[Vol. I No. 12] 01 - 15 December 2006
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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Bill Gate
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The politics of discourse towards Muslims, tradition and Spanish nation-building process

R. Zapata-Barrero, Associate Professor of Political Theory, Grup de Recerca sobre Immigració i Innovació Política (GRIIP), Department of Social and Political Science, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain (ricard.zapata@upf.edu)

1. Political discourse on multiculturalism in Europe

In Europe, “circumstances of multiculturality” are mainly related to religion and the interrelation between Muslim communities and non-Muslim European citizens. Reflections on Muslim communities and political management of cultural pluralism necessitate an analysis of facts in political discourses. A reflection not so much on the discourse of power, but on the power of discourse is necessary. In this short essay I intend to offer a conceptual framework of why and how interpretations are constructed to manage cultural pluralism in general and regarding the Muslim communities in Spain in particular. The Spanish case demonstrates how different political traditions and powers employed discourse as a barrier for exclusion of the Muslim communities. The purpose of anti-Muslims measures is to avoid losing voters to the far right parties. This is the primary concern of many governments, the only intentional logic that directs the politic body. As such we are not in the realm of the discourse of politics but of the politics of discourse. Discourse becomes a political option, a common practice for most traditional European political parties, especially when they have to communicate a speech about cultural diversity. These politics of discourse aim to gain and maintain power, by securing the majority of votes through traditional and populist rhetorics. This discursive strategy is mainly based not only on stereotypes and negative pictures of Muslim people, and other defense mechanism of the social structure, but on a simplistic, reductionist and monolithic interpretation of Muslim communities. Political discourse generates problems instead of solving them, fracturing society in two parts, pro and against Muslims. In citizens’ terms, the difference between Muslim and non-Muslim citizens becomes by itself an explanatory category. It is true that we cannot say that a conflict arises every time there is contact between an immigrant/citizen of Muslim origin and a non-Muslim, but on the whole it is frequent for the Muslims to have serious problems performing their culture and religion in a public space originally created and occupied by non-Muslim citizens. In short, we are faced with what would qualify as a structural problem of multiculturalism. There is a tendency to identify Muslims for what they are (their religious affiliation) rather than by what they do (like any other citizen). These negative interpretations are the main variable explaining why contact zones are transformed into conflict zones. Conflicts related to cultural pluralism are a matter of interpretation. Indeed, one of the channels where this picture is produced and enforced is the media which, consciously or unconsciously, conveys at least three negative pictures of Muslims that serve to legitimate racist and xenophobic attitudes: Muslims are linked to Bin Laden, with criminal activities, and inspire an immediate threat; Arab people are opposed to democracy because their Muslim practice violates the most elementary human rights; and finally, as a corollary, Islam is identified with barbarism. What makes the Muslim community a problem in Europe is then the distorted and hostile discourse on Islam that sprung up from historical misrepresentations, enforced by today’s misperceptions propagated by the media. Despite the fact that these images are based on gross generalizations and stereotypes, they have shown durability and continuity over time to the extent that they have dominated the European discourse as facts. The main argument to be defended is then that from an homogeneous and simplistic view of Islam and the Muslim Community, whish nourishes reactive discourse with populist rhetoric and conservatism discourse based on tradition rhetoric, a reflection on the politics of discourse is urgent, a political discourse pluralizing the Muslim European citizenry and incorporating then within the European historical path.

2. The populist rhetoric and the rhetoric of tradition governing discourse towards Muslims

From a social psychological point of view we know that when there is social fear of an unknown community, citizens tend to search for arguments to explain their feelings. These arguments help them to rationalize their emotions. The arguments citizens currently find in the public arena come mainly from the media, tradition, and political discourse. The argument to be defended is not that Islam is a source of social and political instability, but it is the perception that citizens have of Islam and the interpretation politicians intentionally and tacitly follow that are the main sources of instability. For instance, it is not the presence of a mosque in a city that provokes instability, but the perception that citizens have of a mosque which transforms this previous contact zone into a conflict zone.
In most surveys, the media are seen to consolidate the perception that Muslim communities are not only extremely different from us but can also endanger our values and current ways of life. When the media try to correct this tendency, they are inclined to go to the other extreme and build an exotic icon of the Muslim, close to the Rousseauesque universe, as an uncivilized but kind-natured human being, who reminds us of the philosophical discourses after the conquest of America in the 16th and 17th centuries. In reality, the public’s perception of Muslims is based on media discourse rather than direct contact. The politics of discourse nourishes these arguments. It builds a re-active and conservative discourse against the cultural and religious demands of pluralism. From the viewpoint of the re-active discourse, cultural pluralism may transform the various spheres of life. Circumstances of multiculturalism are seen as negative. Two main rhetorics occupy the political space: the populist rhetoric and the rhetoric of the tradition.
The populist rhetoric uses the argument of democracy in a way that appeals to and satisfies citizens. But in reality it appeals only to a sector of the society in the name of the whole society. It creates conflicts of interests between the societal majority (the non-Muslim citizens) and the minority (the Muslim immigrants/citizens). This rhetoric is nourished with the “popular” referent, linking it with the security and the maintenance of the socio-economic level. Populism is, in fact, “democracy badly understood.” It supposedly addresses the interest of the whole society while in reality it addresses only the interest of a sector of the society (non-Muslim citizens), but not the Muslim citizens.
Populism is a discourse that invertebrates and fractures society. The populist rhetoric has a “re-active” function, since its arguments are built on the “complaints” of common citizens with the objective of translating them into social action against other sectors of the society, confusing the reality and the ideal of the society. Populism has an “essentialist” component, since the interests and needs of the non-Muslim citizens are seen as unchangeable, and as the only criteria to be politically considered in managing “circumstances of multiculturalism.” It uses the perception of one part of the citizenry as democratic truth. It has also a dualistic logic given arguments to the extreme that the needs of some (non-Muslims or Muslims) are seen as incompatible with the needs (social, cultural, economic) of others.
The rhetoric of the Tradition does not have the interest as reference framework (the interest of the Muslim/non-Muslim citizens), but a set of beliefs and values homogenizing the society. Before the link between security and maintenance of the socio-economic level that characterizes to the populist rhetoric this conservative discourse produces basically arguments based on identity. Its basic framework is that the tradition, understood as a set of established values and beliefs having persisted over several generations and as process of transmission of uses and customs from generation to generation, breaks with cultural pluralism. Tradition is a defense to maintain the sacred chain of the self and his/her history. It has, then, a vital function in the political body, the sacred purpose to maintain social cohesion. This new rhetoric is opposed to the process of change in which we are, since cultural pluralism affects the values of the most essential tradition: values tied to identity and community. Before the process of structural change provoked by the politics of cultural pluralism, this rhetoric seek, in words of Hirshman (who analyses the rhetoric of re-action in the 19th and 20th century provoked in the process of acquisition of rights), to “turn the clock back” But this it is not a historical exception. In all processes of structural change, beginning with the French revolution, a conservative re-active line of thought is generated. Indeed, the conservative tradition began to produce its arguments inspired by the context of the French structural revolutionary change. The framework of reference of E. Burke, for example, was to defend the respect of the tradition of the English revolution set against the French one, which broke literally the chain of historical transmission. This rhetoric of the new conservatism takes tradition as the main producer of arguments. In our identity terms, here enter the arguments to maintain our Apostolic, Catholic-Roman, and Christian tradition, set against other religious sources of identity. Tradition is our cultural alter ego. It nourishes the politics against the demands of cultural pluralism. Tradition is the last source of recognition and plays an almost sacred role, since from some initial rational arguments we can penetrate easily to strong emotions directly related to our identity.

3. Maurophobia and Spanish identity-building process

Of all immigrant groups, the Moroccan immigrant best represents “the cultural other”, because neither language nor religion is shared with Spaniards. Muslim presence and practices moreover have constantly been associated with negative news in the media, thereby leading to “Maurophobia”. Islam has historically been excluded from the formation of the Spanish (Christian) identity (R. Zapata-Barrero, 2006). This is why there are some discourses that tends to view Moroccan immigration as a threat to the Spanish identity, Moroccan as potential “cultural invaders,” or even as a new Arab invasion (J. de Lucas, 2002; 23-48), or the re-Islamization of Spain (G. Martín Muñoz, 1996; 9-16). Immigration has been incorporated into the political discourse at the expense of one specific ethnic group: Moroccans.
This aspect of Spanish nation-building is also nourished by media, which constantly associate the most negative news with Muslim presence and practices. The Spanish authorities that draw on these historical stereotypes to restrict the public space available to the Muslim community also drive the presentation of a “process of Islamization” of Spain. In this situation, the construction of Muslim facilities acquires vital importance, and so too is the Muslim presence in schools and the redesigning of cemeteries.
Since the tragedy of El Ejido, in February 2000, but surely also as a consequence of the attacks in New York (11 September 2001), in Madrid (11 March 2004), and in London (7 July 2005), there has been an explicit and intentional policy favoring Central and Eastern European and South American immigrants over Moroccans. Moroccans were until recently the most numerous foreign nationality in Spain (about 21.8% of the foreign population), followed by Ecuadorians, who accounted for 7.6%. Although the latest statistics (2004) show that Ecuadorians have surpassed Moroccans. Moreover, the first bilateral agreements for importing immigrant workers were signed with Ecuador and Poland. The only logical explanation for this policy is based on race and the Christian identity, i.e., the protection of the Spanish identity against those viewed as potential “cultural invaders,” or even as a new Arab invasion, or re-Islamisation of Spain.
There is a historical Spanish tradition of Maurophobia present in the social and political discourses, and it is used to legitimate citizens’ attitudes against Muslim immigration in Spain. This Spanish identity-building is also nourished by media which constantly remind us that the most negative news are related to Muslims’ presence and practices. Islam has historically been excluded from the formation of the Judeo-Christian Spanish identity in which the formation of a Christian “us” has been opposed to an Islamic “other.” The process of Islamisation of Spain through the presence of Muslim immigrants is also driven by the Spanish authorities who draw on these historical stereotypes to restrict the public space available to the Muslim community, forcing its members to close on themselves and search for their own identity, since the identity of Spanish citizenship is not open to them. In this situation, the construction of Muslim facilities acquires vital importance and so, too, the Muslim presence in schools and the redesigning of cemeteries to allow for Muslim funeral rites.
These evidences are the premises for an analysis linking the Muslim community and the Spanish tradition. The analysis is typically approached from two different perspectives. One perspective argues that Islam belongs to the Spanish cultural tradition and identity. The other argues that Islam is alien to the Spanish cultural tradition and identity, which is based on the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian heritage. Consequently each perspective employs different form of political discourse. Indeed, Spain has two ways of managing differences related to muslim community The first approach defends the idea that there is one tradition rather than two. It demonstrates that Spain is the only Western European context in which the Islamic tradition developed a cultural society and a political system that lasted centuries. Spain is the only country in Western Europe to have been Islamized for so long (we know that the Balkans and Sicily were also Islamised). Thus, this perspective gives rise to a political discourse emphasizing what is common.
The second perspective portrays two separate traditions that have been historically at odds. It follows a political discourse that stresses what is different between the Muslim and Spanish traditions, what separates the two traditions. It has also constructed a hostile tradition by drawing a negative picture of the Moroccan, synthesized in the figure of “the Moor” (“el moro”). The main line of this argument is that current Spanish tradition is the result of the Christian victory over Islam. Muslim people are by nature unable to be integrated into a society and a public sphere that is replete with Catholic customs. The Spanish public sphere is structurally Catholic.
This historical iconography of the Moors belongs to Spanish tradition and is at the foundation of the Spanish identity and nation building. Two main periods can be identified in the process of Spanish nation-building: The period of the “Reconquista” and Catholics Kings in the XVth century, and the critical period of a loss of Spanish identify at the end of the XIXth century, when Spain decline of main colonies, mainly from Latin-America forced to rethink what does Spanish means? Having lost politically population and territory control through colonies, A building of a new notion of community arise, with the notion of Hispanidad, through which there were a strategy to sep culturally an homogeneous community which was lost politically through the period of de-colonization. A sense of belonging to a broader “Hispanic” community was built. These facts show that in Spain, tradition matters. We cannot understand the citizens’ perception of – and attitude against – the Moroccan community in Spain today only in terms of sociological and political variables and without historical arguments.
Since the period of the Reconquista or Reconquest, when the Spanish Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand, known as the Catholic Kings, using mainly Christian arguments, expelled the Muslims (together with the Jews and the gypsies) from Spain in 1492. The presence of the kingdom of Al Andalus over eight centuries (from 711 to 1492) finished in fact in 1609 with the expulsion of the moriscos (that is, Muslims who converted to Christianity and stayed in Spain after the Reconquista; today we would call them “Spaniards of Muslim origin”). If this is the beginning, other phases of Spanish history contribute to this negative picture of the Moors. E. Martín Corrales in an excellent work tracing this historical construction of the Moors, reminds us that the propaganda of the Reconquista worked to disqualify and satanise the Islamic religion. As well as emphasising some ethnic and physical characteristics of these believers, it allowed for the formation of a corpus of stereotypes and clearly degrading clichés (depicting them as impure, treasonous, false, evil, perfidious, cruel, cowardly, lewd and so on). The process of negative construction of the image of the Muslims intensified from the 16th to 18th centuries, when Muslim corsairs filled the ports of the southern Mediterranean with Christian slaves.
Symbolically, then, it is meaningful that the Spanish identity has been codified as a negation of this historical debt, since the Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain at the same time as the Muslims and gypsies, in the symbolic year of 1492, the official date of the beginning of the conquest of America and the global expansion of Spanish Catholicism and messianism (indeed the first global politics even conducted). The politics of the so-called Catholic Kings has many elements of what today we would refer to as ethnic cleansing. Behind this, there is also the politically constructed idea of Hispanidad, developed at the beginning of the 20th century, precisely to counterweigh the loss of the last colonies in America (particularly Cuba in 1898). This idea of Hispanidad was also used under the Franco regime (1940-1975) to refer to a community of people linked together by linguistic and religious criteria. Within this framework, Hispanidad was clearly used politically to build a culturally homogeneous society and the discourse of exclusion.
Instead of having a socializing and pedagogic effect, this political discourse generates divergence and instability in the society. Politicians not only avoid talking about immigration, but when they do so, their discursive behavior is alarmist and even contains populist components linking the Muslim community to insecurity and social instability. The reality is that in Spain there is an apparent absence of integrationist politics, a lack of political will to include Muslims in the public sphere. In an integrationist framework that favors the sentiment of social belonging, Islam could develop in Spain, and in general in Europe, without conflict. Instead, it tends to turn into a closed and hostile space where Muslims search for their identity and their community.
This political discourse generates divergence and instability in society. Politicians not only avoid talking about immigration, but when they do so, their discursive behaviour is alarmist and even contains populist components linking the Muslim community to insecurity and social instability. Moroccan immigrants threat our culture and democracy (therefore in order to integrate we have to change their culture). The image of the Moroccan is based on inferiority: physically, economically and culturally; Migration is criminalized in the press by often naming nationality in crime and linking Moroccan to terrorism. Almost all press is about the attempts of Moroccan immigrants to come to Spain and make living.
Language and religion are the only criteria to explain this shift in immigration management. The cultural and religious criteria are not new, and have already been used for the formal selection of immigrants. It is even said that it is not immigrant selection that is taking place, but really an “ethnic filter” and even a “Darwinist politics of immigration”. In general terms, we would say that the labour market attracts immigrants, but politics selects them using colonial and national identity criteria. In the management of its new multicultural society, Spain is currently at the beginning of some sort of Hispanidad revival.
Hispanidad is a political term that was created precisely to comprise the whole Spanish area of influence, designating a linguistic (Spanish) and religious (Catholic) community and creating a sense of belonging, to the exclusion of non-Spanish speakers, atheists, Masons, Jews, and Muslims. In a process The Franco regime (1940-1975) reconstructed this term as a symbol of homogeneity and unity, as a cohesive society with the slogan Una, Grande y Libre (One, Great and Free). This Hispanidad was a political construction separating people in a Manichaean fashion. Those following the regime were good citizens, those having some doubts about it (i.e., republican) were the bad citizens. This political construction of Hispanidad aimed at creating the notion of the Hispanic race in order to obtain a sentiment of loyalty and patriotism. Patriotism, race, and religion were an explosive mixture that dominated the conservative political discourse (and academic arena) for the first half of the 20th century, and legitimatized the Francist regime.
This binary logic still exists today, although with a rather different dimension. The bad citizens are those who do not speak Spanish and hold beliefs other than Catholic: Moroccans are the first candidates and are constantly used in a political discourse that reminds us of this imagery of Hispanidad. Society’s perception of immigration is usually that of Muslims as a religious minority. At the same time, there are conservative discourses on European identity and civilization that advocate Christian tradition and politically construct Islam as anti-European and Christian.

To conclude

The presence of Muslims and their demands for recognition has sparked an extensive political rhetoric. Despite the various political and cultural circumstances across European countries, Spanish political rhetoric has two common features. It is largely grounded on interpretations based on tradition and current gross generalizations. Second, it is calculated to win a majority of voters by deploying rhetoric basically grounded in traditional values and populist practices. Such rhetoric has an enormous negative effect on Muslims’ integration, by drawing on past Muslim-Christian relationships and present global political conflicts and wars as to assemble a violent and monolithic image of Islam.

The Spanish case demonstrates how Islam has been excluded from the Spanish Judeo-Christian tradition, despite the fact that an important and rich Islamic tradition lasted in Spain for eight hundreds years. Spanish political identity has been constructed against Muslims for centuries, following at least two main basic dimensions: Spanish language and Catholic religion (Hispanidad). History and colonialism also matter as they nourish this rhetoric of tradition in Spain. Today, Muslims in Spain are seen primarily through the hostile prism of the moors.
To sum up, politicians have yet to accept and publicly recognize the cultural and religious diversity of their societies. The only way to solve the problem is for politicians to treat new Muslim citizens in an equal and respected manner like any other European citizen, regardless of religion, place of origin, and color. To do this, however, first and foremost, requires a responsible rhetoric free from the stereotypes and distortion of Islam and Muslims seen in the rhetoric of tradition.

(1) R. Zapata-Barrero, El turno de los inmigrantes: esferas de justicia y políticas de acomodación (Imserso, Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad, 2002).
(2) B. Parekh, Rethinking multiculturalism (London: MacMillan, 2000). For information on the process of multiculturalism in Spain see R. Zapata-Barrero, Multiculturalidad e inmigración (Madrid: ed. Síntesis, 2004) and R. Zapata-Barrero, Inmigración, innovación política y cultura de acomodación en España (Barcelona: Cidob/Bellaterra, 2004).
(3) G. Martín Muñoz, Marroquíes en España. Estudio sobre su integración (Madrid: Fundación Repsol YPF, 2003), p. 38.
(4) T. Todorov, Les morales de l'histoire (Paris: Grasset, le Collège de Philosophie, 1991).
(5) R. Zapata-Barrero, Multiculturalidad e inmigración (Madrid: Editorial Síntesis, 2004), pp. 260-262.
(6) For additional information on populist rhetoric see, among the most recent works: P. Taggard Populism (Buckingham: Open University Press, 2000); P. Perrinau Les croisés de la société fermée (Paris: Editons l'Aube, 2001); Y. Meny and Y. Surel Par le peuple, pour le peuple. Le populisme et les démocraties (Paris: Fayard, 2000) ; O. Ihl, J. Chêne, E. Vial and G. Waterlot Le populism au coeur de l’Europe (Paris: La Découverte, 2003); P. A. Taguieff Le retour du populism (Paris: Universalis, 2004); E. Laclau La razón populista, (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2005).
(7) K. Friedrich, Tradition and Authority (London: Macmillan, 1972), p. 18.
(8) A. O. Hirschman, The Rhetoric of Persuasión (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1991), p. 9.
(9) E. Burke, Reflections on the revolution in France (London : Collier Macmillan, 1987).
(10) El Ejido is a market-gardening town in the province of Almeria (Andalusia) in the southeast of Spain where violent riots took place against Moroccan workers. See R. Zapata-Barrero, "The 'discovery' of immigration in Spain: the politicization of immigration in the case of El Ejido", Journal of International migration and integration, Vol. 4, (2003), pp. 523-539.
(11) Anuario de Extranjería 2004, Ministerio de Trabajo y Asuntos Sociales, Secretaria de Estado de inmnigración y emigración (December 2005) http://extranjeros.mtas.es/es/general/DatosEstadisticos_index.html.
(12) J. de Lucas,"Algunas propuestas para comenzar a hablar en serio de política de inmigración," in J. de Lucas and F. Torres (eds.) Inmigrantes: ¿cómo los tenemos? (Madrid: Talasa Ediciones, 2002) pp. 23-48.
(13) G. Martín Muñoz, "Prólogo" of the Spanish version of P. Balta El islam (Madrid: Salvat-Le Monde, 1996), pp. 9-16.
(14) R. Zapata-Barrero, “The Muslim community and Spanish tradition: Maurophobia as a fact, and impartiality as a desideratum” in T. Modood, A. Triandafyllidou y R. Zapata-Barrero (eds.) Multiculturalism, Muslims and Citizenship: a European approach (London: Routledge, 2005), cap. 8, pp. 143-161.
(15) Ibid., p. 14.
(16) E. Martín Corrales (2002), La Imagen del magrebí en España una perspectiva histórica, siglos XVI-XX Barcelona: Bellaterra.
(17) G. Martín Muñoz "El islam en España hoy", in L. Martín Rojo, C. Gómez Esteban, F. Arranz and A. Gabilondo (eds.) Hablar y dejar hablar (sobre racismo y xenofobia) (Madrid: Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 1994), p. 24.
(18) B. López García (2003) "El islam y la integración de la inmigración en España", webislam.com, no. 212 [http://www.webislam.com]
(19) L. González Antón, España y las Españas (Madrid: Alianza, 1997), p.613.
(20) J. Vila Selma,"Hispanidad", Enciclopedia de la Cultura Española (Madrid: Editora Nacional, vol. 3, 1966), p. 551.
(21) M. García Morente, Idea de Hispanidad (Buenos Aires: Espasa Calpe, 1938).
(22) M. Carbayo Abengózar,"La Hispanidad: un acercamiento deconstructivo" in Revista de estudios literarios, no. 10, 1998.

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