Against the clash-of-civilizations model, prolific writer Karabell (Parting the Desert, 2003, etc.) reminds readers that there was a time when monotheisms coexisted in relative peace.
Peace is at the core of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Karabell urges, even if the times seem to have summoned up a militant air, the West fearing fundamentalism, the Arab world imperialism. The scholarly and popular emphasis on visions of war, ethnic strife and inter-religious competition, Karabell suggests, will in time obscure the achievements of times past, when followers of the three religions found it congenial to live and work together. It’s to be noted that those arrangements flourished mostly when Muslims held power, in places such as the Baghdad of the golden age (which, Karabell allows, was “never quite as golden as it looked through the misty eyes of later generations”), the Jerusalem of Saladin, the Istanbul of the early Ottomans and, famously, the Córdoba of the Umayyads. “For a brief period,” writes Karabell, “Muslim Spain was the most vibrant place on earth.” Indeed, and even if the Ottomans’ treatment of Christians and Jews was non-discriminating largely in the sense that all the empire’s subjects were mere “instruments of the state and servants of the sultan,” Karabell’s case studies suggest that there is no good doctrinal reason we all just can’t get along. There are, of course, other reasons, ranging from old-fashioned ignorance to the attacks of 9/11 and the long human tradition of murdering one’s other-thinking neighbors. His curious conclusion is that a future zone of tolerance might look something like Dubai—another place, of course, where Muslims rule over non-Muslim minorities that have suddenly become the majority.
Thin compared to more closely focused works such as María Rosa Menocal’s The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (2002).