Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Back to the Future with Geert Wilders

So Geert Wilders loves Muslims but hates Islam. Thus the Dutch Messiah calls on "all the Muslims in the world to leave Islam for Christianity or atheism or whatever they want," which will be "good for them and also for our free society." (Change religion, politician tells Muslims, The Age, Barney Zwartz, 19/2/13)

This indefensible, even perhaps genocidal, call is just another variation on old Europe's hatred of 'the other'.

And so reminiscent of another time.

Although most of us are blissfully unaware of it, there was once a time when converting European Muslims to Christianity was all the rage..

It began following the conquest in 1492 of the Muslim emirate of Granada, the last (but one) foothold of Muslim rule in Spain to fall to the combined forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Despite a proclamation of religious tolerance by the latter, the urge to Christianise the Granadans was too strong, with one of Wilders' 'spiritual' forbears, Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros, archbishop of Toledo, setting out in deadly earnest to do just that:

However "[h]e quickly lost patience with the slow rate of progress and began sending recalcitrant Muslims to prison, where they were treated with... 'methods that were not correct' until they agreed to convert. One of those imprisoned was a Moorish noble named Zegri Azaator, whom Cisneros entrusted to the care of a thuggish priest known as the Lion from his surname Leon. After 20 days in the harsh company of this 'lion', the humiliated and filthy nobleman was brought in chains before Cisneros and announced that Allah had commanded him in a dream to become a Christian. Cisneros immediately had Zegri washed and dressed in a scarlet robe and whisked him off to the baptismal font, where he adopted the Christian name Gonzalo Fernandez Zegri." (Blood & Faith: The Purging of Muslim Spain, Matthew Carr, 2009, p 58)

After the 300,000 Muslims of Granada had become 'New Christians', the process was extended to the rest of Spain's Muslims, now derogatively labelled Moriscos (half-Moors).

But not even more than a century of wiping Muslim Spain off the map and forcibly converting its people could assuage the genocidal tendencies of Wilders' historical soulmates. As the 16th century wore on, they contemplated even more radical measures:

The Dominican monk Jaime Bleda, for example, "forged an obsessive loathing of a Morisco population he regarded as 'flesh-eating wolves and rabid dogs' whose members were 'born with the lie in their mouths'... Bleda's hatred of the Moriscos was entirely unconstrained by any consideration of mercy or humanity. Despite his fervent support of expulsion, Bleda was always attracted by more extreme possibilities and once expressed the hope that Moriscos might become infected with plague en route to Barbary and kill more 'Saracens' after their arrival." (ibid, p 208)

Eventually, inspired by the likes of Bleda, Philip III decided to deport the Moriscos en masse, beginning with those of Valencia:

"On the morning of September 24, 1609, town criers in the city of Valencia proclaimed the decree of expulsion to a fanfare of drums, horns, and trumpets. In it Philip accused the entire Morisco population of Valencia of heresy, apostasy, and 'divine and human lese-majeste' and announced his intention to expel them to Barbary in order to ensure the 'conservation and security' of his realms. All Moriscos were given 3 days to withdraw to their houses and wait for the royal commissioners to lead them to their assigned ports of embarkation... Printed copies of the decree were circulated throughout the kingdom and promulgated in every locality, so that within a few days there were few people in Valencia who were unaware of its contents... [S]oldiers and militiamen began patrolling the main towns and cities in a show of force, and workmen began constructing gallows by the roadsides as a warning to Moriscos considering resistance. In the city of Valencia, ironsmiths, swordmakers, and powdermakers manufactured weapons and ammunition to a constant rumble of militia drums and rifle shots as soldiers practised their marksmanship." (ibid, 233-234)

The uprooting of Valencia's 124,000 Moriscos was just an opener though. Tens of thousands were removed from the rest of Spain.

By 1614 it was all over - Spain had been ethnically cleansed of its Morisco population.

A deep study of history tells us that words and ideas, especially bad ones, can have terrible consequences. Listening to the Islamophobic rants of Wilders and his ilk, spewing forth their hatred for the Muslim 'other', I frankly find myself transported back to the terrible era of the Spain of the Reconquista and the Inquisition.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmm...thinking that in Egypt the "jihad al-kufr" (Jihad against infidelity) invited Coptic priests to join Islam or be killed. And Copts are native to Egypt, not remnants of the Crusaders. BTW, "hatred of the other" is typical Jewish lingo.

MERC said...

Hmm... I wonder what conclusions may be drawn from the fact that Egypt has been Muslim since the 7th century and there are still Coptic priests around today.

And please explain WTF is "Jewish lingo"?

Anonymous said...

It goes like that: People hate the Jews not because what Jews are doing but because they are the "Other" and inferior people hate, envies and are afraid of the "Other". The Jew is "the quintessential Other" in a world that hate "Others" by pure malice. The Palestinians hate the Jews when they see how successful Jews are, how they transformed a desert into a garden... Want more?

MERC said...

Spare me. No one has a monopoly on this expression, just as no one has a monopoly on stupidity. Your 'other', for example, seems to be Muslims.

Now what about your response to the persistence of Coptic priests or even just plain Copts in a majority Muslim society for centuries? Any conclusions?