1492 vs 2017 Islam in Western Europe: Assimilation or Expulsion?

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.

Terror in Manchester: many of the victims were children

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.

Ferdinand and Isabella

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.

Art flourished in Al-Andalus, with garden scenes a particular Muslim favourite

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.

The Cross triumphed at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa

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.

The final frontier of the Reconquista – Granada

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.

Boabdil rides out to surrender to the Catholic Monarchs

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.

The methods of the Spanish Inquisition included torture

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:

1) Assimilation

2) Expulsion

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.

Some Muslims advocate Sharia law for the UK

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?

The prolonged battle to deport Abu Hamza showed the barrier human rights can raise against reason

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?


The Failure of Forced Conversions: Islamic Extremists Ignore Historic Lessons

In addition to slaughtering those that do not subscribe to their warped religious vision, Islamic extremist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram have attempted to forcibly convert populations on mass. It is true that the Prophet Muhammad was an advocate of converting the ‘heathens’ by force, if necessary, but what such endeavours are expected to achieve is unclear. The extremists certainly do not seem to have learnt from history.

ISIS has shown increasing willingness to execute those not willing to convert to Islam Source: Daily Sabah
ISIS has shown increasing willingness to execute those not willing to convert to Islam
Source: Daily Sabah

The desire to convert groups of people to a particular religious or belief system is as old as time. Since the general move away from polytheism centuries ago, a religious competition has been fought between disparate groups in an attempt to elevate their own god above any other.

From the Christian military orders attempting to convert the pagans of Europe, to the Islamic armies’ prosletyzing marches across the Middle East, there has existed an obsession with overhauling the belief systems of alien peoples. Perhaps the most noticeable example of this is the Catholic missionaries’ efforts to convert the indigenous populations of the New World after Columbus’ voyage of 1492.

As soon as the first Franciscan friars arrived in the Caribbean after Columbus’ voyage, in Mesoamerica after the conquests of the Aztec and Mayan empires, and in South America after the overthrow of the Inca, the process of eradicating heresy began. Mass baptisms took place simultaneously with the destruction of temples and pre-contact icons, Christian churches were built and instruction in the scriptures took place.

The Spanish justified their conquest of the Americas through converting the natives
The Spanish justified their conquest of the Americas through converting the natives

Of course this was not a process that could take place overnight. Language barriers and the refusal of the Amerindians to discard their traditional beliefs led to severe problems for the ruling Spanish. Many of the indigenous people simply interpreted Christianity in their own way, making deities out of saints and relating Bible stories to their own banished religions.

Others converted simply out of fear. Whilst they attended mass and placed crosses above their doors, in private they continued to worship the same gods of their childhood, carrying small sacred objects (Illas) that defied the zealous friars. Christian burials were introduced and yet the natives would often sneak back at night and retrieve the bodies of their loved ones for a traditional funeral practices.

The corruption of some priests – who engaged in secular activities aimed at material gain – further restricted the ‘spiritual conquest’ of Spanish America, preventing the Europeans from ever really exerting a complete hold on the population. With approximately one priest to every 10,000 natives the task of conversion was hard enough and cutting corners as a means of justifying their conquest in the eyes of god had a limited effect.

Ironically, the Spaniards had already encountered such problems at home during the infamous early days of the Inquisition. The Catholic monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand, expelled all those Jews and Muslims from their country who were unwilling to convert. Those that stayed and adopted Christianity (conversos), however, often continued to pursue their own forms of worship in private. The occasional brutality of the Inquisition only bred resentment and resistance.

The brutal methods employed by the Spanish Inquisition to convert 'heretics' travelled to the New World
The brutal methods employed by the Spanish Inquisition to convert ‘heretics’ travelled to the New World

The terror tactics of ISIS, Boko Haram and others are likely to be similarly ineffective. Whilst in theory they might increase the number of converts to extreme Islam, in reality their murderous and dictatorial methods are likely to strengthen the resolve of their opponents, even creating alliances between opposing religious and ethnic groups that would otherwise steer clear of one another.

In the New World, the Spanish failure to achieve the spiritual conquest of the continent was not terminal, thanks to their overwhelming military superiority and the influx of European diseases that ravaged the native population.

Today’s brutal converters do not have the same power on their side; rather, they are gradually encouraging a coalition of enemies whose mutual desire to destroy such evil outweighs their own quarrels and disagreements.