More Political and Economic Solutions and Fewer Theories of Interculturalities and Multiculturalities

Salah Jamal

Doctor and Professor of Cultural Diversity

First, I must say that I have never had the least intention, nor even the thought, of reconquering Spain or the principality of Catalonia, and even less so, Europe. Having said this, I would like to begin by evoking the splendour of the Muslim Spain, or rather of al-Andalus, as well as one of the fundamental pillars of that splendour that was, without doubt, the harmonious coexistence there was between the three religious communities – Christian, Jewish and Muslim –, based on diversity, dialogue, cultural exchange and, above all, a reasonable inter-tolerance. While this was happening in that beautiful part of the world, in the rest of Europe obscurantism and injustice dominated.

We all know that the Christian reconquest of al-Andalus, as well as the war expeditions of the crusaders to the East and other secondary conflicts, turned the Mediterranean space into a lake of frontier and confrontation between the mainly Christian North and the Islamised South. Soon, the fruitful cultural collaboration of al-Andalus was displaced by the most withered intolerance and stereotypes. 

Between the West and the East, just as between the South and the North, there have always between relations in all fields, usually with more than a few ups and downs. Today there is a great breach between the peoples surrounding the small and common space of the Mediterranean, which generates great distrust. But, how was this situation reached? To avoid digressions with historical and philosophical discourses, I would like to specify a series of events that, according to my modest criterion, were decisive in bringing us to such a point of distrust:

  • As we all know, the lake of the Mediterranean was an area of exchange of everything and between everyone (something like a sea of trade), but after the 8th century and especially with the emergence of Islam, this sea became a space of economic, religious and cultural rivalry. 
  • In the 11th century, Pope Urban II wanted to consolidate his papacy and thus confront the temporary power imposed on him by the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which is why he quite opportunistically preached holy war against the infidel.
  • The East lost centrality and fell into decadence after the discovery of the New World. 
  • Later, the Ottoman Empire reached its zenith and was immediately demonised not only by the political powers but also, irrationally, by some great illustrious Europeans of culture. 
  • In Europe, ethnocentrism and the vision of superiority over other regions increasingly dominated, while among the people the spirit of folklorisation imposed itself and looked down on the cultures of the others, which became objects of conquest. This is how many countries of the developing world were colonised and pillaged for many years. 
  • After several decades, with the exception of Palestine, the royal colonialism and its military abandoned the colonies but not without first leaving despotic regimes in place, led by local collaborators to carry out the dirty work of the colonialists. Therefore, royal colonialism became an invisible force that has until the present practised pillaging policies that originate, in consequence, more poverty and dependence than independence.  

It was to be expected that, among so much havoc, the unfortunate results of the false decolonisation would provoke emigration. It should be recalled that the migratory movements always have several causes (natural catastrophes, wars, persecutions) and that most of the emigrants move, pushed towards those places where they can develop a better life. They arrive as best they can at a new and different environment, individually or in small groups, with their own cultural baggage rooted both in their brains and in their guts. Once they are reasonably settled – after some initial unemployment and isolation – they start missing their habits and past ways.  

I have said all of this to approach some reasons that explain the situation experienced at present. Fortunately, and it should not be forgotten, the current migratory waves towards Europe have occurred since the precise moment when the Western world began to need labour and a young population more than ever. But unfortunately, and I say this unambiguously, there are broad sectors of the local population that are still disoriented and to some extent maintain intact the colonialist and high-handed mentality according to which their country needs a labour force and not people. In other words, it needs slaves and not workers who form families and have, like others, obligations and rights. It is precisely on the latter consideration that the crux of the question and the discord is centred. To reasonably cover such rights (education, health and social services) large investments are necessary. There is an irrefutable reality, and in this case I refer to Spain and to Catalonia in particular, and it is that the investments allocated to the expansion of social service infrastructures are infinitely inadequate in relation to the rise in population. An example that I cite from experience: most health centres today, in 2008, have the same personnel and the same infrastructures as in 1998 despite the large rise in users, both local retired people and immigrants who, in their majority, contribute to public funds. The unfortunate result is irremediable and means the degradation of public services, schools, national health clinics, etc. Put simply, if ten years ago the social services were quite mediocre, now they are even worse and the cause of this new degrading situation must be sought in the usual scapegoat, the weakest; in this case, the immigrant. Such a simplistic and clichéd accusation acquires overtones of misery and pure demagogy when it is stirred up and exploited for their own ends by some fascist parties that, unfortunately, drag other moderate parties to the same irresponsibility, only to scrape together the vote of ignorance and fear. The conflict is served.

Moreover, the international panorama and its bellicose agents (Bush, Bin Laden, the blind Western support for Israel, the Iraq War, the fanatics of all colours) do not permit peacefulness between the Western and Eastern world.

It is possible that these arguments, although not exhaustive, are the origin of the tensions, happily under control until the present, between the host society and the immigrant group, especially those who profess the Muslim faith. In relation to the latter, we see that when speaking of the terms interculturality, multiculturality or immigration, the European subconscious only relates them with Muslims or Arabs, as if in the West there were no other foreign groups (Japanese, Chinese, North Americans…) who are precisely those least inclined to integrate into the host society.

The current migratory waves towards Europe have occurred since the precise moment when the Western world began to need labour and a young population

I have spent almost 40 years living in these places, and I realise that the prejudices of people – despite the laudable efforts of many to bring together cultures and human groups – are increasingly more basic, crude and entrenched. I see with sadness that the work undertaken by many people for years collapses because of a single headline in poor taste in any sensationalist newspaper, film, manipulated news story or the demagogic discourse of third rate minor politicians. 

Therefore, and to conclude, I must say that, in my opinion, as long as there is inequality between human groups, the thousands of meetings and workshops held in favour of interculturality, multiculturality or integration of immigrants will be of little use. The truth is often harsh: the culture of the strongest not only imposes itself, but looks down on or folklorises the other. Interculturality only works when there is equality of conditions, peer to peer, and multiculturality, sooner or later, erects opposed ghettos. Therefore, the issue must be confronted globally and, in the first place, we must seek out and apply viable political-economic solutions of development for those countries forced to export human beings. Otherwise, everything that is done at the level of theoretical debates and cooperation aid of the NGOs is no more than a patch that does not eliminate the migration phenomenon but makes it endemic and, with this, undoubtedly prolongs the agony of many people.