Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

The Spirit of Córdoba

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th November, 2018

5061EB38-2936-4119-B8B3-99CCCC4F7ADDHaving so often cited the Umayyad emirate (later caliphate) of Córdoba in my Humanities lectures at SOAS, as an historic example of religious tolerance and the promotion of an independent spirit of enquiry, it is perhaps surprising that I had never been to this Andalusian city myself until last night. Of course, I am 1200 years too late to see the place in its full glory, when it was a centre of civilisation and learning to rival Damascus, populated by Muslims, Christians and Jews, and was probably the biggest human settlement in Europe. But there are still many vestiges of that golden era, not least the pillars and arches of the city’s main mosque, now incorporated into the Roman Catholic cathedral’s precinct. Many of the courtyards in the old town are reminiscent of the casbahs of North Africa and I was intrigued by how many Moroccan visitors I noticed as I walked round the city today. There are remnants of an even older, Roman, town, not least the splendid (albeit heavily remodelled) bridge that spans the Guadalquivir river. But it was the civilisation established after the Moors took control in 711AD that still resonates in world history. Perhaps inevitably, after a couple of centuries, the rot set in. Books were burned, as Islamic religious puritans got the upper hand. Then in 1236 the city fell to a Christian king’s armies. Subsequently both the Muslims and the Jews were expelled and one of the most repressive, totalitarian forms of Christian orthodoxy was imposed through the Spanish Inquisition.

BABF9765-ABDC-42D4-956C-02EC92A4B394A degree of mutual respect between the three Abrahamic religions was found in various parts of the Ottoman Empore at different times, but nothing quite like the spirit of Córdoba. With hindsight we can maybe wonder whether it would not have been possible to create such a society in an independent Palestine after the First World War, but Britain (as the mandated power for the area) got no further than supporting the concept of Jerusalem as an international city, where Muslims, Christians and Jews would live as brothers, and even that notion was swept aside by the surge of Zionism and the creation of the modern state of Israel. However, we live in an interconnected, postmodern world in which boundaries are traversed and the Internet allows us to create transnational communities of interest. Interestingly. in 2005, as fears were expressed about polarisation between Islamic and Western civilisations, the then Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his Spanish counterpart, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, launched the “Alliance of Civilizations”. The initiative was based on the idea that all societies are interdependent, regarding development, security, welfare and environment, and that therefore a common political will should be established in order to overcome prejudice, misperceptions and polarisation. This move was endorsed by the then UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, turning the Alliance into a UN programme, the UNAOC. Progress has not exactly been linear since then, but there are a number of significant efforts to revive the Spirit of Córdoba, and to help it thrive, at the national level, including an independent research and public relations organisation in the UK, the Cordoba Foundation: https://www.thecordobafoundation.com

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2 Responses to “The Spirit of Córdoba”

  1. Tony Harms said

    It’s well worth visiting a number of sites in Cordoba. The Great mosque, now the Cathedral is often seen as a symbol of Christianity defeating and incorporating, perhaps belittling, a great islamic achievement. Even King Philip is supposed to have chided the local religious for taking something extraordinary and making it ordinary. But it’s difficult to see how this Islamic achievement could have been treated more respectfully. What else could have been done with the building except making it a storehouse (as with the “Alamo”) or a stables (as with the Lahore mosque and several English cathedrals during the republic)? The mosque itself is not wholly an Islamic achievement, The Quibla in the mosque was built by Christian artisans as a gift from the Byzantine emperor. And the royal palace, the Alcazar was built by Muslim artisans from Granada and, to me, feels more authentically Muslim than the famous Alhambra.

  2. Tony Harms said

    Are you going to Seville? See the Casa de Pilatos.

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