The Washington Post: By David Ignatius,
Hisham Melhem, a prominent Lebanese journalist, recalls an emotional visit to the Great Mosque of Cordoba in southern Spain last May. With tears in his eyes, he found himself wondering how the Arab Muslim genius of a thousand years ago had veered in modern times toward such chaos and repression.
Melhem later wrote a column for the Beirut daily an-Nahar describing his visit to the Andalusia region, “roaming as if . . . in a dream,” touching the pillars of the mosque and other magnificent remnants of a Muslim moment “characterized [by] confidence, courage, openness, tolerance and love of intellect, philosophy, arts, architecture and happiness on earth.”
What happened to this sublime culture? That question of lost greatness has vexed Arabs for centuries, and it was painfully visible last week as Egypt lurched forward into a new moment of bloodshed and political turmoil.
Egyptians yearn for the greatness of a past that produced the glorious pyramids and tombs of the pharaohs and later made Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque the arbiter and guardian of Sunni Muslim theology. What Egyptians find in the present is a revolution that, over the past two years, has been devouring its children, secularist liberals and Muslim Brothers alike.
Talking about this unfolding tragedy in Egypt with my friend Melhem, I thought he was right to focus on the openness and tolerance of the Moorish kings of Andalusia. It was this sophistication that gave Cordoba its reputation as “the ornament of the world.” It wasn’t only Muslims who prospered in 9th-century Andalusia but Jews and Christians as well.
Melhem contrasts this 9th-century tolerance with the “sectarian cancer” that today is eating Syria, Iraq and so many other Arab nations.
Arguing for tolerance and moderation at a time when Egyptians and Syrians are slaughtering each other may seem like folly, but it’s grounded in a practical reality. To rediscover the golden age symbolized by “Al-Andalus,” the Arab Muslim world must recapture the inclusive spirit that sustained Cordoba and Granada. Otherwise, the broken political culture will not mend.
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