By Samir Bennis
By Samir Bennis
Morocco World News
New York, April 9, 2012
For over five centuries, the main characteristic of relations between Morocco and Spain has been expressed by the fluctuations and recurring tensions that make these two countries close neighbors and potential adversaries at the same time. Often considered from a perspective of confrontation and rivalry, rather than from a perspective of understanding and respect between peoples of both shores of the Mediterranean, this relationship is the result of a long process that saw Spaniards attempt to distance themselves from their Arab-Muslim legacy and minimize the impact of the Arab-Muslim presence on the fate of their country.
Being the closest representative of this civilization held in contempt, especially from the late fifteenth century, but also the country that helped prolong the Muslim presence in Spain until that date, Morocco would be the target of all the propaganda of defamation carried out by the Spanish clergy and a great number of chroniclers. It would also be one of the main objectives in the territorial expansion of Spain in North Africa. This expansion was initially very much motivated by the imperatives of security (protection of the Peninsula from a possible return of “infidel” Muslims) than by economic or political ambitions.
These two factors, namely the denial of the Arab-Muslim legacy and territorial intervention of Spain in northern Morocco since 1497, the date of the occupation of Melilla, were determining in defining the nature of relationships that were going to prevail between the two countries up until today. They were also determining in the gradual emergence of a dark and negative image of Moroccans, especially if one considers the fact that the Spanish presence on the borders of Morocco resulted in several military confrontations, which further darkened the image of Moroccans among the northern neighbors.
Since the end of the Reconquest of Spain and its subsequent religious, ethnic and political unification, Spanish generations were brought up with the belief that the entire period of the Muslim presence in Spain was marked by a perpetual struggle between Christianity and Islam. Thus, the Spanish national identity was forged on the belief that the Muslim presence in Spain did more harm than good and that the economic backwardness of Spain as opposed to other Western countries was due to the this presence.
Disregarding all types of exchange that existed between Muslims, Jews and Christians for eight centuries, all cultural interactions that existed between these two communities, all mixtures of population, all political alliances that were built between Muslim and Christian kings, these eight centuries of more or less peaceful coexistence are presented as a long crusade of Christians against Muslims.
During the first few decades that followed the official demise of Muslim rule in Spain, the prevalence of anti-Muslim sentiment among Spaniards was directed against the Moors, as the last representatives of Islam in Spain. This hostility was reflected even in literary texts. During the five centuries following the expulsion of the last redoubt of Islam in the Iberian Peninsula, the Moro theme became an inspiration for poets, writers, painters and playwrights. In most works on this subject, Spanish authors revealed all the hatred and resentment that their collective memory had internalized against Muslims. As the famous Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo said in many of his books, the image forged about Muslims ever since, which has lasted for centuries and survived the test of time, could not be more negative.
For over five centuries, the Reconquest of Spain and the inglorious episode that followed it, namely the Inquisition and the expulsion of the Moors, consolidated in the Spaniards, if not the will to clear the map of their country all things that could have a relationship to the Muslim civilization, at least an exorcism from their collective memory of a long Muslim presence.
The purpose of this process was to try to avoid, while building their national history, any reference to a despicable culture and a civilization that, nonetheless, left a priceless legacy. Since the notorious expulsion of the last Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula, the bulk of Spaniards have shown an unrelenting tendency to reject any attempt to link their country’s history to the Muslim civilization.
This was exacerbated even more from the mid-nineteenth century onward, as Spain was confronted militarily on its southern borders to Morocco. Such behavior is reflected today, in particular after a democratic transition that has brought Spain and consolidated its status within the developed Western world by the efforts of a large part of the Spanish population to claim its exclusive kinship with the West and so-called Judeo-Christian civilization while distancing itself from Arab and Muslims, in general, and Moroccans, in particular.
This willingness of Spain to downplay its Arab-Muslim past and assert its exclusive belonging to Western civilization is the result of two factors: one is endogenous and the other is exogenous. Regarding the endogenous factor, it is related to the Spanish tradition, which began with the arrival of Muslims in Spain. This tradition consists in the consistent efforts made by policy makers, intellectuals and Spanish theologians to denigrate Muslims and portray them as irreconcilable enemies of Spain. Since that date (the arrival of Muslims in Spain) until today, this tradition of Spain was further consolidated throughout the conflict which pitted it against the Muslim, be they Turkish, Moroccan or Moorish.
As for the exogenous factor, it responds to the Spaniards’ inferiority complex they had historically with their European neighbors. The latter had, for centuries, believed that Africa began at the Spanish Pyrenees and attributed to Spaniards the same flaws that the Spanish have always attributed to the Moroccans. Thus, while having affinities with the Moroccans and feeling close to them, Spaniards never hesitate to reject them and portray them in the same dark and disparaging way in which they have been themselves portrayed by their northern Europeans neighbors.
To Be Continued…
Samir Bennis is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News
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