Granda, Spain — The prodigal child has come home to roost. I am in the Albayzín section of Granada. This once autonomous, Andalusian Muslim community, which has retained the narrow streets of its Medieval Moorish past, I’d argue, is ground zero for tomorrow’s world.
It’s all here- the sights, sounds, smells; Syrians, Moroccans, Lebanese, Libyans; the restaurants, Halal food, leather stores up steep walkways; the incense; wild colorful ingredients, spices and herbs. Arabic pushing up against Spanish and other European languages. The mosque and the church, Jewish history. Young women offer henna, which comes from the Arabic, ḥinnāʾ, for 1 Euro; men smoking their cigarettes stand in front of their shops. There are tea and hookah lounges. There’s flamenco, too, where it originates (as well as in Extremadura and Murcia) — a doleful synthesis of Romani, Arabic, and Spanish cultures that eventually find their way to the New World and metamorphose into el tango.
Asian cultures are here mostly as observers, walking around in tour groups with lots of cameras and a zealousness for selfies. They are absorbing something quite alien to their respective cultures; however, you do experience the Chinese immigrant that owns the local grocery store (something you experience in Argentina, as well).
What are we witnessing? What’s this telling us?
While in the United States we’re busy trying to put up borders, fences and the like, or we’re supporting misguided political candidates that seek to bifurcate the rest of the world in denial of how money actually flows, the rest of the world is obliterating the notion of boundaries and questioning the order of the nation-state.
In the early eighth century we see the beginnings of an Islamic presence in the Iberian peninsula that would endure for the better part of a thousand years and whose influence upon peninsular culture is still discernible. “What is more, Islamic Spain would come in time to offer the fruits of a higher civilization to barbarian Europe beyond the Pyrenees,” historian Richard Fletcher tells us in Moorish Spain. “European acceptance of this legacy, hesitant at first and then full-hearted, decisively affected western culture, not just in Europe but also in those New Worlds discovered and settled by Europeans in the early modern period.”
While the prodigal child has come home — and is spreading its notion of home throughout Europe and the New World — in the United States, primarily, we are tragically in denial of the affects Islamic culture has had on the world. We are responsible for the obstacles that prevent our understanding of this — something else Fletcher argues.
Let’s not forget that the Muslims freed the Jews from the Visigoths in Toledo, Spain, then helped them construct their first temple where you can still see Arabic art; let’s not forget that in Granada, in all of Andalusia, Muslim, Jew, and Christian (Catholic) lived side-by-side in relative harmony for hundreds of years, even intermarrying. Yes, there were tribal skirmishes, misunderstandings, but the harmony, the sharing of knowledge was unprecedented, and for us today, unimaginable. This is the crux of the problem: the problem of the imagination. We don’t believe this is possible. Hell, in 539 BC, about 200 years before a Berber army under Arab leadership crossed, in the year 711, the Straits of Gibraltar from Morocco, King Cyrus The Great of Persia marched into the city of Babylon, released the Jews from almost 70 years of exile and made the first human rights declaration. What happened to that?
Where are we ? What’s going on?
A primary problem we have is education, particularly in the United States where it’s been hijacked by a system that is nothing more than a conveyor belt into and through commodity culture — spend, spend, spend. This determines a hierarchical system of competition, blind to the reality that resources are dwindling; in effect, we compete for less. It becomes a dog eat dog world. So everyone is a threat — Jews, Muslims, Asians, Mexicans; all religions that are not Christian, especially fundamentalist Christian, are a threat as well. Republicans and Democrats perceive each other as threats. As we see ourselves as the most powerful nation in the world, we perceive a privilege of telling any story we want to the rest of the world — even if it’s wrong. That’s why Republicans and Democrats need control over the other: someone has to control the narrative. Why not us, by making ourselves more knowledgeable about the actual world we’re living in? We’re not alone.
What’s happening today is that, in the United States we’re fooled into believing that we live in a divided world, though the cosmopolitan world that actually exists is pushing against borders and boundaries — at one level we see this in refugees fleeing the devastation we’ve conjured because of how misguided we are, and at another level, take the Panama Papers, we see how keen some of us, the most elite, are at understanding how important and powerful is the free-flow of capital.
Thus, in a vertical society, especially one as harsh as that of the United States, we fail to learn from history — so it repeats itself. But it repeats itself because we enable those that control narratives to write myths about us, our past, our communities, our future. Granada, Spain, as one example, is pushing up against our misguided misconceptions about the nature of our world. The future is here in this cosmopolitanism without boundaries. The quicker we learn this, in the United States, the stronger we’ll be because diversity is, indeed, strength, not the other way around as many of our current political leaders would have us believe. Our politics — and our narratives — are misguided; it’s showing.