The new Spanish Islamophobia

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The new Spanish Islamophobia

A far-right party in Spain is made progress before the national elections. Their plan? A campaign of Islamophobia. Flora Hastings writes.


Santiago Abascal, leader and presidential candidate of Spain's far-right party VOX,in Toledo, Spain, April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Strong, suntanned men ride horses through fields. A piano plays. Where are these men? The title of Vox’s political campaign tells you: ‘The Reconquista will begin in Andalusia’. The Reconquista means the winning back of what was lost in the past. Andalusia is in southern Spain.

This is part of a plan that helped the far-right party win twelve seats in Andalusia’s election in 2018. Vox is one of five big parties in Spain’s general elections. People expected it to win 29-37 per cent of the vote.

Reconquista comes from the history of the Iberian Christian conquest of Muslim Spain, which ended in 1492. Vox’s political ideas make the history clear: if elected, the party says it will stop any uncontrolled migration, stop the ‘threat’ to Spain’s national identity from the growth of Islam, end state-funded abortion, and change back gay marriage laws.

Pictures from the past

The history of past Christian-Muslim conflict forms this far-right party’s ideas. For eight hundred years, Islamic rulers, known as the Moors, governed Spain. Vox’s secretary general, Javier Ortega Smith, said in 2016 that ‘the enemy of Europe is called the Islamist invasion’.

With the end of the Reconquista in 1492, Spanish national identity began. The new Catholic kings took violent action. They only saw people who were Catholic as Spanish. And so they made the big Jewish and Muslim populations leave.

Spanish nationalism continued into the 20th century. Spain’s dictator, General Franco, gave the Catholic Church a lot of power, stopped all religions except Catholicism and strongly supported Spanish culture, for example, the Castilian language and bullfighting. Franco’s Spanish nationalism was against the nation’s former Jewish and Muslim people. Franco even put together the myth of the ‘Moorish threat’ to Spain with the ‘threat’ of Eastern European communism.

With the death of Franco in 1975, Spain stopped its authoritarian structure. But its nationalist past is still there.

Spanish way of life

Moroccans are Spain’s second largest minority. Many in Spain’s Moroccan community are related to Spain’s historic Muslim population. At a market in Cordoba Tariq, a Moroccan vendor, tells me about the strong anti-Muslim prejudice he sees in Andalusia: ‘They think in Morocco there are only camels and the desert,’ he says. Some Spanish see Morocco as a very ‘backward’ country, and some Spanish even see Moroccan immigrants to Spain since the 1970s as the danger of making Spain Islam again. There is Islamophobia in Spain and there are Spanish traditions which look back to the Christian-Muslim split. Each year on 2 January, people across Spain dress as either ‘Moros’ or ‘Christianos’ and act the last battle of the Reconquista. And we see the old stereotypes of the Moors as violent and religiously fanatic through exaggerated carnival dress.

Vox’s call for a new Reconquista sees these cultural traditions in a darker light with the idea that Muslims are against the Spanish way of life.

Reconquista is not new

The idea of the Reconquista is not new in Spanish politics. To try to find support for the Iraq War, José Aznar, Spain’s former Conservative prime minister, linked the Moors of the past to al-Qaeda. He said in 2004 that ‘the problem of Spain with al-Qaeda began with the invasion of the Moors’.

Vox is building on this idea. The party’s leader, Santiago Abascal, asked for Andalusia’s regional day to celebrate the Reconquista in 1492. At a meeting in Seville, Abascal said that he wanted the ‘Andalusia of the Catholic kings against that of Blas Infante’. Infante was a socialist writer and people saw him as the father of Andalusian nationalism. In the early 20th century, he tried to make it possible for Spain’s Jewish, Muslims, and Christians to live together.

The language used in the party’s political speeches is full of Islamophobia. Vox’s secretary general, Javier Ortega Smith, said in 2016 that ‘the enemy of Europe is called the Islamist invasion’. Santiago Abascal, Vox’s leader, said that Spain’s Muslim community will become a ‘problem’ in an interview in 2018. The party’s planned political changes include banning both Islamic education and halal food in Spanish state schools.

This is all part of a European problem. In the week after the New Zealand/Aotearoa mosque shootings on 15 March 2019, the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes across Britain increased by 593 per cent. The attackers see Muslims as jihadists and Muslim immigrants as a threat to the Western way of life.

Vox’s anti-Muslim ideas have helped win support for the party with Europe’s biggest far-right political groups. In 2017, Abascal saw a link with France’s ultra-conservative Marine Le Pen for their protection of ‘Christian Europe’. Le Pen, with the Netherland’s far-right Geert Wilders, openly supports Vox and hopes that the party will win seats in May’s European parliamentary elections. When Europe’s far-right parties work together, it makes Islamophobia in Europe a bigger danger.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)