Monday, October 11, 2010

Review: We Are All Moors by Anouar Majid

We Are All Moors: Ending Centuries of Crusades against Muslims and Other Minorities by Anouar Majid is a must-read for all immigrants and civil rights activists in Europe and North America.

I've previously reviewed A Call for Heresy: Why Dissent is Vital to Islam and America by Professor Anouar. I also have his book, Freedom and Orthodoxy: Islam and Difference in the Post-Andalusian Age, which I now have renewed impetus to read and review.

We Are All Moors is organized into an introduction, four chapters and a conclusion. The introduction lays out the thesis that the Iberian Peninsula's unified kingdoms of Aragon and Castile began the modern era of the nation-state with the policy of religious and ethnic purification and that the archetype Moors can represent groups all around Europe and North America which governments have viewed as obstacles to consolidation of the purified policy.

Chapter 1 examines the case of the Muslims and Jews in Spain. Professor Anouar amasses documentary evidence of this process. Each is astounding, and this characteristic throughout the entire book makes the book both enjoyable and difficult to summarize. For example, Professor Anouar documents how religion transformed into ethnicity, so that even the Christian descendants of Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula were subject to the state's sanctions. I also did not know that the Muslims were not expelled in 1492, but rather they persevered in the Iberian Peninsula openly for decades and secretly for longer and in the fears of the state for centuries.

Chapter 2, entitled "New World Moors," narrates stories of Muslims and those mistaken for Muslims in the Americas. Fascinatingly, the Spanish often considered the native Americans to be "Moors," as that fit well with the ideology of conquest inherited from the Reconquista. The chapter also address Muslims in the United States, particularly the proto-Islamic movements, most notably the Nation of Islam. 

Chapter 3, "The Muslim Jews," shows how the Othering process developed in the Iberian Peninsula provided the tools for the Othering of Europe's other significan religious minority, Jews. Moreover, leading Jews of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries often asserted a Muslim identity or affiliation as they were asserting Jews' rights in Europe. In fact, Dr. Anouar writes:
If [contemporary conflicting Jews and Muslims] were to bracket off the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a serious but, in the end, political problem and explore the history and bonds they share, perhaps enough goodwill could be generated to help Israelis and Palestinians and other aggrieved Muslims work out a solution.
At the very least, I hope this chapter will convince Muslims to refrain from reproducing inane European anti-semetic rhetoric.

Chapter 4 is, in my mind, the most important chapter of the book for a general U.S. and European audience. "Undesirable Aliens: Hispanics in America, Muslims in Europe" compares the current anti-immigrant hysteria with previous manifestations, demonstrating that the very same arguments used against primarily Hispanic immigrants in the United States were used against previous Others. In fact, even anti-immigrant intellectuals like Samuel Huntington had their antecedents in the halls of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even more revealing, however, is that the arguments and methods have their antecedents in the Inquisition of the Iberian Peninsula discussed in the introduction and Chapter 1.

This whole sad story is only lightened by the resilience of the "Moors" of each age, whose presence each successive wave of persecution fails to erase. Dr. Anouar concludes by relating several instances of acceptance of the "Moor" and the increasing realization that globalization is making the idea of Inquisitorial purity less and less tenable. The United States has a Melville strand of thought upon which it can draw to end its war on its most recent Moors, the largely Hispanic undocumented immigrant population.
Should we make a conscious effort to attain a state of irreversible mestizaje, there is no better group than the Mexicans to lead the way. It is not insignificant that it was a Mexican intellectual who coined the expresion "cosmic race" early in the twentieth century. As ... Gregory Rodriguez has shown ..., although Mexicans are the "largest immigrant group in the history of the United States," the Mexican culture of mestizaje impels them toward inclusion through intermarriage and adaptation. ... Miscgenation, or rather, mestizaje, characterized the birth of modern Mexico, from the moment Spanish conquistadors encountered the Aztec empire.
Dr. Anouar movingly concludes:
It is far more sensible to start preparing for a new golden age when every human being on earth and every cultural tradition will be embraced with the love and care now accorded to any species threatened with extenction.
Lastly, the book has 26 pages of notes and 26 pages of index to facilitate review and further research. The University of Minnesota Press is to be congratulated for including these materials.