Moors, Christians and Jews: Europe Then and Now

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 [email protected] or contact Carlos at [email protected]; 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.