The Importance of Getting History Right

There is a famous quote from George Orwell's 1984:

Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.

The vastness of that insight cannot be overstated.  As an amateur historian, I cringe at the outright lies being fed to the public, some of it by people who know they are lying.  Others do it unaware.  Unless these lies are addressed, political solutions to many of the world's problems will prove impossible.

Let's start with a common innocuous lie.

The story of Granada is all about the Islamic Moors. In year 711, these North African Muslims crossed the straits of Gibraltar and quickly conquered the entire Iberian Peninsula, eventually converting most of its habitants. Throughout the Middle Ages, for over seven hundred years, Spain was a predominantly Muslim society, living under Muslim rule.

Now, I do not believe that Rick Steves had sinister motives.  He either was rolling out what he thought was true, or had been misinformed by some poorly written tourist pamphlet.  But that small quote is a sample of popular "history" at its absolute worst.

1. The Muslims did not conquer all of the Iberian Peninsula.  The northern coast of Spain (Asturias, Cantabria, Galicia, the Basque country) never really fell.  The Moors tried to collect taxes – and some blonde virgins – which almost immediately resulted in revolts.  By 739, Pelayo had secured an independent state in the north.

2. The Spanish, in the main, never converted.  They were treated as dhimmis; the population, for the most part, remained Christian

3. The Muslim rulers were usually a small minority elite.

4. And 700 years of Muslim rule?  There was a slow but steady erosion of Muslim rule throughout the whole period.  By 1236, Cordoba had fallen into Christian hands, and two thirds of the peninsula was Christian.  Granada became a vassal state of the Christian north and was tolerated only become of the tribute it paid.  The Moors were totally driven out of Portugal by 1249 with the conquest of the Algarve.

The sanitized version of Muslim Spain's history ignores the second wave of Muslim rule, the Almohad takeover of the Muslim areas (in the south only) during the 12th century.  The Almohads were the 12th-century equivalent of ISIS.  They tried to forced urbanized Jews and Christians to convert, but their rule was brief.  Many Christians and Jews fled to the Christian north.  Christian military advances made the Almohad caliphate unstable.  In the 13th century, the Nasrids took over.

A lot of this false history is the result of the Black Legend: an exaggeration of the crimes of the Inquisition.  Europe's Protestants and Jews understandably had an animus for Catholic Spain and allowed their own myopic views to gloss over the very real crimes of Islam.  The result is the idiocy we have today, where Muslim rule is often called the Golden Age of Spain. 

Far from it!  It was a brutal tyranny, which oppressed the Christian majority.  Whatever the faults of Catholicism, the dark history of Muslim rule should not be sanitized.

The next lie – the one that may start a world war – is that Mohammed made a night journey to the Haram al-Sharif (the farthest mosque) in Jerusalem.

The problem is, there was no mosque in Jerusalem during Mohammed's life.  He died five years before Islam entered into Jerusalem.  How could Mohammed have visited a mosque that did not exist?

This lie is peddled on the media as justification for Arab riots whenever some Jews want to walk on the Temple Mount.  Whether one agrees with Israeli practices or not, there is no doubt that Jews built a temple on that mount.  And there is equally no doubt that Mohammed never visited the place.

Worse yet, there is evidence that early Islam may have been centered in Petra in Jordan.  Mecca was not an important city in the 7th century.  All of Muslim history may be a total fabrication, and Mohammed, who may not have actually existed, is certainly not be the Mohammed of history.  In fact, it is beginning to look as if Islam was invented for political purposes.

Another lie, born of ignorance, is that the American revolution was merely a tax revolt.  The idea is to minimize our history down to financial considerations: dialectical materialism.

But anyone familiar with the Currency Act and the Intolerable Acts knows full well that more was at stake.  Many of the colonials were descended from people whose ancestors had suffered under British law and how it had reduced large sections of Ireland and some parts of Scotland to abject poverty.  They were determined not to become New World vassals.

But if one wants to minimize the treasure that is our Constitution, then reduce American history to tax law.

Unfortunately, the right can also falsify history.  Many of those who are sympathetic to the "Lost Cause" of the Confederacy had downplayed that many of the states' articles of secession mentioned slavery as a primary cause for the rebellion.

The reason for this is that in the early 20th-century a number of major historians and social groups introduced a romantic view of the Confederacy into their histories.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy were once a powerful force in public education across the South, right down to rewriting history: slaves were happy, y'all.

I am not downplaying that the North could be duplicitous, but many in the South refuse to concede that the root cause of the problem was their "peculiar institution," the very name indicating that they were embarrassed to admit it.  Who wants to admit that his uncle died defending the enslavement of other people?  I am no supporter of Antifa rioters, but Confederate history has been glossed over.

And then there is the history that I was taught about President Wilson as a kid.  He was a great reformer, who wanted world peace.  It turns out that he was a globalist and – yes, the left is right on this – a Southern racist, who resegregated the federal government and set back civil rights for decades.

In high school Spanish class, lo those many decades ago, I was taught about American "aggression" during the Mexican-American War.

The problem is:

1. Many Spanish Californios and Spanish Tejanos were already upset with the tyrannical government in Mexico City.  Had the U.S. not intervened, the British or French would have.

2. There were far more U.S. citizens in the Southwest at that time than Mexicans.  Mexico lost the territory because it had barely settled it and then ticked off the locals.

Again, I am not saying the U.S. government is 100% innocent, but true history gets rid of a lot of grievances by undercutting much of the premises for those grievances.

Some other quick history that infuriates me:

A. Those who call the French Latins – in reality the vast majority of the French are descended from Celtic tribes.  In the north, German Frankish and Viking Nordic elements were mixed in.  To be sure, there is an Italian element in the southeast and a Basque element in the southwest, but most of France was historically Celtic.  The Romans may have imposed a Latin tongue, but the French are Celts.

B. The use of the term "West Bank" – Judea and Samaria has been the historical term for three millennia.  The West Bank is a recent political term at best, meant to deny a Jewish history.  I am tired of how both sides want to deny the other side's existence.

C. The Crusades were Western aggression – Actually, the Crusades were a response to centuries of Islamic aggression.  Unfortunately, the Crusaders lost in the East.

D. The neglect of Islamic tyranny – The reason the New World was discovered is because a vicious Islam had cut off the Silk Road to the East.  Europeans had to strike out in boats, the one technological advantage they had over the Muslims – hence the Portuguese circumnavigation of Africa and Spain's subsidy of Columbus.

I once had a history teacher in college tell us that people are motivated by not truth, but rather what they believe is the truth.  He was right.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who wishes he had availed himself more fully of the opportunity to learn Spanish better in high school, lo those many decades ago.  He runs a website, Latin Arabia, about the Christian Arab community in South America.