Establishment politics in Spain received a jolt in municipal elections held on May 24, with strong showings by leftist parties in Madrid and Barcelona throwing the ruling People’s Party for a loop, much to the dismay and befuddlement of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. But while the rise of the indignados — the name given to the nascent progressive movement — may signal a changing of the guard on the horizon, there is little sign that much will change when it comes to the hot-button issue of Muslim immigration and integration into Spanish society.
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times reported a push by conservative leaders in the port city of Tarragona to introduce a law curbing kebab shops and other “traditionally immigrant-owned businesses” in the hope (one assumes) of limiting the creation of immigrant “ghettoes.” Joaquim Enrech Garola, the town councilor for citizens’ security, was quoted as saying, “In recent years, more Muslims have arrived. Now, for example, let’s say a bunch of Muslim kids are milling around after school. It’s better if we disperse them, because they could form a ghetto. What we’re doing is in their interest and in ours.”
The fact that the author of the so-called “kebab law,” Alejandro Fernandez, a People’s Party adherent, was elected mayor of Tarragona last week suggests that the city’s Muslims may soon find themselves targeted with other such strictures. And with the People’s Party largely still in power, similar laws may be enacted elsewhere, particularly along the coast.
Muslims make up 10% of the population in Tarragona and in its coastal neighbor, the more imposing Barcelona. Supporters of the “kebab law” hope that, if enacted, these restrictions will stick, unlike a 2010 law banning burqas later overturned by the Supreme Court.
These measures come not only as fear of Islamic extremism spreads across Europe but also as thousands of Sephardic Jews begin applying for Spanish citizenship in anticipation of a bill that would allow them to do so as the descendants of Jews expelled from the country in 1492. The New York Times cited a growing discontent in Turkey among Sephardic Jews, who complained of rising anti-Semitism there and who wished “to reverse the trek their ancestors took centuries ago as they escaped persecution in Spain.”
Not surprisingly, this invitation to Sephardic Jews to return to their ancestral land has raised the hackles of some Muslims. They point out that their forebears, too, were kicked out of Spain under similar historical circumstances and ask why they are not being afforded the same bite at the citizenship apple.
Jamal Bin Ammar al-Ahmar, an Algerian professor, launched an ambitious six-year-campaign aimed at persuading King Juan Carlos to allow the “millions of descendants of the Moriscos,” as they are known in Spain, to obtain full citizenship in what would be a historically apologetic welcome back.
In addition, in a recent essay in a Moroccan newspaper, journalist Ahmed Bensalh took aim at the plan for Sephardic repatriation. “The decision to grant Spanish citizenship,” he wrote, “to the grandchildren of the Hebrews in Spain in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, while ignoring the Moriscos, the grandsons of the Muslims, is, without doubt, flagrant segregation and unquestionable discrimination.”
The plan to allow citizenship for Sephardic Jews doesn’t sit well with some Spaniards, as well, who feel that an influx of new immigrants will further strain an already dire unemployment picture. Yet published reports suggest there is little doubt that the law will pass.
The Los Angeles Times article, meanwhile, stated that non-Muslims in Tarragona were mostly unaware that the “kebab law” was even being considered and expressed concern that its enactment would affect some of their favorite haunts.
Overall, Muslim leaders are calling for a national dialogue. The topic: What exactly does it mean to be Spanish or Muslim — or both — in this historically Catholic nation? Such a dialogue may be well received by the liberal indignados and their growing number of supporters as they look to build on their gains from the recent elections.
But with the conservatives hanging on to power in Tarragona, it is likely that the Sephardic Ancestry Bill will gain traction. If the bill indeed passes into law, it won’t augur well for the descendants of Moriscos in their quest for the same olive branch of reconciliation and hopeful acceptance that is being extended to Sephardic Jews.