Expulsion of Moors from Spain: A Forgotten Human Tragedy

Samir Bennis
Samir Bennis is a political analyst. He received a Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Provence in France. He also holds a Master’s degree in political science from the University of Toulouse I, a Master’s degree in Iberian studies ...
Expulsion of Moors from Spain: A Forgotten Human Tragedy

Fez- The study of the historical period that begins with the crucial date of 1492 is key to understanding the evolution of cultural, political and ideological Spain with its closest Muslim neighbors and those who are more geographically distant.

It is also important to try to highlight the historical reasons that prevent a real cultural rapprochement and understanding among the people of both shores of the Mediterranean. This helps to understand the reason that prevent the establishment of solid foundations for a bilateral relationship between Morocco and Spain, based on mutual respect, the right to difference and the banishment of any tendency to polemic, demonization and vilification.

There is no doubt that the deep cultural divide between the two neighboring peoples of the Mediterranean has its roots in more than 12 centuries of history. This period is portrayed in Spanish collective memory as being marked in general – except in times of peace – by a merciless confrontation between the advocates of each religion. This cultural and ideological confrontation reached its climax with the fall of Granada and the completion of the Reconquista on January 2, 1492.

The Reconquista, which Spanish historiography tends to present as the result of eight centuries of struggle against the “infidel” Muslim, is also the starting point of a long and uninterrupted process during which all components of Spanish society began the work of exorcism, purification and latinization of their history and their national identity.

This reconstruction of the Spanish identity was marked by the endless effort that Spaniards have made to minimize, if not deny the Arab-Muslim dimension in their history and their cultural identity and do away with all that could bear any relation with Muslims and Islam.

This process of Spain’s denial from its Arab-Islamic past, which begins with the fall of Granada in 1492, is the starting point for the unification of Spain and its religious, cultural and ethnic uniformity.

This uniformity dictated from all directions by the Spanish crown, led in an iron-fisted way by its political and religious leaders, took the form of ethnocide. Conducted on behalf of the “purification” and “decontamination” of Spanish identity, this standardization came at the expense of an entire population, considered from the early 16th century as a nation culturally, ethnically and religiously different and not capable of being assimilated and, therefore, dangerous for the unity, stability and peace of the nascent country.

This minority’s sole fault was to practice a religion other than that of the majority of its fellow citizens, possess a different culture and collective memory and, most importantly, to be the representative of an abhorred civilization, which, for eight centuries, had ruled over the ancestors of the new masters of the Iberian Peninsula.

As we shall see in this series of articles, this “hunt for Moors,” shows the intolerance of the Spaniards at the time, their religious fervor, and their intransigence towards their fellow second-tier citizens, but also there will to definitively turn a “dark” page in their history during which the Muslim element played a leading role. This persecution of the Moors was effected through an institution set up before the end of the process of unification of Spain in 1492, namely the Inquisition.

This institution, which became “national” from 1481 onward, was a major factor in the success of the ethnic cleansing and religious unification policy pursued by the young Spanish state after the fall of the last Muslim kingdom.

The beginning of the definitive end of Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula led to a flurry of speeches and treaties whose common claim consisted of highlighting exclusively the European identity of Spain.

This process also became the beginning of a continuous campaign of vilification conducted against the “infidel” Muslims.

That final expulsion of this ethnic-religious minority is proof of the narrowness of the Spanish senior clerics and politicians. Claiming to be the heirs of the Visigothic kingdom killed by the arrival of the “infidel” Muslims in 711, they sought, through ethnic cleansing, to achieve racial cultural and religious purity, “broken and contaminated” by the presence of the Muslim.

To this policy adopted by the Spanish clergy, another historic event came to confirm both the difficulty for Spain to assume the Arab-Muslim dimension of its history and identity, and the lack of consideration that the majority of Spaniards show towards the Moors and Muslims in general.

This event took place in 1992 during the celebration of the fifth centennial of the discovery of the New World, which coincided with the fifth centennial of the fall of the last Muslim kingdom and the subsequent expulsion of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492.

As pointed out respectively by Rodrigo de Zayas in his book Les Morisques et le racisme d’Etat, (The Moriscos and State Racism), and Juan Goytisolo in his article “Legado Andalusí, una perspectiva occident,” (Andalusian inheritance: A Western perspective), Spanish officials highlighted the contribution of Jews to the construction of Spanish identity, and in the splendor of its cultural heritage, but failed to mention the role played by Muslims. Thus, King Juan Carlos expressed his compassion for the unfortunate fate of the Sephardim who were forced to leave their homeland, asking for forgiveness from their descendants.

To be continued…

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