Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Trainspotting

I have grave reservations that this posting is in no way topical or timely - and for this I sincerely apologise - but last week the story once again raised its ugly head on, of all places, the Casa-Rabat train where Mr. Cat in Rabat and I were standing. Not sitting. Yes, in spite of the fact that we had purchased first-class tickets, we were compelled to stand in the (albeit first-class) aisle of our train because of l'Office national des chemins de fer (ONCF)'s apparent inability to count ticket sales - a thoroughly daunting task that, nonetheless, you might have thought that their computerized system could alleviate in some minor way. But you would be wrong.

So while straddling our luggage and being jostled back and forth as we sped northwards, I couldn't help but notice a magazine article that the gentleman who declined to yield his seat to a visibly fatigued and overburdened woman sitting next to me was reading: once again, there appears to be a movement afoot to extract an apology from Spain for its 'heinous' treatment of North African Moors (as opposed to those lesser known Antarctic Moors) which came to a head in the 15th century, and hinted - the full import of which was lost on me as the gentleman thoughtlessly turned the page before I could finish the article - at financial compensation.

Now apologies for past acts is not an unknown thing in this world. Hailing from a country of apologisers (not apologists), I have seen my fair share of maligned groups receive an official apology from the federal government, including - but not limited to - Chinese-Canadians who had suffered the indignities of legislated racism for over half a century and Japanese-Canadians who lost all (including their freedom) during the xenophobia of World War II. Fast on the heels of Queen Elizabeth who was first to express remorse for the 18th century deportation of the Acadians, the government of Canada also apologised to the descendants of these some 14,000 Canadians who were expelled from their homeland because they refused to swear an oath of fidelity to the British crown.

Now for the past half millennium, many many Muslims in Al-Andalus (known by the rest of the world as
Spain, or a variant thereof) have and continue to mark the mass exodus of their ancestors to North Africa during and after Spain's Reconquista. Osama Bin Laden considers Spain's brutal treatment of Moors one of the many injustices levied against Muslims that still demands redress and the loathsome dogs who bombed Madrid in 2004 larded their acts of cowardice in thick layers of Muslim nationalism, crying vengeance for the Reconquista.

*Sigh*

Having said that, it's only logical that eventually this would manifest itself into a demand for an official apology from Spain which is exactly what happened a few years ago. Said Moroccan historian Bin Azouz Hakim,

They used to commemorate every year these painful memories to keep the agonies of their forebears vivid ... The descendants, many of whom still have Spanish surnames, mark the anniversary with symposiums, Andalusian music and shows portraying the sufferings of their ancestors.

Because that's healthy.

So in 2002, a special interest group led by Hakim formally asked King Juan Carlos (KJC) of
Spain for an apology, what they see as their 'inalienable right'; it was not forthcoming. Again they asked; again, they were ignored. This refusal was particularly galling as KJC had, while on a trip to Israel a decade earlier, apologized to Jews - or rather the descendants of Sephardi Jews and/or their co-religionists - who had also been expelled from Spain and treated rather shabbily by the Spaniards. Why did the Moroccans fail? Ask Hakim:

I think because we don’t have a powerful lobby like the Jews, who make the best use of the past to get financial gains.

KJC offered the Jews no financial compensation.

Now before we continue, let's get a little perspective; something I like to call ‘Reconquista 101’. Now did Spain, by force of arms – and with a little help from the Spanish Inquisition, which no one expected - persecute, torture, force to convert to Christianity, kill en masse, and generally encourage hightailing it back to North Africa thousands of Moors? Yes they did. But why were the Moors there in the first place? Because they themselves had conquered Spain.

Turn back the clock to 711 and we find ourselves witness to the Umayyad conquest of Hispania led by Arabs and Berbers from
North Africa. Or not so much a conquest as one writer prettily spins puts it, but as Muslims entering "Spain not as aggressors or oppressors, but as liberators." Initially, their spoils of war included much of Spain, Portugal, and parts of southern France – but, in the final days of Muslim rule would be restricted to the Kingdom of Granada. There is some conjecture about the treatment of non-Muslims by their foreign occupiers: it is somewhat fashionable now - especially among Muslim apologists - to adopt the stance that this was a halcyon age, a utopia of religious tolerance. But most scholars dismiss this as a revisionist myth. The reality is that Christians and Jews were treated harshly: they were persecuted, killed in huge numbers, and driven from their homes. Pretty much how the Spanish would come to treat the Moors while they were showing them the door.

So should KJC apologise for the liberation of Spain? Should there be financial compensation to the Moors’ descendants?

It’s a tricky question. (Not.) My pea-size brain – and I certainly stand to be corrected – is not familiar with any incident in which a Muslim spokesperson has apologised for an act of aggression or wrongdoing against a people they oppressed/conquered/converted/or just annoyed There is no allowance for this in the Qu'ran; in fact, one reads "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)" (9:5).

Has a Muslim spokesperson apologised, for example, to every indigenous group that either died under the sword or was forced to convert to Islam, as the tide of Islam swept across the Middle East, the Byzantine Empire, and North Africa - most recently in Sudan? To Middle Eastern Christians for conquering their lands and forcing upon them dhimmi status (in which a non-Muslim is subjected to Sharia law in a Muslim country)? To the descendants of the tens of thousands of men & women from Western Europe who were captured and sold as slaves in Morocco's slave markets? To Spain for invading her in the first place & subjecting her people to foreign domination for almost 800 years? Are any of these individuals demanding an apology?

So why the pressing need? Must an apology be politically motivated? Let me be the first: I apologise to my brother Knarf in the City for breaking the needle-nose thingy on his model airplane when I was 5 years old. I was told not to touch it but I did. There! No political motivation. Does he feel better? I doubt it. Do I? Not really.

You see, this is what happens when I read over someone’s shoulder on a train: my brain unravels - for such is the price of my rudeness. So this post isn't so much a cautionary tale against invading your neighbours and seeking absurd retribution over 500 years later as a warning against being nosey inquisitive on a train.

Addendum: the above photograph was taken in Frigiliana, a diminutive Andalucian town with deep Moorish roots (over 7,000 Moors were killed there in the 1569 Rebellion of La Axarquía and the rest expelled) and marks the narrow street where the Spanish Inquisitor had set up shop. In spite of the fact that the town is as big as –my mother’s expression, not mine – a fart in a mitt (a turn of phrase I have never come to understand), it took us about 45 minutes to find it. Suddenly, as we veered around yet another cobbled corner which we both swore we had already passed several times, we found ourselves facing the Inquisidor's plaque.

Truly, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not a funny blog? Yes and No. I cannot understand people who want apologies from people not involved in an incident, and, who indeed were not themselves involved, for something that happened 200 or 2000 years ago. It does not compute in my brain!
But, then I do not sit around with aggrievement on the brain, as I am too busy with my own business. Love your blog, by the way. Keep it up.

5:44 p.m.  
Blogger knarf said...

YOU BROKE MY MODEL AIRPLANE??????

Bitch! I actually don't feel better about it, because up to now, I'd pretty much forgotten about it. Now you've dredged up nasty memories.

Damn you!

Not only that, but as an Acadien, I'm still waiting for compensation from the English Crown, as well as from the Commonwealth of Massechusetts (Governor Shirley sent colonial militia up to the Annapolis Valley to expel Acadiens at gunpoint) for the injustices committed against my forebearers, who committed no wrong, yet were forced off the land they held for generations...

7:37 p.m.  
Blogger knarf said...

NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!
Our chief weapon is surprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise....
Our two weapons are fear and surprise... and ruthless efficiency....
Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency...
and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope....
Our four... no...
Amongst our weapons... Amongst our weaponry...
are such elements as fear, surprise...

7:52 p.m.  
Blogger monsieur mike said...

Even if it was actually a cautionary tale about being nosey, a great blog to remind us all that somewhere in our past our people were shits.

Good to read an intelligent reminder of that pesky period of Iberian occupation that some seem to conveniently forget when going on about contemporary western/christian imperialism/occupation.

Being a nasty dickhead is blind to race or religion.

8:46 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

Knarf: I only broke the needle-nose thingy. I hadn't realised that this wound is still so deep and unhealed. Do you mark the anniversary of my breaking the needle-nose thingy with symposiums, Knarfian music and shows portraying the sufferings of your model airplane's ancestors?

11:43 p.m.  
Blogger knarf said...

Cat:

The needle was the ~essence~ of the airplane. It happened to have been a CF-104 Starfighter (Royal Canadian Airforce version), the coolest looking (if somewhat crash-prone) airplane ever. Without the needle-nose, it's ~just and airplane~.

BTW, you forgot to mention the "interpretive dance", in which I portray the life and subsequent death by rhino-ectomy of the poor avian...

11:55 a.m.  
Blogger Okie said...

I can understand the frustration of standing during a train trip with a first-class ticket. I only wish that train travel was as affordable here as there in Morocco. The bus routes in Oklahoma are extremely limited and trains tickets and taxis are very expensive. I loved riding the trains (especially the Rabat-Casa trips) in Morocco.

2:41 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

I agree Okie: I normally enjoy the trains here - I've had very few problems and they are exceptionally affordable.

2:59 p.m.  

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