David Levering Lewis: Historian sees Christian conquest of Spain as lesson

Historians in the News

Though it happened 1,300 years ago — some of it less than 600 years ago — Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Levering Lewis says a long military-religious campaign bore seeds of troubled 21st century history....

Lewis sees a resemblance between the advanced Western civilization of today compared with the backwardness of many Muslim countries and the advanced Muslim civilization of the first millennium compared with the backwardness of Europe at the time. He acknowledges the comparisons seem remote.

"Yet it is in the long fraught saga of cultural roles reversed and political hegemonies upended that we can discern many of the causes for the troubled history being made in the 21st century," he writes.

Lewis, who teaches history at New York University, pokes fun at colleagues who see the defeat of the Muslim advance into western Europe, near Poitiers in the year 732, as ending a threat to Western civilization.

On the contrary, he sees it as a pivotal moment "in the creation of an economically retarded, balkanized and fratricidal Europe that, by defining itself in opposition to Islam, made virtues out of hereditary aristocracy, persecutory religious intolerance, cultural particularism and perpetual war."...

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Randll Reese Besch - 1/30/2008

Write a 'what if' article of how Europe would have been different if the Muslims took over? I would read it.