Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.
If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.
Life in Spain:-
- One of the negatives of Spanish life is the non-availability of wines from elsewhere in the world. Something which I guess is a feature of both France and Italy also. Compare the vast range in any British supermarket or wine store. Things can be even worse at the regional level. I went to a vinoteca here in Pontevedra yesterday to try to get a bottle of chardonnay from La Rioja I'd read about. There was nothing but Galician wines there
- Another negative - for foreigners at least - is the level of noise here. The 'acoustic pollution' for which Spain is famous. I was reminded of this when reading last week of the complaints of (Spanish!) neighbours of our local Casino (private club) after the annual Debutantes' Ball last Saturday. The - inevitably far-too-loud - music only stopped at 8am on Sunday morning. And the complaints came not just from people in my barrio on this side of the river but also from inhabitants of Pontevedra city across the river. Needless to say, the complaints were ignored. As they will be next year.
- In Spain's latest census, 68% of people declared themselves Catholic, against only 17% for 'practising Catholic'. And this was defined as attending Mass at least once a month. Back in my Catholic days this would have meant you'd committed a 'mortal sin' on each of the other 3 Sundays. And were destined for hell. Things have certainly changed.
The USA: Someone has written: It is hard to escape a feeling that many Republicans are starting to regret the Faustian pact which they struck with Trump to capture the White House and strengthen their grip on Congress. Can there ever have been a more predictable development? Even in the unpredictable world of politics.
The English: I've just finished re-reading Kate Fox's marvellous analysis of the ludicrous unwritten rules which govern English life - Watching the English. I will now ruin it for you by posting here the diagram she presents in her final chapter:-
Ms Fox's final step is to review the theories of why the English are like they are. But gives up, saying that no one really knows. So I won't hazard a guess. I was tempted to disagree with her claim (page 549) that the English dis-ease is treatable but not eradicable. I was convinced that, after living 25 years outside England, I'd shed many English traits. For example, discomfort with eye contact and the tactility of foreigners. But, in the end, I had to admit to myself that, even if I don't follow all the rules, I still instinctively react with internal horror if someone breaks one of them. In other words, it's not just a disease but also a curse!
Galicia:- A couple of recent articles from the New York Times and The Wine Magazine:-
Finally . . . I've been riding my bike the final mile into town for a week now. My observations include:-
- Spanish pedestrians don't object to cyclists in pedestrian areas. (Already known).
- Spanish pedestrians don't have much (if anything) by way of peripheral vision. (Already known).
- Spanish pedestrians will happily move out of your way once they finally become aware you are behind them.
- Astonishingly, some Spanish pedestrians will apologise for blocking your (sedate) progress.
- If you try to get up a steep slope and don't make it for the final few centimetres and come to a dead halt, the bike will be not be stable and will fall over. With you on it.
- Spanish pedestrians make excellent Samaritans, should you and your bike fall over. (Already known)
Enough of blaming the West. The terror will continue until Muslims reject the need for a caliphate
Ed Husain: Senior fellow at Civitas, Institute for the Study of Civil Society, London; and a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, Washington
What did Spain do wrong? Why did Muslim radicals attack so many innocents? Those are the questions being asked across the West following Barcelona.
Many will resort to the self-flagellation of “change our foreign policy” or “we are to blame because of colonialism”. I wish it were so simple. I know the mindset of militant Muslims seeking to kill disbelievers in the name of a caliphate, because I called for the creation of such a caliphate for five years of my life. I recognise the ideology, theology and strategy behind the violence. There is no appeasing the fanatics.
Consider the facts on Spain: on March 11 2004, al-Qaeda terrorists killed 192 and injured 2,000 on trains in Madrid. Spain had 1,300 troops in Iraq at the time (America had 135,000 and Britain 8,700). Three days after the bombing, José Maria Aznar lost the general election to a Left-wing party committed to ending Spain’s involvement in Iraq. On April 18 2004, the new prime minister ordered the withdrawal of Spain’s troops. Scarred by the Madrid bombing, fearful of reprisals after the terrorist attacks in France, in November 2015 the Spanish government refused to join a global coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). So what did Spain do wrong?
We are asking the wrong questions. Spain’s foreign policy shows that we cannot stop terrorism by changing our behaviour. In the mind of the Muslim extremists, Spain is not Spain, but al Andalus, part of a Muslim empire that lasted in Spain for 700 years.
Today’s Spain is considered to be “occupied land” that must be liberated. The last Muslim ruler of Granada, Boabdil, who negotiated a peaceful end to his emirate in 1492, made a terrible mistake, argue the extremists. Spain must return to their version of Islam, for in that literalist reading of religious scripture, the world is divided into two realms: Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. And once a land is controlled by Dar al-Islam it must forever belong to that sphere. Terrorism is merely a tactic to support the aims of the caliphate.
In February this year, Isil warned that it would target Spain’s beaches and increase its propaganda material in Spanish. But Spain is not the only target. India was also part of their interpretation of Dar al-Islam because it was under the Moghuls until 1857 and must therefore return to the domain of the caliphate. Israel must be destroyed as the caliph must reclaim Jerusalem. Turkey’s Muslim reformer, Kemal Ataturk, ended the caliphate in 1924 and a secular Turkey must return to the fold. Charles Martel of France defeated the Umayyad caliph’s soldiers in the Battle of Tours in 732, and Austria held out against the Ottomans in the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Time and again, Isil refers to the West as “crusaders” and targets the Pope and Rome as eternal enemies of Islam.
They are prisoners of history, and this selective narrative of the past fuels their chosen grievances of the present. For them, the West is to blame for every dictator and injustice in the Middle East. They talk of the Sykes Picot agreement of 1916 as if it were yesterday. The dictatorships, tyrants and lack of prosperity in the Arab world fan the flames of anger. The prisons of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Algeria are full of Salafi jihadists who wished to overthrow their governments and create societies based on rule of hardline sharia. Between dictatorial tyranny and religious theocracy, where is the freedom for ordinary Arabs to reform their countries?
In addition, we have radicalised networks of extremist Muslim organisations reinforcing the worst elements of victimhood. They operate on the internet, but also in our universities, communities and prisons. Like the communists of the last century, they rail against capitalism, injustice, the West and dictators, and talk about the racism faced by French Muslims, or the Islamophobia encountered by British Muslims, while offering an ideological panacea: Muslims are weak and can only be strengthened by creating a powerful caliphate.
To strengthen Muslim identity against the West, they seek to divide and rule. They abuse religion to amplify differences, rather than unite based on common belief in one God, goodness, and faith.
The attack in Barcelona and the calls by Isil to attack beaches weren’t random: they hate the freedom of women to dress in bikinis. They attacked the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in May because they despise men and women dancing freely to music. They attacked Charlie Hebdo because they refuse to allow for blasphemy. They target synagogues and kosher grocery stores across Europe because, like their neo-Nazi counterparts, they hate Jews.
But when I visit Turkey, I see Muslim women in bikinis on the beach beside women in headscarves. In Tunisia, Sheikh Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the conservative Ennahda party, talks about the mosques being open, and also the bars and the beaches. In Morocco, I see Jewish communities honoured.
We have to be honest. Across the West we now have 30 million Muslims who are Westerners. There is no war against Islam. The freedom of Muslims to worship and live proves that the old, imperial paradigms of Isil’s Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam are outdated. Most Muslims are quietly thriving in business, politics, media, sports, and more. In Britain, Mishal Husain’s voice wakes us up on the Today programme. Nadiya Hussain of The Great British Bake Off prepares cake for the Queen. Mo Farah reinstates British sporting pride. The list goes on. But there is a dark, sinister movement growing, too.
Ten years ago, when I wrote my book The Islamist and warned against this ideology on the rise in our midst, many in the Muslim community dismissed me as an alarmist. Today, an actual caliphate exists and its soldiers are wreaking havoc.
Enough of blaming the West. Isil has attacked 30 different countries, and the vast majority of its victims in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere are Muslims. Isil and other extremists thrive on the justification that it is religiously obligatory to create a caliphate. Jihadists commit mass murder in the pursuit of, or defence of, this belief in a caliphate.
For too long we have been responding to their terror tactics, rather than uprooting their strategic objective. I learned through my own studies and long conversations with religious authorities that a caliphate is not a religious obligation. We can be perfectly Muslim without aiming to subjugate others to a theocracy.
Muslims must reject the idea that we need a caliphate. Unless we discard the drive for a Muslim super-state, many more will be killed in pursuit of it. Muslim organisations, governments, websites, political parties, religious leaders and educational institutions must roundly, unreservedly accept that we no longer need a caliphate. Remove that objective and the violence to justify it falls away. The West must take sides, too, in this battle of ideas among Muslims.