April 07, 2009
Four hundred years ago in 1609, King Philip III ordered the expulsion of all Moriscos - Spaniards of Muslim descent - from Spain in an ongoing attempt to establish a homogeneous state and remove the last vestiges of Islam from his nation.
Today, many in Spain and Europe are once again outraged by the presence of Islam within their borders, and some believe the millions of Muslim immigrants now living there pose a fundamental challenge to European identity.
In his new book, We Are All Moors: Ending Centuries of Crusades against Muslims and Other Minorities (University of Minnesota Press), University of New England Professor Anouar Majid, Ph.D., contends that the acrimonious debates about immigration and Islam in the West are the cultural legacy of the conflict between Christians and Moors.
Offering a groundbreaking new history of the West's perception and treatment of minority cultures, Majid explores how "the Moor" emerged as the archetypal Other against which Europe would define itself. The characteristics attributed to this quintessential minority - racial inferiority, religious impurity, cultural incompatibility - would be reapplied to other non-European and non-Christian peoples: Native Americans, black Africans, Jews, and minority immigrant communities, among others.
The Moor, Majid reveals, has served as an unacknowledged but potent metaphor for all minority peoples in the West, endlessly reincarnated by the majority. Only by recognizing the connections between current fears about immigration and Islam and medieval Christianity's crusade against the Moor, he argues, can we begin to redress centuries of oppression, learn from the tragedies of the past, and find common ground in a globalized world. .
In a pre-publication review of We Are All Moors in the Library Journal, Lisa Klopfer, Eastern Michigan University, said that Majid's "alternative history of xenophobia ... will stimulate and provoke readers across the political spectrum." She added that "this work will generate criticism and conversation; it will be taken up by intellectual reading clubs as well as graduate seminars and should be made available to all academic audiences as well as informed readers."
In another pre-publication review, Publishers Weekly wrote: "Majid draws much-needed comparisons between events leading to atrocities like the Spanish Inquisition and present attitudes and trends, including growing disdain for Muslims in Europe and Hispanics in the U.S. ... With this intriguing historical analysis, Majid sounds a clear warning against the West's latest slide toward cultural scapegoating."
Majid, founding director of UNE's Center for Global Humanities, has been described by Princeton scholar and public intellectual Cornel West as one of a few "towering Islamic intellectuals," a leading figure in examining the place of religion and Islam in postcolonial theory and the culture of globalization.
He is the author of three critically acclaimed books on Islam and the West. In 2007 when his last book, A Call for Heresy: Why Dissent is Vital to Islam and America, was published, Majid appeared on PBS's Bill Moyers Journal.
Recently, Professor Majid's novel Si Yussef, originally published in 1992 and republished in paperback by Interlink in 2005, has been the focus of much scholarly and critical interest. He is also editor of Tingis, a Moroccan-American magazine.