Book Review: We Are All Moors by Anouar Majid

Living in the 21st Century, we believe, of course, that we base our decisions and actions upon contemporary ideas. We’ve advanced enough to throw off the shackles of antiquated thinking in favor of modernity. Yet Anouar Majid’s We Are All Moors: Ending Centuries of Crusades against Muslims and Other Minorities reveals we may not be quite so free of historical influences as we might think.

Majid, in fact, argues that our current attitudes toward such things as immigration and the so-called “clash of cultures” between the West and Islam hearken back some 500 years or more and that we have yet to overcome “medieval animosities.” Those animosities are reflected in the efforts to drive Muslims from Iberia, one phase of which culminated when the last Muslin stronghold in Spain fell in 1492 and the country became a united, Christian nation. We Are All Moors not only traces Spain’s persecution of and efforts to expel all Spaniards of Muslim descent but how those attitudes spread in both Europe and the Americas and encompassed far more than those of Islamic faith.

To Majid, Moors are a prototype, and not one that redounds to our credit. The persecution of Moors as “undesirable” or worse by a Christian nation was emblematic of how Western civilization also would treat Jews, Africans, Hispanics or Native Americans at various times. “It is only in this symbolic or metaphorical sense that minorities living in the West after 1492 are the descendants of the Moors,” he writes in the Introduction. “Given that the archetypal Other of Europe before 1492 was the Muslim, the world’s non-European natives or religions were all stamped with the taint of Muslim impurity.”

Thus, for example, We Are All Moors also explores how the treatment of African slaves and Native Americans was impacted not only by a Spanish and Muslim influence in the New World but also the fact that portions of Africa already had a Muslim influence. In essence, the argument is that the same characteristics used to justify attacks on Moors — racial inferiority, religious impurity and cultural incompatibility — also were the prism through which other non-Christian minorities were viewed. Majid argues that we still use that prism today, whether in the clash with so-called “Islamists” or European unease over the number of Muslim immigrants and similar feelings in American toward Hispanic immigrants.

At times, Majid might reach a bit too far. A chapter called “Muslim Jews” seeks to show how persecution of Jews is interconnected with anti-Muslim sentiment in the Christian world. He notes not only that Muslims and Jews were often cohabitants of particular geographic areas but also, for example, Jews were seen during the Crusades to be allied with Muslims, if not in league with them. The latter, though, seems somewhat problematic. First, it tends to undercut his reliance on the unification of Spain helping make Moors a prototype because the Crusades preceded that. Second, persecution of Jews isn’t necessarily correlated with persecution of Muslims. For example, Great Britain expelled Jews nearly 200 years before Spain did and Great Britain had little, if any, Moorish influence. Additionally, some experts trace religious-based anti-Semitism to ancient Greece and Rome. A stronger argument exists for Jews also falling within the same spectrum today’s Western prism throws on Muslims.

We Are All Moors is perhaps strongest in its analysis of anti-immigrant feelings in Europe and America. Majid cogently argues that excluding people because of xenophobic fear of threats to “native” culture or economies simply is not a viable option in the modern world and a global economy. Nationalist or nativist concepts based on expulsion or exclusion of undesirables “simply are not rational long-term solutions for an already besieged planet,” he writes. In saying we are all Moors, Majid is saying that in today’s world, we are all minorities in some fashion or another, minorities who can only survive by overcoming racial, religious and cultural differences.

Euro-Americans have simply not had to worry about their racial and cultural hegemony. Now that they do, they are beginning to sound like the conquered and colonized of yesterday.

Anouar Majid, We Are All Moors

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