On June 4, 2009, in a speech delivered in Cairo, Egypt, President Barack Obama informed his largely Muslim audience that “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia . . .” He was not speaking of the southern region of Spain that bears that name today, but rather the Caliphate of Córdoba, known as al-Andalus, which flourished between 756 and 1031. In the last century or so, this period in Spanish Muslim history has been celebrated as a time of enlightenment and tolerance, set against the Dark Ages of bigotry and violence that characterized the Christian West. Such black-and-white characterizations of peoples and cultures are rarely accurate. Medieval al-Andalus was a product of its times, adhering to norms found in other Muslim kingdoms that were just as intolerant (to use an anachronistic term) as Christian ones. The “paradise” of

 

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