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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain by Dario Fernandez-Morera. A Review.

Photo by Anna Hyatt Huntington. Source
This review appears at FrontPage Magazine here

To Sabotage the Future, Lie about the Past

Northwestern University Scholar Dario Fernandez-Morera Tilts at the Windmill of the Andalusian Myth – And the Myth Topples

I am in awe of The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain. Author Dario Fernandez-Morera, a Northwestern University Professor and Harvard PhD, argues that elite scholars are peddling a myth – that Islamic Spain, c. 711 AD -1492 AD, was a paradise. Fernandez-Morera's job is to expose historical realities. The main text is 240 pages. There are 95 pages of notes, a bibliography and an index. It was published in February, 2016 by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

This book is an intellectual boxing match. The author shreds not just one opponent, but a series of intellectual bigots, prostitutes and manipulators of the common man. Fernandez-Morera's biceps gleam as his lightning footwork and peerless preparedness dazzle. Our hero risks much, from hate mail to non-person status.

The reader is plunged into vast landscapes, international intrigue, arcane customs, and timeless heroism. One envisions veiled women and bejeweled slave girls, the smoking ruins of churches, enslaved, whipped Christians forced to carry their cathedral bells to be melted down to embellish mosques, heartbreaking suffering and eventual victory.

Fernandez-Morera allows the propagandists enough rope to hang themselves. All he has to do is quote them. Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, The University of Chicago, Boston University, Sarah Lawrence, Rutgers, Indiana University, Cambridge, Oxford, The University of London, NYU, Norton, Penguin, Routledge, Houghton Mifflin, the Pulitzer Committee, Tony Blair, Barack Obama, Carly Fiorina, children's textbooks, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, PBS, The New York Review of Books, First Things all are in the dock, tripped up in their own false testimony. The inclusion of First Things might surprise; it is a Catholic publication. In it Christian C. Sahner praises Muslims who "exhibited a surprising degree of religious flexibility" because they waited a few decades before razing the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Damascus, rather than destroying it immediately upon arrival. Really.

What is the propagandists' motive?

Follow the pitchforks and torches. In 2008, Sylvain Gouguenheim, a French medievalist, published Aristotle at Mont Saint-Michel, arguing that the West is not in debt to Islam for awareness of Ancient Greek texts; most of those texts were preserved, translated, passed on and used by Christians. For that rather modest claim, Gouguenheim was subjected to an "academic exorcism."

And follow the agenda. The Middle Ages matter to propagandists for one reason only: today's projects. Al-Andalus proves that "Islam can effectively navigate a pluralistic world." Al-Andalus proves that there are no "essential differences" between Islam and the West. Al-Andalus proves that Israel can be replaced with a "Palestinian model in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims can live again under [Islam's] protection." And of course the Ground Zero Mosque was dubbed "Cordoba House" after a caliphate in Muslim Spain.

What tactics do the propagandists use in their publications?

They smear Christians. In one Oxford University Press book, Christians are "a fanatical fringe" resistant to "benefitting" from the great good fortune of living in Muslim Spain. How do the propagandists deal with the forty-eight Christian Martyrs of Cordoba? They mock them, pathologize them, and blame them for their own deaths. These dead were "troublemakers," "self-immolators," guilty of "extremism" for preferring death as Christians to life as Muslims. They were masochists who really wanted to be tortured and killed.

Pelagius was a young Christian boy desired by Abd-al-Rahman III. Pelagius, aka Pelayo, resisted. Islam's scholarly apologists don't condemn the caliph's desire to rape a child. They waste no time respecting the boy's pain – a pain that is representational of countless other kuffar boys raped, castrated, and killed, all in line with the rules of jihad. Rather they condemn Christians for "demonizing Muslims" and having hang-ups about man-boy sodomy. In this academic deflection, one hears echoes of the blame-the-victim response to the mass sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year's, 2016, or the 2015 order to US soldiers to ignore "boy play" in Afghanistan – a "boy play" that in one instance involved a child sex slave chained to a bed. "We can hear them screaming," one Marine reported. Respect their culture, he was told.

Another scholarly method of obeying Saudi paymasters and distorting the past: leave out significant details. One book, published by an Ivy League University Press, "makes no mention of stoning, female circumcision, crucifixion, beheadings, or sexual slavery."

Muslims called Christians "pigs." The peddlers of the Andalusian Paradise myth omit mention of that telling tidbit. They mention "delightful Andalusian love poetry" without mentioning that it was written about non-Muslim sexual slave girls, not about love between free, adult, Muslim men and women. They leave out the market price of slaves; these numbers speak volumes. A male black slave commanded a much lower sum than a white girl – obviously a man can do more labor than a girl. If these slaves were bought primarily for labor the prices would be reversed. Muslim rulers stockpiled thousands of such slaves in their harems. "Kiz," a Turkish word used for a sexual slave girl, came to mean "Christian woman." "Sakaliba," in Arabic, is from the word for "Slav," commonly the ethnicity of enslaved persons. "All the Slav eunuchs that one finds on the face of the earth come from Spain," a Muslim wrote. Blacks were held in similar contempt. A Muslim in Toledo wrote, "They lack self-control and steadiness of mind and are overcome by fickleness, foolishness, and ignorance."

Islam's apologists leave out the ethnic cleansing of Christians, including, in one event, the mass deportation of twenty thousand families to Africa. They omit mention of how hierarchical and stratified Muslim Spain was, with Arab Muslim males at the top and their various victims occupying lower ranks. Non-Arabs who converted to Islam were not equal, nor were their children. Three hundred such Muslims with Christian ancestors were crucified. Five thousand were beheaded. After one such expression of "tolerance," an Andalusian poet celebrated the "massacre" of "sons of slaves. They had as relatives only slaves and sons of slaves." Remember – the dead were Muslim. But their ancestors were Christian non-Arabs – thus the epithet, "Sons of slaves."

Another method of airbrushing the past: simply ignore inconvenient material. Ignore material published by a military historian. Ignore material in any language but English. Especially ignore material written in Spanish. And ignore contemporaneous Christian accounts.

There's another support for the Andalusian Paradise myth that Fernandez-Morera does not dwell on. Audiences tend to apply to medieval Spain the context of the twenty-first century West. European Christians in 711 were not former imperialists whose languages, English and Spanish, dominated entire continents. Jews were not powerless, nor were Muslims. Europe in this era was still a place where Christians were murdered for being Christian, by Pagans as well as Muslims. In 614, during a Persian invasion, Jews massacred Christians in Jerusalem. Jews were among the most prominent slave traders. At times, Jews allied with Muslims against Christians in Spain. Propagators of the myth dub Muslim institutions dedicated to memorization and study of the Koran "universities." They weren't universities. They are more properly labeled "madrassas."

One might ask, if all the best universities in the world insist that the Andalusian Paradise is truth, not myth, isn't Fernandez-Morera the conspiracy theorist? In the same class as the guy who insists that the government is hiding alien bodies at Area 51?

Fernandez-Morera, with the command of an Olympian fencer, deploys the best weapons of scholarship. He rescues the scholarship that Political Correctness has reduced to the status of a streetwalker. He pulls her up, cleans her up, and reminds her of her better days. He uses research and objective facts to make his case. Nothing could be more transgressive in academia today. His facts carry the thunderous voices of long-silenced cathedral bells.

Reading this book, I felt as if I were running after a speeding freight train. It's an exhilarating experience. Fernandez-Morera's exhaustive notes reference material in at least eight languages. Fernandez-Morera cites ancient and modern works, scholars he agrees with and those he excoriates. He strikes sparks between ancient texts and up-to-the-minute news accounts – including the 2016 American presidential race. He uses primary texts, for example Muslim legal documents. He quotes scurrilous satire and epic sagas. Given his breadth of knowledge, all that's missing from the bibliography are citations to the personal emails he exchanged with Cervantes, Maimonides, Teresa of Avila and El Cid.

In the midst of his educating his reader about contemporary blatant lies and richly rewarded liars, past massacres and crucifixions, Fernandez-Morera remains, as true scholars do, utterly calm. Never does he resort to hate-mongering, or hyperbole. He acknowledges Catholics' discrimination against Arians and Jews. He does not indulge in a lazy, sloppy, relativism: "Everybody did it." He systematically and frankly compares Muslims, Christians, and Jews, including mainstreams and minorities in each group. There is nothing in Medieval Christian Europe to compare to Al-Andalus' slavery, harems, treatment of women, or huge number of beheadings, he insists. While Jews and Christians also discriminated against each other and against their own minorities, only in Islam does he find the thorough, universal, scripturally protected, implacable structure of dhimmitude.  

Fernandez-Morera divides the Andalusian myth into seven claims. Quoted material below is found in influential scholarly texts.

  • The movement of Muslims into Spain was a "migratory wave." Jihad "is not a motivating factor." Jihad is an "inner struggle" "to resist temptation and overcome evil."  
  • Christian Europe was "an arena of unceasing warfare in which superstition passed for religion and the flame of knowledge sputtered weakly." The Christian inhabitants of Europe were rednecks. "The men of the woods never strayed far from there." They lived in "gloom and depression," "dramatic decline," "decadence," and "decomposition." Charlemagne could not write his own name.   
  • The Muslim Conquest brought "flowering" Islam to Spain. Al-Andalus "was a beacon of enlightenment to the rest of Europe … among its finest achievements was its tolerance … in keeping with the principles of the Koran." The Koran is a "monument of tolerance." "Moorish leaders helped to build Christian houses of worship." Unburdened by priests, Muslims were "animated by equality … and respectful of all religious faiths." Their Islam was typified by a "pan-confessional humanism." Were it not for its "abortion" by the Spanish Inquisition, today's Islam would reflect Al-Andalus' fully "reformed" version. In short, Muslims were "full of wit and fire, always in love, writing verse, fond of music, arranging festivals, dances, and tournaments every day." 
  • The Umayyad Dynasty was "enlightened" and "tolerant." 
  • Muslim Spain was a feminist utopia. "Ninety-nine percent" of European Christians were illiterate but Muslim women "were doctors and lawyers and professors." Today it is Western polices that create "the harsh conditions in which distant others live," including Muslim women. "We [the West] are all implicated." 
  • "Jews lived happily and productively in Spain." 
  • Muslim Spain was a fairyland for Christians. "Neither churches nor monasteries were directly threatened." Muslim Spain was "a place of refuge." Christians "were treated well" and "allowed to worship freely." Muslim Spain "nourished" Christians. 
Fernandez-Morera corrects these claims.

The Muslim Conquest of Spain was a ruthless, religiously-sanctioned Blitzkrieg that was recorded, in the words of one jihadi war criminal, as his bringing "Judgment Day" to his victims. Invaders, not peaceful immigrants, burned all the churches in their path and pilfered the wreckage to build their mosques that were, as Muslim chroniclers attest, inferior in construction and design to the Christian monuments they replaced. Jihadis expressed their lust for sexual slaves as war booty and their "love of death." One "burned in his desire to hurt" Christians. Libraries were burned, as in Zoroastrian Persia and Christian Alexandria. Jihadis butchered Christian corpses and boiled the meat in cauldrons. Crosses were so abhorrent that looting Muslims had to shatter them before distributing their gold as booty.

No, indigenous Christians in Spain were not extras in the cast of Deliverance. Their culture was more advanced than that of the invaders; the invaders said as much in their histories, boasting of the eye-popping wealth and meticulous crafts they looted, and the great beauty and refinement of the women they carried off to be raped. Ibn Khaldun commented on the ignorance of Arabs and the low level of their culture, and how they needed Christians and Jews to handle their affairs.

In 981, Al-Mansur demolished Leon. He left one tower standing as testimony to the high quality of the city he was able to destroy. This anecdote tells the reader much about the resumes of jihadis, from Al-Andalus to the World Trade Center, the Bamiyan Buddhas, and Palmyra.  

Fernandez-Morera writes that the popular idea that Islam preserved classical knowledge and passed that knowledge on to Christian Europe "is baseless." He reports that Arabs were astounded by the knowledge of the ninth-century Saint Cyril. Cyril replied that the Muslim Arabs were like someone who carried around a container of ocean water and thought he was pretty special. Eventually he met a Greek who lived on the coast and who told him that to brag of such a container would be crazy; his homeland possessed an endless abundance of sea water.

In his chapter on the daily reality of life in Al-Andalus, Fernandez-Morera pays much attention to Muslim law. Any questioning of Islam or Mohammed could result in being tortured to death. Simple pleasures like wine, garlic, pork, silk and music were condemned. Muslim judges ordered that musical instruments in private possession be confiscated and destroyed. There was music – in spite of condemnation. Musicians were often non-Muslim slaves.

Christians and Jews were polluting and extra care was taken to avoid contact, even with utensils once used by a Christian or Jew. Christians must not even walk past Muslim graves; in doing so, they pollute the dead. Muslims must not accept Christmas invitations or greetings. Once a Jew took water from a well, Muslims refused to use that well.

Physical and cultural alienation of one group from another surpassed co-existence; this is reflected in language. Only six percent of Spanish words have Arabic roots; by comparison, thirty percent of the words in English, a Germanic language, have French roots, as a result of the Norman Conquest of 1066.

I often had to take a breather while reading the chapter on the tolerant Umayyads. "The celebrated Umayyads elevated religious and political persecutions, inquisitions, beheadings, impalings, and crucifixions to heights unequaled by any other set of rulers before or after in Spain," Fernandez-Morera writes. They even crucified the dead, disinterring corpses of alleged Christians in order to desecrate them. They crucified fellow Muslims – at one point, seventy-two Muslim scholars of religious law.

Crucifixions were stage-designed to be "spectacular" and cause onlookers to "faint with horror." Some victims were sliced to death slowly: first hands, then feet, then heads. One victim was crucified on the Cordoba palace door. The corpses of black children hung from a well's ropes as a counterweight.

Innovation is condemned in Islam and innovators were found out and eliminated. A Muslim historian praised this surveillance: spies "penetrate the most intimate secrets of the people, so that [Abd al-Rahman III] could know every action, every thought of good and bad people … the explicit and hidden vices of the … population … God showered gifts upon him … because of his … subjugation of men … to interrogate the accused and carry out an Inquisition against them … terrifying them and punishing them severely." That same Abd al-Rahman III, the "servant of the most merciful," declared that Muslims deviating from strict adherence "deserve extermination."

Al-Andalus was no paradise for women. Consider just this one law. A man who buys a non-Muslim sex slave must mutilate her genitals. Does that fact not tell you volumes about Muslim Spain? Muslim Spain ran on slaves; one of its main exports was slaves. Countless thousands were castrated.

Islamic law tells the rest of the story: the veiling, the stoning, the paralyzing, silencing, and erasing command that a woman requires a male relative to go out in public or to speak for her. "A Muslim wife" a legal manual instructs, is permitted "to have fun with other women with whom there are not men – but only during the day and only once a week." Many of the celebrated women of Muslim Spain were slaves. They were allowed skills and education it would be unseemly for a Muslim woman to exercise. Female "doctors" were probably the ones to perform FGM. Averroes put it succinctly, "Women are used only for procreation."

Life for Jews was also not a bed of roses. Islamic law and custom held Jews in contempt. Jews had to know their place. When they rose too high, they and their coreligionists were killed. Muslim Spain managed to extirpate Christian populations in the area under its control. "When Christians entered Granada in 1492, there were no Christian dhimmis in the city."

Those Christians and Jews who were allowed to live were not allowed to live out of any concept of "tolerance." Umar was Mohammed's father-in-law, companion, and successor. His title is "Farooq," he who separates right from wrong. Umar explicitly stated that Muslims must keep Christians and Jews alive in order to parasitize them. "The Muslims of our day will eat from these people as long as they live … our sons will eat their sons forever." How? Through jizya, the tax on Christians and Jews.

Future editions of The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise would be enhanced by the following changes. Fernandez-Morera does not mention Edna Bonacich's pioneering work on middelman minorities. He should.  

Full-color illustrations would also enhance the book. What did the Basilica of San Vicente look like before it was destroyed by Muslims? Illuminated manuscripts, maps, construction styles: all could be depicted in images as well as words. A glossary of the many non-English terms, and a timeline, with dates, milestones, and personages, would also be helpful.

Fernandez-Morera's ninety-five pages of footnotes, in eye-straining tiny print, contain much that really should be in the main text of the book itself. Yes, the book is a streamlined, accessible read, and including the footnote material might make the main text longer and its route a bit more circuitous, but there is much in the footnotes that even a casual reader should not miss.

Danusha Goska is the author of Save Send Delete

Toilet Nazis. Let Everyone Use the Men's Room. And Reserve the Women's Room for Women.

Toilet solution.

There is an easy answer to the latest BS, made-up, smokescreen, nonsense spectacle from (some-not-all) "liberals" who really can't pay attention to serious matters, who never protest ISIS or San Bernardino or Cologne, or the failures of Obamacare, or black-on-black gun deaths in cities like Chicago, but who yell and scream about unfairness because I and other women don't want a man in the bathroom with us.

I and other women don't want a man in the bathroom with us because when we are in the bathroom, we remove our clothing. And we have been peeked at by hostile and invasive men when removing our clothing. It has happened to me. It has happened to my women friends. It's not been consensual. It has been scary and traumatizing.

Another reason. When you are peeing, you are vulnerable. It's not easy to spring from urination position to self-defense mode.

And, yes, as a woman I have had to physically defend myself against predatory men in public places.

Another reason. We women want a refuge our own. The place where we remove our clothing and indulge in the vulnerable act of peeing should be such a place.

If you don't understand this, you are a misogynist creep, and you have no right to talk about women.

Anyway, here's the solution.

EVERYBODY gets to use the MEN'S room.

Women who want men in the women's room get their wishes met. They can go on over to the men's room.

Men who have such contempt for women that they want to tell us what goes on in the women's room -- they get to use the men's room.

Men who are under the unfortunate delusion, often imposed on them by "therapists," that they are women in men's bodies, get to use the men's room.

Case closed.

But it isn't really closed, is it?

No, you don't want men who think they are women in the men's room.

Because you feel that the men's room would be an unsafe, uncomfortable place for men who think they are women.

You want to protect MEN (who think they are women) from the potential danger of undressing and urinating in front of other men, but you want to EXPOSE women to that same danger.

You jerk. 

Hunting. A Facebook Kill.

Cindy Press. Gossip. Source
As someone once said, "Some men kill you with a gun. Some kill you with a pen."
And some use a keyboard. 
Wyeth. Coot hunter
I was recently part of a Facebook ambush re: hunting.

Below are a couple of the posts in which I try to say what I want to say about this topic.



Every now and then someone posts a photograph of a safari hunt. A smiling hunter holds a gun in one hand and a dead wild animal in another hand.

I lived in Africa. Most Africans don't care about preserving wildlife and are not able to do so. Most Africans are very poor and are focused on survival.

To them, wild animals are food. They are bushmeat. Bushmeat is a horrible business. Animals suffer. There's nothing ethical about how animals are killed for bushmeat. And bushmeat also contributed to AIDS and to Ebola. Google it.

To Africans, if wild animals are not food, they are a menace. Lions, hippos, snakes, kill Africans. So Africans want to eliminate them, the same way you would want to eliminate wolves living in your suburb.

If wild animals are not food or a menace to your family, they are eating your crops. Monkeys, birds, buffalo, all want to eat your crops.

So, if you are an African, you do not want to preserve wild animals. You want to eradicate them.

Big game hunters pay -- literally -- hundreds of thousands of dollars for the chance to hunt one animal.

In Africa, hundreds of thousands of dollars is a lot of money. Africans see an incentive to save wildlife. And they do. Thanks to the big game hunters Facebook bullies demonize.

Big game hunters help preserve wildlife.

Spreading photos of big game hunters smiling with their kills on Facebook and urging your friends to post mean comments is a really anti-wildlife thing to do. It's ignorant and petty and while it may make you look superior or virtuous to your friends, that doesn't change that it is an anti-animal thing to do.

Just about all the men in my family, of my generation and older, hunted. My brothers all hunted, trapped, and fished. My uncles and cousins as well.

My relatives in Slovakia hunted and had themselves photographed with their kills.

That's because their kills fed their families. That's because hunting is exciting and it is pleasurable to succeed at it. That's because God and evolution made it that way, because if it were not that way, we would not be here.

Death is part of life. Mother Nature kills beautiful young animals every day.

Ethical, responsible hunting is part of that. On great stretches of the planet, no hunters = no wildlife.

Later, I posted the backstory.
There's a backstory to my post about hunting.

This post tells the backstory. It's messy and human and has nothing to do with hunting. It's about people. How people use hate. Why people get mad at you and unfriend you.

"Madge" posted a post demonizing hunters. She called hunters "disgusting" "selfish" "psychopaths" who lack "apathy" (She meant empathy.)

She said that humans "are not supposed to" hunt. She said that hunters "don't give a crap about animals or nature." She said "these people actually get satisfaction from murdering."

These are all quotes from her posts. I could quote more but you get the idea.

Madge's Facebook friends were joining in. Hunters suck! Hunters are disgusting! I hate hunters! We are so much better than hunters! That sort of thing.


I am pro-gun control.

I don't hunt.

I eat a mostly vegetarian diet.

I make very little money but I regularly donate to the Audubon Society, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, the Humane Society of North America, and the ASPCA. I make provision for them in my will.

I spend every minute I have to spare outdoors, hiking, birdwatching, etc. I can identify almost all the trees, flowers, birds, and mammals I pass. I worked with animals – I was a zookeeper in the Bronx Zoo.

So I'm going to agree with Madge, right?

Or at least I'm going to scroll past her post and not say anything.


I said something.

And I said something not primarily because of hunters or hunting.

I said something because Madge's posts, and her friends' posts, were all about demonizing one group of people.


When I see that on Facebook I react.

I know it's not socially acceptable to react. I know it's just asking for trouble. I know I should just keep my mouth shut.

But Madge was mongering hatred. She was hating on one group of people and encouraging her friends to hate on one group of people.

It could be Mormons, as it was the other day. A friend posted a post using a *fake news article* to mock Mormons.

I'm not a Mormon. But it really bugs me when people monger hatred against another group of people.

Madge is, I think, at least from her posts, a white girl attending an Ivy League university.

And she was urging hatred for people who kill and eat their own dinner.

So, yeah, I spoke up. Rationally. Politely.

I pointed out that my relatives in Slovakia are all hunters, and that they do, indeed, take photographs of themselves with their kills, and that they are excellent human beings.

Madge called me "ignorant." She said that I "don't care about animals" but she does. She said that I "don't love animals" but she does. She said that I don't care if animals are killed but she does. She said she is helping animals. She said "I read a ton of articles about hunting."

Here's Madge's final post to me: "omg im not having this convo i never spoke with anyone who was this ignorant its very sad"

And then she unfriended and blocked me.


I could have kept scrolling and not said anything.

Yeah, no, I can't.

I posted that message because I reject hate and I reject hate mongering.

And if someone shoots a post through my Facebook feed saying, "Let's hate the Catholics today. Let's hate the Jews. Let's hate the Mormons. Let's hate the right-wingers. Let's hate the left-wingers. Let's hate the Cruz voters. Let's hate the gun owners. Let's hate the gun control folk. Let's hate. And let's talk about how superior we are."

I'm going to say something.

I'm going to say it courteously. I'm going to say it with facts.

And if you don't like that … unfriend me. Block me. And go live in your world where you are superior, and the rest of us are no good.

Madge was – what is the new term – virtue signaling. She was quite literally announcing to the world that she is superior and that this other group of people she had chosen to hate and demonize are inferior.

There's nothing wrong with virtue signaling. I do it. I want people to think I am an okay person. Oddly enough, sometimes I post about what a bitch I have been and yet people interpret the post to mean that I am a good person. I don't really understand that, but that's how communication works sometimes.

No. People don't get mad at you on Facebook or in real life because you disagree with them.

People get mad at you on Facebook or in real life because you have introduced a fact or facts that undermine their use of speech to announce their own virtue.

And I generally don't do that except when people use demonization of other people as a way to virtue signal.

That Madge wants to be thought Lady Bountiful Who Alone Loves Animals is not a problem for me.

That she demonized an entire class of people is something I spoke up against.

My cousin in Slovakia. A great guy. And a hunter. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

"Elvis and Nixon" 2016 So Slight It's Almost Not There

"Elvis and Nixon" is a movie so slight if it had one less word of dialogue or one less dollar for set design it might totally disappear. The concept is terrific – the backstory behind the famous photograph of Elvis Presley shaking hands with President Richard Nixon. Presley had written Nixon a six-page letter asking for the meeting, and offering himself as a "federal-agent-at-large."

A lot could be done with this premise. Why did the King want to be an agent? How might one of the stiffest and least charismatic men in history – Richard Nixon – be affected by such a close encounter with one of the sexiest, swerviest men in history? What did they say to each other behind closed doors? Why do people who have the world at their feet – like Elvis, like Nixon – crave things that they can't have – FBI agent status? To manipulate elections illegally? What does the meeting say about the dark side of celebrity and power?

The movie goes nowhere with any of these premises. The film is not offensive or exploitative or even especially inept at the technical level. It's just not there. The script is miniscule. You need a microscope to see it. Elvis says something mildly amusing, "I'd like to go undercover" and then the next ten lines are vapid comments about White House protocol or the autographing of photographs – void of any significant content.

Kevin Spacey has a twinkle in his eye that no amount of makeup could disguise. He also conveys a self-aware intelligence and amusement at the human carnival that was very different from Nixon's dark mien. Michael Shannon comes nowhere near capturing Elvis' animal magnetism, but then, who could?

Given how much money and prestige is risked in the making of any film, one has to wonder why this film was even made.


Read about the 1970 film "My Sweet Charlie" starring Patty Duke and Al Freeman Jr in a previous blog post here:

"Miles Ahead" 2015. Jumbled and Alienating

"Miles Ahead" is chaotically put together, difficult to follow, and difficult to care about. Miles Davis (Don Cheadle), the main character, is depicted as a repugnant human being. The film plays shopworn musician biopic tricks in nasty ways to manipulate the audience. In interviews, Don Cheadle has said that he needed to get a big white star to appear in the film, and thus he built the film around the MacGuffin of Davis being interviewed by Ewan McGregor, allegedly the big white star. My guess is that Cheadle's funding didn't come through not because he is a black actor playing a black musician. My guess is that the funding was hard to find because the script was not a commercial script, no matter the color of the main character.

The film opens with a confusing mishmash of images. Miles Davis is being interviewed. We don't see the interviewer. There is film in the background of the Jack Johnson fight. This confused me. I know the fight took place over a hundred years ago and I did not know that anyone filmed it – meaning I was losing focus on the movie I was watching, and drawn into thinking about the movie in the movie. Not a good thing.

The scene is shot in extreme close-up. We see Don Cheadle's mouth and fingers as he smokes a cigarette; we also see an ashtray. This extreme close-up gives the film a claustrophobic feeling. As the film went on I began to wonder if the tight close-ups were used because there wasn't enough of a budget to create a set that reflected the time periods of the film: the 1970s and the 1950s.

The unseen interviewer asks Davis about jazz. Davis interrupts the interviewer and commands, "Don't call my music jazz." He insists that calling his music "jazz" stereotypes it. That's one of the dumbest and most petulant things I've ever heard a character say. Of course Miles Davis was a jazz musician. Ordering someone not to call jazz jazz is the demand of a petty dictator who wants control of language. The film was just beginning and I already hated the main character. And I was really sick of all that focus on his cigarette and his ashtray.

Ewan McGregor, the big white star meant to offer his magical powers to get purportedly rich whites to underwrite the movie and buy tickets to see it, shows up as Dave, a Rolling Stone reporter. He knocks on Miles Davis' door. Davis opens the door and immediately sucker punches Dave, a visitor he has never met. At this point, the film has offered me no reason to like Miles Davis, and lots of reasons to dislike him. There's more. He has a receding hairline and he wears his hair long – an older man's unsuccessful attempt to look young. And he dresses like a blind pimp. He's wearing a hip-length, turquoise and black jacket made of fabric best reserved for upholstery in houses of ill repute.

Davis has already proved he's cool by sucker punching a white man. He also proves he's cool in other cheap, manipulative ways. The film consists of a jumble of scenes shot in the 1970s and flashbacks to the 1950s. In the 1950s scene, Davis is in a car with a young white woman. The young white woman behaves foolishly. The young black woman in the front scene rolls her eyes at this white girl's buffoonery. So, Davis is cool because he can get a white girl.

The car pulls up to a house. A very beautiful young black woman is on the street. This is Frances Taylor, whom Davis will marry. He asks his white date for a twenty dollar bill. She gives him one. He writes his phone number on the bill and hands it to the black girl. Again, Davis is cool because he can mistreat white people, in this case a woman.

In more jumbled together, plot-less scenes, we see Frances dancing. She is exquisitely beautiful and the camera adores her. We see Frances and Davis making love. We don't see Miles Davis beating his wife. He did. He also made her quit her dancing career. What a guy.

More jumbled, plot-less scenes whose only point is to show what a boss Miles Davis really was, because he could mistreat white people. Miles Davis marches in to the offices of Columbia records. There is a man there who is obviously meant to be Jewish. He is smarmy and oily and condescending and power trips Davis. Davis pulls out a gun and shoots at him. He takes the man's money and uses that money, in a subsequent scene, to purchase cocaine, from yet another worshipful, star-struck white man he mistreats, while a white girl, partially undressed, sits on a bed. Davis, of course, must tell her to move over so he can sit next to her.

You get the idea.

What the movie does not show you is that Miles Davis grew up comfortable and privileged. Davis' father was a dentist who owned a couple of homes and a ranch. His mother was a musician. Davis received music lessons as a teenager, on daddy's dime. Davis was no gangster. He was a brat and a creep and an abuser of himself and others. I learned nothing about his appeal or his talent from this movie.


Read about the 1970 film "My Sweet Charlie" starring Patty Duke and Al Freeman Jr in a previous blog post here:

"The Jungle Book" 2016 -- Delightful and Significantly Different from "Jungle Book" 1967

"The Jungle Book" 2016 is a delight. Go see it. Neel Sethi is utterly adorable. He's so good you want to dispatch a protective bubble or a team of social workers to his home to rescue him from the sad fate of other excellent child stars, like Judy Garland and Patty Duke.

Sethi plays Mowgli, a little Indian boy who cavorts around the forest with his animal friends: a pack of wolves, Baloo the bear (Bill Murray), and Bagheera, a black panther (Ben Kingsley). Shere Khan the Tiger (Idris Elba), Kaa the Python (Scarlett Johansson), and King Louie the Orangutan (Christopher Walken) provide menace. The ratio of mindless fun to genuinely scary and suspenseful scenes is perfect. The CGI is excellent. I'm a birdwatcher and it was fun seeing realistic looking hoopoes, bee-eaters, peacocks and hornbills.

I loved "The Jungle Book" 1967 and I love this movie, too. I wish this film had as many songs as the old version. One song is cut because of a change in the plot, and one song is cut because a change in the approach. In the older version the elephants were comical; in this version they are the gods who created the forest. Baghera teaches Mowgli to worship them. That idea of elephants-as-gods probably won't go over well with many religious viewers.

Kaa, the python, does sing "Trust in Me," but over the closing credits, not during the film. That's a shame. Scarlet Johansson's smoky-jazzy Chet-Baker style version knocks it out of the park. The track is on youtube and fans are insisting that Johansson sing the next James Bond movie theme song.

"The Jungle Book" 2016 is all about boys and men and all for boys and men. The only significant female character is Kaa, and she tries to kill and eat Mowgli.

Most of the voice actors are much more low key than they were in the original version. I wish they had had more fun, been more flamboyant and campy. Bill Murray and Christopher Walken are really the only ones who juice up their voices for their parts, recognizing that voice acting is different than being on camera. Idris Elba is much too low-key as Shere Khan. George Sanders was, of course, superb in the original. With that voice and that attitude, who could he not be?

Go see this movie for no other reason than to hear Christopher Walken voice King Louie the Orangutan who wants to be human. Walken is Just. So. Good. I mean, he's Christopher Walken. How could he not be?

"The Jungle Book" 2016 has a significantly different ending than "The Jungle Book" 1967. If you don't want to know how the film ends, stop reading now, as this review will reveal the ending.

The plot of "The Jungle Book," both 1967 and 2016, is that a young orphan boy has been raised by wolves. His mentors, Bagheera and Baloo, must escort him to the man village, where he belongs. In the 1967 version, Mowgli does go to live in the man village. He is lured by a cute girl, singing the significantly titled song "My Own Home." In the 2016 version, Mowgli stays in the jungle. What is the movie saying, then, about humanity's "own home"?

Mowgli, in fighting off Shere Khan, grabs a burning torch from the man village. He accidentally sets the forest on fire. He uses his engineering skill and the elephants' "divine" strength to create a dam and flood the burning forest, thus extinguishing the fire and saving his animal friends' lives. In the 2016 version, the ideal human is not one who leaves the forest to live in the man village. The ideal human is an environmentalist. He is in the forest, of the forest, and he manages the forest and protects it from mankind's depredations.


Read about the 1970 film "My Sweet Charlie" starring Patty Duke and Al Freeman Jr in a previous blog post here:

Sunday, April 17, 2016

My Sweet Charlie 1970. Patty Duke, Al Freeman Jr, Black / White, Male / Female, Rich / Poor, Insider / Outsider.

I recommend that you view this essay at TheScreamOnline -- there are more photos there. Follow this link here

My Sweet Charlie 1970. Patty Duke and Al Freeman Jr.

A White Girl, a Black Man, White Guilt, Black Rage,

Transcendent Art

There's a certain kind of movie that some people never forget. Here's what they say about this particular type of movie.

"It's a film I saw years ago, when I was a kid. No one else was home. I just flipped on the TV, not really planning to watch anything. I never caught the beginning. I was too young to process all the film's implications; nevertheless, it moved me deeply. I never saw it again. It's not famous and I never heard anyone mention it. Every now and then, I'd think of the characters as if they were real people I had met at a party or on a long night bus ride. I'd wonder how their lives had worked out. Something would happen and I'd think, 'What would she think of this?' Though of course she was just a fictional character. My memory of the film faded, like an aged garment that had been washed too many times and had developed holes, but there was still a recognizable shape there. One day it occurred to me to use the internet to try to see if I could track down the movie. I didn't even remember the title. I just typed in a rough description of key plot points. That search brought me to this site, and now I see that there are others who remember this film. I wish they'd bring it out on DVD."

My Sweet Charlie is a 1970 movie about Marlene Chambers, a white girl, and Charlie Roberts, a black man. Each is hiding out at a remote lighthouse.  

Below are quotes taken from the International Movie Database, YouTube, and Amazon. Quote authors go by screen names like "Shasta," "Bron-Tay," "txbardtobe" and "Carl Brown from Ipswich, England."

  • "My Sweet Charlie is one of the finest films ever made. It is more than mere entertainment. This film is art. Patty Duke is letter perfect and Al Freeman, Jr. matches her from beginning to end."

  • "I saw this when I was young and loved it. It made a big impression on me. No one that I know has seen it, so no one to discuss it with."

  • "I've been waiting for it to air again for decades."

  • "I'm desperate to get hold of a copy. Please post a message if you are able to get hold of it on DVD. Fiona, Melbourne Australia."

  • "I had not seen this movie since I was a kid. I had forgotten so much of it. However something about the movie always reminded me that I wanted to view it again."

  • "I saw its initial premiere and was completely mesmerized. Duke won a well-deserved Emmy and Freeman was nominated. This movie was so successful when it premiered on NBC that it eventually earned theatrical release overseas."

  • "Last summer we went down the driveway and saw the family standing out there next to the huge iron lighthouse. They looked at us for a second and then just turned around. It was funny because I thought we would get in trouble but I guess a lot of people do that."

  • "I saw this on TV back when. I never forgot it. I miss these kinds of intimate, sensitive stories with no gimmicks or special effects. Story and acting."

  • "Imaginative storytelling, writing, directing, and acting without any gimmicks … The key ingredients were simply art and talent."

  • "Without political correctness. Just some from the gut and heart human turmoil and genuine connection."

  • "One of the finest two-character studies ever produced."

  • "After watching this the first time years ago as a child, I was never able to find it again, so thanks for downloading. This was a great movie and I love both characters and actors but I will say that I watch this up until the end and then turn it off and make my own ending in my head."

  • "I first saw it when I was younger. I remember being shocked hearing the N-word. But I was blown away with both actors' performances. This is a movie that should be in the top 250, and yet not many people have heard of it. I don't mind admitting it. I have searched for this film for over 30 years. And it was only yesterday a person who uses this website helped me find the film's title. That person is ladyboss1717. I wish to thank that person in helping me find a classic. Trust me! Please see it."

Tolerance: Islam v Christianity.

Slave Market. Jean Leon Gerome
This essay appears at Jihadwatch here

"Islam Was More Tolerant Than Christianity": Discuss

I received an email from "Stan," who wrote to respond to my article "Donald Trump and Counter-Jihad." Through Google I discovered that Stan is an Ivy-League-educated PhD. "Counter-jihadists," Stan wrote, "deny that Islam was indeed more tolerant from the end of the 11th century down to the 17th." Catholic Church teaching during that period "was far worse than dhimmitude … Jews and Christians could practice their religions … [There were] few forced conversions or massacres." Catholic Spain expelled Jews who fled to Muslim territory. I would recognize these facts, Stan kindly advised me, "If you pick up a history book." "No historian would consult with Robert Spencer," as I do, Stan sniffed. Stan listed sixteen books addressing Christian anti-Semitism. If I had any "interest in the subject" I would read them. Stan mentioned the 1209-1229 Catholic Crusade against Albigensians. "Would you rather have been an Albigensian in southern France or in Constantinople?" Please note: my article about Donald Trump never mentions Jews, Catholics, or Albigensians.

Counter-jihadis regularly confront variations of this: "Any intolerance that Islam shows today is the result of historical forces. Violence and intolerance are not inherent in Islam. Terrorism is caused by European colonialism, the recognition of the state of Israel, America's support for dictators, and American wars-for-oil. In the past, Christianity was a violent, intolerant religion. The passage of time reformed Christianity; in the same way the passage of time will reform Islam."

How can a counter-jihadi respond?  

  • Differentiate between behaviors inspired by temporary historical circumstance and behavior inspired by canonical documents.
  • Recognize that most conventionally educated Westerners believe extravagant falsehoods and aren't aware of important truths. 
  • Be aware of events outside of Western Europe and North America. 

Differentiate between behaviors inspired by temporary historical circumstance and behavior inspired by canonical documents.

Scholars who describe medieval, Muslim Spain as relatively better for Jews than medieval, Christian Europe acknowledge that differences were inspired by temporary historical circumstance and not canonical scripture. Given that medieval socioeconomic conditions no longer exist, but canonical scriptures are still considered divine revelations, we should not expect medieval Muslim tolerance of Jews, or medieval Christian persecution of Jews, to recur. We should, rather, look to canonical scripture as inspiration for behavior.

Mohammed was an Arab, living in Arabia, among Arab Pagans, Jews, and Christians. Mohammed is al-Insan al-Kamil, the perfect human, worthy of emulation. Hostility to Jews is overt in the Koran, the hadith, and the biography of Mohammed. See, for example, here, here, here, and here. Mohammed wiped out a Jewish tribe. Mohammed inspected Jewish boys to determine if they had pubic hair as a precursor to slaughter. Mohammed supervised the torture-murder of Kinana, to rob him of gold and take his wife. Mohammed expelled Christians and Jews from the Arabian Peninsula, where they cannot live to this day. Bukhari 1:24 reports that Allah ordered Mohammed to make war on all mankind till Islam dominates the planet.

As part of daily prayer, Muslims repeat seventeen times a day that Jews anger God. Muslims commonly believe that the Koran is flawless, and that the Bible is corrupt. Merely possessing a Bible in Saudi Arabia is cause for imprisonment and torture.

In short, hostility to Jews is inextricable from Mohammed's biography, the Koran, the hadith, and mandated daily Muslim prayer. Muslims have long been inspired by the ostensibly divine Koran to do what the Koran tells them to do: hate, murder, torture, steal, and rape.

Jesus, on the other hand, was a Jew. He lived in Israel, the Jewish homeland. Jesus was knowledgeable about and respectful of Jewish scripture. Jesus' disciples and the authors of the New Testament were Jews. Christians accept Jewish scriptures as divinely inspired. Jesus declared that salvation is from the Jews. God continued to love the Jews and his promises to them are irrevocable. The Vatican cites these scriptures.

The harsh criticisms of some, not all, Jews in the New Testament were written by Jews as part of Jewish tradition. The most severe passages are less severe than those in the Torah. Compare Matthew 23, where Jesus excoriates the Pharisees for straining on a gnat and choking on a camel, to Exodus 32, where God orders Jews, immediately, to massacre thousands of their own "brothers, friends, and neighbors" for worshipping a golden calf.

Jesus specifically taught that his disciples were not to interfere with free will. If people chose not to be Christians, Jesus said, just move on. Jesus never ordered his disciples to make converts by force, or to oppress nonbelievers. In contradistinction to Bukhari 1:24, Koran 66:9, Koran 5:51 and many similar verses, Jesus, in the Good Samaritan episode, counsels his followers to treat all humanity, not just fellow believers, with compassion.

Spreading the faith by military conquest was not part of foundational Christianity; for its first three hundred years, Christianity was an outlawed and persecuted faith. The second century Greek Pagan Celsus described early Christianity as a marginal "religion of women, children and slaves." Every time a Christian violates a Jew or anyone else, that Christian violates his own professed belief system.

When Christians committed crimes against Jews, other Christians protested and attempted to intervene. During the medieval Rhineland Massacres of the Crusades, Catholic bishops attempted to protect Jews. Popes repeatedly condemned blood libel. When Jews were expelled from Western Europe, they were invited into Catholic Poland and protected by the 1264 Statute of Kalisz and the 1573 Warsaw Confederation.

Confession and repentance are Christian rituals and virtues. Jesus taught his followers to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Christians have confessed their sins against Jews, and resolved to improve. This emphasis on confession and repentance is not found in Islam. Turkey, for example, prosecuted Orhan Pamuk, its own Nobel-Prize-winning writer, for merely mentioning the Armenian Genocide.

Why, then, have Christians committed horrible crimes against Jews? Why did Christians, including priests, twist the original Christian message into one of hatred against Jews? And why have Muslim states tolerated Jews?

One ray of light into this complicated topic is Edna Bonacich's work on middleman minorities. Jews in Europe occupied a particular socioeconomic niche. Jews were middlemen. Medieval Christians and Medieval Muslims viewed middlemen differently. That difference, not scripture, affected Jewish lives differently in medieval Christian and medieval Muslim countries.  

Mark R. Cohen, Princeton University professor emeritus, is the author of Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages, a book frequently cited to support the "Islam was more tolerant" generalization.  

In his 1986 Jerusalem Quarterly article "Islam and the Jews: Myth, Counter-Myth, History," Cohen acknowledges that Islam contains a "fundamental theological hostility towards the religion of Judaism … and towards Jews, stigmatized … as contemptible infidels." Various historical and socioeconomic factors trumped Islam's "fundamental theological hostility." One of those factors was how Muslims viewed middlemen.

Mohammed was a merchant. He was born and lived most of his life in Mecca, a trading center. "Islam was born with a positive attitude towards commerce … Mohammed's own life and … the Koran and other holy literature lent strong support to the mercantile life … Since many jurists in the early Islamic period were themselves merchants, Islamic law was shaped to meet the needs of a mercantile economy." In the Muslim world, both Jews and Muslims were both moneylenders.

Medieval Christian Europeans were mostly peasants – poor people who valued rootedness, labor, and land. Jesus was a carpenter who preached the virtue of poverty. He lived in Galilee, a region of country bumpkins. Markets, money, travel and banks were underdeveloped in much of medieval Europe. Jews traveled, handled money, and appeared not to labor, as peasants understood labor. The Jew as merchant and moneylender was more troubling to economically naïve European Christians than to more economically sophisticated Middle Eastern Muslims.

Further, Cohen points out, Jews in medieval Europe were not just economically and religiously alien, they were ethnically and geographically alien. Jews were comparatively familiar to Middle Eastern Muslims – they came from the same geographic region, they spoke a language related to Arabic, similarly written right to left, and they shared a similar physical appearance.

Cohen cites another flashpoint for Jews living in Christian lands. Christianity separates church and state. This separation is rooted in Jesus' saying, "Render unto Cesar what is Cesar's and unto God what is God's." Jews had to develop relationships with both secular and religious authorities. One might be friendly while the other might not be. Church and state might be in competition. The Jew was often stuck in the middle of that often violent competition.

In Islam, there is no separation of church and state. Jews had to cultivate fewer powers, and they did not have to worry about a non-existent competition between centers of power. Cohen says that it is this separation of church and state in Christianity, and the lack of same in Islam, that explains why, during the medieval period, Jews were sometimes expelled from Christian nations, but not from Muslim ones.

Another factor Cohen cites for Jews' position in Islam. "In Europe, the Jews nurtured a pronounced hatred for Christians, whom they considered to be idolaters subject to the anti-pagan discriminatory provisions of the ancient Mishnah … the Jews of Islam had a markedly different attitude towards" Islam. There was a "tolerant Jewish view of Islam."

In 2016, Dario Fernandez-Morera published The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain. In 2013 he argued in Comparative Civilizations Review that Muslims favored Jews in Spain for tactical reasons. Visigoths, the rulers in Spain before the Muslim Conquest, discriminated against Jews. When Muslims invaded, significant numbers of Jews aided the Muslims as a way to improve their own lot. Muslims, he said, regarded Jews as "servants," not as friends, and thus avoided violating the Koran's admonition not to take Jews as friends. Muslim rulers feared betrayal from other Muslims. Elevating Jews to powerful positions protected the ruler's back. A Jew, as a member of a hated minority, could never usurp a Muslim.

Fernandez-Morera cautions contemporary Jews against romanticizing their forebears' lives in Muslim Spain. Islamic law mandated that Jews had to pay the jizya, could not build synagogues, had to keep their buildings shorter than Muslims' buildings, could not carry weapons or ride horses, and had to show deference to Muslims, including by wearing distinctive clothing. They could not testify in court against a Muslim. There were harsher court sentences for Jews than for Muslims. Jews could not criticize Islam. Capital punishment was prescribed for a Jewish man who had sex with a Muslim woman. (Compare this to the medieval Polish legend of Catholic King Casimir the Great and his Jewish companion, Esterka.) Even if these mandates were not always followed, Cohen writes, the "themes of segregation and humiliation" in "Islamic sources … rival if not exceed … the Christian West." Canonical Islamic prescriptions communicated to Jews their subordinate status and kept them in their place.

Fernandez-Morera quotes a satirical poem that refers to Jews as "apes," as does the Koran. Jews, the Muslim poet says, should be "the lowest of the low, roaming among us, with their little bags, with contempt, degradation and scorn as their lot, scrambling in the dunghills for colored rags, to shroud their dead for burial … hasten to slaughter…do not consider it a breach of faith to kill them."

Jews' middleman minority status and their alignment, however tactical and temporary, with Muslims, may have contributed to Christian antisemitism. A 1986 University of Notre Dame Press book, The Jew as Ally of the Muslim: Medieval Roots of Anti-Semitism, addresses a Europe-wide association, by Christians, of Jews with feared Muslims. Daniel Pipes' mostly positive review of the book, that appeared first in Commentary, can be viewed here.

In any case, the twenty-first century understanding of the word "tolerance" should not be applied to Muslim Spain. A naive person might envision Jews and Muslims in Al-Andalus sipping cappuccinos and discussing philosophy while eating rainbow cake celebrating same-sex weddings and watching their daughters play on the boys' soccer team. "Tolerance" meant something very different in medieval Muslim Spain than it means in 2016.

Suppose someone told a black person that the antebellum South was a "tolerant" place because Jews were allowed to practice their religion without impediment. My reaction to discussion of Muslim Spain as "tolerant" is similar to that black person's. Muslim Spain relied on slave labor. Its slaves were my forebears, Slavs. The word "Saqaliba," derived from "Slav," occurs in Arabic in reference to Slavic slaves and to eunuchs. In 961, there were 13,750 Saqaliba eunuchs in Cordoba alone. Jews were often the slave traders who transported Slavic slaves to Muslim Spain. Saint Adalbert's attempt to liberate Slavs from Jewish slave traders is depicted on the bronze, twelfth-century Gniezno doors. Adalbert was later murdered by European Pagans. Christians were martyred by Pagans in Europe right up to the fourteenth century. Applying twenty-first century definitions of "tolerance" and twenty-first century conceptions of what it means to be a Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian to this medieval narrative can only cause complete misunderstanding. Christians were not all-powerful in medieval Europe but were often quite vulnerable. Jews were not always helpless; some exercised the power that all slave-traders do. "Tolerant" Muslims were enjoying sexual access to female and castrated male slaves, not serving up rainbow cake.

Stan asked if I would rather be an Albigensian in Turkey or in France. I've traveled in Turkey and I loved it. Even so, I'd rather not live as a female Albigensian or a female anything else in any Muslim country. 

When Tariq ibn Ziyad invaded Spain in 711, he delivered a "sermon" promising his jihadis Christian women to rape: "In this country there are a large number of ravishingly beautiful Greek maidens, their graceful forms are draped in sumptuous gowns on which gleam pearls, coral, and purest gold." Muslim chronicler Ibn al-Athir describes another Muslim warrior in Spain, who "traversed this land in every direction, raping women;" another "carried off women." Yes, violation of women occurs in all wars, fought by men of every religion. Islam, though, sanctions rape in war, rape that Muslim chroniclers openly celebrate.  

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a million Jews lived in Muslim countries. Nine and a half million Jews lived in Europe. This was 57% of the Jews in the world. During the twentieth century, the Jewish population of the US rose from one to six million, and the Jewish population of Muslim countries shrank to near zero. Jews voted with their feet.

Jews living in Christian lands gave the world Einstein, Marx, Freud, Franz Boas, Helena Rubinstein, Artur Rubenstein, Baal Shem Tov, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Bruno Szulc, Adam Michnik, Disraeli, Gustav Mahler, Franz Kafka, "The Jews who invented Hollywood" and the bulk of Nobel Prizes won by Jews. This is a very different contribution to civilization than the fruits of the brand of "tolerance" practiced in Muslim Spain.

Finally, no generalization about tolerance cancels out Muslim Spain's less tolerant moments. There is a widespread belief that Maimonides and his family feigned a conversion to Islam in order to survive persecution. Maimonides wrote in a letter that "On account of our sins God has cast us into the midst of this people, the nation of Ishmael who persecute us severely, and who devise ways to harm us and to debase us … No nation has ever done more harm to Israel. None has matched it in debasing and humiliating us." And one must also remember events like the Grenada Massacre of 1066, during which a Muslim mob crucified Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and murdered many Jews.

Recognize that most conventionally educated Westerners believe extravagant falsehoods and aren't aware of important truths. 

My World History is a widely used Pearson textbook. It informs American schoolchildren that Mohammed respected Judaism and Christianity, Jews and Christians in Muslim lands could practice their religion freely, the Koran has never been changed, and religious faith helped Islam spread peacefully. "Islam offered followers a direct path to God and salvation." And oh, yes – Islam improved conditions for women.

Even atheists need to understand politicization and bias in discussion of religion. Protestant England and Catholic Spain fought for world domination. Anti-Catholic propaganda played a role in that struggle. Much of what conventionally educated Americans think they know about Catholicism, and, by extension, Christianity, is simply wrong. Myths about Christianity are used to warp discussion of Islam.

Here's an example. Suppose you criticize gender apartheid in Islam. An Islam-apologist hits back with "common knowledge" about misogyny in the Catholic Church.

Everybody knows that the witch craze of the Middle Ages was promulgated by the all-powerful, misogynist Catholic male clergy against goddess-worshipping healing women, nine million of whom died before secularization stopped the slaughter. You can learn this history in The Burning Times a documentary funded by a Western government. You can learn this history from bestselling author Barbara Ehrenreich, or NPR journalist Margot Adler.

Here's the problem. Every "fact" in the above sentence is false. The witch craze took place during the Early Modern Period and the Enlightenment, after the Catholic Church lost much of its authority. During the Middle Ages the Catholic Church adamantly condemned witch hunting. Accusers were often women themselves, and lay women insisted that clerics join in. Victims were not healers and they didn't worship the goddess; they were simply poor women past the age of fertility during the hungry times of the wars of the Reformation, the Little Ice Age, chaotic periods of confused authority, and skyrocketing food prices. Neither secularization nor science stopped the craze. It stopped largely because jurists stopped believing that they could prove accusations in a trial. Not nine million, but between forty and sixty thousand people were killed, over the course of two hundred years. Enlightened, anti-Christian, Revolutionary France managed to murder that many people in the eleven months of the Reign of Terror. Two Catholic priests – Friedrich Spee and Alonso de Salazar Frías – and believe it or not, the Spanish Inquisition – were key in stopping the witch craze.  

Prominent atheists Steven Pinker and Michael Shermer are both PhDs and highly respected public intellectuals. Both Pinker and Shermer champion truth, not convenient propaganda, above all. Both Pinker's 2012 The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined and Shermer's 2015 The Moral Arc: How Science Makes Us Better People tell the same just-so story about a Catholic priest, Friedrich Spee, who was an eager participant in witch trials until an enlightened secular ruler stopped him and changed history.

There's a problem with this anecdote. It is extravagantly false. There is not a shred of evidence to support it; Spee's biographer, Ronald Modras, condemns it. In fact Father Friedrich Spee was a courageous hero who put his own life in danger by taking a stance against the witch craze. He did so because of his Catholic faith. His book, Cautio Criminalis, helped end witch trials and torture used to extract confessions.

The Catholic Church really wasn't the force behind the witch craze. Understanding of the Inquisition needs to be completely revised. The Crusades, too, have been misunderstood, and need to be reexamined.

Bernard Lewis has warned against the uncritical dissemination of convenient myths. In his 2001 book, Islam in History: Ideas, People, and Events in the Middle East, Lewis wrote,

"The broad outlines of the story, in the simplified and dramatized form in which great historic events so often reach the popular imagination, were well defined. The Jew has flourished in Muslim Spain, had been driven from Christian Spain, and has found a refuge in Muslim Turkey. The reality was of course more complex, less idyllic, less one-sided. There had been times of persecution under the Muslims and times of prosperity under Christian rule in Spain – and many Christian states … had given shelter to the Spanish Jewish refugees … the golden age of equal rights was a myth, and belief in it was a result, more than a cause, of Jewish sympathy for Islam. The myth was invented by Jews in nineteenth-century Europe as a reproach to Christians – and taken up by Muslims in our own time as a reproach to Jews."

Mark R. Cohen echoes Lewis' warning. "The Jewish-Islamic interfaith utopia" "a golden age of toleration, of political achievement, and of remarkably integrated cultural efflorescence" is a "myth invented by nineteenth-century European Jewish intellectuals frustrated by the tortuously slow progress of their own integration into gentile society." It was the companion to another myth, in "which Jewish life in medieval Christian Europe was one long chain of suffering."

The sloppy, popular insistence that Nazism = Christianity is one of the most depressing examples of smart people repeating empty myths for political reasons. In 2009, British celebrity Stephen Fry suggested that Polish Catholics were responsible for Auschwitz. The otherwise respectable Bernard Lewis writes in his Semites and Anti-Semites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice, "There is nothing in Islamic history to parallel … the Nazi Holocaust."

One wishes that humanity had produced only one genocidal monster like Hitler. Tamerlane (1370–1405), "The Sword of Islam," killed a larger percentage of the world's population than that killed by Hitler or Stalin. He was famous for his signature pyramids of human heads. In his jihad against Hindus, he slaughtered a hundred thousand captive Indians. He buried four thousand Armenian Christians alive. He massacred Assyrian Christians; in the twentieth century, their descendants would be massacred by Muslims in the Assyrian Genocide, an event related to the Armenian Genocide. Historian Ashirbadi Lal Srivastava reports that Tamerlane left "pestilence caused by the pollution of the air and water by thousands of uncared-for dead bodies … for two months not a bird moved wing in Delhi."

Historian Rene Grousset reports that Tamerlane repeatedly cited Islam as his inspiration. "It is to the Koran to which he continually appeals." In the Malfuzat-i-Timuri, Tamerlane is quoted as saying that he opened the Koran at random to seek guidance and he found 66:9. While vanishingly few parents name their baby "Hitler," Muslim parents today – including Zubeidat Tsarnaev – name their children after this murderous monster. There are heroic statues of Tamerlane in Muslim countries; see here and here.

One of the books Stan recommended is Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews, A History, by James Carroll, a former Catholic priest. Carroll misleads readers about the deaths of Catholic Poles under Nazism. He does so because he wants to emphasize how rotten Catholics have been to Jews. That Nazis murdered and tortured Polish Catholics doesn't fit neatly into Carroll's narrative. Carroll reports that 150 Catholic Poles died at Auschwitz. In fact, c. 140,000 Poles were imprisoned in Auschwitz, of whom half were killed. 

Critics of Christianity desperately want Nazism to be Christianity, or to be Christianity's spawn. As real historians know, Nazism's goal was to eradicate Christianity. In their own documents, Nazis cite neo-paganism, nationalism, and scientism as inspirations. In speeches justifying the shooting of "thousands of leading Poles" and the enslavement and mass murder of Czechs and Russians, SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler did not cite Christianity as inspiration. He cited nationalism and science. He and his men were wiping out "bacteria." Christianity, to Himmler, was "the greatest of plagues."

Top Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg hated Christianity. He championed – wait for it – the very heretics Stan also championed – the Albigensians. Albigensians, Rosenberg wrote, "moved me deeply." Their "will and character … [were] essentially West Gothic … They rejected the Old Testament, avoided the use of any and all Jewish names … even the name of Mary. The crucifix to them appeared an unworthy symbol."

Consider: every sadistic, dehumanizing crime – short of genocide – that Nazis committed against Jews, they also committed against largely Catholic Romani, aka Gypsies, and Catholic Poles. Auschwitz was built for, and for the first 18 months of its existence inhabited by, Poles. Poles were mowed down by Einsatzgruppen. Rudolf Spanner manufactured soap from Polish corpses. Poles were subjected to medical experimentation. Polish priests were singled out for mass murder. Dachau was the "largest monastery in Germany." Even as Nazis were losing World War II, they committed the systematic destruction of Warsaw, as part of a cultural genocide. Zyklon B was first used to mass murder Soviet POWs. Handicapped Germans, not Jews, were the first and last victims of Nazi mass murder. Of Poles, Hitler stated, "I'll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad – our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formation in readiness … with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language."

Mentioning what the Nazis did to the Poles, to the Gypsies, to the handicapped and to Soviet POWs is not to diminish the unique Holocaust of the Jews. I mention this horrific record to emphasize why the popular misconception of "Nazism = Christianity" or "Christianity produced Hitler" "does not withstand examination.

Finally, it must be mentioned, that it was largely Christians, including my father, who saw heavy combat in World War II, who defeated Hitler, de-Nazified Germany, and utterly revile Nazism.

In September, 2016, Richard Weikart will publish Hitler's Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich. Weikart, author of Hitler's Ethic, will take on the popular misconception that Hitler was a Christian, or was inspired by Christian ideas.

Be aware of events outside of Western Europe and North America.

Stan insisted that Islam was tolerant when Christianity was not. Stan specified the years between 1000 and 1599. To support this generalization, Stan cited Spain.  

During the period Stan specified, Islam was driving into all but extinction the Zoroastrians of Persia. Citing ancient accounts, Fariborz Rahnamoon claims that Arab invaders festooned 24 miles of road with the bodies of hanging Persians. Arabs ran mills with the blood of slaughtered Zoroastrians. Zoroastrian scholars were murdered and libraries burned. Sultan Husayn (1668-1726) ordered the forced conversion of Zoroastrians; he slaughtered those who did not accept Islam. An English traveler's account describes the plight of the few surviving Zoroastrians in 1818: "They have nowhere to look for help and know no place to go where they would be free. They have made the desert their home and live with all the hardship that comes with it, just to preserve their religion in their ancient country. During the onslaught of conversion to Islam, some had taken to the mountain and others had fled to the bordering lands of India." The world's tiny remaining population of Zoroastrians live in India today.

During Islam's allegedly tolerant medieval period, Islam was persecuting the Christians of Egypt. In Cairo, in 1343, Muslims accused Christians of being arsonists. Christians "were seized in the street, burned or slaughtered by the mob as it left the mosques. Anti-Christian violence raged in the main towns. To enable the Christians to go out into the streets, Jews would sometimes lend them their distinctive yellow turban," writes Bat Ye'or.

Historian Philip Jenkins writes that in 1354, "Mobs demanded that Christians and Jews recite the Muslim profession of faith upon threat of being burned alive." Jenkins quotes a contemporary account by Taqi al-Din al-Maqrizi:

"Many reports came from both Upper and Lower Egypt of Copts being converted to Islam, frequenting mosques and memorizing the Quran … In all the provinces of Egypt, both north and south, no church remained that had not been razed; on many of those sites, mosques were constructed. For when the Christians' affliction grew great and their incomes small, they decided to embrace Islam. Thus Islam spread among the Christians of Egypt and in the town of Qalyub alone 450 persons were converted to Islam in a single day … this was a momentous event in Egyptian history."

More on Islam's "tolerant" medieval period. In Jerusalem, in 1009 AD, Islam razed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, site of Jesus' burial and resurrection. In Egypt, in 1193, Al-Malik Al-Aziz Osman bin Salahadin Yusuf attempted to tear down the pyramids.

Also during Islam's "tolerant" period: Islam was savaging the Balkans, laying seeds for killing and hatred that would last for hundreds of years. Islam was taking millions of Poles and other Slavs slaves. The Islamic Slave Trade was dwarfing the Atlantic Slave Trade. And the Islamic Conquest of India would inspire a profoundly tragic quote from historian Will Durant, a man who had confronted much human misery:

"The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precious good, whose delicate complex of order and freedom, culture and peace, can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within." All this and more would take place during a period that Stan called a period of Islamic "tolerance."

Danusha Goska is the author of Save Send Delete