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from The Textbook Letter, Volume 12, Number 1

Analyzing errors, disinformation, and bias in Joy Hakim's "history"

Joy Hakim is the writer of ten of the books which constitute A History of US, an eleven-book series -- sold by Oxford University Press -- that purports to deal with American history. The eleventh book in the series is anonymous. All eleven books are dated in 1999. Oxford University Press promotes these books as instructional materials, and the California State Board of Education has adopted them for use in California's public schools.

In the article that we present here, Alice Whealey examines some of the material that Hakim has put into Book 2 of A History of US. Book 2 is called Making Thirteen Colonies, and it allegedly covers American history in the period 1600 through 1740. Whealey encountered Making Thirteen Colonies when it was used as a 5th-grade textbook in a public school that her son attended -- the John Muir Elementary School in Berkeley, California.      Editor

Joy Hakim Should Not Write
About the History of Europe

Alice Whealey

In the opening pages of Making Thirteen Colonies Joy Hakim writes about some peoples of the Old World, ostensibly to draw connections between Old World societies, the founding of European colonies in the New World, and the eventual emergence of the United States. Examination of Hakim's material discloses many errors (including errors of fact, of chronology and of terminology) as well as unjustified assertions and some displays of bias. I first shall analyze some of Hakim's errors and dubious assertions, and then I shall describe two cases in which she shows extreme bias.

Hakim's Errors and Dubious Assertions

page 10      On page 10 of Making Thirteen Colonies, Hakim starts a long passage in which she purports to describe some societies of ancient and medieval Europe. Here is how she introduces ancient Athens:

In Athens, which was a powerful city-state, the Greeks tried democracy. They let the people (except for women and slaves) vote and rule themselves. Since most men didn't have time to vote on everything, they elected leaders to decide some things for them. That made their form of government a republic. A republic is a place where people elect representatives who govern them according to law.

The Athenian political system was not a republican system, because the Athenians did not elect representatives. They used a kind of direct democracy which had these distinctive features: Political offices could be held by any citizen, and many office-holders were chosen by lot, rather than election. Our word republic comes not from classical Greek but from classical Latin, the language of the ancient Romans: The Romans used the term res publica (or respublica) to mean the form of government that they maintained before the dictatorship of Julius Caesar. Hakim's use of republic to describe the government of classical Athens is historically wrong and etymologically invalid.

One cannot grasp the evolution of Western political theory since the Renaissance, and one certainly cannot understand the political writings of the framers of the Constitution of the United States, if one does not understand the crucial differences between Athenian democracy and republicanism. A history book for young students should introduce these differences, albeit in a simple way, rather than confusing and misleading the students by claiming that the ancient Athenians had a republic.

Hakim should read:

Aristotle's On the Athenian Constitution        This fundamental source gives a brief history of Athenian political development and a detailed account of how the Athenian political system was working circa 330 BC.

page 11      When Hakim turns to the ancient Romans, she writes:

The Romans [like the ancient Greeks] were another Mediterranean people. . . . Roman thinkers spent a lot of time talking and writing about ways to run a government. For a while they, too, lived under a republican government.

She thus reinforces the erroneous impression that Athenian democracy and Roman republicanism were the same thing.

page 11      Hakim mentions the Muslim invasion of Iberia (which began in 711), and then she writes:

For the next seven and a half centuries most of Spain was ruled by Muslims (the Spaniards called them Moors).

Hakim has the history and the geography and the arithmetic wrong. Muslims ruled most of Spain for about three and a half centuries, not for seven and a half. After the reconquest of Toledo in 1085, about half of Spain was ruled by Christians and about half by Muslims. After the battle of Navas de Tolosa in 1212, most of Spain was ruled by Christians. And after 1250, Muslims controlled only one small region, i.e., Granada. (They would lose Granada, and Muslim rule in Spain would end, in 1492.)

page 11      Hakim now brings forth an excessively rosy picture of Muslim Spain, beginning with this claim: [The period of Islamic rule] was a splendid era in Spain. It was a time of religious tolerance: Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together in harmony.

In the Moorish parts of Spain (as in other regions that were controlled by Muslims during medieval times), Jews and Christians were tolerated but were subjected to gross restrictions: They were formally barred from positions of power, and they were politically and legally inferior to Muslims. Islamic law regarded Jews and Christians as subjugated people who had to acknowledge the political dominion of Islam, in accordance with a prescription in sura 9 of the Koran.

It is also important to recognize that the Moors' toleration of Jews and Christians sometimes broke down: Witness the persecutions of Jews and Christians under the Almoravids and under the Almohads (in the 12th and 13th centuries).

Hakim should read:

the Koran: sura 9, verse 29        Here is how sura 9, verse 29 is given in Ahmed Ali's translation of the Koran, published in 1994 by Princeton University Press: "Fight those people of the Book [i.e., Jews and Christians] who do not believe in God and the Last Day, who do not prohibit what God and His Apostle [i.e., Muhammad] have forbidden, nor accept divine law, until all of them pay protective tax in submission."

the article "al-Muwahhidun" in The Encyclopedia of Islam, issued by the Dutch publishing house E.J. Brill        This article includes information about religious persecutions under the Almohads.

The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians Under Islam (1985) and The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude (1996), written by Bat Ye'or and published by the Fairleigh Dickinson University Press        These books describe how Jews and Christians fared under Muslim regimes, including regimes in Moorish Spain. Both books cite many primary sources, and both books demonstrate that it is a great distortion to say that Jews and Christians lived "in harmony" with their Muslim rulers.

pages 11 and 12      Continuing her exaltation of the Moors, Hakim writes:

The Moors built great cities with centers of learning. Agriculture flourished in Spain as it never had before or has since.

Hakim's claim about agriculture can't be supported, because we do not have the statistics that we would need for comparing agricultural productivity in Moorish Spain with agricultural productivity in Spain during Roman times or during the early modern period, after the Moors were expelled. Regarding Hakim's assertion that the agriculture practiced in present-day Spain is inferior to the agriculture practiced under the Moors: This claim is very dubious because, almost everywhere, modern agriculture produces higher yields than medieval agriculture did. Moreover, agriculture in the Spain of today involves various crops that were not grown in medieval Spain, and markets that did not exist. Hakim would have said enough if she had said "Agriculture flourished in Moorish Spain," without indulging in hyperbole.

Hakim should read:

Spain's Golden Fleece, by Carla Rahn Phillips and William Phillips, published in 1997 by Johns Hopkins University Press

page 12      Hakim writes that when Muslims ruled parts of Spain, most of the people in Europe were peasants. Then she elaborates:

[The peasants] worked on the land, and their lives were short and hard. They couldn't read, they didn't get a chance to travel, and they didn't know much. Books were kept in monasteries and were read only by monks. Most Europeans had forgotten the arts and learning of the Greeks and Romans.

It was different in Spain. Remember, Arabs, Jews and Christians had brought their scholarship, arts, and energy to that land. Spain was thriving.

That passage creates false impressions. In the Muslim-ruled regions of Spain, as in Christian lands, most people were peasants who lived hard lives, couldn't read, didn't travel, and didn't know much. There were differences between intellectual life in Moorish Spain and intellectual life in Latin Christendom, but those differences were manifested only among the elites. (Moorish scholars and rulers were better-educated than Christian scholars and rulers were.) Furthermore, the differences did not persist. By the 12th century, the elites of the Latin Christian world generally had caught up to the elites of the Islamic world, although each world had its own intellectual and technological strengths and its own intellectual and technological weaknesses.

page 12      According to Joy Hakim, the hegemony of the Moors in Spain ended rather suddenly:

Spain was thriving. Then the Moors started fighting among themselves. In the 15th century their armies were defeated by Christian armies; they were driven from Spain.

Here Hakim has combined a confused chronology with false assertions and false implications. Any student who reads Hakim's account will infer that all these things happened in the 15th century: The Moors started to fight among themselves, then they suffered their first defeats by Christian armies, and then they were "driven from Spain."

None of that is right. Internecine warfare among the Moors had arisen before the 15th century, and it had reached its greatest intensity in the 11th century. Moorish armies suffered major defeats by Christian armies in the 11th century (at Toledo) and in the 13th century (at Navas de Tolosa), and those defeats resulted in the Moors' having to relinquish much of the Spanish territory that they had conquered in their heyday. Finally, the Moors were not expelled from Spain in the 15th century.

Hakim apparently has confused the expulsion of the Moors with the expulsion of the Jews. The Jews were expelled from all of Spain, at a single stroke, in 1492. The Moors were expelled piecemeal. The kingdom of Castile expelled its Moorish population in 1502, after a Moorish rebellion against Christian rule. The kingdom of Aragon expelled its Moors in 1526, in response to an uprising by Christians who resented the extensive use of Moorish laborers by Aragonese landowners.

Hakim should read:

The Spanish Inquisition, by Henry Kamen, published in 1997 by Yale University Press        This book has information about the expulsion of the Moors from Spain.

page 12      Hakim claims that the Moors in Spain "had developed modern sailing technology," and that after the Moors were expelled, their nautical knowledge became available to "those who now ruled Spain and Portugal."

Hakim does not explain what she means by "modern sailing technology" or why Moorish sailing technology, whatever it may have been, was significant. Not until we see pages 147 and 148 of Making Thirteen Colonies do we learn what Hakim has in mind. On those pages, in a boxed article called "Africa, The Unknown Continent," Hakim writes:

[At some unspecified time] North Africa was the only part of Africa the Europeans knew. And, of North Africa, they knew only the lands that touched the Mediterranean Sea. . . .

But what of the rest of the huge African continent? What was it like? Europeans knew almost nothing of it -- although there were wild rumors of rich kingdoms and seven lost cities.

There was a barrier of sand that kept the Europeans from learning much: the vast Sahara desert. A few people were able to cross those blazing desert sands. They were African or Arab traders who traveled from oasis to oasis carrying gold and slaves from lands to the south. It was a very dangerous journey.

Why didn't the Europeans just sail down the African coast and discover for themselves where that gold was coming from? They wanted to, but until the 15th century they couldn't do it. You see, their boats were powered by men with oars. Those boats were fine in the calm Mediterranean, but they weren't safe in the rough Atlantic waters. It was not until the 15th century that Europeans developed sailing technology -- learned from the Muslims -- that allowed them to build caravels that could sail into the wind.

Now we can discern Hakim's purpose: She wants students to believe that Europeans used only oar-driven ships until they learned, from Muslims, how to use sails. What Hakim is teaching is not merely false but implausible as well.

Both oared ships and sailing ships had been used on the Mediterranean since ancient times. Oared ships (some of which also carried sails) were used primarily for warfare, because they were highly maneuverable and could attack or retreat rapidly. Sailing ships were used in commerce. Square sails had been used by various Mediterranean peoples as early as 3000 BC, and perhaps earlier. Lateen (triangular) sails, which were effective for sailing into the wind, had been adopted by the Romans and by other Mediterranean peoples in the 2nd century -- 500 years before there were any Muslims.

By medieval times, western Europeans had acquired a great deal of skill and experience in using sail-driven ships on the Atlantic. The Norse sailed to Iceland, Greenland and North America without any help from Muslims; the Portuguese sailed to the Azores and Madeira without asking Muslims how to do it; and northern Europeans continually sailed the Atlantic to trade with southern Europeans.

Why, then, didn't any medieval Europeans "just sail down the African coast [as Hakim puts it] and discover for themselves where that gold was coming from"? Because along the western coast of Africa, south of Cape Bajador, the prevailing winds blew toward the southwest. Sailing down the coast was feasible, but returning northward was a serious problem for Europeans and Muslims alike. Muslims avoided sailing to the southern coast of Africa, just as Europeans did, and for the same reasons. When the problem of wind direction was eventually solved, the solution entailed a novel technique of navigation: A ship traveled westward until it could catch a contrary wind that would drive it eastward and northward toward Europe.

When Hakim says that the European caravel was based on technology "learned from the Muslims," she makes another false claim. Some caravels were lateen-rigged, and some were hybrids that carried both lateen sails and square sails -- but neither lateen rigging nor square rigging had been invented by Muslims.

Hakim should read:

Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World, by Lionel Casson, published in 1995 by Johns Hopkins University Press

the articles "Transportation" and "Caravel" in the Encyclopaedia Britannica

"Sailing ships" in The Random House Encyclopedia

chapter 5, "Winds," in Alfred W. Crosby's book Ecological Imperialism, issued in 1986 by Cambridge University Press

Trade and Traders in Muslim Spain, by Olivia Constable, published in 1997 by Cambridge University Press

page 14      Hakim now purports to tell something about European colonies in the New World by referring to other polities:

There were no democracies in Europe. There were kings and emperors. The republics of Greece and Rome were a distant memory. But in America there were republics -- Indian republics. Right away, some of the newcomers [to the New World] were impressed with the free life the Indians led. They thought about that free life and added it to their idea pool.

Hakim's account is wrong, partly because she continues to confuse words (democracy and republic) and partly because she doesn't know the relevant history. It is false to claim that, at the time when European colonies were evolving in the New World, Europe was ruled entirely by kings and emperors. Venice and Genoa were republics in Renaissance times, and the so-called Dutch Republic -- the United Provinces of the Netherlands, established in the late 16th century -- was studied by Montesquieu and by the framers of our Constitution. The framers classified both Venice and the United Provinces of the Netherlands as republics, and they discussed each republic's merits and drawbacks as a model for the United States.

It is also false to claim that the governments of Greece and Rome were merely "a distant memory to Europeans," and Hakim knows this. She already has told her readers, on page 11:

[More than 2,000 years after the golden age of Athens,] when people in colonies on the shores of North America decided to form their own government, they read books by Greek writers and came up with a democratic republic called the United States of America.

And later on the same page, she has written:

The men who wrote our constitution knew all about the Roman republic, too.

Why does she now, on page 14, claim that Greece and Rome were only "a distant memory"? She does this so that she can endorse the notion that the United States was modeled after "Indian republics" rather than European polities. This notion is popular and politically correct nowadays, and it is often repeated (in mass-market publications and on television shows) as if it were a fact of history. Many of its promoters claim, specifically, that the American republic was modeled after the Iroquois Federation.

The Iroquois Federation did embody a representative form of government, but the idea that it significantly influenced European-colonial governments, or that it served as a model for the creation of the American state, isn't supported by any convincing evidence. If one studies the primary sources, one finds that references to European polities far outnumber references to Amerindian polities. In The Federalist, European experiments with republicanism (in Great Britain, Italy, the Low Countries and elsewhere) are cited many times as political examples to be imitated, but Amerindian polities are not cited in that way. Amerindian polities are cited as potential military threats to the infant American state.

Hakim should read:

Montesquieu's examination of the United Provinces of the Netherlands in Book 9 of his Spirit of the Laws

the article "Exemplars of taking liberties," by Philip A. Levy, published in 1996 in the William and Mary Quarterly, Volume 53, Number 3        Levy shows that the alleged evidence for the framers' having been influenced by an Iroquois political model is very weak.

The Federalist, especially essays 6, 20, 22 and 26        Hakim should observe that Venice and the United Provinces of the Netherlands are classified as republics, and that Britain is considered to have a republican legislative body.

Hakim's Displays of Bias

pages 9 and 10      Hakim devotes six paragraphs to presenting biblical accounts of Abraham and Moses as indisputable historical facts rather than as important religious beliefs. Instead of telling students that the ancient Hebrews claimed to have arisen from a progenitor named Abraham (and that Jews, Christians and Muslims have iterated and embellished that claim), she projects the impression that biblical stories about Abraham are comparable to the sort of evidence that we have for well documented figures, such as Benjamin Franklin. (Compare her material about Abraham, on page 9, with her account of Franklin on pages 109 through 113.)

Hakim does not, however, accord such treatment to the foundation myths of other Mediterranean peoples, such as the Egyptians or the Romans. For example, she does not even mention the tale of Romulus and Remus and their alleged founding of Rome, let alone presenting that tale as history.

On page 9 Hakim presents, as a fact, the Muslims' claim that Arabs are descendants of Abraham's son Ishmael. This claim is at least as problematic as the Romulus-and-Remus legend. Indeed, there is no evidence that the Arabs themselves ever made such a claim before the advent of Islam.

page 12      During her celebration of Moorish rule in Spain, Hakim suddenly introduces "crusaders." Without giving any background information, and without telling what "crusaders" were, she writes:

[In Europe during the Middle Ages] knights, lords and ladies lived in splendid feudal castles. And crusaders set off for Israel (called the Holy Land) in the name of religion, but managed to plunder and murder as they went.

Compare that prose with Hakim's bland, bloodless reference to the conquests that Muslims conducted during the 7th and 8th centuries:

Islam spread rapidly across Arabian lands and into North Africa and the Sudan.

While it is surely true that crusaders managed to plunder and murder as they went, it is equally true that Muslims managed to plunder and murder as they conquered North Africa and the Middle East. Hakim fails to tell that the mechanism by which "Islam spread rapidly" was religious warfare, and she unfairly suggests that the Christian civilization of medieval Europe was unusually or uniquely aggressive. It was not.

Hakim also omits these important facts: Christians revered Palestine as the place where Jesus had lived and died, and Christians had controlled Palestine before it was taken by Muslims. So Christians regarded the Crusades not as expeditions of conquest but as attempts to reverse a Muslim incursion and to return Palestine to Christian control.

The Muslim conquests of North Africa and the Middle East enjoyed no such justification or rationalization. The Muslim conquests were entirely unprovoked.

Hakim should read:

the chronicle of John of Nikiu        Written in the latter part of the 7th century, this primary source includes a description of the Muslim conquest of parts of Egypt.

The Seventh Century in the West-Syrian Chronicles, translated by Andrew Palmer, published in 1993 by Liverpool University Press

primary sources cited in Robert Hoyland's book Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, issued in 1997 by The Darwin Press (Princeton, New Jersey)

Conclusion and Complaint

Joy Hakim should not attempt to write about Western history, particularly the history of Europe, because she obviously hasn't had enough training in these subjects. It is a shame that Oxford University Press has let her get away with so many falsehoods and with such extreme exhibitions of bias.


Alice Whealey is a historian specializing in the intellectual history of Europe. Her book Josephus on Jesus: The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Late Antiquity to Modern Times was published in 2003 by Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. (New York City), as a part of that company's series Studies in Biblical Literature.


Readers who want to learn more about Joy Hakim and A History of US should consult these articles: "Textbook-Writers Promote Religious Tales as 'History' " in The Textbook Letter, Vol. 11, No. 1; "Multi-Culti Joy" in TTL, Vol. 11, No. 1; and "More Hokum from Hakim" in TTL, Vol. 11, No. 3.      Editor

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