Fearsome Dilemma for Spain's Muslims
By Isambard Wilkinson
The miracle of the Barranco de Sangre was not of the usual healing kind. Local legend has it that after a savage battle between Europe's first Islamic guerrilla army and Spanish soldiers in the mountains of the south, a sun-baked gully now known as the Ravine of Blood witnessed a miraculous event.
With the valley awash with the gore of both sides, the blood of the Christians miraculously flowed uphill to prevent it becoming tainted by that of the Muslims.
The legend dates from the early 16th century when Spanish Catholic forces, spurred on by the Inquisition, slashed and burnt their way through the last Islamic stronghold on the Iberian peninsula.
Until now, the legends of that Islamic uprising have been little known beyond the folk memory of local people and the dusty archives of Iberia's universities.
Yet to a new generation of Islamist radicals - and Osama bin Laden - the lands of Spain's south provide a sinister inspiration.
The region of Andalusia gives the lie to bin Laden's most recent statement in which he suggested he would offer a truce to European states surrendering their alliance with America.
Probably bin Laden's most oft-repeated lament is for the "tragedy of Andalusia", a reference to the bloody wars waged between Spain and the Moorish regions during the era of Muslim rule from the 8th to the 15th centuries.
For bin Laden, the area is Al-Andalus, where Christians and Muslims are pitted against each other in eternal mortal combat. He, like other extremists, bemoans the loss of the land that witnessed the apex of Islamic learning and artistic achievement.
This is not mere historical obsession. For many Islamists the Spanish victory of 1492 and the expulsions that followed are still fresh in the memory. After some of the Islamic terrorists believed to be responsible for the Madrid train bombings on March 11 blew themselves up to evade arrest police found a video tape in their hideout.
One of the terrorists referred to "the land of Tarik bin Ziayd", the first Arab leader to cross the Strait of Gibraltar in 711, while another said: "You know the Spanish crusade against Muslims, the expulsion from Al-Andalus and the tribunals of the Inquisitions, that was not so long ago."
In truth there is plenty to suggest that for Christians there are similar memories. The myth of the blood that flowed uphill is but one aspect of a vigorous popular memory of the terrible times when Spaniards felt the need to prove that they were not Muslim converts.
Even today the ostentatious slaughtering of pigs and celebration of wine are derived from the old need to show that one was not a closet Muslim. Almost every village in the area had its legends dating from that time. Today the peaceful village of Valor with its white, Berber-style, box-shaped, wooden-beamed houses gives little hint of the area's bloody history.
But beneath the tranquil surface memories are still long. "The Moros [the pejorative word for the Moors] still say that the Alpujarras and Granada belong to them. If they could they would take them back," said Manuel Cascante, the owner of the Perdiz hostel in the village. "The problem is that it is not theirs."
Almost five centuries ago Valor was the headquarters of the last Islamic resistance to the Spanish reconquest. White-robed and wielding scimitars, the Moors launched savage attacks on Christian outposts in the decades after the fall of Granada in 1492.
Afterwards, they retreated to the Alpujarra mountains. Rebellion first erupted in 1499 to resist forced mass conversions. They rose up again in what is known as the Second Revolt of the Alpujarras in 1568 under an aristocratic scion, Aben Humeya, after edicts were passed forbidding Arab-style dress and speaking Arabic.
Also the Moriscos, as the Moors were known under Christian rule, were suspected of sympathising with Spain's rival, the Turks.
The Muslim passions that still surround the insurgency are reflected in a plaque erected on a house believed to have belonged to Aben Humeya by a Muslim group. The plaque reads: "Aben Humeya and the Moriscos - the peak of freedom for Al-Andalus."
The last Moorish leader was betrayed in 1571 and his "intestines were cut out and his body filled with salt and taken to Granada where his head was cut off and pinioned on the entrance to the mountains".
Not until the return of Muslims, mainly immigrant workers from Morocco, did the issue acquire a modern resonance. Since the September 11 attacks, and particularly since the Madrid train bombings, Spain's Muslims have faced a fearsome dilemma. Should they celebrate their history and culture or hide it?
For those such as Isabel Romero, the head of an Islamic community group and one of Spain's 20,000 converts to Islam, the answer is to be open. She has asked for permission from the Vatican to pray in Cordoba Cathedral, which is built on the site of what was once one of Islam's greatest mosques.
"Although the council cannot make the decision it will hopefully be a step for the mosque's universal character to be recognised," she said. "This is not about claiming anything and much less about re-conquering. It does not make sense that when a Muslim goes to pray there they are told to get up."
The petition is supported by the ruling Socialist Party, but a Church spokesman flatly rejected the proposition. "The cathedral is Christian and has been for some time", he said.
But the Cordoba mosque is largely an issue for Spanish converts. Immigrant Muslims tend to say their priorities lie elsewhere. "We don't want anything to do with that. We are more worried about rebuilding relations with Spaniards and making sure our members can live as normally as possible," said a spokesman for a Moroccan community group.
Kamal Rahmouni, the head of an association of Moroccan immigrant workers, called for a commission to supervise imams in Spain and the country's 200 mosques. He said he hoped the scheme would be based on a model that was introduced in France last year.
He said that at present many of Spain's mosques are financed with Saudi funds which tend to promote the more radical Wahhabi form of Islam. "Ninety per cent of Spain's 500,000 Muslims are from Morocco, not from Saudi Arabia, and we need to teach a moderate form of Islam that reflects that," he said.