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How Muslims, Christians met in a clash of worlds

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Such conflicts, Lewis argues, were hugely detrimental to Christian society. They must be seen, he writes, "as greatly contributing to the creation of an economically retarded, balkanized, fratricidal Europe that, in defining itself in opposition to Islam, made virtues out of persecution, cultural particularism, and hereditary aristocracy."

Unflattering view of Christendom

Lewis is careful to edit the facts to suit his theory. His vision of early Islam is sanitized and utopian, a religion of compassionate solidarity, without reference to race, status, or sex. His version of the Islamic conquest of North Africa and Spain is almost wholly lacking in bloodshed and barely mentions the slaughter and enslavement of the vanquished – although he does reassure readers that Muslims were not permitted to enslave fellow Muslims.

Throughout, Lewis loses no opportunity to disparage the Christians. The Franks he describes as "large-boned, long-bearded killing machines ... religiously intolerant and intellectually impoverished, socially calcified and economically primitive." It's hard not to wonder whether his evidence is being chosen more for its relevance or for its ability to provoke disgust.

He pores over Emperor Charlemagne's possible moral lapses and those of other Christian leaders who contracted political marriages with Muslims for their daughters, belaboring their hypocrisy and the misery such marriages must have caused. (No mention, however, is made of the hundreds of thousands of Christian women torn from their homes, raped, and sold into harem-slavery.)

When writing of Muslims, Lewis is generous with his praise. He calls one "quick-witted" and notes that another "combined tactical intelligence with the command flair of a natural leader." Still others are "smart and driven." Yet only in reference to the outstanding Ummayed emirs of Hispania does he qualify such claims with any evidence.

Lewis's discussion of the Song of Roland reveals a wholesale misunderstanding of the epic genre and its elements. Certainly it acted powerfully upon the European mind, and was used as propaganda for the Christian cause against the Muslims.

Epic, rather than xenophobic

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