So occupied is “God’s Crucible” with every twist and turn of military and political history, in fact, that Mr. Lewis’s would-be controversial interpretation, and his lessons for the present, are mostly forgotten. They surface only in the form of occasional valentines to the Spain of the Umayyads — whose “ethos of storied tolerance and mutuality…might have served as a model for the continent” — and corresponding insults to Carolingian Christendom — “an economically retarded, balkanized, fratricidal Europe that, in defining itself in opposition to Islam, made virtues out of religious persecution, cultural particularism, and hereditary aristocracy.”
The problem with such verdicts is not just that they are unconvincingly reductive, but that they are clichés. If Western readers know anything about Muslim history, it is that Golden Age Spain was a golden age. That this moment of relative tolerance and prosperity coincided with the Dark Ages in Western Europe helps to make it what Saul Bellow called a “contrast gainer.”
more from the NY Sun here.