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Islamic Scholar Akbar Ahmed Chides Italy, Says It Must Recover Its “Pluralist Past”

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Akbar Ahmed has a sterling reputation as a “moderate” Muslim and thoughtful academic, but there is a sinister undercurrent to his new book Journey Into Europe: he calls for a “New Andalusia,” which to non-Muslims who have forgotten their own history conjures up the newly-minted historical myth of a paradise of peace and tolerance, under the benign rule of Islam. In reality, however, as I show in my forthcoming book The History of Jihad From Muhammad to ISIS (which you can preorder here), Jews and Christians in Muslim Spain did not enjoy anything remotely close to equal rights with Muslims, and were subjected to the Sharia-mandated discrimination and harassment of dhimmitude, punctuated by occasional outright persecution, characterized by enslavement and massacres. Since Islamic law has not changed since then, one wonders what Akbar Ahmed is really recommending to credulous and unsuspecting Europeans.

And now he is calling upon Italy to “remember its pluralist past.” Once again, it is the responsibility of non-Muslims in the West, and no one else, to be “pluralist” and prove their “tolerance.” No one ever calls upon Saudi Arabia to remember its pluralist past, when Jews, Christians, and polytheists lived in Arabia. No one ever calls upon Sharia states to be more tolerant of non-Muslims. The onus is always only on the West.

Ahmed characterizes the foes of mass Muslim migration in Italy as if they were all neo-Nazis, neo-fascists, and antisemites, with the strong implication that no one would have any reason for opposing that migration except for racism and xenophobia. He retails, in highly misleading fashion, some historical incidents, but leaves some others out. In The History of Jihad From Muhammad to ISIS I offer some information about Islam and Muslims in Italy that Akbar Ahmed doesn’t mention.

The Muslim conquest of Sicily began in 827. By 829, the jihadi invaders had been almost completely driven off the island when they received unexpected help: an invading Muslim army from al-Andalus, led by Asbagh ibn Wakil. Although they ultimately took Palermo, the Muslims were not able to secure the eastern part of Sicily, stymied both by the ferocity of the native population and their own inability to unite their various factions. The fighting went on for decades.

In 878, the Muslims finally took Syracuse, and the booty was immense. According to the eighteenth century historian Edward Gibbon, “the plate of the cathedral weighed five thousand pounds of silver; the entire spoil was computed at one million of pieces of gold [about four hundred thousand pounds sterling].” Along with the treasure, the Muslims enslaved over seventeen thousand Christians. The exact number is not known, but according to Gibbon, it exceeded the number of the seventeen thousand Christians who were captured when the Muslims took Taormina and were sent to Africa to lead lives of slavery.

The warriors of jihad were finally able to secure complete control of Sicily in 902. The conquerors treated their new domains with extreme severity, brutally suppressing the Greek language and forcibly converting thousands of young boys to Islam.

Later the Sicilians were able to drive the invaders out, but the devastation they wrought was immense.

Meanwhile, in 846, the jihadis attacked Rome, the grandest city in Christendom aside from Constantinople, but were unable to get through its walls. The basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul Outside the Walls, however, as the latter’s name indicated, were outside the city’s defenses. The jihadis plundered both, taking as much silver and gold as they could, including a sumptuous silver altar from St. Peter’s. But finding Rome’s walls too strong to breach, they continued down the Appian Way to nearby Fondi, which they plundered, and Gaeta, which they besieged.

Although the jihadis had left the immediate vicinity of Rome, the people in the great city were thoroughly alarmed. Despite the Muslims’ inability to break through into the heart of the city, the Romans criticized Pope Sergius for not doing enough to keep the city safe. When he died in 847, his successor, Pope Leo IV, swiftly began shoring up Rome’s defenses, building new walls and repairing the existing ones, as well as repairing the damage the Muslims had done to St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s.

That all this was necessary was taken for granted by everyone. The jihad forces were still in Italy, and the threat was urgent; it had not yet become customary for the Roman Pontiff to proclaim the peacefulness of Islam and benign character of the Qur’an, and to decry the building of walls. If anyone had been skeptical about the need for Pope Leo’s new walls, they were no longer so in 849, when Muhammad Abu’l Abbas, the emir of the Aghlabid dynasty that ruled in North Africa, ostensibly under the authority of the Abbasid caliph, sent a fleet to the mouth of the Tiber River, just sixteen miles from Rome. Leo, however, had formed an alliance with several Italian princes, as well as with the Byzantines, and a significant Christian force was there to meet the forces that the Christians called the Saracens. In battle at Ostia, a district of Rome, and aided by a storm that destroyed much of the Muslim fleet, the Christians were victorious, and the conquest and Islamization of Rome was prevented, at least for the foreseeable future.

Elsewhere, the Christians were not so fortunate. Gibbon recounted the habitual savagery of the conquerors:

It was the amusement of the Saracens to profane, as well as to pillage, the monasteries and churches. At the siege of Salerno, a Mussulman chief spread his couch on the communion-table, and on that altar sacrificed each night the virginity of a Christian nun. As he wrestled with a reluctant maid, a beam in the roof was accidentally or dexterously thrown down on his head; and the death of the lustful emir was imputed to the wrath of Christ, which was at length awakened to the defence of his faithful spouse.

Convivencia, eh?

Preorder The History of Jihad From Muhammad to ISIS here.

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His new book is Confessions of an Islamophobe. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.

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