Cathedrals, Mosques, Synagogues, oh my! (Part 1)

I read up on a lot of Spanish history in December.  One area of especial interest is from about 700 CE to 1500 CE.  That time span is bracketed at the low end by the Visigoths (who were nominally Christian), and at the high by the Reconquista, when the houses of Ferdinand and Isabel were joined and re-took Granada from the Moors, sparking a new age of Christian hegemony.  The Inquisition, what a show…

During this in-between time, adherents of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all resided in the Iberian peninsula.  The Moors basically controlled southern Spain, and though some would say they had control of all Iberia in toto, they never really challenged the old Visigothic Christian cities up north in Aragon, or in the northwest.

The Moors brought with them a great deal of ancient knowledge.  Besides introducing oranges, almonds, olive trees, and other staples that would come to re-define Iberia, they brought the accumulated wisdom of the “classical” world – primarily encoded in Arabic.  And some fantastic architectural techniques.

Some photos of “La Alhambra”:

The power of the Moors fluctuated as families split and attention wavered between northern Iberia and the Berbers in North Africa.  But in general, the rule of law treated Jews and Christians as “people of the Book” (“dhimmi,” or in Arabic: ذمي‎‎ (ḏimmī)).  Basically, this meant they had freedom to worship, but also had to pay a tax (“jizyah” (Arabic: جزية‎‎ ǧizyah)).  (Speaking of which, I’m wondering if this historic practice of “tolerance via payments” is rooted in Persian precedent…I need to listen through the new Hardcore History episodes.)

Now this theoretical concept of la convivencia, as some have speculated, is rife with controvery and floundering in rhetoric.  No “diachronic” comparative analysis of systems of law (over time) which we attach to a major “religion” will ever produce a winner.  It is not a zero-sum game.  And there is no ultimate truth to be found.  Whoever claims that one religion is more peaceful or rational than another based on evidence x, y and z is standing on shifting sand.

I read one review on Amazon of a text that disputes the idea that “Christians, Jews and Muslims lived in relative harmony” during this period in Spain.  The text elaborates all the horrific treatment that Christians and Jews suffered under Muslim rule, and essentially demonstrates there was never any real peace; the idea that they had it better under Muslim rule than the converse is poppycock.  The reviewer praised the book for breaking the “politically correct” theory of convivencia.  Well, this won’t be very politically correct for me to say, but all religions are flawed and a waste of time.

All governments are, too.  And so are all corporations.

(I’m not trying to go all Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett here.)  But all of these things – governments, religions, companies – share one great corrupter in common.  Us.  I’m as equally suspicious of two religious adherents meeting together as I am of two government officials or two businesspeople brokering a deal.  (And let’s not get started with the lawyers.)

We’re flawed.  We make mistakes.  We’re subject to neurochemistry we do not control nor yet understand.  Our nervous systems react to perceived realities as veridically as they do to actual ones.

Yet there remains beauty in the intermeshing of existences.  Sometimes violent, sometimes empathetic.  The myriad con-glomming.  Interspersed and overlapping keyhole arches, geometric repetition betraying a harmonic theory, hyper-attentive detail.  This book is an interesting read [Amazon link] on all of the above.