Scholars generally agree that the period of Muslim rule in Spain was one of the highlights in the history of Western civilization. Jews and Muslims lived together side by side in harmony and it was an age of great philosophical and artistic development.
The Christian armies to the north had gravity on their side though and ended up driving the Islamic invaders down through Spain and over the water into Africa. That political border still stands today and the expulsion of the Muslims defined the southern borders of Europe.
The funny thing is that they´re coming back.
There´s no religious or political force threatening the borders these days but instead waves of individuals are making their way back across the water in search of a better life.
For many Moroccans there exists little opportunity for them in their own country. Unless they´re born into a family rich enough to put them through college, their horizon are necessarily limited. The money is all in Europe, they know and this is made clear to them by the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit Morocco every year. As these white-skinned visitors walk around with video camera and money pouches around their waists, the inequalities of wealth could not be plainer.
The trouble is of course, while Morocco is quite happy to allow the influx of tourism dollars, Europe is a little more reserved as to the prospect of Moroccan visitors. To enter Europe legally they must endure a lengthy visa application process, which may include putting up a cash bond as insurance that they´ll return.
But as these requirements don´t exactly meet the means and needs of most Moroccans they look elsewhere. Morocco is so close to Spain that you can see the African land mass across the straits of Gibraltar. The passenger ferry take about an hour and a half to get across. But a speedboat can do it fifteen minutes.
For an exorbitant fee a Moroccan can be sped across the water by the local mafia to the Spanish coast. Often in lieu of the necessary money for passage, he will be persuaded to deliver sacks of hashish to recipients on the other side. Of course the Spanish coastguard do all they can to hinder the trafficking but on a moonless night it´s impossible to catch every speedboat that takes its chances in a dash through the darkness. The coastguard will open fire if they get the chance and it´s not a few would-be immigrants that end up shot or drowned.
But in a recent visit to Barcelona I learnt that there are yet more dangerous routes. My host was a woman called Patricia who works with Moroccan kids who have made their way here on their own. Any under the age of 18 have the automatic right to stay for their own protection. They are put up in a hostel and Patricia does what she can to ease their passage into Spanish society.
“Imagine, Tom!” She told me over coffee, “There are boys of just ten or eleven years old. They came across from Morocco by holding onto the under-carriage of trucks – for hours and hours and hours! Many of them fall.”
We sat in the park one Sunday and all day Moroccan men walked up and down selling beer, water and lighters. There were so many of them doing it that I couldn´t see how any one of them could have made much profit. But anyway it´s one of the few ways they can make a buck in a society in which they´re most definitely outsiders.
The status of immigrants is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. They´re regarded with such suspicion that no one will employ them. And if they can´t make money legally then the urge to survive and prosper naturally inclines them to other methods. For this very reason there are Albanians running protection rackets in Belgium. One way or another they assume the right to make a living. This in turn feeds the doubt and prejudice of the host society and the cycle continues.
Walking through the streets of Barcelona it sometimes feels like you´re in Morocco. Anyway the architecture still retains some of the influence of the Muslim reign and many of the shops have signs in Arabic alongside the Spanish. Young guys from Casablanca and Marrakech hang around on street corners, establishing their territory.
But whilst many appreciate the circumstances that has brought about this influx of predominantly young men, others feel it to be something of an invasion. The Moroccans have brought the values of their culture with them including a largely vulgar perception of any woman who walks alone in the street. Particularly when drunk they may make intimidating verbal or physical approaches to passing Spanish women. It´s a paradox that while they aspire to partake of the wealth of Western society, they generally fail to share the progress in social values too.
But this is not something specific to Barcelona or even Spain. Europe as a whole is struggling with the immigration question as the war-torn and poor of the likes of Bosnia, Chechnya and Albania hammer on the gates of the EU for asylum. With the great economic inequalities between continents every possible loophole is utilized and various mafias grow rich in the smuggling of human cargo.
For the last three centuries the West has carved up the vulnerable territories of the world between them, sucking them dry of their material resources and establishing cheap lab our bases. Thus were the empires built and the West became rich. Now the overpopulated third world wants a slice of the pie taken from them. It would seem that immigration is something of a colonial legacy come back to haunt the conquerors.
The chickens are coming home to roost.