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Author Topic: Debunking the European Myth:  (Read 1000 times)
Samuel ibn Yaacob
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« on: Aug 22, 2011 06:47 PM »


Debunking the European Myth: How Andalusian Semitic Culture Molded Western Civilization


LA LECTURA

 

Mi pupila rescata lo que está preso en la página:

lo blanco a lo blanco y lo negro a lo negro.

 

Del célebre BEN AMMAR de Silves,

visir de Mutamid de Sevilla.

(m. 1086)

 

THE LECTURE

 

My pupil rescues that which is imprisoned on the page:

white on white and the black on black.

 

From the famous BEN AMMAR de Silves,

Vizier to Mutamid de Sevilla.

(m. 1086)

Translated by Samuel ibn Ya'acob

 

Having been relegated as the “odd man out” in many arenas from ethnicity to culture and history, Iberia has always been a region that has defied European inclusiveness.

 

Many factors come into play as to why this is the case. In this article I will be exploring some of these reasons.

 

In order to better understand the importance of the Iberian region we must see how Andalusian-Semitic culture has enriched the development of European civilization. Rather than hindering its intellectual development, as some make the case to be, the Andalusian culture has led to important developments in Western thought.

 

The Europeans have strongly insisted that their native civilization has been, strictly speaking, a completely internal development.  European intellectuals acknowledge only a few outside influences on their culture which they see as totally based on the cultural foundations of Greece and Rome.

 

The fortress of the European myth is very hard to penetrate. It has been enforced and zealously safeguarded by its self-appointed ministers who ennoble European thought as the summit of all human intellectual endeavor.  Contributions outside of its strict parameters have either been marginalized or, worse, forgotten.

 

There has been a unity of thought within the European mindset that sees itself as “Us” and everyone else as the “Other.”  The Other's voice has been either slighted or shut out from its intellectual and historical discourse.

 

Perhaps the zenith of Western European intellectualism, its Golden Age, can be thought of as falling into the climactic period of the 19th century.

 

It was during this time that Modernity, the Age of Reason, and the Industrial Revolution merged and catapulted Europe to global pre-eminence.  The recognition that it garnered, coupled with its civilization, exacted a heightened place on the world stage.  With this new awareness Europe was able to determine unquestionably that the rest of the world needed to be “civilized” using their intellectual methodologies.

 

The great myth here is that these methodologies sprung from within Europe itself, starting with the Renaissance up until now.  By the standards of the Modern value-system these methodologies would help other civilizations catch up with the West; arrogantly presuming that Western thinking is the highest standard by which non-Westerners should measure themselves by.

 

Europe did not permit the questioning of its cultural superiority.   This supremacy helps to isolate it from any outside influences, effectually silencing the voices of the “Other.”

 

Hispanic scholars (though not all) have also fallen for this misleading mythological notion of Europe's intellectual self-righteousness and have disparaged the Arabic and Jewish influences that they feel hindered rather than helped its cause in light of Europe's intellectual and ethnic supremacy.  But these Arabic and Jewish influences cannot be shaken off so easily from Hispanic culture.  But to some they de-legitimize and de-Europeanize Spain. Spain and Portugal's sometimes strained relationship to European civilization is a direct result of its “questionable” Moorish past.

 

Conversely, some Hispanic scholars have been in the vanguard of initiating an intellectual revival into its Semitic past. Far from diminishing their Semitic cultural precursors, they have been instrumental in opening the door to historical revisionism that paints a more accurate picture of the Islamic-Jewish contributions rather than debasing its “questionable” Islamic-Jewish influences as others do.

 

Andalusian culture, far from being a shameful mark on Spanish civilization, is an exceptional and brilliant diadem that enriches Europe's dark intellectual past.

 

Mainstream scholarship has marginalized Andalusian-Semitic contributions so much that it is almost impossible to understand its great role in the shaping of Western civilization.  For people on both sides of the divide it becomes a question of either critically analyzing the past or maintaining the status quo.  But it is those who are committed to keeping the Eurocentric status quo who still have the upper hand in our university classrooms.  It is unfortunate that even in the 21st century with so many advancements having been made in almost every arena of scholarship, technology and science that these prejudices still remain within academia.  The sad fact remains that Arabic-Judaic influences in Western European philosophy, poetry and literature are hardly being discussed at many of the universities today outside of specialized studies.  The old Andalusian texts have not become part of the mainstream of Western literature and thought.

 

It wasn't until I had finished my graduate degree in Western philosophy that I discovered Avicenna’s and Maimonides’ contributions to Medieval Philosophy. This made me feel short-changed in my educational pursuits.

 

If there is a case of academia being culturally biased it is in the area of what Maria Rosa Menocal has called the “Arabic role in Medieval literary history.” I can personally attest to the bias because I was immensely affected by it.

 

The argument can still be made today that the curriculum in Medieval Philosophy is biased towards teaching about Christian influences rather than Islamic or Judaic contributions which were substantial and just as important to its growth!

 

Without the undeniable influence of the Andalusian lyrical poems or muwashshahas, Europe would not have its celebrated Provencal troubadour poetry which in itself has influenced every type of Western poetic endeavor up to Rock and Roll!

 

Without Andalusian Toledo, the mecca of translations from Oriental languages to Romance languages, the West would not have had such a vast library to harvest its intellectual insights from.

 

We can see examples of this cultural history in the excellent studies of the aforementioned Maria Rosa Menocal, particularly in her popular work The Ornament of the World; in Richard Rubernstein’s excellent survey Aristotle’s Children; in the many articles and books by Ross Brann on the Sephardic poetic tradition; and in the exhaustive work of translation by Peter Cole in his survey The Dream of Poem which serves as the single source for Hebrew poetry in Spain that we now possess.  Mention should also be made of the African-American scholar David Levering Lewis and his study of Andalusia, God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe.  Such studies provide a valuable window into the Arabic and Jewish roles in European civilization.

 

This knowledge is not being made available to students, not because the material is not readily available, but because the desire to disseminate it would mean to engage in some very profound historical revision to the standard image of European civilization.

 

It would mean re-analyzing the past in order to make a case that Andalusian-Semitic influence was purposefully left out of the Western educational dialogue.

 

It would force Western scholars to admit that Europe's Western intellectual pursuits actually originated in the melting pot of Iberia's Islamic-Judaic past rather than solely from within itself.

 

It would eventually mean the West admitting to scholastic error because of its own prejudice.  This is something that Arabists understand very well; knowing that Arabic was the lingua franca of a higher culture since time forgotten.

 

It would be a horror too great for the West to fathom in light of its incessant need to “democratize” every “wild” Islamic country by force, in the name of civilization.  

 

The very same Western civilization that the Arabs helped to mold!

 

Oh, the sweet and bitter irony!

 

Thus, instead of Europeans bemoaning the fact that they have been stained by their Islamic-Judaic intellectual past, they should be celebrating the fact that their Semitic-influenced past ushered in Europe's greatest intellectual awakening – well after the Greco-Roman period!

 

Perhaps instituting the Andalusian curriculum into our classrooms would help to curb the “Clash of Civilizations” or the East-versus-West dichotomy evident in the world today.

 

If we concentrated on our mutual commonalities rather than what separates us, perhaps we could make a case that we would all be in a better place intellectually and politically.  Because it is infinitely harder to understand the “Other” if their voices are purposefully left out of the discussion; especially if that voice was a cultured voice, a lyrical voice, which echoed early Modernity, rather than what has been presumed to be obscurantist and uncivilized.

Samuel ibn Ya'acob
 

Samuel ibn Ya'acob
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« Reply #1 on: Aug 23, 2011 02:04 AM »

I'm going to be adding some more lines to this essay, but first I need to read one more book, lol...So please have patience with it till then.
Thanks  Embarrassed

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« Reply #2 on: Aug 23, 2011 06:22 AM »

Salaams Brother Samuel,

I decided to really sit and read the debunking of the European Myth as it had similarity with a video I stumbled upon titled 'When the Moors Ruled Europe' and posted at the "Islamic History & Art" section under "The Silk Road". Your article echoes what that video has brought to light.

I guess the philosopher and artist side of you explains your interest in debunking the myth.

You are also said:
Quote
"For the record, my participation here is twofold to learn and to share another perspective".

The key is to learn and share, indeed. Another perspective helps to enlighten minds/people. For instance some might take 'Semitic' to refer to Jews only, yet Arabs are Semitic too. And how many know about Iberia or even care to know?

My question is, how can such information reach the general public? When will institutions of learning take responsibility in acknowledging the glaring lie that European history is, correct it and make it public? I don't think an apology is necessary but rectifying grave mistakes is a must.

Looking forward to reading more.

Shukran.

Halima

The Almighty Allah says,

"When a servant thinks of Me, I am near.
When he invokes Me, I am with him.
If he reflects on Me in secret, I reply in secret,
And if he acknowledges Me in an assembly,
I acknowledge him in a far superior assembly."

- Prophet Muhammad (SAW), as reptd by Abu Huraira
Samuel ibn Yaacob
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« Reply #3 on: Aug 23, 2011 08:55 AM »

Dear sister Halima,

I must watch that video as I am unaware of it. You are right in these points, the word Semitic has been taken greatly out of context e.g., the word antisemitism is a misnomer. The correct word should be anti-Jewish.  I guess the philosopher side of me is somewhat of a purist when it comes to meaning. Etymologies are fascinating and so you are correct, Semitic in my perspective means the descendents of Shem, mainly Abraham the father of Yishma'el and Yisa'ac according to the Scriptural narrative. That being said, Arabs and Jews are brothers, no more no less and they share a common Semitic Near Eastern heritage. When I wrote this piece, which is almost done...I had this common heritage, the shared Semitic heritage between Jews and Arabs, as a given.

Iberian culture has been buried under the "Nicene barks of yore", in this case the "barks" rather than meaning ships as Poe suggested comes from the Great Christian Historical Narrative or the establishment that codifies it, which has marginalized the magnificent contributions that the Iberian Semitic heritage gave to the whole world.(Not just the West)  There is a contingent of scholars today that are making a case for "forgotten" Andalusian addition into the European dialectic. They are making a case and fighting for Andalusian recognition on a greater scale than has been afforded to her in the past, which we all know is nominal. When I mean fighting, they are truly fighting against the educational establishment, against preconceived ideas about the what constitutes the Medieval period. They are battling in short, the Great Historical Narrative which will not give in so readily. I am in contact with Dr. Maria Rosa Menocal, who is on the vanguard of "new" scholarship that seeks to demystify Medieval/Renaissance European misconceptions and prejudices. Her book, Arabic role in Medieval Literary History, is a must read. She has a few books that have been instrumental for me as a student of Andalusian history. Dr. Jose Faur also has been incredibly instrumental in describing that period and those who were educated post exile in the Andalusian way and their many contributions in the forming of Western ideas.

The answer to your question, is by doing what I am doing, what Maria Rosa Menocal, Jose Faur, and others are doing. By learning about that period, internalizing it and disseminating it. When I first learned about Maimonides, Musa ibn Maimon, after I graduated, I was aghast at the level of unpreparedness I had achieved during my postgraduate years. I had to relearn history, relearn philosophy. The postmodern period with all its basic notions, was already being discussed by Salomon ibn Verga in the 1550's in Turkey, in a language that was outlawed in Europe! When I read about this I was flabbergasted, rocked to the core. Here I was thinking that Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Hegel introduced the basics of postmodern in the 19th Century which in turn led Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard to clarify it, as I was so genuinely taught. How naive? I was taught the Great Historical Narrative unbeknownst to me and as far as I knew it was the gospel, the truth!

Who is going to teach us the truth? When their perspective is narrow minded and excludes others from sharing in its telling? I swear (figure of speech) I was duped and I paid a pretty penny for it too. Basically, I would not hold my breath that by some miracle the Western educational establishment will come to its senses! Not until we all are armed with knowledge and who knows when that will be? If I was to give a description of Paradise, it would be a place where ideas would flow freely and without prejudices or ambiguous agendas. It would be a place of peace internal and external. Paradise would be  place where everyone would be feed from the pure unadulterated truth and we would never suffer hunger or sickness from it.  

Salaam

Samuel ibn Ya'acob
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« Reply #4 on: Aug 23, 2011 11:40 AM »

Assalamu Alaykum...

Very fascinating article...


I decided to really sit and read the debunking of the European Myth as it had similarity with a video I stumbled upon titled 'When the Moors Ruled Europe' and posted at the "Islamic History & Art" section under "The Silk Road". Your articles echoes what that video has brought to light.


I'll look forward to watch that video also..

BTW, speaking of etymology does anyone of you know or familiar w/ the word "MORO"?  I  think that term is from Spain. That term used by Spanish colonizer to call the muslim filipino in the philippines way back on colonial period.


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« Reply #5 on: Aug 23, 2011 06:45 PM »


I must watch that video as I am unaware of it. You are right in these points, the word Semitic has been taken greatly out of context e.g., the word antisemitism is a misnomer. The correct word should be anti-Jewish.  I guess the philosopher side of me is somewhat of a purist when it comes to meaning. Etymologies are fascinating and so you are correct, Semitic in my perspective means the descendents of Shem, mainly Abraham the father of Yishma'el and Yisa'ac according to the Scriptural narrative. That being said, Arabs and Jews are brothers, no more no less and they share a common Semitic Near Eastern heritage. When I wrote this piece, which is almost done...I had this common heritage, the shared Semitic heritage between Jews and Arabs, as a given.

I agree - the word anti-semitism is a great misnomer. Both Arabs and Jews are descendants of Abraham/Ibrahim.

Quote
The answer to your question, is by doing what I am doing, what Maria Rosa Menocal, Jose Faur, and others are doing. By learning about that period, internalizing it and disseminating it.

A step in the right direction, certainly!

Quote
When I first learned about Maimonides, Musa ibn Maimon, after I graduated, I was aghast at the level of unpreparedness I had achieved during my postgraduate years. I had to relearn history, relearn philosophy. The postmodern period with all its basic notions, was already being discussed by Salomon ibn Verga in the 1550's in Turkey, in a language that was outlawed in Europe! When I read about this I was flabbergasted, rocked to the core. Here I was thinking that Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Hegel introduced the basics of postmodern in the 19th Century which in turn led Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard to clarify it, as I was so genuinely taught. How naive? I was taught the Great Historical Narrative unbeknownst to me and as far as I knew it was the gospel, the truth!

All of us who have been taught European history have been naive. We all feel cheated after these discoveries.

Quote
Basically, I would not hold my breath that by some miracle the Western educational establishment will come to its senses! Not until we all are armed with knowledge and who knows when that will be?

It might happen, if not in our generation, then our children or grandchildren, Insha-Allah, who will be 'armed with knowledge' as you say. Independent thinking and research is already bringing the lies into light. And now with the internet, blogs, etc., the truth cannot be hidden any longer. Where there is a will, there is a way. And as the Chinese say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. People like you, Maria Rosa Menocal, those who are now telling about how the Moors built southern Spain with a rich culture and brought civilization, etc., are on the right track. 

The Almighty Allah says,

"When a servant thinks of Me, I am near.
When he invokes Me, I am with him.
If he reflects on Me in secret, I reply in secret,
And if he acknowledges Me in an assembly,
I acknowledge him in a far superior assembly."

- Prophet Muhammad (SAW), as reptd by Abu Huraira
Samuel ibn Yaacob
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« Reply #6 on: Aug 24, 2011 07:19 AM »

BTW, speaking of etymology does anyone of you know or familiar w/ the word "MORO"?  I  think that term is from Spain. That term used by Spanish colonizer to call the muslim filipino in the philippines way back on colonial period.

Thank you for your compliment Jamalledine!

Moro, comes from Romance language a derivative of the Roman province of Mauretania, (ancient Libya and Tunis) in Africa. It predates Islamic rule in the Iberian peninsula obviously dates to the time  when Spain was called Cartagenia and prior to Roman rule.

It has eventually been identified with Muslim's and their descendents. A popular Spanish Christian surname Matamoros ( killer of Moors). Morisco (Christian converted Muslim) Moreno (a) ( dark skinned or black) Moro Arab

Samuel ibn Ya'acob
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