By Samir Bennis
By Samir Bennis
Morocco World News
New York, September 24, 2012
Throughout the past five centuries, Spaniards have depicted Moroccans in the worst light. In addition to depicting them as hordes of uncivilized, lascivious and unsavory people, by the mid-1800’s Spanish literature started adding a new attribute to the myriad of derogatory adjectives being used to portray their southern counterparts.
As Spanish armies were entering into collision with Moroccans starting from the War of Tetouan in 1859, Iberian literature spared no efforts in “informing” the laymen and women in the peninsula about the nature of the enemy that their country was facing in its endeavors to bring “civilization” to Moroccans.
In most books and newspapers that covered the wars that pitted Moroccan against Spaniards, the former were commonly depicted as bloodthirsty and savage. The ultimate goal of this description was to mobilize the Spanish population behind its army and provide it with the necessary support in its military campaigns against Morocco. Since then, the image of Moroccan as a bloodthirsty and savage murderer remained ingrained in the collective memory of Spaniards.
Yet it was this same manipulation of the image of Moroccans in Spain that would play an instrumental role in changing the course of Spanish history a few decades later. Indeed, Spanish military officials stationed in northern Morocco would use that same image of Moroccans in order to frighten their political adversaries and attain power.
Since the beginning of the Spain’s civil war in 1936, Franco’s acolytes insisted that the aggressiveness and bravery of Moroccan soldiers be utilized in order to advance as far as possible to the capital. But because of the Republican Army’s blockade of the waters of the Straits of Gibraltar to prevent the rebels from sending their soldiers into the Iberian Peninsula along with the aging aircraft that the franquist forces possessed, they had no choice but to resort to the help of the Germans and Italians.
Very quickly the Germans and Italians acceded to the request of Franco. They sent war planes, which bombed the republican military deployed in the waters off of Gibraltar in order to facilitate the movement of military convoys. Once the naval blockade was broke on August 5, 1936 with the assistance provided by the Germans and Italians, this allowed the rebels to carry more troops into Spain.
From that moment, and as Franco’s military forces grew stronger, the progress of their troops to the capital was made increasingly easier. This rapid progress was due to several reasons: the lack of resistance of Republican troops, which were poorly organized, the terror caused by Moroccan fighters and barbaric methods they employed to eliminate their opponents, as well as the tricks and tactics they used, which consisted of taking the enemy by surprise or pretending to surrender and then attacking them with concealed weapons.
As emphasized by the Spanish historian, María Rosa de Madariaga, Franco utilized Moroccan fighters as cannon fodder. In addition, the latter were always tasked with carrying out the deadliest operations, from which it was difficult for the soldiers to escape unscathed. Thus, most of the soldiers who lost their lives in the bloodiest battles were Moroccans.
Besides the docility and aggressiveness of Moroccan soldiers, one of the reasons that drove the Franquist to rely mainly on them, at least until 1938, was their lack of trust in the loyalty of Spanish soldiers under their command. As a result, the burden of the war was shouldered mainly by Moroccan forces, as well as some divisions from the Phalange.
Such was the determining role of Moroccan soldiers in the Spanish Civil War. They were present on all battlefronts and participated in the most decisive and deadly military campaigns. For example, they took part in the capture of Bilbao, Santander, at the Battle of Brunete, Teruel, Ebro, Aragon, Catalonia, etc.
However, one must put into perspective the role played by the Moroccan soldiers in the outcome of this war, because despite their massive presence in the conflict, their participation in most decisive battles, their discipline, their courage and loyalty to their superiors, that should not make us forget that without the German and Italian military assistance, especially with regards to air power, as well as tanks and other sophisticated military equipment, the war might have had a different outcome.
As Spanish historian Víctor Morales Lezcano puts it, “Without this combination of support from the Berlin-Rome axis, the quick decision of the rebels in the commands of Morocco would have been worth very little. Nor would the shrewd indigenous policy of Franco with first caids, young nationalists and the starving and seasoned rifeños throughout the duration of the Civil War have led to any significant result.”
Recognizing the importance of Moroccan troops, Franco adopted an intelligent and “benevolent” attitude towards them. Indeed, to satisfy the Moroccan soldiers he set up in the four corners of the peninsula huge compounds that were exclusively reserved for them. These compounds included hospitals with prayer rooms and religious personnel, Islamic cemeteries in most cities, stewardship services respecting the Muslim diet, interpreters, Muslim notaries and imams responsible for leading the prayers, etc.
Moreover, in order not to offend the sensibilities of Moroccans and show them the “respect” he had towards the precepts of Islam, the rebels’ leader gave orders that Moroccan soldiers could freely observe fasting during the month of Ramadan and celebrate the two major Muslim religious holidays, that is to say, the holiday of breaking the fast, which marks the end of Ramadan and the feast of sacrifice.
However, this strategy hit the religious sensibilities of many of his companions, who did not share the same tact as him and whose religious fervor led them to proselytize among Moroccans. This attitude, which was quite contrary to the political tactics adopted by Franco, was at the origin of some disagreements between him and various military officials headed by General Moscardó, who felt invested with the duty to convert Moroccans to Christianity.
 MORALES LEZCANO, Víctor, España y el norte de Africa, El Protectorado en Marruecos, 1912-56, Madrid, Universidad nacional de Educación a distancia, Madrid, 1986.
 María Rosa de Madariaga, Los Moros que trajo Franco, la intervención de la tropas coloniales en la guerra civil española, Bercelona, Martínez Roca, 2002.
 Maria Rosa de Madariaga, « Imagen del moro en la memoria colectiva del pueblo español », Historia 16, novembre 2002, p. 34.
 Víctor Morales Lezcano, op. cit
 Maria Rosa ded Madariaga, op. cit
To be continued…
Samir Bennis is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News
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