Catalonia Calling! #28

Talking Honestly About Islam and Islamism in Catalonia - 2/04/2016

Catalonia Calling #28 is called Talking Honestly About Islam and Islamism in Catalonia and, without blaming all Muslims, looks at elements of Islam that are incompatible with secular Western democracies.

As a convinced atheist, who was born into the Christian tradition, I am obviously much more comfortable criticising aspects of Christianity which lead to crazy beliefs such as Creationism, the restrictions on stem cell research in the US or to attacks on abortion clinics in the same country.

I am much less comfortable with talking about Islam partly because I am not so familiar with it and also because any hint of criticism of it tends to provoke accusations of racism and Islamophobia from a certain sector of society, which although unfounded tend to stick.

By the way, I'm going to leave the comment section open but I do not want to see any ridiculous racist statements - I'm interested in discussing ideas, which you may or may not agree with, but have no time for stupidity and prejudice.


Muslims in Catalonia

Because Islam is a belief system, it's actually quite difficult to define who is and who isn't a Muslim, and although most people tend to conflate it with country of origin and racial communities, this is an oversimplification.

In fact, one of my closest friends is originally from Morocco but her lifestyle, way of dressing and choice of friends is completely secular Catalan and Spanish and I'd guess (we've never really talked about this) if she's not an atheist, she's just nominally Muslim in the sense that she was brought up in the tradition and I imagine she observes some of the rituals in a family context.

When I think of her the word Muslim would never cross my mind and I think of her as being Moroccan. However, I've heard her describe herself as Muslim on a few occasions so she definitely has a strong sense of identity with her community.

Consequently, the best way to get an idea of how many Muslims there are in Catalonia is to have a look at the places of worship of which there were 256 in 2014.

With 161 centres, the majority of the people that attend Muslim places of worship in Catalonia come from the Magreb countries of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia and most of the Muslims I know from this region come from Morocco, mainly because of the close connections Spain has long had with the country.

Next come people from sub-Saharan Africa with 33 centres and the next most identifiable group with only 11 centres are Asians, presumably mainly from Pakistan and Bangladesh, who I would have guessed would have been the second biggest group so it just shows that it's a good idea to check out the official figures.

Then there are 17 from various Latin American countries, 32 we have no information about and 2 from Spain, who I assume are second generation Muslims and converts.

It's pretty clear then that Muslims in Catalonia are pretty heterogenous bunch and it's certainly difficult to pin them down in terms of race.

However, they are loosely united by, what I consider to be, an utterly and completely retrograde ideology and when I meet an individual I have no idea whatsover to what extent they share it.

The media, though, tend to lump all these diverse groups together and often talk about between three and four hundred thousand Muslims in Catalonia, which is between 4 and 5 percent of a population of 7.5 million and doesn't make a massive impact.

Furthermore, as you move around Catalonia, almost everywhere the cultural impact of Islam is minimal until you accidentally walk into a Muslim-dominated neighbourhood.

I've only really experienced this in parts of El Raval in Barcelona and also in the backstreets of Manresa although I've heard reports of plenty of other neighbourhoods.

Radical Islam in Catalonia

Unfortunately, there is a very real threat of jihadism in Catalonia with numerous terrorist cells having been dismantled over the last decade.

One of the most important operations took place in April 2015 when eleven suspected Islamist terrorists, who were planning attacks on the police in Sabadell, Plaça de Catalunya and the Catalan Parliament, were arrested.

Catalonia is the part of Spain with the highest level of Islamist radicalisation and figures suggest that around 25% of the Muslim population are sympathetic to radical Islam, including support for terrorism and Sharia law.

Obviously, a much smaller figure are likely to be potental terrorists but according to the graphic published in ABC in March 2015, there are nearly 10,000 potential terrorist in Catalonia and the Principality is responsible for nearly 30% of the terrorist threat in Spain.

One of the problems of talking about radical Islam in Catalonia is that not only is there the problem of being accused of Islamophobia or racism but also the right-wing Spanish press, such as ABC, associate radical Islam with the Catalan independence process, so independence supporters tend to be suspicious of the claims and show solidarity with Catalan Muslims.

Fortunately, journalist Pilar Rahola, who is also a well-known supporter of Catalan independence, has been speaking out against the implantation of Islamism in Catalonia since the publication of her book La República Islámica de España - the Islamic Republic of Spain - in 2011.

If you speak Spanish, I recommend watching the episode of Jordi Evolé's Salvados, which features Pilar Rahola and deals with radical Islam in Catalonia - I have linked to it in the description below.

As the programme is fairly left-wing, it does its best to be unbiased but even so, the interviews in El Raval and with followers of the radical imam Houzi of Lleida make it clear that the problem exists.

A more extreme description of the situation, comes in the right-wing Intereconomia documentary, which is subtitled in English and also linked below, which actually describes the process by which extremists take advantage of the lack of information sharing between government offices to lose their former identity and also make expulsion from Spain impossible.

As soon as they arrive, they register with the local council offices, a process known as empadronament, and then destroy their passport and papers.

As it is illegal for the town council to share this information with the police, they have now created a new identity for themselves and cannot be expelled from the country because no one knows where they are originally from.

Although Pilar Rahola appears in the programme, it conflates Islamism with the independence movement so is unlikely to be taken seriously by many Catalans but it is definitely worth watching.

Syrian Refugees

All this brings us to the question of Catalonia offering to accept 4,500 or more Syrian refugees and once again I think the issue involves both Catalan independence or sovereignty and a potential problem of radical Islam.

I personally think the offer of refuge is pure posturing on the part of the Generalitat and Barcelona City Council because they already knew beforehand that they were invading the competences of the Spanish government and wouldn't be allowed to go ahead.

It is quite a lot to do with being the good and virtuous progressive Catalans against the evil and mean right-wing Spaniards.

However, by adopting this somewhat infantile position, the Catalan authorities will be forced to keep their word and some of the more difficult practical question will, as usual, be pushed to one side.

The lack of analysis of the refugee crisis by the mainstream media is pretty pathetic and there seem to be two essential security problems with the free for all let them come attitude.

Firstly, it is quite possible that at least some of the refugees may well be terrorists or members of ISIS who are infiltrated amongst the deserving people who are legitimately fleeing the war zone.

Secondly, estimates suggest that only between 20 and 40 per cent of the migrants arriving in Europe are actually Syrians.

The rest are economic migrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh and Sub-Sahran Africa, who destroy their papers and claim to be Syrians.

Once again if the problem of terrorism and extremism exists and we don't know who these people are it seems unwise to let them in.

I am totally in favour of helping legitimate refugees but before anyone is given refuge in Catalonia, it seems to me that the Generalitat should institute a fairly strict vetting process.

A friend from Canada, which plans to accept 25,000 refugees, sent me a link to the web page, which outlines the refugee acceptance process and is planned in detail - Read about the Canadian Programme for Syrian Refugees

It seems to me that if the Generalitat is serious about taking in refugees, it should publish a similar plan because this will not only make the process more successful for the refugees themselves but also allay some of the legitimate concerns of Catalan citizens.

A Final Thought

Anyway, thanks very much for watching. Please subscribe, like and comment.

Also remember that I do all this completely free. So if you want to support my work and research, you can click on an ad, buy my book Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective on Amazon or make a donation a

That's it from me for this week. Viscal el Barça! We're playing Real Madrid in El Clásico in Camp Nou tonight and are going to thrash them in Johan Crutff's honour! Visca Catalunya! Visca Johan! Look after yourselves.

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