Editorials

Legislative Elections: Spanish Parties Shun Moroccan-Spanish Nationals

Samir Bennis

New York - Spain’s general election will be held on Sunday June 26. This will be the second election in six months since Spain’s political parties failed to form a government following the elections of last December.

What is most striking about the list of candidates presented by the country’s main political parties, the Partido Popular (PP), the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE), Podemos and Cuidadanos, is the absence of candidates of Moroccan descent. There are more than 766,622 Moroccans living in Spain contributing to its economy, among whom more than 75,000 are Spanish citizens. Yet despite their prevalence in the country and their importance in many vital economic sectors, Spain’s political parties ignore them.

While it is bad enough to marginalize a significant population, for Moroccans living in Spain and observers, what adds insult to injury is not only that Moroccan-Spanish nationals have been deprived of the right to be represented in parliament, but that a major party like the PSOE has decided, if it wins the elections, to present a candidate from Senegal as potential Minister in charge of immigration.

While the Moroccan community represents about 2 percent of Spain’s population, there are fewer than 63,000 Senegalese immigrants in Spain. Given that Moroccans represent the second largest foreign community in Spain after Romanians and the first non-European community, they should be given a voice in government to reflect their concerns and defend their interests, as well as the interests of all communities of foreign origin.

In contrast to the utter lack of political representation in Spain, the Moroccan community in other European countries, such as France, the Netherlands, and Belgium, is fully participating in the political life of its respective countries. The most emblematic example is that of France, where there are currently three Ministers of Moroccan descent.

This is prompting analysts to wonder what is preventing Moroccans from fully participating in Spain’s politics and being represented in parliament. Is it because there are few Moroccans who qualify to be candidates in elections or be present in the government?

When the press asked PSOE Secretary General Pedro Sánchez why his party did not field Moroccan candidates in the elections or as candidates for a position in the government, he said that he was not sure how Spanish voters would react to candidates of Moroccan descent.

Spain has yet to come to term with its Muslim past

The Spanish politician’s remark reflects the negative image of Moroccans in Spain’s collective memory. Surveys conducted in recent years in Spain show that Moroccans are the group that inspires the least sympathy in Spanish public opinion.

The negative image of Moroccans in Spain is neither a coincidence nor the consequence of the diplomatic friction between Morocco and Spain since 1956. It is rather the result of the historical trajectory of the country, during which Spanish intellectuals have tried to disown their country’s Muslim past and demonize Muslims. The best way to understand the reason for the negative image of Moroccans in Spain is to see how they are presented in Spanish history and textbooks.

Since the end of the Reconquista, many Spanish intellectuals have conducted in-depth works to re-write their country’s history in order to purify it of every "foreign" element that undermines the view that Spain’s character is exclusively European.

In addition, the Reconquista marked the start of long and uninterrupted process during which Spanish society began the “Latinization” of its history and national identity.

The common theme of books published since the Reconquista is that the presence of Muslims in Spain was merely a temporary accident of history. To corroborate this claim, these advocates of a “sanitized” Spanish identity attempt to show that since the early years of Muslim rule in Spain, the indigenous population had begun to mobilize opposition to expel its enemies. Given the role that Moroccans had played at the birth of the golden age of al-Andalus and in disseminating Islam in present-day Spain, the narrative of hate directed at Muslims following the early days of the Reconquista was mainly focused on Moroccans.

During the effort to reconstruct the Spanish identity, any analysis that adopted an approach that did not corroborate the dominant narrative about Spain’s history was dismissed as a diversion from Spain’s historical tradition. That tradition consisted of praising the genius of Spain’s indigenous people and emphasizing their role in the splendor and cultural sophistication of al-Andalus.

The objective pursued by Spanish intellectuals was to distance themselves from the Muslim east, considered incapable of being the origin of such splendor. The analyses made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries respectively by authors like the Conde of Campomanes and Jose Antonio Conde, who criticized the ethnocentrism prevailing in their country with respect to Muslims, had no chance of being accepted by the Spanish ideologues of the time.

Spanish professor Bernabé López García notes, for example, that for his statement in the preface of his book Historia de la dominación de los árabes en España that "virtually all nations were barbaric when the Arabs were scientists," Jose Antonio Conde was vilified and accused of sabotaging values built on a partial view of the past.

The vision that has prevailed since then is that of anti-Muslim authors, such as Javier Simonet, Julian Ribera, Modesto Lafuente, and Menendez Pelayo. Unfortunately, the same interpretation of history is still conveyed in Spanish textbooks. Speaking of the society of al-Andalus, the authors of textbooks give a very narrow view of that cosmopolitan society and overlook the more or less peaceful coexistence that existed between Muslims, Christians, and Jews during that period. Thus, they portray eight centuries of history in in terms of a confrontation between good and evil, whereby good was represented by the indigenous people “trying to recover their territory” from the hand of the bad “invaders", Muslims.

Rather than focusing on the coexistence that prevailed between Muslims, Jews, and Christians, the overwhelming majority of Spanish intellectuals portrayed Muslims as “invaders, barbarians, and fanatics.” Thus, the narrative provided by Spanish textbooks reflects Spain’s inability to accept the Muslim dimension of its identity.

This reading of Spanish history prevails also in the way in which Moroccans are portrayed in the Spanish history books addressing the wars between Morocco and Spain from 1859 to 1926, as well as the Spanish Civil War. According to prominent Spanish authors such as María Rosa de Madariaga, while history books that covered the wars between the two countries depicted Moroccans as “hordes of uncivilized, lascivious and unsavory people,” the narrative regarding their role in the later Civil war described them as “bloodthirsty and savage murderers.”

Given this view of Moroccans, it may well take Spain several decades or even generations to accept Moroccans as an integral part of its social fabric and conceive of the idea that a Moroccan could be elected to high office, whether in the parliament or in the government. However, for Spain to get there, it will first have to take a good look at history, accept and recognize the contributions of Muslims to its greatness, and perhaps even apologize for expelling the millions of Muslims who were thrown out of Spain in the early sixteenth century for the simple reason that they were Muslim.

Just as it did when it recognized and redressed its persecution of Jews through its decision to grant Spanish citizenship to all descendants of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492, Spain should redress its wrongs against Muslims -ncluding the five million descendants of the expelled Moriscos (Moors) who now live in Morocco. Without such recognition, it is highly unlikely that Spanish citizens of Moroccan descent will play any significant role in Spain’s politics in the foreseeable future.

An earlier version of this article was published on the New Arab

Samir Bennis is the co-founder of and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis

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