Ian Almond

 

On his book Two Faiths, One Banner: When Muslims Marched with Christians across Europe’s Battlegrounds

Cover Interview of April 28, 2009

A close-up

I suppose if I wanted any single moment of the book to be read by the random reader, it would be a particular battle, the battle of Cortenuova in the year 1237.

On the edge of Lake Como, at the foot of the Alps, this is probably the farthest north a Muslim infantry ever fought on the Italian mainland.  Even today, eight centuries later, it is remarkable to think that over three thousand Arabic-speaking Muslims, fighting not as mercenaries but as official subjects for their German emperor, would passionately take part in the civil wars of the Italian cities as far north as the cold plains of Lombardy.

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It is a consequence of our own historical ignorance that the picture of Italian Muslims, in the epoch of Dante and Aquinas, fighting the soldiers of Milan and Bologna against the backdrop of the Italian Alps, seems so strange.  The simplistically “Christian Europe” we have all fallen so in love with, which gives us a tingle between the shoulder blades every time we visit a cathedral or listen to a fugue from Bach, has relied on the airbrushing-out of any trace of Islam or Judaism from the tradition.  Until this process is reversed, the idea of Arabs fighting for the cities of Cremona and Ferrara, against the armies of Milan, will always sound absurd.