Throughout history, the Spaniards have been harboring an aversion towards the Moroccans, which has gradually gained more steam since the Franco era.
New York – The late 1970s only facilitated this catalyst as the country joined the club of rich and developed Western countries, further widening the cultural divide.
First is the abrupt transformation of Spain into a destination for immigration without the Spanish society being adequately prepared for such socio-economic changes, and the subsequent increasingly visible presence of Moroccan immigrants in major cities in Spain. This exposure causes some discomfort in a Spanish population that is ill-prepared to welcome in its midst aliens with a different culture and religion.
Second is the increase of illegal migration flows from Morocco and the the perceived link between immigration, rising unemployment and insecurity, created for political and electoral reasons, a theme which Spanish media tap into in order to create more sensations and increase their audience.
Third is the frictions that occur quite often between Morocco and Spain regarding certain economic and territorial disputes, such as fisheries, immigration, Sebta and Melillia and the Sahara. Finally is the heinous attacks of March 11, 2004, in which Moroccans were involved, and which, against all odds, caused the fall of the Spanish right-wing el Partido Popular.
Adding to the already gloomy image that Spaniards have transmitted from generation to generation of Moroccans, all these factors combined caused large sectors of the Spanish society to view with suspicion the prolonged settlement of Moroccan immigrants in Spain, causing them to be the first group towards which many Spaniards express rejection and distrust.
Textbooks Deepen Morocco Spanish rift
This rejection is well manifested in Spanish textbooks, which reflect all that the Spanish collective memory has accumulated towards Moroccans. As stressed by Maria Rosa de Madariaga in her study of the image of Moroccans in Spanish textbooks between 1938 and 1990, that image could not be more derogatory.
We could better explain this attitude of the Spaniards if we consider, for example, that until the late sixties, textbooks published during the Franco regime contained outright anti-Muslim statements, such as “the false prophet Mohammed,” and “his false doctrine,” etc.
Expressions of this caliber reflect what Franco’s school system was disseminating about the “ancient enemies” of Spain. They also show the gap that existed between the alleged policy of rapprochement with the Arabs led by the Caudillo, the grandiloquent speeches pronounced by Spanish officials to highlight the “brotherhood and friendship” between Spanish and Arab peoples, and the discourse of hatred and hostility that the franquiste ideologues were spreading about the Arab-Muslims in Spain’s school system.
In this regard, it is worth noting the difference between textbooks published before and after the Franco regime in regard to its treatment of Moroccans. Textbooks designed during the Franco era helped to feed the hostility of the Spaniards against the Moroccans and their religion.
According to de Madariaga, who is one of the most prolific authors on this issue, instead of promoting the knowledge of the Muslim civilization by the Spaniards born between the thirties and early sixties, the textbooks of this period have helped to cultivate the ancestral prejudices that they have accumulated against Arabs and Muslims. For their part, the textbooks that were designed after the advent of democracy consolidate the tendency among Spaniards to ignore Moroccans.
Furthermore, Gema Martín Muñoz’s collective book El Islam y el mundo árabe, Guía para didáctica profesores formadores, concludes that in all levels of Spanish pre-university education, the texts destined for the education of younger generations were filled with prejudices, clichés, errors and omissions in relation to the perception of Arabs and Muslims in Spain.
Among the causes of stereotypes and myths that Spaniards maintain about Arabs and Muslims, is the former’s tendency to perceive the latter’s culture through a Western prism, which holds Western values as the sole valid reference and contrasts these values with all that is perceived as different, “exotic”, “problematic”, “archaic” or “medieval” in Islam.
On the other hand, in addition to remaining true to the Manichean and dichotomist vision inherited from their ancestors, Spaniards generally believe that Islam is not likely to promote democracy, pluralism, freedom and development of society. They believe that it “encourages submission, it stifles the freedoms of individuals, while its rigorous foundations favor the creation of a patriarchal archaic and sexist social order, and erect much barriers to the entrepreneurial spirit of people, away from taboos or restrictions.”
This way of analyzing Islam and Muslim societies, often fueled and maintained by means of mass communication, pushes Spaniards to perceive Muslims as potential rivals and opponents of Western culture and civilization and sees in their religiosity – however superficial it may be – an expression of fundamentalism and fanaticism whose aim would be to undermine their country’s interests and, by extension, those of other Western countries.
The fear of the danger that could come from the South has been growing especially with the debate, which has been fueled in recent years by Spanish media, on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and its impact on Spain. The supposed threat posed by these Islamist movements throughout the Western world only fuels the fantasies and fears of the Spaniards, especially after the heinous attacks perpetrated in March 2004 in Madrid.
Despite the valuable work done since the early nineties by a large segment of Spanish Arabists who are trying to bring Morocco and Spain and their civil society together and usher in a new era of understanding between the peoples of both sides of the Mediterranean, this tragic event in which Moroccans were involved unfortunately further deteriorated their image in Spain and reinforced Spaniards’s perception that the only threat that could destabilize their country is one that comes from the southern Mediterranean.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News. You can follow him on twitter