islam right from the beginning. The violence was not continuous, but the exploitation was, and the pattern of abuse initiated by Muhammad in Arabia in the seventh century was to be repeated throughout history. The first massacres of Jews in Europe, carried out by Muslim mobs in Spain, were preceded by other massacres carried out in North Africa, and clearly formed a continuum with Muhammad’s massacres of that people in Arabia.
There was, however, at times, a semblance of tolerance for both Jews and Christians. It could not have been otherwise. When the Arabs conquered the vast territories of Mesopotamia, Syria, and North Africa during the seventh century, they found themselves a small minority ruling over enormous populations comprising mainly Christians and, to a lesser degree, Jews. As such, they needed to proceed with caution. Like all conquerors, the Arabs were quick to exploit any internal conflicts; and it was in their interests, above all, to divide the Christians from the Jews. This was particularly the case in Spain, where the Jewish population was very large. A united Jewish and Christian front could have proved extremely dangerous, and it was entirely in the interest of the conquerors to sow mistrust and suspicion between these communities. In the words of Bat Ye’or, “The [Arab] invaders knew how to take advantage of the dissensions between local groups in order to impose their own authority, favoring first one and then another, with the intention of weakening and ruining them all through a policy of ‘divide and rule.’”
Jewish communities, both in Spain and elsewhere, tended to be both educated and prosperous. Jewish doctors, scientists and merchants could be usefully employed by any ruling group. And employed they were by the Arabs. Some, such as Ibn Naghrela, rose to positions of great prominence. The international connections of the Jews and their mastery of languages proved invaluable to the new rulers. The Jews frequently found themselves in the role of intermediaries between Muslims and Christians. Yet such favors as the Jews enjoyed was transitory and uncertain. There was never any real security, as the massacres of 1011 and 1066 illustrate only too well. On the other hand, it was entirely in the interests of the Muslims that the Christians believed the Jews were favored. And part of that myth was the notion that “the Jews” had actually assisted the Muslims in their conquest of the country.
The likelihood that this story was true is vanishingly small, especially when we consider the massacres of Jews carried out in Arabia by Muhammad himself just a few decades earlier. No people had better international links than the Jews, a nation of merchants par excellence, and those of Spain would have been very much aware of Muhammad’s behavior long before the first Muslim armies landed on Spanish soil. Nonetheless, the story got out that the Jews had helped the Muslims. There can be little doubt that this story was fostered by the Muslim invaders themselves, as part of the policy of divide and conquer; of sowing mistrust between the two vanquished communities.
All during the tenth and eleventh centuries, the war for possession of the Iberian Peninsula raged between Christians and Muslims. This conflict was to grow into a real clash of civilizations, as Christians and Muslims called in the assistance of co-religionists from far and wide. The Shrine of Santiago de Compostela became a rallying symbol for the Christians of the north and for those of France and Germany, who crossed the Pyrenees to join the struggle against Islam. Their Christian allies in Spain already had the conviction that the Jews were secret allies of the Muslims — a belief encouraged by the Muslims. They were convinced that the Jews had assisted the Muslims in their conquest of the country; and they came into contact with Muslim antisemitic attitudes — attitudes which the Christians began to imbibe. It is an acknowledged fact that it was in Spain that the warriors who later joined the First Crusade learnt to persecute the Jews. In the words of Steven Runciman, “Already in the Spanish wars there had been some inclination on the part of Christian armies to maltreat the Jews.” Runciman notes that at the time of the expedition to Barbastro, in the mid-eleventh century, Pope Alexander II had written to the bishops of Spain to remind them that there was all the difference in the world between Muslims and Jews. The former were irreconcilable enemies of the Christians, but the latter were ready to work for them. However, in Spain “the Jews had enjoyed such favour from the hands of the Moslems that the Christian conquerors could not bring themselves to trust them.” This lack of trust is confirmed by more than one document of the period, several of which are listed by Runciman.
Just over a decade after the Christian knights of France and Germany had helped their co-religionists in Spain to retake the city of Toledo from the Muslims, some of them prepared to set out on the First (official) Crusade. Before they did so, a few of them took part in the mass murder of several thousand Jews in Germany and Bohemia — an atrocity unprecedented in European history.
In view of the fact that these pogroms were committed by warriors some of whom had learned their trade in Spain, and in view of the fact that such atrocities were hitherto unknown in Europe, we may state that there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that the Christians had been influenced by Islamic ideas.
To conclude, I am not trying to argue that antisemitism did not exist among Christians before the rise of Islam. Obviously it did. Yet the influence of Islam, and the terrible struggle between the two intolerant ideologies of Christianity and Islam which began in the seventh century, had a profoundly detrimental effect upon the Jews; and it was then, and only then, that the virulent and murderous antisemitism so characteristic of the Middle Ages entered European life.
At the end of the book the author provides an overview of the irrevocable damage that Islam did to European culture and civilization over the space of more than a thousand years (pages 253-255):
The removal of Roman power in the fifth century and the flooding of the western provinces by barbarian armies produced in Europe a revival of the military and warrior spirit which had characterized Rome herself in her earlier days. But the barbarians themselves became “softened” by the settled lives they began to lead in the western provinces and by the influence of the Christian faith. Even newly-arrived hordes, like the Franks and Langobards in the late fifth and sixth centuries, fell under the civilizing spell of Rome and of Christianity; and the fierce customs of the men who, just a generation earlier had dwelt in the forests and wildernesses of Germany, soon began to be softened in the vineyards of Gaul and the olive-groves of Spain. Then, however, early in the seventh century, when the West was about to be re-Romanized, there appeared a new enemy: one that could not be placated and could not be Christianized. To the normal horrors of war the Muslim invaders added a new and dangerous element: religious fanaticism. Here were conquerors intent not only on plunder and enslavement, but also on the extinction or at the very least subjugation of the Christian faith. Against the barbarians of Germany and Scythia, the Christians of the west might fight for the possession of their homes and their lands, but such enemies were not intent on the destruction of the Christian religion. Christians were free to worship as they wished; and indeed many of the barbarians showed, from the very start, that they could be influenced by and even converted to the Christian faith.
With the Muslims, this was never an option. These were the “unconvertibles”, men who were driven by their own religious zeal, and who waged war specifically to spread that faith. And this was an enmity that time did not ameliorate: for centuries after the invasions of southern Italy, Spain and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, Muslim freebooters scoured the Mediterranean and the coastlands of southern France and Italy, robbing, killing and enslaving. With the arrival of Islam, Mediterranean Europe was never again at peace — not until the early part of the nineteenth century, anyway. Muslim privateers based in North Africa, the Barbary Pirates, terrorized the Mediterranean until after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. In the centuries preceding that, Muslim armies, first in the form of the Almoravids and later the Ottomans, launched periodic large-scale invasions of territories in southern Europe; and even when they were not doing so, Muslim pirates and slave-traders were involved in incessant raids against coastal settlements in Spain, southern France, Italy, Dalmatia, Albania, Greece, and all the Mediterranean islands. This activity continued unabated for centuries, and the only analogy that springs to mind is to imagine, in northern Europe, what it would have been like if the Viking raids had lasted a thousand years.
It has been estimated that between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries Muslim pirates based in North Africa captured and enslaved between a million and a million-and-a-quarter Europeans. Although their attacks ranged as far north as Iceland and Norway, the impact was most severe along the Mediterranean coasts of Spain, France and Italy, with large areas of coastline eventually being made uninhabitable by the threat.
The impact of this incessant violence has never, I feel, been either thoroughly studied or fully understood. The Mediterranean coastlands must learn to live in a state of constant alert, with fear never far removed. Populations needed to be ready, at a moment’s notice, with a military response. Fortifications must be built and young men trained in the use of arms. There was the development of a semi-paranoid culture in which killing and being killed was the norm, or at least not unusual. Small wonder that some of these territories, particularly Southern Italy, Sicily, Spain, Corsica, parts of Greece and Albania, would in time develop their own violent and relentless cultures; and that it would be above all in Spain that the Inquisition would find its spiritual home. Small wonder too that it would be from this same land that Holy Warriors would set out, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, to conquer the peoples of the New World for Christ.
If you are on a limited budget or have limited time and can only read one book this year, Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited is the one to buy. And a purchase will most likely be necessary, since it will be unavailable in most libraries, what with the hot breath of CAIR and MCB and all the other surrogates of the Muslim Brotherhood breathing down librarians’ necks.
For more than a thousand years Europe and the European diaspora have struggled to cope with the enormity of the devastation inflicted on us by the Islamic invasions. Our collective memory has attempted — and failed — to retain an accurate idea of what actually happened to us.
In earlier centuries our ability to understand was limited by the inadequacy of communication over vast distances and times. Later, during the European ascendancy, it was difficult to comprehend how much damage could be inflicted by such a primitive and barbaric culture.
By the time the European colossus stood astride the globe in the nineteenth century, Islam was a trivial retrograde rabble that deserved no respect and even less attention. How could it have come within a hair’s breadth of smothering European civilization in its cradle?
The truth of what Islam did — and continues to do — to Western Civilization has finally been reconstructed. Like an accomplished forensic detective, Emmet Scott has assembled all the pieces of evidence and built an airtight case against Islam.
The only verdict possible is “Guilty!”
In the days and months to come the airwaves and the internet will be flooded with ads for books about Barack Hussein Obama, or Mitt Romney, or the meltdown of the euro. Resist their blandishments. Forego just one of those transient and evanescent books.
Instead, read Emmet Scott’s magnum opus. This one is for the ages.
After you finish Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited, your understanding of and reverence for our precious civilization will be fundamentally reorganized. This book is truly artful because it changes the way you see.