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SPAIN and ITALY: The Muslim Heritage?



There is a consensus among historians that the glory days of Islam coincided with Europe's "dark ages." John Wonder has an explanation:

"Is it possible that the "glory days" of Arab culture were due to the classical and advanced near-eastern cultures which they overran? To their credit they succeeded in preserving and passing on much of what they learned--and in a few cases were able to add something. But did they really have the intellectual curiosity and drive in a general sense to go on and develop and enlarge on what they happened upon? I have the general impression that the directing classes seemed preoccupied with prestige and luxurious living rather than accomplishing anything worthwhile, but perhaps this is Western cultural bias."

Disregarding the fact that many serious historians have expounded it, Paul Simon uses the unWAIS word "twaddle" to dismiss the idea that Moorish influence had anything to do with the backwardness of southern Spain and Italy. He says:

"If Southern Italy and Spain lag behind the north, southern Germany long lagged behind Prussia; was this some Muslim or African influence? How about the long "South lags North" in the USA or the 19th century "South lags North" in England (these last two now reversed!) and why have they reversed and why did they lag. How about looking to natural human torpidity under heat, disease vectors or malaria, and similar draining factors before coming down on Islam; I am unaware of any caliphates or Muslim history in the Italian peninsula. or are we just going to go around blaming religions? Is it the Catholics in Bavaria or the Baptists in the American South? Or is it prejudice? If one would like a well-reasoned approach to why these areas lag behind, there is no better read than David Landis' The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.

My comment: Again, there is an enormous corpus on the influence of religions on civilizations. Serious Spanish historians maintain that the Catholic Church held back the development of Spain. Naturally some Catholic scholars protested; Menendez y Pelayo wrote La ciencia espanola, without convincing many people. Of course there were no caliphates in Italy, but there was plenty of Muslin influence. The nature and causes of the decline of civilizations are complex subjects involving many factors.

Ronald Hilton - 7/27/00


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