Barcelona’s main annual festival, the Festes de La Mercè, kicks into high gear on September 24, the day of the city’s patron saint, the Virgen de la Merced. Because the holiday falls on a Wednesday this year, the celebrations will be spread out over more than one week. In all, some 600 cultural events have been scheduled from September 19 to September 28. But not a single one of them will make any explicit reference to the religious origin of the event.
The title “Virgen de la Merced” (Mary of mercy) has its origins in the founding of the Orden de la Merced, a Roman Catholic religious order, in Barcelona in 1218. At the time, the Iberian Peninsula was under Islamic occupation (711-1492) and the so-called mercedarios (knights of mercy) established the new order with the express purpose of liberating Catholic believers who were being held as prisoners by Muslim captors. (The group is believed to have “redeemed” between 60,000 and 80,000 Catholic prisoners.)
Fast-forward some eight centuries to September 2008. Multiculturalism has (temporarily) replaced Islam as the dominant religion in Spain. And multiculturalism’s core doctrine of political correctness says it is now forbidden to honor the memory of faithful Roman Catholics who languished under Muslim captivity.
Instead, the Islamic community of Barcelona has been officially invited to hold its very own festivities as part of the La Mercè festival for the first time ever. Nits de Ramadà (Nights of Ramadan) aims to allow Muslims to party with friends and family during the evening hours when Muslims stop fasting for Ramadan. Nits de Ramadà is open to non-Muslims, provided they dress properly, do not have more than four wives, and do not smuggle alcoholic beverages into the fairgrounds.
At the same time, an anti-clerical group called Lliga per la Laïcitat (Secularism League), which receives a 30.000 euro subsidy to “advise” the regional Catalan government on the separation of church and state, has sent a letter to every municipal councilor in Barcelona warning them not to participate “in the religious celebration that takes place during the festival.” The “religious celebration” refers not to Nits de Ramadà, but rather to a Catholic mass that is scheduled for September 24.
The letter says that justifying attendance of the mass “on the basis of an institutional commitment or a tradition contradicts the imperative necessity to understand that individual religious conscience – which in this case it is – should never take priority in determining the decisions arising from the office an elected representative is temporarily exercising.”
Just in case that was not sufficiently clear, the letter closes by saying: “Democratically elected representatives must exercise their civic role separate from their membership of one or other belief system. In the most friendly and respectful manner possible, we must remind you that you are also representatives of the City of Barcelona.”
In the post-modern linguistics of Spanish Socialism, the letter is saying that any elected official in Barcelona should think twice about his or her job security before attending the Catholic mass that is being held in memory of the city’s patron saint. By contrast, attending Nits de Ramada is not only encouraged, but essential to career enhancement.
If the gatekeepers of Spanish multiculturalism do not see any irony in the Islam versus Catholicism debate in Barcelona, then neither does Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero see any irony in his recent trip to Turkey.
Zapatero, addressing some 2.500 guests at a Ramadan fast-breaking iftar meal in Istanbul on September 15, declared that Spain is a country “proud of the influence of Islam in its history.” He went on to say: “We want to pay respect to all religions; we want to be tolerant of all faiths and ideologies. We will demolish all walls that are barriers to understanding each other.”
Just moments earlier, Zapatero’s host, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamist prime minister of Turkey, said: “We expect members of other civilizations to declare Islamophobia a crime against humanity.” This is the same Erdogan who once said of Islam: “Mosques are our barracks, minarets our bayonets, domes our helmets, the believers our soldiers.”
The irony of Zapatero’s trip to Turkey even caught the attention of Spain’s famously sycophantic leftwing media establishment.
The pro-Socialist El País said the attendance of Zapatero (whom the newspaper describes as a “flagman of secularity”) at a dinner arranged by Turkey’s Islamist AKP party, which in July narrowly escaped closure on charges of being a “focal point for anti-secular activities” by the Constitutional Court by only one vote, constituted a “paradox.”
Barcelona’s left-leaning La Vanguardia ran an editorial titled “The double laicism of Zapatero” which noted that “Zapatero is hyper secular in Spain but a little less so in Turkey […] In Istanbul Zapatero practiced the ‘positive secularism’ advocated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, with the support of Pope Benedict XVI, that is, accepting that religion has its place in public space. Positivism with Islam, however, contrasts with the little sympathy that Zapatero has for the Catholic Church. Will Zapatero have lunch with the bishops on Easter Sunday?”
The center-right ABC, in an editorial titled “With Islam there is no Secularism” said: “Zapatero has not had any difficulties in attending an event of such an obviously religious nature organized by a religious Islamic party. However, his lack of enthusiasm when it comes to the Catholic religion is well known, sometimes with absences as unjustifiable as when he failed to attend the mass of Benedict XVI in Valencia [in July 2006]. It is clear that the PSOE [Spanish Socialist Party] uses a double yardstick: respect and intimacy towards Islam versus aggressive secularism vis-à-vis the Catholic Church. All this with no justification except for political opportunism.”
Many observers are noting that as the Spanish economy descends further and further into chaos, Zapatero’s rhetoric on religious and moral issues is becoming increasingly more radical. In addition to his enthusiastic embrace of all things Islamic, Zapatero is also pushing a range of social political initiatives that, among other things, include easing of restrictions on abortion, euthanasia, divorce and the adoption of children by homosexual couples.
One question is how far Zapatero can push his anything-goes policies before the Muslim community in Spain rises up in rebellion and demands the recognition of Islamic sharia law along side the Spanish Civil Code, similar to what has happened in the United Kingdom.
In any case, Spain is clearly in the middle of a fierce culture war. Although it looks like the post-modern politically correct multicultural secularists led by Zapatero currently have the upper hand, Islam could end up being the long-term winner.
In the words of Spanish-born American philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group