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The second coming of the caliphate in Spain

In austerity-stricken Spain, the government and media have been warning of threats of radicalisation and terrorism.

Last updated: 22 Jul 2014 12:06
Belen Fernandez

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.
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The Spanish government is planning a new law to fight 'violent radicalisation' [AFP/Getty Images]

In June, Spanish monarch Juan Carlos abdicated the throne in favour of his son Felipe.

More drastic systemic rearrangements have since been proposed, however, by the guardians of another world order. A short video, the subject of recent hype in the Spanish media, features two men who claim to be jihadists in Syria and who explain - in Spanish - that "Spain is the land of our grandfathers" and will thus be reclaimed for Islam as part of the effort to recuperate rightful territory "from Jakarta to Andalusia". (Their particular jihadist outfit is not specified.)

The tone of the declaration is slightly less than spine-chilling. The holy warriors appear carefree, and one laughingly encourages the other to speak: "Come on, man."

Of course, some view prospects of land recuperation as more apocalyptic in nature. On her website Atlas Shrugs, professional Islamophobe Pamela Geller took credit for predicting the impending Muslim takeover; in a post under the category Spain's Islamic Kingdom, she wrote: "Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Libya… Jordan and now Rome and Spain. Regular Atlas readers have been expecting this for some time".

If only Oriana Fallaci, the late Italian journalist and patron saint of Islamophobia, were around to witness the second coming of the caliphate - the logical result of her warning that Muslim immigrants to Europe were endeavouring to replace miniskirts with chadors and cognac with camel's milk.

When debating whether she despised Mexicans or Muslims more, Fallaci eventually opted for the latter "because they have broken [her] balls", and threatened to blow up a mosque slated for construction in Tuscany.

So much for fighting terrorism in Europe.

Blame it on the jihadists

As it turns out, the Muslim reconquest of Spain couldn't have occurred at a more auspicious time.

We all know that the terrorist threat comes in handy when governments need to curtail civil liberties. And austerity-stricken Spain is nothing if not a place of far too many such liberties, as evidenced by massive protests against health care and education cuts, wanton home evictions, and other means of diverting economic disaster onto the poorer echelons of society.

Has austerity worked?

A new Citizens' Security Law just approved by the Spanish cabinet will do much to ensure that freedom doesn't get out of control. The law prescribes fines of up to 600,000 euros ($809,307) for unauthorised gatherings and protests in certain locations and of up to 30,000 euros ($40,465) for "obstructing authority in the carrying out of administrative or judicial decisions, such as evictions".

The encroaching caliphate will presumably facilitate the clampdown on rights, especially given that an anti-terror plan is already in the pipeline over at Spain's interior ministry. According to the news agency EFE, the aim of the plan - which will be unleashed in a few months - is "prevention of violent radicalisation". Conveniently, Spanish interior minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz, curator of the Citizens' Security Law, previously accused "radical and violent elements" of infiltrating protests by unions and social organisations.

So it doesn't require a huge leap of the imagination to assume that ostensibly anti-jihad actions by the Spanish police and Civil Guard will affect non-jihadists as well. The liberal application of terror charges has meanwhile led to the detention of a spate of Twitter and other social media users for allegedly "glorifying terrorism" via such activities as indicating support for Basque independence.

As for Catalonian secessionist aspirations, Fernandez Diaz has sworn that an independent Catalonia would be more susceptible to terror attacks. This sort of scientific reasoning, it seems, could be exploited by the Spanish state to justify all sorts of measures (eg, if we don't evict you from your home, the terrorists will attack).

And the interior minister's claims to fame don't stop there. Earlier this year, he also awarded a top policing medal to a statue of the Virgin Mary - his own little holy war, perhaps, on those who believe in a separation of church and state.

The terrorist distraction

According to the jihad video from Syria, incoming terrorists will not stop at Catalonia.

Obviously, this is not to make light of the terrorist threat, which is quite real - thanks in no small part to the history of western imperial machinations in the Middle East, which have contributed to the proliferation of the jihadist mindset. The Madrid terror attacks of March 11, 2004, for example, were apparently in retaliation for Spain's participation in the ongoing terroristic assault on Iraq.

And indeed, news currently emanating from other sections of the caliphate confirms that it's no laughing matter.

Spain's ABC newspaper reported in June that the "jihadist factory" operating in the country consists of at least a dozen centres for recruitment and training of fighters who are then dispatched to locations like Syria and Iraq. Another ABC article specifies that Spain produces an estimated 40 fighters per month, including persons with Spanish nationality, and that the "process of radicalisation… especially affects Muslim males under the age of 30". The fear is that, if the jihadists survive their business abroad, they'll bring the battle home.

Fernandez Diaz has described jihadist terrorism as "the most serious threat to society in the 21st century". But the obsession with the terrorist threat helpfully distracts from other serious societal problems, such as Spain's youth unemployment rate, which rose to 57 percent last year.

It also fuels racism, Islamophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment - afflictions that are already well-represented in Spanish society and that only further alienate and disillusion persecuted demographics.

To be sure, the jihad phenomenon is complex and shouldn't be over-simplified. But it seems that rectifying some of society's other problems might help ensure folks have better things to do than set up caliphates.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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