Once again, in 2017 a political-cultural
controversy has flared up around the commemoration of the Fall of Granada on 2
January 1492 to the army of Isabel and Ferdinand, the Catholic Monarchs, which opened
the way to national unification. The Fall of Granada plays an important role in
the ideology of the arch-conservative and national-catholic sections of Spanish
society. The controversy this time was sparked by the unfortunate intervention of
Esperanza Aguirre, right-wing leader of the Madrid City Council, who chose to
celebrate the 525th anniversary of the event via her Twitter account
as a day of glory for Spain and the Spanish people. Aguirre’s glory tweet was
accompanied by an emoticon of the Spanish flag and a copy of Francisco Pradilla’s
1882 painting The Surrender of Granada
portraying an abject and defeated Moslem Sultan Boabdil handing over the keys
of the city to an imperious and victorious Catholic Queen Isabel.

It was a day of glory for Spain, Aguirre
went on, in her tweet, because Spain would never have been free under Islam.

Such a naked national-catholic
and crude Islamophobic reaction as Aguirre’s has been relatively rare among the
country’s leading politicians in response to recent celebrations of the Fall. A
more common defence of the celebration is to depict it as an innocent tradition
which has deep roots and is much loved among the city’s population. The
representatives of this view are careful to describe it as a commemoration and
not as a celebration. Indeed, some go so far as to present it as an essentially
local celebration of Granada, playing down its national political implication:
that the Unification of Catholic Spain followed the Fall of Moslem Granada. The
ritual that takes place on the town hall balcony every year is for them an
enjoyable pantomime, and the only possible objections to it must come from outsiders
– intellectuals, communists, Islamists, political extremists and such. Leave us
true granadinos in peace and let us
celebrate our harmless traditions and our popular history with due pride, they
argue.

This defence
doesn’t hold water, of course. First of all, the event has long ceased to be
the social magnet it once was, and as many commentators observed the only
reason that the streets were not as deserted as usual this year was that the
shops were open. The rituals continue to lose substance and for the younger
generation in particular they are an anachronism. The rituals, furthermore,
have a clearly militaristic as well as religious content, with the Army and
this year even the Spanish Legion taking part, and this militaristic-religious
content is understandably not to everybody’s taste. At the same
time, this accolade to the Catholic Monarchs’ great achievement does not bear
historical examination. The Catholic Monarchs may sure enough be the founders
of Modern Spain, but this modern Spain was built on deceit over the terms of
the capitulation, religious persecution and the Inquisition, book burning, repressive
legislation, ethnic cleansing and ultimately, in 1609, the definitive expulsion
of the remaining visible descendents of Al-Andalus. This repression was followed by a
long period of decadence and decline in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,
culminating in civil war and dictatorship in the middle of the twentieth. Esperanza
Aguirre nimbly skips over this inconvenient history of post-Moslem Spain.

Thus in
the end we have to agree with Antonio Cambril (Hay Toma para rato, Granada Hoy,
04 January 2017) who argued vigorously that there is no such thing as innocent
ritual.

In
fact, in my very first blog, dated 15 August 2010, I made thge point that the evaluation of the cultural inheritance of Islam
in Spain tends to be seen in political terms, with the liberal left seeing in
vestiges of the Moslem past some of the greatest cultural expressions of
Spanish history, while the conservative right prefers to champion the
achievements of the renaissance and post-renaissance.

As a
consequence of this state of affairs, what we have each year on 2 January (following
Cambril again) is a city celebrating the defeat of its own population and
culture, from which we inherited among other things the splendour of the Alhambra,
a contemporary tourist shrine from which the city is profiting today very
nicely and without which it would be little more than a half-forgotten
backwater.

Previous
posts on the Toma de Granada and the
ethnic cleansing of its Moslem population: 29 Jan 2013 (post 28); 2 Jan 2011 (post14);
19 Dec 2010 (post 11); 7 November