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Morocco and the Ironies of History



     The bloody attempt by Serbia to "reconquer" the Balkans gives us some idea of the Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula by the Christians. The Spaniards fought under the aegis of Santiago Matamoros, St. James the Moor-killer. The legend has it that the stone sarcophagus bearing the body of St. James floated miraculously across the Mediterranean, through the Staits of Gibraltar, up the coast of Portugal, and landed on the beach of El Padrón in Galicia.Thence the faithful carried it to nearby Santiago, where the great cathedral containing his shrine was erected. It became one of the three great pilgrim sites of Christendom.
     Today hikers walk the length of the Way of St. James from France. Under the present conservative Spanish government, the cult is being revived as the symbol of the Spanish tradition. A few days ago the heir to the throne, Prince Felipe, walked to El Padrón, then back to Santiago, where he climbed the steps behind the altar and, following the custom, embraced the statue of the saint.
     The old hatred of the Moors has disappeared. Spain likes to stress its affinity with Morocco, and quietly resents the fact that most of it was a French protectorate. Of course there are problems, including fishing rights and the illegal migration of Moroccans across the narrow Strait of Gibraltar to Spain. At the same time, Spain is pushing the plan for a tunnel under the Strait, which would link the two countries even more closely (but might increase illegal immigration).
     Spain complains about the British occupation of Gibraltar, but never links it with the Spanish occupation of two Moroccan enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, not to mention the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco. The situation in the two enclaves is obscure. Spain never talks of ceding them, but for the first time a Moroccan has been elected mayor of Melilla. This has provoked the oddest maneuvers by Spanish political parties, the meaning of which is not clear.
     Back to Santiago. Tomorrow, Sunday, July 25, is the feast day of St. James, and the opening of the milennial celebrations. To stress the importance of the saint to Spain, the government plans to hold a special session there with great fanfare. The slogan is that for one day Santiago is the capital of Spain.
     The best made schemes of mice and Spaniards. King Hassan II of Morocco, whom Spain had been cultivating assiduously, died unexpectedly. This was the main item in the Spanish news, and Spanish leaders planned to attend the funeral, which according to the Islamic tradition takes place without delay.
     However, this conflicted with the special government session in Santiago. Crisis. What to do? Solution: move the clocks in Santiago forward one hour. That will allow the leaders to fly to Rabat and arrive just in time. The mañana spirit is vanquished! Let's hope the cloudy weather of Galicia does not delay the flight's departure.

Ronald Hilton - 07/24/99


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