Crescent Remembered: Islam and Nationalism on the Iberian Peninsula

Crescent Remembered: Islam and Nationalism on the Iberian Peninsula

by Patricia Hertel


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Contemporary Spain and Portugal share a historical experience as Iberian states which emerged within the context of al-Andalus. These centuries of Muslim presence in the Middle Ages became a contested heritage during the process of modern nation-building with its varied concepts and constructs of national identities. Politicians, historians and intellectuals debated vigorously the question how the Muslim past could be reconciled with the idea of the Catholic nation. The Crescent Remembered investigates the processes of exclusion and integration of the Islamic past within the national narratives. It analyzes discourses of historiography, Arabic studies, mythology, popular culture and colonial policies towards Muslim populations from the 19th century to the dictatorships of Franco and Salazar in the 20th century. In particular, it explores why, despite apparent historical similarities, in Spain and Portugal entirely different strategies and discourses concerning the Islamic past emerged. In the process, it seeks to shed light on the role of the Iberian Peninsula as a crucial European historical "contact zone" with Islam.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781845197933
Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
Publication date: 05/01/2016
Series: Studies in Spanish History Series
Edition description: None
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 2.10(d)

About the Author

Patricia Hertel teaches European history of the 19th and 20th century at the University of Basel. Her research focuses on cultural, political and religious history in Western and Southern Europe. She holds a PhD of the University of Fribourg and a master’s degree of the University of Munich.

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The Crescent Remembered

Islam and Nationalism on the Iberian Peninsula

By Patricia Hertel, Ellen Yutzy Glebe

Sussex Academic Press

Copyright © 2015 Patricia Hertel
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84519-654-7


Islam as a Historical Enemy: The Middle Ages as Portrayed in the Historiography

"His eyes were Portuguese, an abiding reflection of inner thoughts, turbulent tempests of the heart, and an utter inner peace. The name of his homeland was written in the boy's face: he was a son of Hispania: The colors, the gestures, the look — all indicated, that the spirit of a Goth resided within, and, at the same time, that the blood of an Arab coursed through his veins."

Alexandre Herculano, O Monge de Cistér ou a Epocha de João I (1848)

Islam in the Search for a "Ser De España"

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Spanish historians produced historiographical concepts that reflected the political and social divisions in their country. The various groups — conservatives and liberals, clerics and secularists, monarchists and republicans — struggled between and even amongst themselves to define a state which was gradually losing its grip on the former South American colonies and felt robbed of its former glory. The Carlist Wars, the short-lived First Republic, the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, and the frequent changes of government around the turn of the twentieth century clearly demonstrated these fissures between the "two Spains." There were in fact far more than two. Spanish intellectuals responded to these turbulent times by asking themselves what constituted "Spain." In their search for a ser de España, a quintessential Spanish nature, they sought a model for the future in Spain's past. They inevitably viewed history, however, through the lens of their present.

These concepts of the nation were as varied as the political and religious views of their authors, but they all sought to create a sense of unity lacking in their contemporary society. The Islamic domination of the Middle Ages was an obstacle in the formulation of a continuous Spanish narrative. The early modern monarchs — from Ferdinand and Isabella to Philip III — had attempted to effect territorial and political unity by shoring up the religious identity of Spain by forcing baptism and expelling religious minorities. The historiography of this period was inclined to portray Islam negatively, written as it was under the influence of the Reformation and Counter Reformation, conflicts with the Ottoman Empire, and the attacks of the Barbary Pirates along the Spanish coast. The Jesuit Juan de Mariana (1536–1624), whose Historia de rebus Hispaniae was published in multiple languages and editions and remained a standard work through the nineteenth century, characterized the Saracens as "rabble" and Islam as "evil superstition." Despite scattered support, Islam served as a sort of negative backdrop against which Spanish society defined itself into the nineteenth century. The dualistic understanding which nineteenth-century historians had inherited led them to perceive the Islamic past as somehow "un-Spanish."

Nevertheless, historians recognized the significance of the Middle Ages and therefore felt obliged to somehow smooth over these fractures and integrate them into a coherent national concept. They had to both explain how Islam had been able to defeat the Christian Visigoths in the first place and then integrate the influence which Muslims had had on the peninsula over the course of the nearly nine hundred years between Tariq's invasion in 711 and the expulsion of the moriscos in 1609. Ignoring or denying their importance was not an option: there were undeniable traces of the Islamic past in the laws, culture, language, and architecture of Spain. In addition, there was an ethnic dimension: whereas sixteenth-century statutes concerning limpieza de sangre, purity of blood, had equated religion and ethnicity and favored "northern" blood as purer and nobler, the nineteenth century, influenced by theories of race, paid more attention to ethnic lineage. The question of physical relationships between Muslims and Christians and the corresponding influence on the gene pool within Spain was present but seldom directly addressed. Nevertheless, it lent the search for a ser de España a concrete biological aspect.

In the search for these answers, the so-called reconquista became a central concept. This term, used by historians since the eighteenth century, took on new meaning in the mid-nineteenth century. The term restauración, prominent in the early modern period, had primarily described the restoration of the Visigoth kingdom and the Christian faith. The term reconquista, on the other hand, suggested that the territorial conquest had had a significant martial component, not only a necessary defense against an enemy of the faith but also a territorial stranger. The latter had the advantage of portraying the struggle with Islam as a national achievement which set Spain apart from the rest of Europe. At times both terms were used simultaneously. However, in the nineteenth century, reconquista gradually came to dominate. This is evidenced in the fact that reconquista was used not only to describe the struggles between Muslim and Christian rulers or the concrete conquest of a town or fortress, but rather increasingly to refer to the centuries of Islamic rule themselves. Reconquista thus became the most successful Spanish national myth: the fight against Islamic domination, in which religious and political goals seemed to be inextricably linked, was depicted as the deciding characteristic of an entire epoch. The mythical reconquista allowed nineteenth-century historiography to brush aside the religious and political heterogeneity of the Middle Ages — even though these were manifest in the alliances and battles with and against fellow believers. They replaced it with a simplified master narrative in which countless individual narratives took on mythical proportions: for example, the Battles of Covadonga, Clavijo, and Las Navas de Tolosa; the legend of Saint James the Moor Slayer (Santiago Matamoros); or the "Cid," Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar.

The reconquista thus provided a historical framework from which the attitudes of the individual authors towards Islam could be discerned. There were key moments which had to be included in any national narrative: Tariq's invasion in 711; the Battle of Covadonga in 722, which heralded the beginning of the supposed reconquista; Granada's fall as the last outpost of Islamic power in 1492; and the expulsion of the moriscos, the baptized descendants of the Muslim population, in 1609. Historians incorporated these events differently depending on the political significance they ascribed to religion. There were as many explanations as there were authors. Given this wealth of scholarship, the following selection can present only a few examples of the most influential and prominent authors within important political factions: the liberal (Modesto Lafuente) and the conservative-neocatholic (Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, Manuel Merry y Colón), in addition to the liberal (Rafael Altamira) and conservative (Ramón Menéndez Pidal) representatives of the regeneracionismo after 1898. The historical position of Cláudio Sánchez-Albornoz, who would later vehemently oppose Castro, also emerged in this period. Based on this body of scholarship, basic positions on the incorporation of medieval Muslim history can be outlined which competed with and influenced one another. As varied as the accounts listed are, they nevertheless share a Castilian, centralist conception of the Spanish nation. They are supplemented here by Basque conceptions of history as an example of the portrayal of Islam in peripheral national concepts.

Between aversion and fascination: Modesto Lafuente y Zamalloa

The historian, theologian, and journalist Modesto Lafuente (1806–1866) made the nation the protagonist in his thirty-volume work, Historia general de España. He is thus considered the founder of the liberal historiography of the Spanish nation, and, because of its large number of editions, the Historia general was regarded as a sort of "Bible of the Spanish Middle Class" during the era of Isabella II. Lafuente, who was educated in a Catholic institution but never tooks clerical vows, was not anticlerical like many liberals. He viewed the Spanish nation as clearly Catholic, but favored the separation of church and state. This search for a balance between religion and politics, between national pride and tolerance, is also evident in his position regarding Islam. He clearly saw the year 711 as "one of the worst catastrophes ever to befall Spain, one of the most horrifying revolutions, perhaps the worst of all." From Lafuente's point of view, the nation was an organic subject with roots stretching back to the pre-Roman Iberians, and this crisis had been its test of character: "The nation has disappeared; she will rise again." The religious semantics reflect Lafuente's interpretation of the event as somehow sacred.

Thus Lafuente viewed the struggle with Islam as a national defense against a foreign entity. He dealt with the "conquerors of Spain" in depth and described Muhammad's biography, the teachings of the Quran, and the deeds of the Muslim rulers over the peninsula. His attitude oscillated between disgust for their atrocities and admiration of their religious tolerance, especially during the caliphate. He hid this ambivalence in his many questions: "How can our rulers' mix of wildness and gentleness, of generosity and cruelty be explained? The Arab, impetuous and fiery like his warhorse, violent in his passions and emotional outbursts, is generous, gallant, and thankful, but fierce in his hate, blind in his wrath, and relentless in his revenge." Lafuente's description resonates with many of the characteristics which the Orientalists of the nineteenth century conveyed in their stories, images, and poetry. This combination of high culture and bellicosity, of patience and violence towards those of other faiths, was a stereotype of Islam common in European Romanticism. Lafuente's questions were not meant to be answered; indeed, definitive answers would only have detracted from Islam's fascination.

His ambivalence towards Islam carried over into similar attitudes towards the Catholic monarchs. On the one hand, he admired what they had achieved in terms of national unity, but, on the other hand, he was outraged by their religious intolerance. He enthusiastically celebrated Isabella I of Castile as "the" Spanish heroine and attempted to draw parallels to the successor who bore her name, Isabella II, even though this required that he legitimize forced baptisms, expulsions, and the establishment of the Inquistion. "A worthy prince and the most gracious princess who ever sat on Castile's throne left their heirs with the most malignant, darkest, most oppressive institution for human rights and thought, the most contradictory to Christianity's mind and spirit." His verdict on the expulsion of the moriscos was similarly skeptical. Although it had contributed to a religious unity of sorts, "we do not believe that it is a great accomplishment ... to achieve unity by extinguishing those who are of another faith. The accomplishment would have been to convert the unbelieving and angry by way of doctrine, conviction, wisdom, gentleness, and the superiority of our civilization." Lafuente's views clearly opposed those of conservative Catholic authors like Menéndez y Pelayo, who explicitly approved the expulsion. Such diverse positions on controversial points within the past reveal the ideological heterogeneity of Spanish historiography.

Lafuente viewed Islam as a destroyer of national unity but nevertheless ascribed it a prominent role in his narrative. He praised Christian deeds but was outraged by the fate of the non -Christians. The search for contemporary balance was reflected in his search for historical balance. His careful negotiation between fascination and aversion provided many liberals with model attitudes towards the Islamic past.

Exclusion: Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo

The historian Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo (1856–1912) from Santander, one of nineteenth-century Spain's most influential scholars, essentially equated Spanishness with Catholicism; in his eyes, therefore, the Islamic past was anti-Spanish. This interpretation made him an important figurehead for the Catholic parties which agreed with him on this point. The young scholar was admired by the integristas, supporters of an antiliberal, traditional Catholicism, the most radical of whom had abandoned the ranks of the monarchist Carlists in 1888 to form their own party. Menéndez y Pelayo himself (together with the founder of the Catholic Union party, Alejandro Pidal y Mon), however, switched for practical reasons to the liberal conservative party of Antonio Cánovas del Castillo. Despite his (professed) political disinterest, Menéndez y Pelayo served two terms in the Senate for this party, which indicated a revision of his earlier skepticism towards the Restoration and a favorable reconsideration of the parliamentary monarchy. The integristas resented this transition because, in their opinion, the constitution of the Restoration did not go far enough: although it established Catholicism as the state religion, articles eleven and thirteen ensured the freedom to practice other religions privately as well as the freedoms of thought and assembly. From the integristas' point of view this could not be reconciled with Spain's Catholic essence.

Menéndez y Pelayo may have succeeded for a long time at walking a tightrope between the various Catholic groups, but in his writing his position was clear. He popularized Christianity as a vise which held the nation together. Accordingly, his Historia de los heterodoxes españoles (A History of the Spanish Heterodox) recounts a history in which, over the course of centuries, various heretical movements had been successfully repressed, including, for example, the Arians, Albigenses, and Protestants. Though members of these groups may have been Spanish by birth, their rejection of Roman Catholicism, which Menéndez y Pelayo saw as an intrinsic part of Spain, made them outsiders in his eyes. This attitude was influenced by Menéndez y Pelayos' contemporary experiences. Given the social, economic, and regional conflicts which plagued the state during the Restoration, he viewed religion as the key to Spanish greatness and unity: "Without a shared god, a shared altar, a shared sacrifice, without calling themselves children of a shared father, and being renewed via a shared sacrament ..., which people could be strong and grand? ... Christianity grants Spain this unity."

The sheer volume of Menéndez y Pelayo's scholarship makes it difficult to summarize his attitude towards the Muslim presence. He praised Muslim and especially Jewish thinkers like Maimonides and expressed appreciation for the cultural blossoming of Al-Andalus, which certainly would have dismayed the more conservative of his followers. This does not mean, however, that his conception of a ser de España left room for other religions or even for other non-Catholic Christian denominations. He considered the Muslims of the year 711 "foreign invaders, different in race, language, and culture [than us]," whom he at least credited with being tolerant towards those who practiced the Christian religion. He criticized the methods used to drive out the moriscos, but he felt that the expulsion itself had been a historical necessity:

A hundred times worse than the professing Muslims, whose religion is an obstacle to every civilization, there were dissembling Christians, dissenters and apostates, furthermore disloyal subjects and godless Spaniards, enemies of their own land, born supporters of every foreign invasion, a race unable to be assimilated, as the tragic experiences over one and half centuries teach [us]. Does this mean to excuse those who broke the treaty of surrender from Granada or those who participated in the rebellion in Valencia ..., who baptized the moriscos in a sacrilegious way? Not at all. But ... after every hope of a peaceful conversion was exhausted, the expulsion was unavoidable, and I reiterate that Philip II's mistake was to not do so at the right moment.

At the same time, Menéndez y Pelayo was not blind to the fact that the expulsion represented a loss of labor power and knowledge which had disadvantaged Spain in many ways. In his view, however, this material loss could be more easily compensated for than the potential effects of a prolonged conflict. As a scholar Menéndez y Pelayo valued the cultural accomplishments of Jews and Moors in the Middle Ages, but for the Spanish nation these were insignificant. He viewed the expulsion of the moriscos, perceived to be foreign, in a social Darwinist light as confirmation that the "inferior race always loses out in the end to the stronger and more robust principle of nationality." The historical accounts influenced by Menéndez y Pelay saw Catholicism as integral to the nation, equated religious and political unity, and thus excluded Islam a priori from a ser de España.


Excerpted from The Crescent Remembered by Patricia Hertel, Ellen Yutzy Glebe. Copyright © 2015 Patricia Hertel. Excerpted by permission of Sussex Academic Press.
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Table of Contents

Series Editor's Preface vii

Preface and Acknowledgements ix

List of Illustrations xi

Introduction 1

Europe and Islam: Encounters, Memory, Imagination 1

Islam and Nationalism on the Iberian Peninsula: Research Questions 7

Methods and Sources 11

Research Overview 14

Religion and nation 14

Iberian history 15

Images of Islam in Spain and Portugal 16

1 Islam as a Historical Enemy: The Middle Ages as Portrayed in the Historiography 20

Islam in the Search for a "Ser de España" 20

Between aversion and fascination: Modesto Lafuente y Zamalloa 23

Exclusion: Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo 24

Marginalization: Manuel Merry y Colón 26

From religion to civilization: Rafael Altamira y Crevea 27

Cultural influence with reservations: Ramón Menéndez Pidal, Cláudio Sánchez-Albornoz 29

Islam in the "nacionalismos periféricos": The example of the Basque Country 31

Islam in the Search for Portuguese Origins 33

Demystification: Alexandre Herculano de Carvalho e Araujo 34

Instruction: Joaquin Pedro de Oliveira Martins 36

Romanticization: Joaquin Teófilo Fernandes Braga 38

Reluctance and acceptance: Catholic authors 39

Comparative Conclusions 41

2 Islam as an Object of Research: Integration of the Islamic Cultural Heritage 44

Spain's Well-Known Heritage: The Idea of a "Spanish Islam" 44

Al-Andalus as national reference: Spanish Arabists interpret the past 44

Islamic architecture as national monument: The example of the Alhambra 52

Portugal's Forgotten Heritage: The Late Discovery of Islamic Roots 59

Portugal's origins: Portuguese Arabists interpret the past 59

The discovery of Islamic architecture: The example of Mértola 64

Comparative Conclusions 68

3 Islam as a "Colonial Other": The Iberian Dictatorships 71

Spain: Struggle to Expand Power (1898-1956) 71

Reluctance: Images of Islam in the Moroccan wars (1859-1921) 71

Approaches: "Africanistas" before the Civil War (1909-1936) 77

Propaganda: Islamic fear as a weapon in the Civil War (1936-1939) 80

Appropriation: Discourses of brotherhood in early Francoism (1936-1956) 85

Portugal: Struggle to Maintain Power (1890-1974) 86

Civilization: The idea of a Christian empire (1890-1945) 86

Distrust: Islam as threat for the colonies (1945-1960) 89

Integration: Towards a "Portuguese ecumenism" (1960-1974) 91

Comparative Conclusions 96

4 Islam as a National Lesson: Staging the Past 98

Islam as a Leading Actor: The "Moors of Our Days" in Spain 99

History textbooks from the Spanish Restoration to Francoism 99

Commemorations during the Restoration 106

Islam as a Supporting Actor: Heroes without Enemies in Portugal 111

History textbooks from the Monarchy to the Estado Novo 111

Commemorations in the Estado Novo (1939-1947) 117

Comparative Conclusions 122

5 Islam as Folkloristic Invention: Popular Festivals and Regional Identity 125

"Moors and Christians": Festivals in Southern Valencia 126

Invention of tradition: Nationalization of the festivals in the nineteenth century 126

Prohibition, fraternization, reservation; The festivals as a reflection of twentieth-century politics 130

Bugios, Turcos and Charlemagne: Festivals in Northern Portugal 133

The mouro: His historical and mythical significance 133

Representations of otherness 135

Comparative Conclusions 138

Conclusion 141

Notes, Bibliography & Index 152

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