Moors, Christians and Jews: Europe Then and Now

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The
hilltop citadel is well back — a mile or so, and a few hundred feet
up — from the beach, making an amphibious assault an all-but-essential
prerequisite to a siege. The Islamic troops were well aware of this:
the coast is studded with watchtowers. When the Christian troops
hit the beach, the defenders were waiting. The first exchange of
shots made me remember just how loud gunfire is at close quarters.

There
was a lot of screaming, of course, screaming and cursing, the opponent-demonizing-name-calling
that is a battlefield standby: "Infidel!"; "Moor!";
"Son-of-a-…!" A Christian soldier stumbling ashore went
down. It didn't surprise me, really. He'd been drinking one beer
after another and when he'd taken that first shot of tequila…

One
of the Aljama (the Friday mosque) Brigade troops broke into
a run as he came down from the dunes on to the wet sand of the beach.
Right arm upraised, waving his scimitar, he ignored the deafening
shots fired by the Christian invaders. "Viva Allah!" he
screamed.

Brow
furrowed, I paused. Wait a minute, I said to myself, that has a
familiar ring. Staten Island Ferry, some crazy guy, a Cuban maybe,
waving… a scimitar! Killed somebody with it, maybe. Cops shot him.
Déja vu. Meanwhile…

My
role as embedded battlefield reporter was unplanned. I'd been swept
up by events. I hadn't even been aware the invasion was planned
for that afternoon. I'd been having a siesta after eating two portions
of the giant paella that had been served in the square when I was
awakened and told it was time to hit the beach: a couple of musketeers
were too drunk to drive down to the launching area, so they'd press-ganged
me.

It
soon became clear that nearly all the fighters, Moros and
Cristianos alike, had been hitting the brewskis pretty hard
ever since paella time, so the battle lasted for only as long as
it took the musketeers to run out of black powder or fall into the
Med and get it too wet to fire. Besides, there was still the parade
to the crossroads before heading back up the hill to the village
and the second all-night-long party. All the yelling, shooting and
sword-waving was getting old fast. Cease-fire time.

Would
that the present Islamo-Christian clash of civilizations could be
resolved so quickly, cleanly and harmlessly. Then again, the battle
being commemorated on a Spanish Sunday in June, 2003 (by the Christian
calendar, 1424 by the Muslim), was one of the last in a 781-year
version of that clash. Seven hundred eighty one years?

Gives
one pause, doesn't it?

It
should.

Thirty
years ago, I stepped off a bus and looked up at a white, wedding-cake-style
pueblo perched on a hilltop, not knowing as I flicked sweat from
my forehead that I was looking at the village in which thirty years
hence I would have more friends and acquaintances than in any other
single place on earth, friends and acquaintances of every race,
religion, nationality, gender, sexual preference, marital status,
political thought… All one, big happy family in a tiny town far
from the madding crowd.

Come
to think of it, I didn't know much else about the future: mine or
anyone's.

I
wonder how many of the seven thousand Moors who in AD 711 stepped
off the boat at the big rock that would later be named for their
leader (Tarik, he was: Jebl al Tarik; Gibraltar) had any idea that
nearly eight centuries were to pass before the feuding Christians
who'd invited them would reclaim sovereignty over the entire Iberian
peninsula? Could even one of them have imagined that nearly 1300
years later, one of the last of Spain's Moorish towns would be holding
a three day costume party in memory of the clash of civilizations
and Spain's "liberation," while across the Med, the old
Abbasid Dynasty capital Baghdad would be occupied by co-religionists
of the contentious and greedy Goths?

The
early Eighth Century was the Muslim Moment, so to speak, a time
during which the notion of the eventual collapse of this dynamic
culture and civilization would have been laughed off as defeatist
and pessimistic by the boosters of never-ending expansion, the absolute
assurance of their own culture's superiority and, well — why be
humble? — , the End of History. He who laughs last, of course…

The
Iberian peninsula saw its last Muslim kingdom disappear on Jan 1,
1492, when the "Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabella entered
Granada and began the unification of what was to become Spain under
the crown of Castile. The Muslims who remained were later to be
expelled along with the Jews, given that both groups were perceived
— whether correctly or incorrectly — to be aliens whose presence
was harmful to the homogeneity of the Euro-Christian society.

The
Muslims largely vanished from all of post-Fifteenth-Century Western
Europe, while the Jews remained, albeit in always precarious circumstances
which culminated in non-Russian Western Europe's single greatest
atrocity: the attempt by the Nazis to exterminate all Jews still
living in Europe. The Moors and Arabs had their own nations to which
they could return (though these were later to be incorporated into
European and now American colonial empires), but the Jews were stateless
until the creation of Israel after the horrors perpetrated against
them.

As
it happens, there are two conferences underway in Europe which are
related to European heritage and to the presence of the Jews: the
EU constitution-approval meeting in Greece and a conference hosted
by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that
deals with combating anti-Semitism. OSCE is "the largest regional
security organization in the world with 55 participating states
from Europe, Central Asia [!] and North America" according
to the organization's homepage.
Not exactly "European," then, but what's in a name?

According
to a 14 June, 2003, op-ed piece in The New York Times by
Newsweek Magazine religious editor Kenneth L. Woodward, "[t]he
most agitated debate at the convention that produced the draft [of
the proposed EU constitution] focused on the preamble, specifically
whether God in general, and Christianity in particular, ought to
be mentioned among the sources of u2018values' that produced a common
European culture and heritage."

Mr.
Woodward makes his opinion clear: "As an American, I shouldn't
much care what the bureaucrats in Brussels write in their preamble.
But it should matter to Europeans — and to anyone anywhere who cares
about history — because the eliding of the Christian foundations
of Western culture is morally and intellectually dishonest."

He
also points out that "[o]pponents have argued that a reference
to God belies the constitution's secular purpose, and that a specific
reference to Christianity would alienate Western Europe's 15 million
Muslim immigrants — not to mention Muslim Turkey, which is eager
to join in the union's eastward expansion."

Mr.
Woodward's first point is well taken, particularly because the EU
constitution, unlike that of the United States, is not yet
law and can therefore contain what the separate member states making
up the union decide it will contain, whether or not the secularists
approve. Europe has the right to define its cultural heritage as
Christian, just as Muslim states describe themselves as Muslim and
Israel describes itself as Jewish. European history demands no less,
as Mr. Woodward correctly points out. Doing so does not imply hostility
toward ethnic groups of non-European origin; it merely states the
historically obvious and leaves to the members of the other groups
the decision as to whether or not they wish to live as members of
a minority in one culture rather than as members of a majority in
their own.

It
is difficult to imagine that Europeans or persons of principally
European ancestry would expect either Muslims or Jews to deny their
own historical heritage in their own societies, and there is no
reason to insist that the only truly just society is a secular society
that renounces its cultural heritage.

"Anti-Semitism
is the Western world's oldest and most persistent species of hatred,"
Rudy Giuliani reminds us in a June 18, 2003, op ed piece — "How
Europe Can Stop the Hate" — in The New York Times. "Semitic"
means here only the Jewish branch of the Semitic people, not the
Arabs. Mr. Giuliani, perhaps not the role model for tolerance all
might wish, is heading up the US delegation to a conference on combating
anti-Semitism that "represents a critical first step for Europeans…."
Mr. Giuliani cites the US as a model for the steps necessary to
deal with the problem of hate: "track hate crimes and recognize
them as distinct from other acts of murder, assault or vandalism"
using national data collection; analysis of and reaction to crime
data on a regular basis," citing New York City's weekly accountability
meetings for police officials; and, of course, "pass hate crimes
legislation to stiffen penalties for offenses in recognition to
the special threat they represent to a society's stability."

And
that's just for starters. The benighted Europeans need to learn
that "[t]he values of tolerance and respect must be backed
by more than good intentions and declarations of virtue." After
all, "[t]here are larger and more widespread minority groups
than Jews — at 13 million they comprise about 0.2 percent of the
world's population…," and while Mr. Giuliani doesn't mention
other groups by name, it is probably because the conference called
at taxpayer expense is dedicated to one group only: the fifteen
million Muslims in Europe will have to wait their turn, assuming
they may themselves become the target of hatred, an unlikely event
with Mr. Giuliani defending them as he did after the September 11,
2001, attacks: "Immediately after those assaults, I made it
clear that the city would not tolerate the blaming of groups for
the terrorists' actions: u2018Nobody should attack anybody else'."

Nobody
should attack anybody else?

Quite.
There's no arguing with that one.

But,
as President Bush might point out, that fine sounding doctrine depends
upon the circumstances. And the circumstances depend upon… well,
whatever.

Perhaps
Mr. Bush will next send Mr. Giuliani to the Mideast to instruct
the folks there as he did the citizens of New York: "Nobody
should attack anybody else."

Terrorists
excepted, of course: attack them preemptively along with any regimes
that might be harboring them or aiding them or be thinking bad thoughts!
If there's collateral damage, well, that's because the civilian
population didn't root those terrorists out, didn't pass enough
hate crime laws, didn't have enough accountability sessions to make
it clear to them that any resentments they might harbor owing to
what they might have perceived as an attack on their culture cannot
possibly be tolerated by right-thinking cultures, whose moral obligation
is to instruct them in right thinking and, presumably, to punish
them if they remain obdurate.

Mr.
Giuliani's list of specific measures to be adopted by Europeans
"will be effective, of course, only if the OSCE countries make
broader efforts to address the roots of anti-Semitism. Making sure
their citizens have an honest understanding of the Holocaust is
vital, as revisionist viewpoints put us [sic] at risk of a repetition
of race-based genocide. Schools must [sic] look at how they educate
children regarding tolerance and fairness. Universities, public
officials, advertisers [!] and the news media should publicize the
tremendous contributions that Jews have made to European societies
through the years."

Odd
that Mr. Giuliani leaves out parents and churches as possible "tolerance
educators," but then again, perhaps not, considering what can
only be described as a totalitarian approach to tolerance: advertisers?
Advertisers!

"European
governments are working to regenerate the communities [Jewish communities]
that played an integral role in the fabric of nations for hundreds
[more than a thousand, actually] of years. Seventy years after the
Holocaust, more Jews are settling in Germany than in any other country
(including Israel), increasing that country's Jewish population
from 33,000 in 1990 to about 200,000 today."

Mr.
Giuliani might ask himself whether Jewish immigrants would think
twice about choosing to live in a non-Jewish culture in which there
are dangers of resurgent anti-Semitism rather than in the Jewish
state. Perhaps these immigrants have decided that they identify
more closely with historically Christian European culture and its
tremendous accomplishments and are unafraid and unashamed to
assimilate into it while maintaining the religious freedom European
nations are prepared to guarantee with or without the self-righteous
meddling of former mayor Giuliani. There must be sound reasons why
these Jewish immigrants have chosen not to immigrate to Israel,
but one concludes that Mr. Giuliani has chosen not to try to learn
what these reasons may be, seeing as he offers none in his article.

Anti-Semitism
when the Semites are Muslims is another matter, a matter which neither
Mr. Giuliani nor the conference members choose to address. Anti-Muslim
sentiment has been addressed by controversial Italian journalist
Oriana Fallaci, a resident of Mr. Giuliani's New York, where in
his words (along with "the United States in general"),
"we pray with many voices — in churches, in synagogues, and
in mosques — and we see that diversity of faith as one of our most
important assets."

Ms
Fallaci's recent book The
Rage and the Pride
makes an unabashed attack on Islamic
culture, the religion itself and its manifestations in her native
Europe. Many have condemned (at least publicly) the book as bigoted
and the excerpt I read shortly after the Twin Towers attack certainly
gave evidence of bias, but I've often wondered how many people praise
its virulence in the privacy of their thoughts, particularly those
who have grown tired of apologizing for the once unquestioned right
to praise their own culture, civilization, religion or even social
mores. Multiculturalism may be attractive to some, but not necessarily
to all; the difference is that those to whom it is not are no longer
permitted to say so in polite society. Ms Fallaci, to whom multiculturalism
as concerns Muslims is clearly not attractive, had no qualms about
stating her beliefs, and aside from politically correct disclaimers
in the press, I know of no effort to "re-educate" Ms Fallaci,
nor to attempt to launch a campaign to induce European "universities,
public officials, advertisers and the news media," not to mention
the schools, to "publicize the tremendous contributions"
Muslims have made to European societies "through the years."

I
doubt any of that is necessary, certainly not in Spain. Reminders
of the Muslim contributions are to be found in every corner of nearly
every city and I know no Spaniard who would deny it, "Moros
y Cristianos" mock battles notwithstanding. Yes, there
is friction between today's "Moors and Christians" in
Spain, just as there is in other European nations, just as there
is in any nation when a cultural majority rightly or wrongly believes
its core values are under siege. But this friction cannot be legislated
away, just as friendships cannot be imposed by law.

Governments
can "impose" tolerance, but it is not something that can
be "taught," as it springs from the human heart and only
the human heart, where no legislation, advertising or propaganda
— public or private — can penetrate. True tolerance is a virtue,
not an attitude. It could even be called a grace, as it comes from
within, or, some might say, from God. But from elsewhere…? Never.

Neither
can God be legislated into or out of existence: God too is known
in the human heart, even if we believe God's works can be seen
around us. God will exist for believers whether or not the word
"God" is in a constitution, printed on money, or spoken
in a pledge of allegiance.

Europe's
Christian cultural heritage, however, is an historical fact,
and if Europeans are to be "educated" about the need to
recognize the contributions of non-Christian peoples and cultures,
then they should insist on their constitution acknowledging the
reality of their own history. Stating the obvious — that Europe's
cultural heritage is predominantly and overwhelmingly Christian
— is in no way "insulting" to persons of non-European
communities nor to Europeans who are not practicing Christians.
No matter how much the "one-worlders" might wish it, it
is highly doubtful that the European Union will result in the eradication
of its member states' national languages, mores or traditions, even
if it has done away with their individual currencies, at least for
the present. Indeed, an attempt by the international bureaucrats
to homogenize Europe might result in the dissolution of the Union.
Why, then, attempt to deny mention of one of the principle unifying
factors in European history? To do so would be to threaten those
who wish their identity preserved and if anything make them more
fearful and perhaps resentful of the non-European and non-Christian
communities living among them.

An
essential reality of political correctness is that it is divorced
from frail human reality. Mojácar's Moros y Cristianos
(neither capitalized in Spanish, incidentally) festival is politically
incorrect, but no one I know there wishes to see it done away with,
nor does anyone feel offended: it's a party, not a preemptive strike
that kills civilians and creates chaos in the name of nation building
designed to destroy a culture.

Given
his priggish posture on just about everything save marriage, I imagine
that Mr. Giuliani won't honor Mojácar with his pontificating
presence at next year's Moros y Cristianos festival. I wish
I could say we'll miss him. Everyone's welcome, after all, just
as they have been in the thirty years I've known the village: Barry
and Liliana, self-exiled, Marxist, Argentine Jews; Fumin and Farsin,
brothers from Iran; Consuelo and Nancy (?!), Amerinds from South
America; Gee the Chinese chef; Timi the Thai, manager of an Italian
espresso bar; black Jamie from I forget where; Ben from Trinidad;
the new guys who opened the Indian tandoori place down on the beach
near the Irish Rover bar and the Indonesian… Needless to say, it's
hard to think of a European nation without representation. Even
the USA has its people in Mojácar; a local legend has it
that Walt Disney was born there, and if you'd like more information
on it, why just write to tito@elbeachbar.com
or contact Carlos at hotel@mamabels.com;
they'll be happy to fill you in.

No
one in Mojácar needs Rudy Giuliani to tell him or her how
to think, thanks all the same. No one in Europe does either.

No
one anywhere needs more commissions.

Live
and let live is all we need to know.

And
all we need — Moor, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Sikh… — is
love, ta-ta-tata-ta.

June
23, 2003

Timothy J. Cullen (send
him mail
), a former equities trader, lives in Seville,
Spain.


     

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