Conquering fears and bigotry in Spain

The mystified history of Muslims in Europe is meant to dramatise the perceived threat of Muslim migration to Europe.
Sunday 17/11/2019
Leader of the Spanish far-right party Vox, Santiago Abascal gives a press conference in Madrid, on November 13, 2019. (AFP)
Leader of the Spanish far-right party Vox, Santiago Abascal gives a press conference in Madrid, on November 13, 2019. (AFP)

Elections November 10 in Spain made the far-right party Vox, with 3.6 million votes, the third parliamentary formation with 52 seats out of 350, behind the Socialists with 120 seats and the Popular Party with 89.

Vox President Santiago Abascal described the party’s performance as “the greatest political feat seen in Spain.”

Vox’s performance buoyed European far-right formations. Abascal received congratulations from France’s far-right party leader Marine Le Pen (for what she called the Spanish party’s “staggering progress”) and from far-right leaders such as Italy’s Matteo Salvini of the League party and Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders. Populist formations in Austria, Denmark, France, Germany and Italy share Vox’s anti-immigration and ultra-nationalist views.

The problem with Abascal is that his stances are not in sync with his country’s time and place. He advocates building a wall around the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla to be paid for by neighbouring Morocco, not taking into consideration Rabat’s efficient collaboration with Madrid in curbing illegal migration. Borrowing — and largely rewriting — a chapter from medieval history of Catholics versus Andalusian Muslims, he advocates for the “reconquest” of Spain, a free and sovereign nation.

The mystified history of Muslims in Europe is meant to dramatise the perceived threat of Muslim migration to Europe. Fear of Muslim invasion, which is part and parcel of the narrative of European far-right extremists, can legitimise anti-Muslim violence and terrorism. Such fears are the mirror image of the radical Islamist narrative of hate that underlies acts of terror against the West.

Eduardo Manzano Moreno, a Spanish researcher, noted “the conservative rhetoric tries to plant the seed of an exact similarity between what happened in the Middle Ages and the present, something that is also encouraged by Islamic radicals.”

Past rhetoric of Vox’s leader has made the 2 million Muslims of Spain uncomfortable. Many, however, hope Abascal’s exposure to international affairs will lead him to better synchronise his views with Spain’s realities and traditional relations with the Arab world.

Also, and despite the mounting xenophobic trends, the values of tolerance and coexistence still thrive in Europe. The same day Spanish elections took place, a German politician of Turkish origin was voted mayor of the German city of Hanover, the first time a German born to immigrant parents occupies the office of mayor of one of the country’s 16 state capitals.

Europe’s migrant population and its Arab-Muslim neighbours only make the continent richer. Both regions have too much in common to lend credence to the narrative of civilisational conflict. The only things both must conquer are their unfounded fears.

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