Thursday, September 2, 2010

Longing for Granada (and Cordoba) to “live again”

I have recently wondered about the song "Granada." Assuming that the Cordoba Mosque is intended in some degree to symbolize an Islamic victory, the song "Granada" could be descriptive of something akin. The song's lyrics long for Granada, that the ancient Muslim city, to "live again."

The song was composed by the Mexican Agustin Lara, but the song was apparently well received in Spain. In 1965 (according to Wikipedia) "Francisco Franco, gave [Lara] a house in Granada to show his appreciation of Lara's songs with Spanish themes . . ."

I began reading the introduction to W. S. Merwin's Poem of the Cid, published in 1959. On page vii, Merwin writes, "Feudal Spain of the mid-eleventh century was politically an extremely complicated place. By then the reconquest of the country from the Moors had made considerable progress. In the north of the peninsula were the Visigothic Christian kingdoms and states, most notably Castile, Leon, Aragon, Navarre, and the county of Barcelona. In the south were the Moorish kingdoms, chief among them Seville, Grenada, Cordoba, and Valencia. . . ."

Merwin discusses this "complicated place" for a few pages and then on xv writes, "Meanwhile, across the straits in Africa a still more ambitious imperial scheme was unfolding. By the eleventh century, in many parts of Islam, the original ferocity of that faith had given place to a graceful and in some cases effete civilization. This was true of many of the Moorish kingdoms in Spain, as well as those in Africa. In 1039, a tribe on the edge of the Sudan began to convert the desert tribesmen to the way of Mohammed; they preached a reformation of Islam, a return to the unadorned, primitive faith, to a conversion by the sword, to the Holy War."

Except for the fact that Merwin was writing this for publication in 1959, it could sound as though he was writing about Islamism. While he wasn't quite doing that, modern Islamists, included Sayyid Qutb, harked back with approval to such attempts as those made by Yusuf ben Texufin to "return to the unadorned, primitive faith, to a conversion by the sword, to the Holy War."

We can easily see an Islamist precedent in this part of their Andalusian period, but what about the "Traditionalists," or "Moderates"? Do they have their precedent in Andalusian Spain? Not quite, perhaps, but there are parallels. Some of the "effete" Muslims thought they would do better siding with the Spanish than with Yusuf, just as the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Gulf States, and (primarily Shiite) forces within Iraq thought they would do better siding with the U.S. than with Saddam Hussein.

Can these states which sided with the U.S. against Saddam Hussein be considered "moderate"? Perhaps Kuwait and the Gulf States are a bit moderate, although "moderates" from such places as Egypt might not want to claim them, and Saudi Arabia is a mix. It has an "effete" leadership but a Yusuf-type underbelly. The Saudi Wahhabi's want the same thing that Yusuf did, even if the Saudi leadership does not.

On page xix Merwin tells us that "Yusuf's army took Cordoba, and Yusuf's general decapitated the Moorish governor of that city. Then he marched on against Seville. Alfonso sent a force against him, under Alvar Fanez, but this army was badly beaten and many of its knights taken prisoner. On September 7, 1091, Yusuf's Africans took Seville. King Motamid was thrown into prison, and thence sent to a dungeon in Morocco. Almeria and Mercia quickly went the way of Seville, and Alfonso seemed powerless to do anything against Usuf in the southern part of the Peninsula. By the end of 1091, the only Christian outside Christian Spain who still opposed Yusuf was the Cid."

And so Merwin returns to his theme, which after all is the poema.  Merwin was no historian, but this brief historical sketch is similar to other's I've read.

While I don't long for Granada to "live again," I do long for a decent history of Andalusia, one not written by a Muslim with Agustin Lara's hope . . . On the other hand one of those might be interesting as well.

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