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To whom it may concern,

The enclosed article appeared on the front page of the opinion section in the McAllen Monitor, the largest newspaper in Deep South Texas, on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2003. I thought you folks might be interested in using this.

In the article, I argue that Hispanics have a special responsibility to try to stop any war against any Muslim nation because we have more in common with Muslims than with most any other religious or ethnic group in the country. In 1492, when Christian monarchs Fernando and Ysabela wrested away control of the last vestige of Al-Andalus from the Moors, Muslims became the victims of one of the most vicious examples of ethnic cleansing in human history. Now, U.S. Hispanics, who are in many ways the modern-day descendents of the most Catholic majesties, have it in our power to undo an ancient wrong and provide some measure of thanks to a people who for eight centuries before 1492 provided Hispanic culture with some of its richness.

I am currently a history instructor at South Texas Community College, an institution serving more than 14,000 students this semester. Please feel free to contact me at this address (rey_felipe_ii@yahoo.com), my work e-mail, which is greyes@stcc.cc.tx.us, or at my office at (956) 688-2170 if you have any questions. Thank you for your attention.

Gilberto Reyes Jr.
History instructor
South Texas Community College

U.S. Hispanics Ethically Compelled To Oppose War

By Gilberto Reyes Jr.

With the prospect of war against Iraq looming, Hispanics – who now represent the largest ethnic minority in the United States – have an historic opportunity to change the current course of world events.

What this means is that U.S. Hispanics must unite to stop a war against Iraq.

Why Hispanics especially? Because fighting to stop the war is not just the right of some Hispanics, it is the responsibility of us all. Fighting to stop the war will not only save lives today, but also, in a larger historical sense, correct an ancient wrong committed by our ancestors.

Hispanic history has taken many forms in the Americas. Strictly speaking, American Hispanics are not anything like their Iberian ancestors in ways too numerous to note here. Yet the Spanish ancestors of U.S. Hispanics brought with them cultural ideas borrowed from the myriad cultures that have inhabited the Iberian Peninsula. Besides Visigoths, Celts, Romans, the crucible upon which Spanish Hispanic culture formed was in many ways forged by – and this might surprise some – Muslims from Africa called the Moors.

For eight centuries, from 711 to 1492, the Moors ruled over a large swath of the Iberian Peninsula they called Al-Andalus. For the first 500 years of so of that history, before Christian attempts to reconquer the peninsula began in earnest, Muslim rulers of Spain governed the predominantly Christian population with what can only be described as velvet gloves. Muslim allowed both Christians and Jews religious freedom and even promoted many of them to positions of governmental leadership.

Even after Pope Urban II initiated a holy war against the Muslim religion in 1095, the Moors did not respond in kind upon the Christians of Al-Andalus. While the descendants of Mohammed beseeched all loyal Muslims for military help, the Moors continued to govern Al-Andalus as they had in the past, with an eye towards religious toleration. Muslim Spain thus avoided much of the strife that overran the rest of the Old World during the Crusades. Instead of destruction, a time of social peace, scientific discovery and architectural splendor defined Al-Andalus.

La reconquista (the Christian reconquest of Spain) changed that. Under the leadership of two of the most intolerant monarchs in Western history, Fernando and Ysabela, a systemic program of persecuting religious minorities in Spain began. Muslims and Jews were forced to leave the country or convert to Catholicism. To ensure that the moriscos (Catholicized Moors) and conversos (Catholicized Jews) did not revert to old ways, the Holy Office of the Inquisition “corrected” backsliders with torture, coerced conversion to Christianity and finally execution. Many contemporaries saw execution as a gift to the new convert, for the person converted would die with a clean soul and before s/he could sin again.

When, by 1580, the Spanish had conquered all of the Americas that would be conquered by Europeans, they had sloughed off their tolerant Muslim past and replaced it with the idea that the Indians had to become Spanish Christians or die. Spain succeeded all too much in killing Indians as they unleashed a forgotten holocaust on the natives of the Americas that caused complete extinction of native peoples in many parts of this hemisphere.

And yet within the space of three generations, it was these same Spaniards who would begin the process of cultural blending called mestizaje. Beginning with the physical and cultural union of Indians and Spaniards, and then eventually expanding to include the wisdom of African and Oriental culture, mestizaje would create a new kind of Hispanic, one that is the product of diversity and not cultural intolerance.

In a sense, it is poetic justice that colonial Spain’s greatest cultural legacy to history is not the imposition of its culture on the Americas, but the creation of mestizaje, an open-hearted and open-minded process of cultural blending which unwittingly kept alive many aspects of Indian culture. By creating mestizaje, Spain’s leaders unwittingly harkened back to the ancient era of cultural tolerance fostered by the Moorish leaders of Al-Andalus.

But cultural tolerance towards Muslims died out in Spain after 1492. Now, fate has placed in the hands of modern-day U.S. Hispanics the chance to render unto the Muslim world a bit of restitution, in the form of stopping a war against Iraq, while also showing gratitude to a people who have so enriched Hispanic culture. But we, unlike the unwitting Spaniards of old, have the chance to choose to right an old wrong.

I doubt the Bush Administration wants to go to war with the Muslim religion. I am willing to believe Bush’s goal is to stop terrorists and those who assist them, not Muslims who want to keep their faith.

But in light of the “Patriot Act” and recent moves to “keep tabs” on some Pakistanis living in this nation, I can understand how some Muslims might believe the latter. Many Muslims now feel alienated in this, their adopted homeland. One friend even confided to me that although he raised his children to see this country as a land of freedom and opportunity, he now believes he lied to them.

I’d like to think he didn’t. But a much clearer direction in the war on terrorism is required. Now, U.S. Hispanics have in their hands the ability to justify my friend’s faith in the United States. We must urge the Bush Administration to use its arms to embrace the Muslim world, not to kill some of it. Because of our status as the largest minority group in the nation, Bush will listen.

I hope U.S. Hispanics will unite to stop the war. To use an old Spanish word, ojalá (may Allah will it).

Reyes is a history instructor at STCC.