Weekly Letter to the President
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ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
September 25, 2020
A multi-ethnic, multi-religious culture built Spain into an intellectual powerhouse so
much so that after the reconquesta scholars from various parts of Europe flocked
there to translate the scientific and philosophical works from classical Arabic into Latin
triggering the European renaissance.
But soon there were other changes. The Holy Office of the Inquisition was born.
Muslim dress, Arab names and the Arabic language were outlawed. A new inferior
class of people emerged - Moriscos. They were Muslims who had converted to
Catholicism under threat, usually of exile and loss of property. Many of course
continued to practice Islam in secret.
Discrimination and mistreatment led to Morisco rebellions which were crushed.
Eventually they were forced into internal exile to the northern provinces of
Extremadura, La Mancha and New Castile where there was greater tolerance
particularly in La Mancha.
In Toledo, the area around the cathedral gained fame as an informal school of
translators. Often Morisco, these translators' services were available to scholars or
others requiring translation of Arabic texts. It is here that the narrator of Cervantes'
epic Don Quixote of La Mancha finds a translator for an Arabic manuscript, a
supposedly historical account of Don Quixote's adventures. The author of the
fictional text is Cide Hamete Benengeli, a name that is clearly of a Morisco. If Spain
was busy making Moriscos a non-people, Cervantes was reminding them of their
In 1492 when the last Arab Emirate (Grenada) was relinquished to Catholic Spain the
treaty signed promised Muslims the right to their way of life in perpetuity. Their
Catholic Majesties Ferdinand II and Isabella I soon reneged on the deal. Restrictions,
internal exile, discrimination and forced conversions were the result. But even the
converted were not safe. As Ottoman power expanded to the Mediterranean, Spain
felt threatened. Morisco loyalty became suspect and in the early 17th century they
were expelled from Spain as were the Jews. So ended 900 years of coexistence,
fruitful and friendly that changed to suspicions and final expulsion under Catholic
And what of Spain? Having lost its intellectual dynamism, it took its brand of intolerant
Christianity to the Americas and added it to European diseases to which the people
there had no immunity. A devastated but Christianized population was the result.
Time and immigration have changed demographics. A majority of Argentines for
example have Italian ancestry; German influence in Chile which encouraged
immigration from there in the 19th century is another example.
Our own Ferdinand and Isabella composite resides in the White House with a good
chance he will not next year. Life will go on and people will continue to practice the
religion of their birth or choice.