The recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester have reinforced the idea that the greatest security threat in Western Europe today is ‘Islam from within’, homegrown Muslims perpetrating atrocities against their neighbours. It follows on from similarly harrowing events in France, Belgium, Sweden and Germany in the last couple of years.
Several of the terrorists have been second or third generation children of earlier immigrants, their targets being their countrymen.
This sickening threat continues to materialise even 525 years after Islam lost its last political foothold in Western Europe. In 1492, the year Columbus discovered the New World, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon – the sainted Catholic Monarchs – completed the conquest of Granada and united the Iberian Peninsula under a Christian banner.
This momentous event marked the end of Al-Andalus – or Islamic Iberia -which had begun in the 8th century with the Ummayad conquest of the Visigothic kingdom of Hispania and the subsequent establishment of the Caliphate of Cordoba.
At its peak Al-Andalus encompassed almost the entire Iberian Peninsula and part of southern France. During the Middle Ages, Islamic commercial power stretched beyond Iberia into central Europe, connected by the Mediterranean and the North African trade routes to the great cities of the Middle East like Damascus and Baghdad.
Hopes of a Christian reconquista developed almost as soon as the Islamic crescent landed in Western Europe. But the Muslim powers were too strong, with the victory of the Almoravid forces at the Battle of Sagrajas in 1086 proving decisive. Islam was here to stay.
Christian dreams now rested on the constant upheavals in the Berber world, with invaders regularly moving into North Africa from the Sahel and then on to Al-Andalus, prompting dynastic change.
This ultimately hampered the stability of the Islamic chokehold on Iberia, and the turning point would come during the Almohad Caliphate. In 1212 an alliance of Christian princes defeated the Muslims at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. The momentum gained proved unstoppable, Cordoba and Seville falling to the cross in 1236 and 1248 respectively.
Only the Emirate of Granada (the Nasrid Kingdom) held on for another 250 years, a southern outpost that could be easily supplied and reinforced from Muslim North Africa. By the late 15th century, however, the Emirate was crumbling, with a united Spanish kingdom under Isabella and Ferdinand taking advantage of the political chaos within the Nasrid dynasty, hampered as it was by succession crises and political intrigue.
In 1492 the city of Granada fell, its leader Boabdil fled and the Iberian Peninsula was once again Christian. There has been no dominant Islamic polity in Western Europe since this point.
This is not to say that Islamic strongholds don’t exist in Western Europe today. From Paris to London, Birmingham to Berlin, Muslim enclaves have developed as a result of prolonged and intensive immigration, precipitated both by the end of colonialism and war in the Middle East. It is such ‘hotbeds’ that have tended to produce the homegrown terrorists now so feared by the public in European countries.
So what to do?
In 1492, the majority of the defeated Muslims were expelled from Spain. Their flight was not a long one, however, for most could peacefully settle in the Berber territories of North Africa.
At the same time, however, an equally important development occurred in Spanish, indeed European, history. Isabella and Ferdinand issued an edict expelling the Jews from their lands.
Jewish people had been an important part of Al-Andalus culture for centuries, providing a commercial zeal and pragmatism valued by both Muslim and Christian princes. Their expulsion was tempered – or so the Catholic Monarchs saw it – by the fact that they could remain in Spain should they apostatise. Indeed, the edict may have been a ploy to encourage this.
Many Jews had, in fact, already renounced their faith, perhaps sensing that the imminent Christian unification of the peninsula would unleash a wave of religious fervour from which they would not escape.
These converts – or ‘conversos’ as they were derogatively known – encouraged the spread and intensity of the notorious Spanish Inquisition, whose leaders distrusted the genuineness of the Jewish (and in fewer cases Muslim) conversions.
Despite the fear provoked by the Inquisition, the majority of Spanish Jews took their chances in 1492 and publicly declared their faith in the Catholic God and his divinely-appointed monarchs. It was a more appealing future than risking life in Muslim North Africa, hardly a bastion of tolerance, then or now.
The gradual assimilation of the Jews would prove to be of great benefit to the nascent Spanish state, their commercial enterprise and financial sophistication way beyond what the Christians could initially offer.
Today, as in 1492, there seem to be two choices regarding how to deal with the Muslims of Western Europe:
The former option has been the one favoured since mass immigration began after WWII. Indeed, many of the initial immigrants were successfully integrated into their European societies, becoming a pioneering force in modern multicultural life.
Unfortunately, this peaceful assimilation has in many cases been overlooked and dismissed by later generations of Muslims, who have come to feel isolated within a culture that they do not perceive as their own. Recent immigrants from the Middle East and Africa – whilst on the whole respectful of their host country – have in larger numbers perpetuated radical views and acts.
Should we, therefore, launch our own inquisition? Wiretapping mosques, increasing police presence in radical areas, and carrying out random interrogations of all ages of Muslims might seem unsavoury. Yet coupled with the influential input of peaceful Muslim leaders it might encourage a greater degree of cultural assimilation.
If this is a futile or unconscionable endeavour then expulsion surely has to be considered. Muslims guilty of, or even suspected of, supporting terrorism – and this is obviously a problematic definition in itself – must be forcibly removed, deported to a country willing to take them; asylum seeking in reverse if you like.
Most of the recent attacks have been carried out by people ‘known to the security services’. This begs the question: why were they allowed to stay and commit these atrocities?
The fear of infringing human rights and the desire not to radicalise other Muslims by seemingly victimising their brethren seem to be overwhelming factors. But do these considerations offset the bitter regret and genuine sadness of the ruling elite when dozens of innocent, law-abiding citizens get wiped out?
These questions have been forced to the forefront of the general election debate in the UK, with people due to go to the polls on Thursday. Which party is going to be able to stand up to the terrorist threat, without further alienating an already disconcerted Muslim populace?
Forget Brexit, security is what is dominating the concerns of the average Briton today. Looking back to 1492 one revisits the question: Expulsion or Assimilation? Embrace diversity and reap the benefits of different worldviews? Or accept division and wait for the inevitable horror?
To which vision do you subscribe?