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SPAIN: The clash of Christianity and Islam

WAIS has a special interest in religion because it is in itself of supreme importance and because it is a source of global conflict. For this reason the first day of the 2001 WAIS conference on globalization was devoted to religion, with Scotty McLennan as moderator. Our attention was therefore caught by a paper issued by the Foreign Policy Research Institute entitled "Globalization and the Transformation of Christianity". The author is Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Penn State University. His recent books include Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way (Oxford, 2001) and Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History (Oxford, 2000).

The theme of the paper is the worldwide clash between Christianity and Islam, and it brings up the issue of Muslims in Europe. Some WAISers were astonished when I condemned Salman Rushdie because I realized his "Satanic Verses" was like the traditional red flag waved before a bull. Philip Jenkins says: "Muslim North Africans make up a large proportion of the underclass youth in France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Some protesters carried banners with the slogan "Islam -- our religion today, your religion tomorrow." The Rushdie affair marked a whole new stage of Muslim political organization and radicalization, and its echoes continue across Europe. In 2000, protests by local Muslim groups forced a Dutch theater to withdraw an opera about Aisha, wife of the Prophet Muhammad." We could add that a performance of Voltaire's 1741 play "Mohammed, or fanaticism" was cancelled a few years ago because of Islamic protests.

The case of Italy is interesting. I have frequently called attention the the fact that Dante's "Divine Comedy" is profoundly anti-Islam. Philip Jenkins says: " Recently, Italy's Muslims have been galvanized by protest over a fifteenth-century fresco of the "Last Judgment" in Bologna Cathedral. The artwork in question is clearly offensive to Muslims, since it depicts Muhammad being thrown into Hell, naked, with a snake wrapped around his body, and attended by a demon: protesters described the piece as even more offensive than the "Satanic Verses." At the same time, Italian Christians resent calls to destroy what is undoubtedly one of the city's greatest treasures. "

To Philip Jenkins' account we should add the special case of Spain. which is where the great contest between Christianity and Islam was fought. The Muslims were longer in Spain than they have been out. The Muslims were the Moors, i.e. the people of Morocco, a country about which we hear little in the US media. it is separated from Spain by the narrow Strait of Gibraltar, which illegal immigrants cross every day and night. Spain is the passageway by which Moroccans and others cross into Europe or back to Africa. A French citizen of Moroccan origin is on trial in the US, accused of being involved in the September 11 act of terrorism. Thousands of people, cars and trucks pass between Morocco and Spain in what is known as the "paso del estrecho". The possibility of explosives, etc. being smuggled into Spain is very real. Moroccan nationalists demand the return of the Spanish enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla. They even talk about reconquering Andalusia. To appease the pious, a large and spectacular mosque has been built in Casablanca. There is a plan to build a tunnel between Spain and Morocco. The terrorist threat seems to have put it on hold.

There is talk of Somalia as a hiding place for al Quaeda terrorists, and the US is considering action there. Overlooked is the Riff mountain region of Morocco, the scene of Spain's Vietnam. From 1909 to 1926 the Spanish army was constantly engaged in fighting the guerrillas of Abd al Krim. There were riots against conscription to fight them, and, since the Church was accused of supporting the war against the infidels, many churches were burned. Anarchist and communism terrorism led to a coup with brought the dictator Primo de Rivera to power in 1923. He was forced to resign in 1930. Thus in 1931 came about the Republic and then in 1936 the Civil War. The memory of the African war haunted Spain, just as the Vietnam war haunted the United States. The present Moroccan government is pro-Western. Will it last? Watch Morocco!

Ronald Hilton - 1/5/02