Thursday, June 06, 2013

Cervantes and Islam

In three other essays on my blog I have published cursory stabs at this subject, all based upon a remarkable 19th-century biography of Cervantes by an obscure French historian, Émile Chasles, entitled Michel de Cervantes, sa vie, son temps, son oeuvre politique et littéraire ("Miguel de Cervantes: His life, his time, his political and literary works"):


A little nugget from a work in progress.

For all the requisite background to this subject, which I will not repeat here, the reader should first consult those linked essays.  I hope this essay here today will definitively put out of its misery this project I've been cooking at a slow boil on a back burner for over a year.

Let's plunge into it then, shall we?

Cervantes in his young manhood had gone off to fight the "Turks" (i.e., the Muslims) in various battles roundabout the Mediterranean -- most notably the great battle of Lepanto in late 1571, which was hailed around all Europe as a great success against the Mohammedan scourge; and but three years later, he again participated in the battle at la Goulette, which marked a terrible reversal of what had been gained at Lepanto.  In September of 1575, Cervantes set sail from Naples to finally return home to Spain when, fatefully, three Turkish ships attacked and abducted him and the members of the crew they did not kill, to be slaves in Algiers.

Although I'm still hazy on exactly how many years Cervantes remained a slave (I think it was approximately six years, from 1575 to 1581), and whether he was ransomed to be free twice during that time, once in the middle of his period of slavery, only to be recaptured, these questions are not centrally important to the narrative and facts I will be presenting.  All that is of significance is that he was, indeed, enslaved by Muslims in Algiers for several years, and during that time he learned lessons about Muslims for a lifetime -- lessons which he felt even the West of his time, as uncorrupted by PC MC as it was in the 16th century, had not fully absorbed.

Not only were the Muslims who enslaved him educational for Cervantes, deepening his knowledge of the West's perennial enemy; so too were the many wise and learned fellow captive Christians he grew to befriend and love, in commiseration and courage.  One of them was Domingo de Becerra (most famous perhaps for his Spanish translation of an Italian work Il Galateo by Giovanni della Casa), sworn enemy of the "Turkish dogs" (la canaille turque).  Another was Geronimo Ramirès, friend and compatriot of Cervantes.  And another still was the poet and Spaniard Antonio de Sosa.  About this man, a historical study published in 2002 (which virtually guarantees it's compromised by PC MC), Cervantes in Algiers: A Captive's Tale, by Maria Antonia Garcés, notes:

"...he was probably a member of the Order of Malta, whose usually rich and belligerent members were the scourge of the Algerian corsairs..." (p. 81)

The only worthwhile information there, of course, is that de Sosa was probably a member of the illustrious Order of Malta, heir to the centuries-long effort to defend the West against the sourge of Islam (notice how Prof. Garcés Orwellianly twists the facts backwards, making the Christian defenders a "scourge" and going out of her way to describe them with a tendentiously gratuitous adjective ("belligerent") typical of PC MC-addled historians in our time).

Prof. Garcés also notes that:

"Both Sosa and Cervantes were elite captives, held for exorbitant ransoms..." (Sosa because of his Order of Malta connections, and Cervantes -- interestingly by mistake, apparently -- thought to be an intimate of the great nobleman Don Juan just because he had fought in his army).

At any rate, the friend and compatriot of Cervantes, Antonio de Sosa, wrote passionately of how remiss Europe had become in the face of the atrocities Muslims were perpetrating against Christians:

"Why, therefore, the Christian princes, the elites, the powerful, those who hold government and power on Earth, why they have been silent so long?  Where is the charity?  Where is the love of God?  Where is the zeal of His glory?  Where is the desire for his service?  Where is the human pity and compassion of men for men?" 

Chasles comments about Sosa's impassioned plea:

He could not find words energetic enough to paint the distress of "those who drink the chalice of bitterness and filth" nor could he find tableux horrible enough to depict their miseries.  "All this is real," he added, "and all this is nothing beyond all that one could rightly say." 

Sosa divines the triumph of Islam and judges with a severity prophetic the lukewarmness of Spain.  "Christianity no longer knows how to save a captive from servitude and wretchedness... there is nothing sadder than to see charity lost in oblivion by the Christian race..."

And yet, for all this passion, Chasles implies that Cervantes thought that de Sosa was a bit soft and diffuse in his approach to the problem, while Cervantes was much more intense and urgent still about it:

To grasp the sense of the polemic engaged by Cervantes, it is necessary to depict the concourse of events at the end of the Middle Ages and at the beginning of modern times.  Imagine the 15th century, triumphant.  It came out of a crusade of seven centuries against the Arabs.  [With the final liberation of Spain in 1492 from its centuries of Muslim occupation, it] reached its epochal goal in reuniting Aragon with Castille under the scepter of [Spanish King & Queen] Ferdinand and Isabel and organizing a national unity in embracing Granada, the last inroad of Islam.  The submission of the south, the discovery of America, the advent of Charles V, presaged magnificent destinies in the country of Cid.  Spain, finally free in its movements, held in the eyes of the rest of Europe a proud and defiant attitude of a nation which had saved the ancient world and had discovered the new.  

But, at the same time, the Turkish invasion had followed the Arab invasion.  From 1453 to 1520, Europe had allowed itself to become penetrated by the Turks, and everything had recommenced for Spain [which was the leading power of Europe at the time, tasked with defending Europe].  It was a second conflict: the Ottomans coming out of Asia conquered Constantinople and Belgrade.  They subjugated the Slavic countries.  They created a navy which dominated the east and the Mediterranean.  Mahomet II, Selim I, Suleyman, founded an empire which expanded hour by hour.  They took Rhodes and Cyprus, they assailed Malta -- and also Greece, Italy and Spain would be, Allah willing, the three stages of their conquest.  When Charles V [King of Spain] rose to the top rank among the sovereigns of Christendom, it seemed to devolve in the face of [Ottoman Caliph] Suleyman. Obliged to fight against the Turks, [King Charles] tried to defend the northeast in assembling Germany and placating Ferdinand his brother, as well as Hungary.  He protected the south in attacking Tunis and Algiers, and in entrusting Malta to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem.  

But this was not all:  in the interior of Spain, the Moriscos revolted.  They agitated and fomented division in the land and put the unity of the whole peninsula in doubt.  Giving aid to their brothers in Africa, they introduced a new infusion of Islam in Europe [i.e. in the heart of Spain], while Charles V died before this came to issue.  

Let us pause to digest this.  The "Moriscos" were Muslims (probably a combination of Muslims and "reverts") who had apostasized in the wake of the Reconquest of Spain in 1492 and converted to Christianity.  And yet, these ex-Muslims proved to be such a security problem to the newly freed Spain, that the new King (Charles V) had to re-divert most of his energies from the Mediterranean problem just to take care of this rebellion.  A sobering lesson for us today, when we think of trusting ex-Muslims.  Muslim attacks within Portugal continued to be such a problem for Charles' successor, Phillip II, that he was unable to come to the desperate aid of Christians languishing in misery and torment under Muslim captivity; a predicament greatly lamented by Cervantes and his companions.

Let us continue:

Under Phillip II, the western part of the Mediterranean, this Mohammedan sea which gained sway over the Christian sea, was covered with new champions who brought to Mohammed a force unknown and renewed the impulsion given to the peoples of the Orient of Islam.  They were the pirates, the adventurers (if one could call them that), habituated, active, succeeding one after the other without interruption, they became a redoubtable instrument in the hands of the Sultans.

This is a very important point Chasles is making: the pirates weren't just some rag-tag bunch of accidental criminals: they were a concerted force for the Caliphate's ongoing jihad against Europe.

The field of battle saw with astonishment the grandiose navy of the Turks -- their disciplined army and above all their corsairs, which were put into action at all times.  Our poet contemplated with sadness and with love, this "Mediterranean Valley", as Dante put it -- that is, the common valley of the "Peoples of the Midi" -- and he saw what danger there was for Europe in not defending it.   

And next, Chasles touches on a fascinating subtext to this whole sordid problem of the relentless attacks on Western civilization -- the subtext of how this over time traumatized many Westerners such that they became weakened psychically enough to switch sides:

How did these innumerable pirates come into being?  Where did their power come from that defied Europe from 1500 to 1830?  They were produced by the decadence itself of the peoples of the Midi.  With the shorelines of the Mediterranean, invaded, left without self-defense, sacked and disorganized, bereft of security to their Christian populations, the pirates erupted throughout the provinces, which were crushed between Orient and Occident.  The poor people who inhabited these wretched villages of the depopulated Greek islands, the fisher people who made their life in whatever corner they could of the Italian coast, could not seek any way to escape from the misery and the oppression, and sometimes flung themselves into the sea.  Some left by boat, some overtook a small ship that was poorly defended, some just lost themselves in the spume.  Some knights or some shepherds' children raised on some deserted rocks, served as rowers. Soon enough, one found enough of a strong force to assault villages or take a port on the coast by surprise. Thus was born a pirate. 

What Chasles is saying here is that basically many of the crews of the pirates were formed by using these wretched "desperados" that the culture of not protecting the Mediterranean part of Europe had slowly facilitated over time.  Thus there was a demographic of desperate people ripe for flinging themselves into the life of a pirate or mercenary.  Did this type of pirate just do it for greed?  Chasles is saying that whatever motivated these pirates, they found themselves confronting a dilemma in the Mediterranean between Ottomans and Christians:  they had to serve the one or the other, in exchange for protection.  Spain and the Venetians treated these seafarers with contempt and almost treated them as enemies of their commerce.

On the contrary, the spirit of the Osmanlis was sympathetic to these men of action -- useful auxiliaries, spontaneous forces which they could call their own, without distinction of origin.  "The Christian nations," said one historian, "were all still aristocratic societies; the spirit of equality reigned in the Turkish nation.  The courageous man could aspire to anything and the Sultan would seek out anyone from the crowd, even among slaves, who was brave and willing to be a pasha or vizier". 

I suspect that historian Chasles cites -- one DuRey -- is some proto-PC MC historian, though he's still useful enough.

Between the Muslim society and the Christian society, the pirates didn't hesitate: they gave themselves to the Sultan.  They volunteered to conquer for them the African shores, and 50 years sufficed to establish the Ottoman domination of the entire littoral. 

What seems clear from the description of Chasles here is that Muslims were like a vast prison gang, knowing how to exploit the desperation of people and not caring whether they had unscrupulous people on their side, as long as they could use them for their ongoing jihad of piracy.

And Muslims found some juicy collaborators, as Cervantes learned all too grimly.  Indeed, one of the more interesting details about this biography by Chasles is that some of the cruelest, most savage Muslims he encountered during his captivity were converts -- or "renegades". 

De Sosa in this respect made an interesting observation:

"...if the Turks found themselves without Christian arms, they might not have a single working ship."

And by "Christian", Sosa is referring to this significant demographic of Europeans who were either mercenaries supporting the Muslims, or outright converts to Islam -- the renegades.

The first renegade that Cervantes came to know was the man who chose Cervantes (among others) as his slave -- a Greek-Albanian convert to Islam named Dali Mami, whom Cervantes called a "terrible renegade" and also noted he was nicknamed "the Lame" (le Boiteux -- apparently he walked with a limp). 

Other such renegades Cervantes came to know along the way were Hasan Pasha, who became ruler of Algiers after Dali Mami.  Hasan was an Albanian convert to Islam who had been abducted as a child by Muslims and who, according to Cervantes and other literate prisoners (like Antonio de Sosa) who went on write about their experiences, was so gruesomely cruel, he often took it upon himself to beat Christians to death with his own hands, not even relegating that ghoulish task to underlings -- or actually interrupting the tortures so that he could personally finish the job! Hasan purchased Cervantes from Dali Mami, perhaps recognizing something of value in him, and owned him thereafter for three years.  After one attempt by Cervantes to escape, along with others he collaborated with, failed, Hasan had Cervantes bound and interrogated him for days, threatening him with death -- but, Chasles informs us, Hasan oddly did not unleash his accustomed unhinged wrath on him; almost as though something in the spirit and fortitude of the courageous Spaniard awed and even cowed him.  Chasles also conjectures divine intervention for such a strange miracle.

Cervantes and his literate friends also passed on to our posterity reports of the hideous and dismal conditions of Hasan's dungeon.  The Muslim guards entertained themselves routinely with beatings and sundry vexations of the Christian prisoners, including a sordidly euphemistic description of what was likely sodomizing rapes ("et des outrages").  Even in such bleak circumstances, Cervantes never failed to inspire his fellow slaves with evocations of Western glory and literary exhortations.  He helped organize a Spanish comedy play to entertain and edify them.  They also observed weekly mass and prayers, grudgingly tolerated by the guards.  At Christmas, he recited Spanish Nativity poems, and one particular year also put on a production of a Christmas drama by Lope de Rueda.  His request that Christian prisoners from elsewhere in the city be allowed to attend was allowed, again grudgingly, by the guards, though they insisted on charging money from each Christian let in.  Initially, although there were violent altercations at the entry-way, it did not cast too much of a pall so as to ruin the gaeity of the evening -- at least for a while.  It wasn't long, however, before Muslim jannissaries, in their paranoia believing a cloud-mirage on the horizon was a flotilla of Spanish ships coming their way, precipitated a general massacre of Christians in the environs outside the dungeon.

Meanwhile, Cervantes had a grand plan up his sleeve.  He wanted to foment a general slave revolt (according to Chasles there were between 15,000 and 20,000 slaves in Algiers at the time), and coordinate it with a hopeful invasion through an armada sent by Philip II, King of Spain (and, beginning in 1580, also King of Portugal).  This was not just some crotchet in the mind of Cervantes; it was a rumor spreading throughout the Mediterranean.  And Cervantes even went to the trouble of writing letters of entreaty to the King himself and to his personal secretary, Mateo Vasquez, a man of remarkably stoic virtue whom he had reason to believe really cared about the fate of the West imperiled by Muslims.  But, alas, it was not to be; and one of the main reasons Philip II could not do this was (as we mentioned above) because of Muslim attacks within Portugal, of proportions significant enough to divert most of his energies and expense.

The Muslims, however, ever prey to rumor-mongering and paranoia, in their credulity became inflamed with rage and spiralled into wholesale slaughters of the Christians.  Cervantes wrote of the "unimaginable cruelties" (cruautés inouïes) inflicted on the Christians.  Every day, Hasan hung someone, impaled someone, cut off some ears for the slightest offense, or no offense at all.

An entire chapter may be written about the treatment of the Christian slaves under the Muslims who abducted them.  I will only note some of the more vividly significant details.

The first detail Cervantes describes is an elaborate "comedy" whereby the Muslims, on receiving the latest batch of Christian slaves, would pretend in exaggerated ways to be solicitous and polite, which not too long after would devolve into threats and then all too real violence that over time terrified the victims so much that many sought the only relief possible: conversion.

And in this regard, Chasles notes a fascinating fact about Muslims:

"It is a strange thing -- at least to those who only believe in paragmatic interests and do not recognize the power of ideas -- these dealers in human flesh [i.e., enslavers] without hesitation sacrificed their greed for their belief, at the instant when Islam could gain a single more person."

I.e., as much as they hated these Christians, as much as they reveled in physically abusing and tormenting them, and as much as they knew that they could gain money for their ransom, they were so fanatical about their belief that they actually would drop everything for the prospect of one more convert to Islam.  As is the rule with Muslims, ideological fanaticism trumps pragmatism.

Nevertheless, there remained plenty of Christians who stood fast in their faith, and thus presented a continual renewal of the Muslim voracity for violence against them.

At one point in his book, Chasles moves onto a solemn martyrology, apparently quoting Cervantes for an extended passage, as Cervantes honored the memory of his fellow Christians with an unflinching catalogue of the horrors they had to endure -- when, that is, their physical selves were not wracked and ruined unto death:

"To kill Christians at the end of a cudgel, is a cruelty most accustomed to these barbarians, and the thing they do most regularly.  They do it so easily and often, it becomes almost a caprice, a lark, without any rhyme or reason, such that they leave the Christian on the ground, ground up like salt, and half dead.  They beat all around his arms, and not only do they open his shoulders, they break his bones, then come back at him and give him so many blows on the stomach and chest.  They ravage [piller] the entrails and beat the skin of the man like a drum, then they contuse [frappe] the fat of the legs so that they don't leave one inch of the body without pain.  They hang him upside down and beat him on the soles of the feet.  Finally, they put him on a table, bind his hands, and discharge on him blows from a courbache [a kind of rigid leather strap used by African Muslims] which cause an unbelievable nervous torment. 

"When they finally tire of beating them, the Christian does not move from the place where he was left, and if he doesn't die then, he dies in a few days."

Chasles then adds:  "Lest we accuse him [Cervantes] of exaggerating, he gives a list which is nominal and precise, which justifies the account..." -- and then he quotes from that sad log:

"Thus was killed yesterday the good brother Louis Grasso 7 July, 1578; 

"thus by the guard of the royal bath (was killed) Father Lactancio de Police, a Franciscan of Sicily; 

"thus King Hasan himself killed with his own hands Juan Francisco, young and brave Neapolitan 16 September, 1578; 

"thus Cade Raez -- that Turk and Drunkard [esse turco e gran boracho], the old captain of Bizerte, killed with his own hands and with blows from a cudgel the old Juan, Sicilian, 15 October 1578; 

"thus the King himself [i.e., Hasan] executed in his house the mayorquin Pedro Soler who had tried to flee to Oran 12 December 1578; 

"thus has died a Catalan named Carroto who did nothing but say that he wanted to be saved by the Spanish flotilla, 13 January 1579; 

"thus this same Hasan who reigns today made to die under the cudgel the courageous Spaniard Cuellar who had conceived the audacious project to flee from the port at night with 30 Christians, 20 February 1579; 

"thus the captain of the sea Mami Arnoud, renegade Albanian, killed with his own hands with the aid of his renegades in one day the Frenchman Jean Gascon and the Italians Felipe and Pedro, Mami's slaves, because they fled and hid themselves.  The blood his cudgel made spurt was so abundant, and this ferocious beast became so avid in his violence, an eyewitness has told me that in the street there was a veritable stream of blood flowing, and even today the trace has not been able to be washed away; 

"thus Boras Quilla, a cruel renegade from Genoa, captain of a ship, himself massacred two Christians who had been absent when he was trying to take them back to Constantinople in 1579; 

"thus the Corsican renegade Hassan himself killed his own slave, the Greek Giorgio because he had hidden outside for two nights, 1579; 

"thus the guardian of the bathhouse himself killed the poor Calabrian, Simon, who did not show up for work, 1579; 

"thus King Hasan himself killed in his presence and at his place the Biscayan, Juan, surprised in his escape on the road of Oran, 1579; 

"thus the same king ordered the killing of another young Spaniard named Lorenzio taken during the same circumstance, and it took two days for him to die, 1580; 

"thus the Jannissaries put to death under the cudgel the poor Venetian, Louis; 

"and finally it took several days for the honorable Vicenzio Lachitea, a Sicilian gentleman, to be executed; 

"and I could cite many more during these three years we have been at Algiers, who have been in this fashion mutilated or sent to death."  

Chasles writes:

"This litany, which does not end there, is not complete, because it only decribes one kind of torture..." and he quotes Cervantes again:

"Everywhere I have found, in the baths, in the galiotes, at the mess hall, I have seen men with their noses cut off, their ears cut off, their legs broken, their arms broken, their eyes gouged out; they carry these marks of their tortures. If the Lord lets me leave this captivity, I will give the names of the martyrs I have seen."

A moment of silence for these men.

Thank God, Cervantes was finally ransomed free, and returned to Spain where he lived some 30 more years, enough time to complete not only his most famous work, El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, but also to work on innumerable plays, novels, pastorals and poems specifically thematic of the problem of Islam in his epoch.  According to Chasles, Cervantes proclaimed that his captivity inspired him first and foremost with a lofty idea -- beyond any personal sufferings -- namely, combattre l'Islamisme; and to enlighten Spain on the political front on what policy to follow in this regard. 

It wasn't easy when he resumed normal life back home.  For a while, he wasn't in any position to pursue his goal -- he was destitute, and for various reasons did not enjoy an ear at the royal court, but he still had his passion & obsession to get Phillip II to revitalize Spanish dominion over the Mediterranean and to have the West, with Spain then at its vanguard, to re-orient its geopolitics: to take back the Mediterranean from the Muslims. 

Since Cervantes did not have influence in the royal court, he chose another route: the theater.  Chasles describes the situation of the Spanish theater at that time: While later, in the 17th century, the theater would flower as an illustrious part of Spanish culture, in 1581 it was in a kind of rag-tag shambles: nothing much more than low art, buffoonery, pantomimes & mummery, and vaudevillish farce.  This was the artistic context he was going to try to use and mold for his very earnest propaganda (in the classic sense).

The plays he went on to write -- The Dungeons of Algiers; The Spanish Fugitive; The Great Sultan; The Great Turkess; The Naval Battle; Jerusalem; The Holy Land and Turkey; and many more, were all meant as to goad his fellow Spaniards into awareness of the great and terrible cause of the perennial struggle with Islam.  In his 1614 play Voyage to Parnassus, for example, Cervantes rudely and bluntly addresses his city of Madrid, for its people's habit of only reading about Turks in the gazettes, having forgotten the grand cause that animated a former century now for petty literary squabbles, prefering poets to soldiers.

"Adieu Madrid!"

And Chasles reminds his readers not to judge these other works of Cervantes against the standard of his masterpiece Don Quixote: those were profound jeremiads for a dire cause: to save the captives and to change geopolitics.

"The dramatic interest is sacrirficed to the national interest... his works are tough blows and appeals to the nation...  He wrote them with alacrity, and reworked them with an extraordinary obstinancy, like Penelope's web."

"His play Life in Algiers followed the spirit of Aeschylus' The Persians -- for it is still the struggle of the Occident against the Orient.  Aeschylus, however, had the fortune to project a triumphant note: Cervantes, appropriate to the danger he wished to communicate, adopted a tone humiliated, anguished, enslaved."

As Chasles recounts it, this play is a somber tragedy, starring Cervantes himself, in which he cries in anguish for what is being done by the Muslims.  Cervantes presents this in terms of a profound appeal to King Philip II:

"Of that prison so harsh and horrible where 15,000 languish, it is Thee who holds the key..."

"All here, all here with me, hands joined, knees to the ground, amid our tears of torture which ravage us, we supplicate thee..."


While the West after the passing of Cervantes -- transcending Spain to pass the torch of empire to the French, the British, and the Americans -- as the 17th century began to unfold to gain its foothold on an extraordinary climb up the summit of a stupendous civilizational progress that never waned in succeeding centuries (notwithstanding great shocks and convulsions along the way); did, in a way, fulfill the Cervantes desideratum -- the West finally did gain control over the Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean, and the Atlantic, and the Pacific, and nearly the whole world among those seas -- and the West finally did through its Age of Colonialism gain a measure of mastery over the Muslim world which, by the 19th century had sunk to its all-time nadir of Oriental corruption and weakness -- still, this was less a matter of a clear-eyed concerted commission, than it was simply the natural logical consequence of the incidental superiority and the heights of science, technology, philosophy, the arts and social progress catapulted by it.

I.e., because the Western victory over Muslims by the 19th century was more a matter of a happy accident, rather than the fruit of any clarity of will and educated resolve, the West was ill-prepared for what to do when that quaint relic of an antiquarian past, the Oriental Mohammedan, rather suddenly after the catastrophe of World War One inherited the unearned boons of Western technology and oil production, coupled with massive invitations to immigrate by the millions into the West in unprecedented numbers, and began to network like assiduous army ants around the world as they inexorably underwent the Revival of their perennial Jihad that had been simmering at a long, slow, patient boil for centuries.

Now that the quaintly anachronistic Arab has reasserted himself in our time, we in the meantime had gone through a transformation of our worldview, and instead of seeing the Mohammedan appropriately, as we would have under our previous paradigm of Orientalism, as our perennial and irremediable enemy, we now see him as a Brown Person to placate and "respect", at all costs, for "diversity" now is more important even than the lives of our men, women and children.

That is where we stand now, over 400 years later after the magisterial warnings and supplications to which Cervantes dedicated his life, largely ignored in our time, buried under our historical amnesia, as the situation with Muslims is getting worse, to no small degree because of our general Western stupidity enabling them.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Hesperado. :)


Hesperado said...

You're very welcome, Egghead. Thanks for reminding me to finish!