Throughout history, relations between Morocco and Spain have always been marked by tensions, conflicts, and wars.
New York – The same dynamic governed Morocco-Spain relations since the end of the Arab-Muslim presence in Spain, through the War of Tetouan in 1859, and then throughout the 20th century.
Given the nature of political, cultural, and economic relations between the two neighboring countries which reveal a lack of understanding and mutual respect, both countries must promote a new approach towards one another. They must give new impetus to bilateral relations and implement measures to achieve sustainable improvement in their relations.
They should also seek to settle the disputes at the heart of the bilateral tension, as was the case during Jose Maria Aznar’s second mandate.
With their shared history and geographic proximity, the two peoples should promote dialogue to safeguard welfare in the Mediterranean and establish a trusting atmosphere.
That said, we must not forget that the mistrust and misunderstanding between Moroccans and Spaniards have historical roots in the image that each people has forged of the other.
On the Spanish side, the collective consciousness built a negative image of Moroccans for over five centuries, mainly conditioned by the political, ideological, and religious confrontations between Spain and Morocco since the fall of Granada in 1492.
From that date, we witnessed the reconstruction of the identity and history of Spain. Indeed, having just ended Muslim domination, Spanish society began to minimize, if not to deny, the Muslim influence on Spanish history, its identity, and its personality.
Guided by the desire to separate themselves from their Muslim past that made them different from the rest of Christian Europe, the Spaniards of the late 1400s banished anything that conjured up a relationship with Arab civilization.
The first step towards achieving this goal abolished the Arabic language from the Spanish public space. Accordingly, Spaniards built their identity around denying what happened before the Reconquista and hostility vis-a-vis the “infidel” Muslim.
Because of its geographic proximity and belonging to the Muslim civilization, Morocco suffered the brunt of the attacks and criticisms of chroniclers, theologians, and Spanish travelers, who used religious and cultural arguments to assert their supposed superiority over Moroccans.
It was from this time that a negative image of Moroccans took hold in Spain. Because of their religious and cultural differences from their neighbors across the Mediterranean, Moroccans became a kind of repellent example for Spaniards.
This negative image of Moroccans in Spain resurfaced whenever the Spaniards were at war with Morocco. The successive wars between Morocco and Spain, especially since 1859, have in fact confirmed among Spaniards the image of Moroccans as “bloodthirsty savages.”
Nineteenth-century Spanish-Arabism played a significant role in updating a caricatured and demeaning image of Morocco and Moroccans. The representatives of the movement also embodied the difficulty of Spaniards to stop viewing the arrival of Arab-Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula as an accident of history that deviated from the “normal” historical trajectory of their country and integrate the Arab-Muslim component into its identity and historical personality.
One might argue that relations between Morocco and Spain could have been less turbulent if this misperception between the peoples had not been accompanied by a series of disputes that are the legacy of this tormented historic relationship. Added to the prejudices on one side and the “other” being across the Mediterranean, the disputes have remained major obstacles to better understanding.
Relations between Morocco and Spain continue to be conditioned by the prominence of issues such as migration, fishing, Western Sahara, drug trafficking, and the question of Ceuta and Melilla. A simple overview of relations between the two countries since 1956 shows how these conflicts have deepened the misunderstanding between Moroccans and Spaniards and prevented Hispano-Moroccan relations from developing for the good of the two peoples.
The persistence of such disputes and the absence among Spanish and Moroccan officials of a genuine desire to seek equitable solutions and to focus their energies on converging strategic interests casts uncertainty on bilateral relations.
Even if there are in Spain a group of intellectuals and politicians who advocate for genuine rapprochement with Morocco, there are some who see such relationships antagonistically and regard their neighbor across the sea as an enemy to the interests and safety of Spain.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News.