Old Light through New Windows. On Thursday last, I had one of those days when things can still surprise you. I saw an incredibly interesting and well put together programme on BBC 4 which confirmed things I had been told as a boy about Islam. It was the first part of a triptych entitled ‘The Art Of Spain’, by Andrew Graham-Dixon. The second thing was my daughter, a very bright lady, who will be queuing for her bus pass in a few years and is an inveterate surfer of the Net, introduced me to the BBC IPlayer, and my advice, for what it’s worth, is, if you haven’t tried it don’t delay. So often I have missed TV items which I would have liked to see. Now we have the opportunity to see them later, for 7 days, or 30 if you down load them, – hence the ‘5 days left’ quote above, applies to the Graham-Dixon programme.
I merely wish to cherry pick a few aspects of the programme which gave me food for horizontal thinking, and I don’t mean dreaming, but some of the art would make you wish it was still being produced today. The Moors, consisting of Egyptians, Syrians, and tribes from North Africa, invaded and colonised the southern part of Spain, I knew that, but what I didn’t know was that they introduced the way we eat and what we eat today. They brought the tradition of cooking with imported spices and herbs, and eating a meal in courses. Their art which was on show, consisted of their unique architecture, its beautiful, sculptural decoration of the most intricate designs and forms, and the colourful and equally complicated mosaics, on walls and floors. There is a contemplative atmosphere, fostered by the aesthetic of the architectural design, unsurprising as most of the buildings displayed were mosques or have mosques attached, but none the less beautiful and of the style still to be seen in the Middle East and on the Indian Continent.
At one point in my teenage years I wandered through a number of forms of Christianity and at some point I was instructed that the Koran preached the moral virtues of the New Testament, especially ‘love thy neighbour’. I was led to believe that Islam was tolerant of other beliefs. For some time I have considered my memory to be at fault, until I saw, on the programme, a room in a mosque which had been constructed specifically for the benefit of Jews and Christians and was decorated in Yiddish in stone relief. The presenter remarked that about 75% of the non Islamic people converted. A cynic might suggest it was a simple ploy to aid conversion. At least it was better than the stake.
The presenter referred to the ‘Orange Tree Theory’ which in essence is that empires grow wealthy, decadent, and tend to relax and plant oranges, with the result they are overtaken by others wishing to expand and ultimately, they all cease to exist consecutively. It doesn’t take a historian to see the validity of this proposition. In recent times we have had countries trying to expand their influence at great expense in every form. With the world wide turbulence we now have, it seems the theory has broken down, extreme affluence, greed, extreme poverty, and high speed communication, all seems to be heralding and generating chaos in an unprecedented and unassailable size and form. I hope I’m wrong, I hope common sense ultimately prevails.