The Look Of The Other

Kamal, Mustapha, Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley, 2000. 194 pages. Adviser: Monroe, James T. Publication Number: AAT 9979675

Less than a century after the emergence of Islam in Arabia, the Muslims conquered Iberia and reached the south of France. The sudden appearance of the new conquerors north of the Straits of Gibraltar cause a great deal of anxiety among the Christians of Western Europe. Once the military threat stopped, Christians sought to understand the political and religious background of their enemy. In this struggle, their first reference was the Bible. Scholars interpreted several passages of the Scriptures (for example, The Book of Daniel) in order to find solace in the prophecies they contained. But as the struggle wore on, other forms of cultural opposition appeared. Thus in France, there developed a literary genre called chansons de geste, imbued with a crusading spirit. In many of these texts, the only good Sarrasins (i.e., Muslims) are the queens and princesses who convert to Christianity after the defeat of their co-religionists.

In Iberia, the situation was different. After a long period of political submission, the northern provinces achieved independence from Muslim rule and began this push southward, inaugurating the so-called reconquest. Following this expansion, there circulated epic poems, in which heroes such as the Cid were extolled for their military valor. In these texts, the Moors (i.e., Muslims) are portrayed more fairly than in the chansons de geste. In the Cantar de Mio Cid, for example, we learn that there are good and bad Moors as well as good and bad Christians. As for the Muslims in al-Andalus (i.e., the Muslim part of Iberia), at first they did not pay much attention to their Christian foes in their literary output. Theirs was a pragmatic approach. The first literati stressed political allegiance to the ruler. Thus, when the Christians were weak, a loyal Christian was considered better than a rebellious Muslim. But when Christian kingdoms began to represent a real threat, especially toward the end of the tenth century, the tone began to be more militant. In this dissertation, I examine both the Muslim and the Christian sides, and I focus on the periods when they both felt strong enough to portray the enemy without fear of retaliation. My approach has been to show that both are far from being monolithic.

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