In southern Spain’s province of Andalusia 1992 is a year of controversy, not because it is the five hundredth anniversary of Columbus’ voyage, but because it commemorates the conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada by “foreign invaders from the North.” In other parts of Spain, and even more so in other parts of Europe and America, 1492 is also remembered as the year Spain’s Jews were expelled from that land. In Andalusia, people know it as part of a time when large numbers of Muslims were made to leave the country.

Muslim expulsions had taken place much earlier, and continued well into the sixteenth century. The most important cities of Spanish Islam, such as Cordoba and Seville, were conquered by Christian Spain in the early thirteenth century. The local population, overwhelmingly Muslim, had either to convert to Christianity or else flee to North Africa. From about 1500 onward, no one in Spain was allowed to practice Islam. Some two million Spaniards of Muslim origin, called Moriscos, were also expelled in successive waves of persecution, the last in 1609. [1] These mass expulsions of Muslims and Jews constitute a major tragedy of modern Iberian history.

Most Jews went the way of their Muslim compatriots, settling in the lands of Islam, mainly in North Africa but also in the Balkans, then under Ottoman rule. Catholic Spaniards held Jews responsible for having brought the Muslims into the country. The expression el judio traicionero — “the traitorous Jew” — refers to the legend according to which persecuted Spanish Jews turned to Muslims in Morocco for help and then assisted those Muslims in their conquest of Spain.


In the 1930s, before Francisco Franco erected his military dictatorship on the ruins of the Spanish Republic, a general reorientation of Spanish history writing began, casting the Islamic period (711-1492) in a more positive light. This trend, which continued under the generalissimo’s iron-fisted rule, gained momentum in the late 1970s. Seville, the capital of the south of Spain, saw the creation of the Partido Socialista Andaluz, a regionalist party demanding autonomy for Andalusia, in 1978. The party dropped the term “socialist” in 1984 and became the Partido Andalucista (PA). It has never won a majority in the province, but dominates the city councils in several cities, including Seville. [2]

Andalucismo — or Andalusian nationalism — is built on the legacy of Blas Infante, whom the PA claims posthumously as its ideologue. A sociologist and prolific author from Malaga, Blas Infante was executed by Fascist troops in 1938. He also wrote El Himno de Andalucia, which might pass as Andalusia’s national anthem: “After many centuries, the green and white flag is returning, we Andalusians want to be again what we used to be. Demand land and freedom!”

The green-white-green flag has become common property of Andalusians regardless of party affiliation, and is ubiquitous alongside the Spanish national flag. It is said to have been seen for the first time on the minaret of the mosque of Seville (the famous Giralda) in the tenth century. In a fifteenth-century battle, 18 of the 22 flags captured by the Christians from the Muslims of Granada were in green and white. The andalucistas chose those colors of “the losers” for their provincial flag.

Traditionally Spaniards regarded the Visigoths, under whom the country turned Christian, and the Castilians, who reconquered it from the Muslims, as the good guys. Blas Infante, and following him many others, reversed the picture, favoring the Phoenicians and Greeks who settled on the shores of Andalusia in early times. The Romans were all right, but the Visigoths were barbaric hordes who devastated the land. The Arabs put an end to their Germanic tyranny and Catholic fanaticism. The Castilians came as colonizers who drove out the Andalusians. The people whom they settled there merged with those remaining and became Andalusians themselves, imbibing the spirit of the land and resisting northern imperialism.

Ideological as this view of history obviously is, it is less simplistic than the official one, and is no longer restricted to a few intellectuals. [3] There have been protest demonstrations against the customary military parade in Granada every January 2 commemorating the Castilian conquest of the last Muslim stronghold in Spain. Andalucistas make it a day of mourning.

Andalusians in North Africa

The moros of Spanish history were by no means all Arabs or Berbers; the majority were local converts and people of mixed blood, especially in the later centuries. [4] The mass expulsions and the thoroughness of the Inquisition left only a few small pockets of that population.

Other communities descended from the original Andalusians can be found along the coast of North Africa, as far west as Tripoli in Libya but especially in Tunis and Algiers. The largest number live in Morocco — in Rabat, Fez and Meknes. The towns of Tetouan and Larache, in which Andalusians formed a majority, were for many decades under Spanish rule.

In North Africa, people of Andalusian origin are often a group apart. Especially in cities with large concentrations, they seem to have married mostly among themselves. Outwardly they appear European, indistinguishable from Spaniards. Their Arabic is heavily interspersed with Spanish words. Many have Spanish family names such as Acequio, Jorio, Molin, Moro, Sancho and Torres. By contrast, in Spain Andalusians are often associated with Arab features and Arab names. Blas Infante found out, though, that Spaniards with names such as Medina and Almodovar may be the offspring of northerners who were made to settle in places from which Muslims had been expelled.

Religion was not really the dividing line. Hundreds of thousands of Moriscos who had been Catholics for generations were expelled — among them priests, monks and nuns who could only think of themselves as Spaniards and Catholics. Their only sin was to have had, or been accused of having, a Muslim great-grandmother. Once in Morocco, they had great difficulties adjusting to a religion and culture altogether strange to them. After all, they had been reared with Spanish prejudices against Muslims. Some ended up in Moroccan jails for preaching Christianity.

This was a lesson for Andalusians on both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar: Today you may be looked at askance for appearing European; tomorrow you may be discriminated against for seeming African. Today you may be persecuted as a Muslim; tomorrow you may be subject to recrimination as a crypto-Christian. Every afternoon Radio Rabat broadcasts an hour of Andalusian music, tunes that have remained largely unchanged for centuries being played on inherited instruments. Quite a few Moroccans in other parts of the country switch off; the music is too European for their taste. In Spain, everybody switches off: Nobody can stand that Arabic music.

Blas Infante concluded that an Andalusian can only be a radical humanist, in the tradition of Cordoba’s daring philosophers, from the “Roman” Seneca to the “Arab” Ibn Tufayl. Blas Infante did what few Spaniards did in his day: He went to Morocco in search of the original Andalusians. He visited the grave of Seville’s poet-king Almotamid, who died in Moroccan exile. For a moment Infante seems to have toyed with the idea of creating a movement to separate Andalusia from Spain and have it merge with northern Morocco, then a Spanish protectorate, as an independent state.

Despite this romanticism, however, he never agitated as a separatist. In the end his andalucismo posed less of a threat to Spain’s central government than the autonomism of the Catalans or the separatism of the Basques. Language was decisive: Andalusians speak Castilian, no matter their accent.

Nonetheless, Infante’s writings and Partido Andalucista activism affected Andalusia profoundly. Previously southern Spain had turned its back on North Africa. Although separated from Morocco by only a few miles, most Spaniards had an image of the protectorate across the Strait as if it were Tibet. Those few who had an idea of the greatness of Islamic Spain liked to believe that that was due to some very special kind of noble Arab from somewhere in the East, perhaps in Damascus. Moroccans were nothing but uncouth tribals revolting against Spanish civilization. One has to be familiar with these attitudes to appreciate the recent great increase in the number of Spanish tourists to Morocco.

Until the 1960s, Spaniards and Moroccans were divided by a deep rift of ignorance. The last commander in the Spanish protectorate was stunned to discover that a number of families in Tetouan maintained a distinct Spanish tradition, some of them preserving keys said to be to the houses their ancestors possessed in such-and-such city in Spain. On learning that descendants of the last king of Granada lived in Tetouan, the general immediately rushed to meet Muhammad al-Ahmar, head of the clan of descendants of Abu ‘Abdilla (Boabdil) al-Ahmar. When the enthusiastic general asked him if he had no desire to visit Granada, al-Ahmar told him that, as a laborer in a shoe factory in Amsterdam, he usually traveled from Morocco to Holland via Granada.

Every year, more than half a million Maghribis, most of them working in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, pass through Spain on visits home to North Africa. Along the route, the Spanish Red Cross and the Moroccan Red Crescent set up mixed First Aid Centers. [5] White flags bearing a red crescent and cross have become a common sight, as if Islam and Christianity were at last coexisting after centuries of futile enmity. For most Maghribis this is a terrible trip, especially the many hours spent in concentration-like camps in Spain waiting to cross the Strait. Passing through cities with Arabic names such as Alcala and Valladolid (Awlad Walid) and coming across monuments of Muslim splendor is an emotional strain on many. Andalusians from Morocco hang around places such as the Alhambra, though an outsider would not be able to tell them from the local people.

Heroes But No Leader

While the ruling Socialist Party of Spain maintains close relations with Germany’s Social Democrats, the Partido Andalucista reasoned that it was more natural for them to befriend parties in neighboring North Africa. This turned out to be not so easy. The andalucistas wanted a party that was democratic and socialist. They knew that Muslim Spain had seen periods of cultural splendor and darkness, of enlightenment and fanaticism. They rated the spiritual values of Islam just as high as those of Catholicism, and opposed Muslim fundamentalism just as much as they did Spain’s notorious nacionalcatolicismo.

These criteria narrowed the choice of parties in the Arab world. In the end they chose the Iraqi Baath as their partner, geographically as distant as Germany’s Social Democrats. In 1978, it was still possible to have illusions about Saddam Hussein, and the Baath Party had an impressive line concerning economic development, the emancipation of women and secularism. It looked more progressive and less tarnished than Algeria’s FLN, which in any case supported a spurious separatist movement on Spain’s Canary Islands.

The history of the Partido Andalucista and Blas Infante has influenced Andalusian attitudes toward the Arab world. Claims to the effect that it is all merely an effort to attract funds, especially from Libya, are misleading. Andalucismo started at a time when Spain was steeped in anti-Muslim prejudices and when there was little funding to be had from the Arab world. In 1980, when the PSA got over 20 percent of the vote in the province (it has since stabilized at around 12 percent), party leader Alejandro Rojas Marcos was ridiculed for allegedly planning to ban pork. When popular singer Carlos Cano produced a record which included the Muslim call to prayer (idhan), some alleged that he had received millions (of pesetas) from Khomeini, though the Ayatollah might well have thrown Cano into Evin Prison for the way he sang the idhan.

Whatever Arab investment (chiefly Kuwaiti) really occurred had little to do with the Partido Andalucista’s pro-Arab stance. In fact, more investments were made in other parts of Spain than in Andalusia. The Costa del Sol, around the little town of Marbella, became a favorite retreat of Arab oligarchs, but that had little to do with andalucismo. The Arab world has scarcely taken note of Andalusia’s cultural reorientation.

One reason might be that in North Africa people are less consciously Andalusian today than only half a century ago. Age-old prejudices of the rural Berber population against the urban refinement in those islands of Andalusian tradition nowadays find expression in disparaging comments on Fasi snobbery, political acumen and financial power, or Rabati shrewdness and glibness. Since Moroccan court culture remains essentially Andalusian, there is no reason for Andalusians there to be defensive or concerned about the survival of their distinctive habitat and lifestyle. Accordingly, there is no Andalusian movement commensurate with andalucismo in Spain.

Blas Infante’s struggle for the recognition of Andalusia’s individuality was so successful that it is not easy to find an issue andalucistas ought to fight for in the 1990s. Garcia Lorca, the great poet of contemporary Spain who was executed by the Fascists for being a Republican, was also an andalucista. Presently both Andalusias can point to illustrious sons. In Spain they are the ruling duo of the Socialist Party — Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and his deputy Alfonso Guerra, both from Seville. In Morocco they include two potential Nobel Prize winners for literature — Driss Chraibi and Tahar Ben Jelloun. None of these celebrities is ideological about his Andalusian roots. The novelist Juan Goytisolo, Spain’s leading authority on Moroccan culture, does not hail from Andalusia.

New Strains

Some have taken undue advantage of Andalusian keenness for relations with Islam. At a mosque in Cordoba which had been used as a church and was handed back to the Muslims, ‘Ali al-Kattani, an Islamist functionary from Saudi Arabia, exclaimed that Muslims would once again rule over all of Andalusia. The liberal bishop of Cordoba protested this abuse of Cordoban hospitality, and angry citizens left ominous writings on the walls of some public buildings: Jesus si, moros no!

The number of Spanish converts to Islam probably does not exceed 800, many of whom are more cultural than religious. Yet Granada and a few other cities have become hotbeds of Islamism, in the sense that several fundamentalist and obscurantist groups from abroad have availed themselves of the new liberalism to establish their headquarters in the vicinity of Islamic monuments.

Notable among these is the community (or rather commune) of a Scottish convert, Ian Dallas, who goes by the name of Sheikh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Murabit. With his advocacy of jihad against everyone, al-Murabit appears to exult in preaching what he himself calls “hot stuff.” An ardent admirer of Wagner, Ian Dallas is a kind of Nietzsche in Sufi robes. [6] He represents the polar opposite of the Islam that Partido Andalucista politicians revel in when they talk about the golden age of Andalusia. They take delight in the most provocative thought experiments of the freest spirits among Cordoba’s philosophers. For them, heresy is the norm.

The greater challenge to andalucismo is the influx of tens of thousands of desperate North Africans who come ashore in the cover of darkness, hoping to make their way through Spain into France and Northern Europe. Coming from a dozen African countries, they converge on Tangier and then try to cross over in small boats. Almost every night some “boat people” are caught by the army and police, and hundreds have died in accidents connected with their secret passage. For Western Europe today, Andalusia is the front line against the human flood from the South. [7] This makes it increasingly difficult for andalucistas to identify with the glory of Islam in Cordoba and Granada. Instead, many Andalusians seem tempted to sound the old cry of alarm: Hay moros en la costa — “Beware, there are Muslims on the coast”!


[1] Dominguez Ortiz and I. B. Vincent, Historia de los Moriscos (Madrid, 1978). In Spanish, the word moro does not necessarily have a racial connotation, and can simply mean Muslim, no matter whether the person concerned is a Nordic European, an Arab or a Black African. When the Spanish encountered Muslims in the Philippines, they called them moros, and this name stuck.
[2] Lourdes Lucio, “Alejandro Rojas Marcos, Candidato del PA en Sevilla,” El Pais, May 28, 1991.
[3] Jose Luis Acquaroni, Andalucia: mas que nacionalidad (Barcelona: Editorial Noguer, 1980); Manuel Ruiz Lagos, El andalucismo militante: dialectica y crania del “ideal andaluz” (Jerez de la Frontera: Centro Estudios Historicos Jerezanos, 1979); Fernando Repiso, José María Pacheco and Augusto Llorca, Historica basica de Andalucia (Sevilla: Augusto Llorca Fernandez, 1979).
[4] This has been corroborated in the excellent study by Ron Barkai, Cristianos y Musulmanes en la Espana Medieval: El enemigo en el espejo (Madrid: Ediciones Rialp, 1984).
[5] Feliciano Fidalgo, “Desprisa, deprisa — la odisea de los emigrantes marroquies que atraviesan Espana hacia sus lugares de trabajo en Europa,” El Pais Domingo, August 31, 1986; Anunchi Bremon, “Algeciras, un mal paso: 700,OOO personas atravesaran una ciudad,” El Pais, July 5, 1989; and al-Sharq al-Awsat, March 2, 1989.
[6] I had several long discussions with him, both in Madrid and in Hamburg, where I served as an interpreter during his visit to a local Sufi center. There are few Spaniards among such medievalist groups as the Murabitun of Ian Dallas. Most of his adherents are converts from Northern Europe or the US. But they have considerable nuisance value inasmuch as their attempts at proselytizing cause a backlash in the population.
[7] Diego Narvaez, “Algeciras, la ultima frontera,” El Pais Domingo, May 5, 1991; Roy Wickam “One-Way Tickets to Nowhere,” The European, May 10-12, 1991.

How to cite this article:

Khalid Duran "Andalusia’s Nostalgia for Progress and Harmonious Heresy," Middle East Report 178 (September/October 1992).

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