Richard Bulliet: The history of Muslims in Europe needs to be rewritten

Roundup: Talking About History

[Mr. Bulliet is a professor of history at Columbia University.]

Distorted by today's political lenses, European historical memory selectively focuses on past violence perpetrated by Muslims and either forgets Europe's cultural borrowings from Muslim societies, or regards them as unimportant remnants of a closed chapter in European-Muslim relations.

Fourteen European countries have been wholly or partly under Muslim rule for at least one of the last 14 centuries. With the exception of Spain, national memory in all of these lands either minimizes this experience or portrays the era of Muslim dominion as one of unrelieved oppression and barbarity.

Violence is the dominant motif of Western histories on Islamic relations. Everyone is reminded on a regular basis that a Muslim army penetrated deep into northern France in 732 before being heroically stopped by Charles Martel at Tours, and another Muslim army laid siege to Vienna in 1529 before being turned back by bad weather and heroic defenders.

And they are similarly reminded that their own Crusader ancestors seized Jerusalem from the Saracen unbelievers and held it for almost a century. That Crusader conquest and rule might have involved oppression and barbarity is generally omitted from the story.

From episodes like this, today's ideologues concoct a myth of unending and merciless hostility between Islam and the West.

But even the military tale is selectively told. Who recalls that France's Renaissance monarch Francis I allied with the Muslim Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent to fight against his Christian rival Charles V of Spain? Who remembers that many generations of Muslim Tatars fought for Christian Polish kings against their Christian foreign enemies?...

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