View from Spain 2: Islamophobia

Michael Kagan

Here in southwest Spain, we have noticed over the last few years an increase in Moroccans, such that they are almost as large a minority as Romanians. The latter came to this area to work in the fields, and whereas they are somewhat marginalized, at least they are white and European, not dark and African. I would not say there is overt racism or oppression of either group, both of which keep pretty much to themselves, but they are both seen as "other". (Of course, in many ways, so am i!)

Moroccans stand out more than Romanians due to their distinctive dress and language. I enjoy seeing them in the streets and stores, and wonder how the process of immigration was for them. I know how difficult it's been for my wife and me to get visas; lots of hoops to jump thru, two trips to San Francisco, expenses for translation of documents, background/health/financial checks, etc. I wish them all, both groups, a good life here.

The other day, we went to an office that helps foreigners to discuss the process for renewing our visa. Two Moroccan women, one with a two-year-old girl in a stroller, came in. As we gathered our stuff from the seats next to us to make room for them to sit down, they protested that we should not go to the trouble. Yet they were thankful to be able to sit for what would be an indeterminable wait. I engaged the little girl, making faces, playing peek-a-boo, etc, and the women seemed to appreciate the friendly attention. I wondered how much interaction they have with locals, because my gestures seemed to surprise them. When we came out of our meeting, they were still there, and we had a final exchange that cemented our common humanity.

My son-in-law told us yesterday of taking his third graders to see several nativity scenes ("belenes") in the town center. One location was the main church, so three boys would not enter as it was against their religion. He told them that he does not believe in Catholicism either, but respects all religions, including theirs, has been to many mosques, and that entering the church did not imply they had to believe. Soon they understood, and felt comfortable enough to join their classmates inside to enjoy the creative biblical tableau.

Last month, our daughter told us that a young woman from this little town was picked up at the airport in Madrid on her way to join ISIS in Syria. Apparently her mother tipped off the officials, who are still trying to get to the bottom of her story and process of transformation. This was one of the most news-worthy events in this town of 15,000 people in quite a while, belying the myth that "it can't happen here". People in many US towns and cities have found that radicalization, police brutality, mass shootings, and other horrors can, in fact, happen to them, regardless of race, creed, color, religion, or national origin.

Many people in the US have focused fear and hatred on one group, Muslims, applying the stereotype of “potential terrorist” to all. We forget that Timothy McVeigh, the perpetrator of the largest mass killing in the US, was a white Christian. We forget that most other serial killers in recent years were also white. (Their neighbors often react with something like, “He was such a quiet person who kept to himself”.) Who bombed black churches in the south? White Christian terrorists.
Somehow, we need to find a way to accept others, following our belief in “innocent until proven guilty”. We need leaders, political, religious, and corporate, who do not foment separation and hatred. “Can’t we all just get along?”


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