Don Quixote

Re-interpreting 'Don Quixote' with Strauss, Strik, Francis ...

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel Cervantes is the most famous novel in the Spanish language. Miguel Cervantes (1547-1616) wrote two volumes, the first 1605 and the latter 1615. Widely cited as the first ‘modern novel’ for its satirical and self-referential approach, Don Quixote follows the misadventures of a mad knight and his simpleminded squire in post-medieval Spain. Hilarity and heartbreak ensue. 

Alonso Quixano is a middle-aged country gentleman in an unremarkable part of Spain. Retired, he spends his days reading chivalric romances – sensationalised tales of knights and damsels in vogue at the time. Then, after one book too many, an epiphany strikes. He should become a knight-errant too – and embark on a crusade to rid the world of evil.

Quixano adopts the more knightly name ‘Don Quixote’ and sets off on his quest, to the chagrin of his friends and family. The aged workhouse, Rocinante, is his steed and local peasant, Sancho Panza, his squire.

Seattle Opera Blog: Coming up in 2010/11: DON QUIXOTE

The problem is, Don Quixote lives in a world where knights-errant are a thing of the past. People brush off his old-fashioned speech and claims of virtue as curious at best and dangerous at worse. For fifty-two chapters, Don Quixote embarks on various misadventures that often do more harm than good. To the self-obsessed and gallant knight, inns are castles, prostitutes princesses and windmills giants. Panza, though recognising his master’s madness, follows anyway in the hopes of his promised governorship.

But while Don Quixote is insane, on matters unrelated to chivalry, he proves astute and wise. One of the book’s best passages is when he lectures Sancho Panza on the merits of a good governorship and the need to use proper speech. One does not ‘fart’ but ‘elucidates’. 

The first instalment of Don Quixote became so popular that one Alonso Fernandez de Avellandela wrote a fraudulent sequel. While claiming to be authentic, it was, in truth, a poor work of fan-fiction. Most notably, Avendella reduced Panza from a nuanced spewer of proverbs to a one-dimensional oaf.

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Catching wind of the fraudulent sequel, Cervantes (right) published the ‘true’ second volume in 1615. While retaining the original’s humour, it takes on a more modern and philosophical tone. The first book exists in-universe and Don Quixote meets people who have read the same book as the reader. He even addresses the fraudulent Avellandella sequel. No work of fiction had taken this metafictional approach before, earning the book its ‘modern’ reputation. 

Twin ironies beset the story’s legacy. Cervantes satirised the chivalric romance, yet Don Quixote gave the genre a second wind. Cervantes despised Avellandella’s fake sequel, yet it is only known today because he addressed it.

Don Quixote is episodic. Each adventure is more or less self-contained, which is helpful because the book is over a thousand pages long. I read the Edith Grossman translation (2004) over a year – though apparently, each translation has its flavour and character. Of course, nothing can match the original Spanish. Across the Hispanophone world, students study Cervantes as English speakers do his contemporary, William Shakespeare. The English words quixotic and lothario, and the phrase ’tilting and windmills’ come from Cervantes.

Don Quixote is a marvellous work. Humour dates quickly, yet, Don Quixote is genuinely funny to this day – not an easy accomplishment for a book written four centuries ago. 

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Asturian Folklore

Asturias: Si vienes, te quedas - YouTube

Asturian Folklore covers the superstitions, tales and legends of the Celtic part of Spain. Pagan beliefs lingered longer here than any other part of the country.

Asturias is a region of northern Spain between the Cantabrian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. Like the Basque Country, its isolation bred a distinct cultural identity. Under the Romans and Visigoths, Asturias clung to its Celtic roots. It was also the only part of Iberia to withstand the Moorish invasions and a partisan stronghold for twenty years after Franco won the Civil War. Today Asturias is one of the ‘Six Celtic Nations’, sharing much of its lore with Ireland and Wales. It is a land of green pastures, craggy shores and rugged mountain slopes. Today most Asturians speak Spanish though the native language still has 642,000 speakers.

Until recently, the Cantabrians were impassable in winter. Asturias was a backwater; Christianity, literacy and the Industrial Revolution were slow to spread. Asturian shepherds and fishermen clung to nature and old beliefs. As it was easier to travel by sea, Asturias kept closer ties with Brittany and Ireland than the rest of Spain.

Early Asturians were animists. Every tree, river and cave had a guardian spirit to be respected and feared. Rather than assimilate, the Catholic church denounced Asturian spirits as demons. Their priests, however, failed to extinguish the beliefs of shepherds who spent most of the year in mountain pastures. Belief in supernatural beings survived into the 20th century.

In Asturian folklore, Xanas were benevolent water spirits resembling Naiads of Greek mythology: beautiful women who guarded treasures at the bottom of lakes.

Cuélebre - Wikipedia

The culebre is a cave-dwelling dragon. It evolved from a nature god placated with animal sacrifice in pagan times to a bloodthirsty monster requiring human sacrifice in the Christian era. 

The bogosu, half-man, half-goat is the Asturian satyr. The early bogusu was a guardian of the forests. Christians painted him as a demon to be feared and shunned, and through this lens, stories survive of the ‘devil’ helping Asturian peasants by building bridges and granting technologies.

The Nuberu is a bearded old man in a wide-brimmed hat who lives in the clouds. He controls the rain and lightning and likely derives from the Celtic weather god, Taranis. There are stories of Nuberu falling from the sky and blessing peasants who aid his return.

Trasgu by Viejuno on DeviantArt

The trasgu is a mischievous house spirit who wears a red hat and has a hole in one hand. They like to steal household items and inconvenience families. If one moves house, the trasgu will follow. Today the Trasgu is the region’s unofficial mascot. Many businesses bear its name.

Asturian folk beliefs died out with the modern age. As cities spread and machines transformed the landscape the xanas and culebres were silent.

Sources: David Wacks – Some thoughts on Asturian mythology

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How California Got Its Name

The etymology of California has a curious story. America’s richest and most populous state is named after a fictional country from a 16th-century Spanish novelWhen the Spanish were exploring the Americas, they named the lands northwest of Mexico after the made-up island of California. It would be like naming a region Gondor or Narnia today.

Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo wrote the Amadis series around 1500 by translating and retelling older French and Portuguese tales. His books followed the adventures of Amadis of Gaul, a knight-errant who went about slaying giants and rescuing damsels. Although near unknown today, it was incredibly popular in its time. A century later, Miguel Cervantes parodied the Amadis books in Don Quixote, whose lead character claims Amadis of Gaul as his favourite.

books african history African Queens Queen Calafia ...

The land of California appears in Montalvo’s fifth bookThe Exploits of Esplandian (1510). Written when the Spanish were exploring the New World, which they still thought was Asia, it follows the adventures of Amadis’s son and his war with the amazon queen Califia (whose name likely derives from the Arabic ‘caliph’). Her kingdom, California was an island somewhere west of the Caribbean and east of Constantinople. Its people were amazons who rode griffins to battle and whose only metal was gold. Of course, by the end of the novel, Esplandian defeats Califia; she converts to Christianity and accepts men into her land.

Montalvo describes:

Know that on the right hand of the Indies exists an island called California, very close to a side of the Eartlhy paradise; and it was populated by black women, without any man existing there because they lived in the way of the Amazons. They had beautiful and robust bodies and were brave and very strong. Their island was the strongest of the World, with its cliffs and rocky shores. Their weapons were golden and so were the harnesses of the wild beasts that they were accustomed to taming so that they could be ridden because there was no other metal in the island than gold.

Montalvo’s chivalric romances were easily accessible, credit to the newly invented printing press, and especially popular amongst men seeking adventure in the New World. Hernan Cortes referenced Amadis when seeing Tenochtitlan for the first time.

In 1542, Juan Rodriguez, a Portuguese conquistador working for the Spanish, sailed from Honduras up the western coast of North America. Like most Spanish adventurers, he was familiar with Montalvo’s books and may even have thought them true. Rodriguez found a peninsular, mistook it for an island and named it California. In 1602 the Spanish colonised the region and applied the name not only to the peninsular (today’s Baja California, Mexico) but the land north as well, which they still believed to be an island. The name California has stuck ever since. 

Source: John Man – Amazons: The Real Warrior Women of the Ancient World (2017)

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Related imageSantiago is the Spanish name for Saint James the Greater, one of the Twelve Apostles, patron saint, and mythical hero of Spain and Portugal. In Catholic Spanish iconography, Santiago is evoked not only as the humble fisherman from the Bible but a crusader knight and conquistador. Five cities are named after him, including the capital of Chile. He is Sao Thiago in Portuguese.

The Spanish Iago derives from the Hebrew Ya’akov, as Saint James was known in his lifetime. Like most Biblical names, it differs according to language:

  • Hebrew – Ya’akov
  • Greek – Iakobus
  • Classical Latin – Iacobus
  • Vulgar Latin – Iacobu
  • Spanish – Iago, Yago, Jacobo, Jaime, Diego
  • Portuguese –Thiago, Tiago
  • Italian – Giacobo, Giacomo
  • English – Jacob, James

The English Jacob derives directly from the Latin Iacobus, while the more common James is an Anglicisation of the Italian Giacomo.

Of the European languages, the Russian ‘Yakov’ is closest to the original Hebrew.

Image result for saint james martyrdomAccording to the Bible James and his brother John the Apostle were cousins and early disciples of Christ. Santiago was known for his violent temper – once calling for God to rain fire upon a Samaritan town. He was beheaded by Herod Agrippa in 44 BC, and was thus the first Christian martyr and the only one recorded in the New Testament (Acts).

The 12th century Historia Compostelana claims Santiago proselyted in northwestern Spain (Galicia) before returning to Jerusalem, and was carried there by angels when he died.  The Bible makes no mention of these episodes however, and historians and theologians doubt its veracity.

By 700 AD, the Spanish had claimed Iago as their patron saint. His body is said to reside in the Galician city of Santiago de Compostella. A legend arose that Santiago descended from heaven and fought at the 9th century Battle of Clavijo against the invading Moors.  This earned him the moniker Santiago Matamoros, or ‘Saint James the Moor Slayer’.

In the Middle Ages, the Cathedral of Santiago was the most popular place of pilgrimage in Europe. The famous ‘Camino de Santiago’ or ‘Way of Saint James’ attracted thousands of pilgrims  in the 10th and 12th centuries.

In the 21st century the route has seen a significant revival. attracting not only pilgrims and tourists but avid hikers and seekers of spiritual growth, making it a European counterpart to the USA’s Oregon and Appalachian Trials. The Camino de Santiago was inscribed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1993.

Image result for camino de santiago

The Order of Santiago was a military order founded in 1175. Akin to the Knights Templar and Hospitallers of Palestine, the Order protected Christian pilgrims and, in the spirit of Santiago Matamoros, sought to drive the Moors from Spain. Like the Knights of Saint John, the Order of Santiago still exists today, though no longer in a military sense.

Reminiscent of Henry V’s ‘Cry Harry, England and Saint George!’, ‘¡Santiago y cierra, España!’ was the warcry of the Spanish Reconquista.

Santiago, Chile was founded by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdiva in 1541 on Incan land. Today it is a highly developed capital city of over 7 million inhabitants and the 7th largest city in Latin America. Its namesakes include Spain’s Santiago de Compostella and cities in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines. San Diego, California is named not for Saint James but Didacalus of Alcala, a 15th century missionary.

Sources: Behindthename, Catholic Encyclopedia, Santiago Compostela, The Guardian, UNESCO

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Christy Moore – Viva La Quinta Brigada

Ten years before folk singer Christy Moore saw the light of morning, the Irish Socialist Volunteers were fighting in Spain. Moore wrote this song as an ode to their struggle but mistakenly pronounced the Spanish ‘quince’ as ‘quinta’. The Irish volunteers actually fought in the XV International Brigade. Poetic licence aside it is still a good song.

Verses one and two honour the Irish volunteers who fought against the fascists in Spain.  Frank Ryan of the IRA was their leader.

Verse three features the fascists. I admire Moore for mentioning this. Ryan’s nemesis Eoin O’Duffy was a Free Stater in the Irish Civil War and leader of the fascist ‘Blueshirts’. He rallied 700 Irishmen to fight for Franco out of Catholic solidarity. Only 277 fought in the International Brigades.

The final verse is name dropping. While it may seem tedious, one must remember these were real men who fought another people’s war out of ideological conviction. The utterance of their names bears weight.


Ten years before I saw the light of morning
A comradeship of heroes was laid
From every corner of the world came sailing
The Fifth International Brigade

They came to stand beside the Spanish people
To try and stem the rising fascist tide
Franco’s allies were the powerful and wealthy
Frank Ryan’s men came from the other side

Even the olives were bleeding
As the battle for Madrid it thundered on
Truth and love against the force of evil
Brotherhood against the fascist clan

Viva la Quinta Brigada
“No Pasaran”, the pledge that made them fight
“Adelante” is the cry around the hillside
Let us all remember them tonight

Bob Hilliard was a Church of Ireland pastor
Form Killarney across the Pyrenees he came
From Derry came a brave young Christian Brother
Side by side they fought and died in Spain

Tommy Woods age seventeen died in Cordoba
With Na Fianna he learned to hold his gun
From Dublin to the Villa del Rio
Where he fought and died beneath the blazing sun

Viva la Quinta Brigada
“No Pasaran”, the pledge that made them fight
“Adelante” is the cry around the hillside
Let us all remember them tonight

Many Irishmen heard the call of Franco
Joined Hitler and Mussolini too
Propaganda from the pulpit and newspapers
Helped O’Duffy to enlist his crew

The word came from Maynooth, “support the Nazis”
The men of cloth failed again
When the Bishops blessed the Blueshirts in Dun Laoghaire
As they sailed beneath the swastika to Spain

Viva la Quinta Brigada
“No Pasaran”, the pledge that made them fight
“Adelante” is the cry around the hillside
Let us all remember them tonight

This song is a tribute to Frank Ryan
Kit Conway and Dinny Coady too
Peter Daly, Charlie Regan and Hugh Bonar
Though many died I can but name a few

Danny Boyle, Blaser-Brown and Charlie Donnelly
Liam Tumilson and Jim Straney from the Falls
Jack Nalty, Tommy Patton and Frank Conroy
Jim Foley, Tony Fox and Dick O’Neill

Viva la Quinta Brigada
“No Pasaran”, the pledge that made them fight
“Adelante” is the cry around the hillside
Let us all remember them tonight

For Whom the Bell Tolls

hemingway cover.jpg‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ is Ernest Hemingway’s third and best-selling novel. It tells the story of a dynamiter tasked with destroying a bridge in the Spanish Civil War.

Drawing from Hemingway’s time as a journalist in that conflict, ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ deals with the themes of death, duty, camaraderie and war. The cliché of ‘the earth moving’ during intercourse derives from this book.

I picked a hardback copy in a rushed visit to a Thai bookstore in 2017, a couple hours before a plane flight. It was my introduction to Hemingway, and I was not disappointed.

The title is drawn from John Donne, a 17th century English poet. In Donne’s time church bells tolled when someone had died:

‘No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe
is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine
owne were; any mans death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.’

His communist superiors describe Robert Jordan ‘a young American of slight political development but a great way with the Spaniards and a fine partisan record.” Jordan has lived in Spain for a decade and dreams of returning to his native Montana to teach the language at university. He fights not for ideological reasons like his peers, but a sense of duty to his adopted home and its people.

Jordan is a demolitionist with the International Brigades, the antifascist volunteer force of Wily Brandt and George Orwell. At the start he is ordered to join a Republican partisan band in the Sierra Guararamma. When the Republican army launches its attack on Segovia he will detonate a bridge and thwart the fascist retreat.

The novel takes place over three nights and four days. For much of the book, Jordan wrestles with his mortality. Pablo, the partisan leader, is the only one to recognise the mission’s danger and this strikes tension between the two.  Bonding with the lively guerrillas and falling for the innocent yet long suffering Maria, in four days Jordan learns there is more to life than duty.

The book’s dialogue is written to give the impression it has been translated. Italicised Spanish phrases pepper the chapters and the characters address one another as ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ to represent their rural, old fashioned dialect. Whilst this has drawn criticism, my personal complaint is the handling of curse words. Phrases like ‘mucked off’ and ‘go and obscenity thyself’ replace expletives. It is frustrating, but can be overlooked.

The story reflects the dangers of doctrinal belief. Horrendous atrocities on both sides are accounted, including a rural township’s humiliating anti-fascist purge and the murder of a Republican mayor and his family by Falangist troops. So too is the bone wrenchingly frustrating suspicion and mistrust of the Communist leadership.

Some of the characters are based on real people.

  • Robert Jordan is a combination of Hemingway’s friend Robert Merriman, who fought in Spain, and himself.
  • Karkov, ‘the smartest man I knew’ writes for the Soviet newspaper and mentors Jordan. He is based on Hemingway’s friend Mikhail Kolstov, whom Stalin purged in 1939.
  • Andre Marty, the head of the International Brigades who appears near the end, was a historical figure.

Hemingway described ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ as ‘the most important thing I’ve ever done’. It would have won a Pulitzer Prize were it not for Columbia University president and fascist sympathiser Nicholas Murray Butler. He vetoed and no prize was awarded for 1941.

The Moor’s Last Sigh

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On the road south from Granada, high along the slopes of the Sierra Nevada, there is a pass where one can see the Alhambra palace for the last time. El Puerto del Suspiro del Moro is named for Spain’s last Moorish king, who turned to look back on his birthplace before he left forever.

Abu Abdullah Muhammad XII, known as Boabdil to the Spanish, was Emir of Grenada, the last Moorish stronghold in Iberia and the peninsula’s most sophisticated city.  The Emirate of Grenada covered most of Andalusia, the far south of Spain. It was here Boabdil’s forbearers first invaded six centuries before.

As the Moorish yoke waned the Christian kingdoms of Castile, Aragon, Portugal and Navarre grew ever bolder. By the 1000s their petty raids and skirmishes had evolved into full-scale crusades. In 1236 the Castilians conquered the capital of Cordoba and reduced the Muslim presence to a handful of petty kingdoms in the south.

Two factors spared Grenada the fate of its peers; geography and diplomacy. The Sierra Nevada sheltered the Emirate just as the Cantabrian Mountains and the Pyrenees restricted the Moorish advance of the 800s. The Emirs of Granada could feel the winds of change. Knowing it was better to work with, rather than against, their aggressors, they accepted protectorate status. For two hundred years Granada paid tribute to Castile in exchange for its autonomy.

In 1469 Queen Isabella of Castile married Ferdinand of Aragon, uniting the kingdoms into what we now call Spain. Though the ‘Catholic Monarchs’ shared their ambition, piety and zeal, Isabella was the true power behind the throne. She had earned her spurs in the court politics of Castile and proved an adept politician with a strict sense of justice. Isabella eliminated Castile’s violent crime and the crown debt within twenty years.Isabela of Castile.jpg

Previous Castilian kings had let Granada be, as a friendly Muslim neighbour provided a conduit to the lucrative West African gold trade. Isabela’s Catholic faith was paramount; she would complete the Reconquista no matter the cost.

The opportunity arose when Boabdil, then a mere prince, rebelled against his father over an inheritance dispute. Captured by the Spanish, Boabdil promised to swear fealty if they helped overthrow his father. The Pope called a crusade and the Catholic Monarchs assembled the largest army Spain had seen. The conquest was swift. Spanish cannons made short work of the Moorish castles that would have held out for years a century earlier and Boabdil’s plan to fight back was ruined.

When the Spanish besieged Granada, the Emir knew resistance was futile.  Boabdil surrendered on the condition Ferdinand and Isabella would spare the libraries and mosques of Granada and respect the faith of its subjects. They agreed, seized the city then broke their word. The Spanish burned the library to the ground and converted by the sword.

moor granada surrender.jpg

On the road out of the city, Boabdil turned to the distant walls of the Alhambra where he had spent his days and emitted his famous sigh. His mother was not impressed: “Weep like a woman,” she chided. “For what you could not defend as a man.”

The episode has captured the western imagination ever since. It was the subject of numerous paintings, and the allusion behind Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Moor’s Last Sigh’.

An Italian merchant in the Castilian employ was present at Granada:

“I saw Your Highnesses’ royal banners placed by force of arms on the towers of the Alhambra, … and I saw the Moorish king come out to the city gates and kiss Your Highnesses’ royal hands and those of my Lord the Prince.”

1492 ranks among the most significant dates in world history. Since the fall of Rome, the East had led the world in science, technology and culture. Even Constantinople, not Rome, was the centre of Christian civilization until its fall to the Ottomans.  In 1492 not only did Isabella and Ferdinand drive their Moorish nemeses from Europe forever but, with Moorish gold, gave this Italian merchant the funding he needed to sail west. The wheels were in motion. No longer would Eurasia’s Atlantic fringe be a backwater, but the seat of world power for years to come.

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The Caliphate of Cordoba

moors caliphate 2.jpgThe Caliphate of Cordoba (929-1031) was the greatest kingdom in Islamic Spain. It covered most of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) save for the independent Christian states of the far north. The Caliphate was originally the Emirate of Cordoba (756-929), which was the same government by a different name. When the rest of Europe was sunk in the Dark Ages, Cordoba was a cultural capital of the world.

  • Capital: Cordoba
  • Official Language: Classical Arabic
  • State Religion: Sunni Islam
  • Government: Theocratic monarchy
  • Dynasty: The Ummayads

The Umayyad Dynasty first conquered Christian Spain in AD 711. Then barely a century old, the Muslim world still belonged to one government, the Caliphate of Damascus. In 750 the Abbasids of Baghdad overthrew the Ummayads. Only a single prince escaped the slaughter by swimming across the Euphrates River. Assisted by a Greek freedman, Abdal Rahman escaped to Egypt and crossed North Africa in secrecy to the furthest corner of the empire.

On arriving in Al-Andalus, as Iberia was known in Arabic, Abdal Rahman mustered an army. By 756 he had defeated the local emir. Lacking a banner, he unravelled a green turban and tied it to his spear. This was the emblem of the Cordoban Ummayads ever since.

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Unfortunately, Abdul Rahman’s dreams of revenge were never realised. He spent his remaining years suppressing rebellions by dissatisfied Arab and Berber vassals, some of whom Charlemagne backed in the northwest.

The Frankish King’s retreat through the Pyrenees is immortalised in the Chanson de Rolande, the oldest piece of French literature. The Frankish rear-guard, commanded by the paladin Roland, were annihilated in an ambush. The epic records the assailants as Moors when they were, in fact, Christian Basques.

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Abdar Rahman III

Abdal Rahman III, the seventh Emir of Cordoba declared a caliphate in 929. This made him one of three: alongside the Abbasids in Baghdad and the Shi’ite Fatimids in Cairo.

The Ummayads were tolerant rulers who intermarried with their Spanish subjects. Abdal Rahman’s mother was a Christian princess and he had blue eyes, though dyed his beard black. His son, the blonde-haired Al-Hakam II, was openly homosexual and kept a male harem. The mother of his children, a Basque concubine, first seduced the caliph by dressing as a male bodyguard!

Wider society was strictly hierarchical. Ethnic Arabs formed the top strata, followed by Berbers and native converts. Sephardi Jews, who formed 10% of the population, were integrated into Muslim society and served as businessmen, officials, scholars and poets. The wider Catholic population were denied full rights, but granted protection and freedom of religion so long as they, like the Jews, paid a special tax. Cordoba itself was roughly split between Muslims and Jews.

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The Ummayads introduced rice, bananas, watermelons, toothpaste and deodorant to Iberia. The ideal of courtly love began with  the Arabic poets of Cordoba, from where it spread to the troubadours of southern France.

Cordoba was built with the opulent splendour of Moorish architecture. The ‘historical centre’ is now a UNESCO world heritage site. The Great Mosque, with its marble columns and red and white striped arches, is a marvel.

Under the Ummayads, Cordoba became the largest, and most advanced city in Europe. The library of Al-Hakam contained up to 400,000 texts. Headed by Al-Hakam’s secretary Lubna, a team of Muslim and Catholic scholars translated Ancient Greek works into Arabic, Latin and Hebrew. Cordoba’s university was the largest of its time, attracting students from not only Al-Andalus and the Maghreb but across Western Europe. Unfortunately the library was destroyed by Al-Hakam’s de facto successor, the pernicious vizier Almanzor.

After Almanzor, the caliphate crumbled into petty kingdoms. The Moorish Almoravid and Almohad dynasties who followed were puritanical and heavily persecuted both Christians and Jews. The Catholic Spaniards of the Reconquista were even worse; the 1492 Alhambra Decree expelled all non-Catholics from Spain. Remaining converts were left to face the Inquisition.

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Falangism is a Catholic brand of fascism once popular in Spain and Lebanon. It emphasises conservative Catholic values, class collaboration, national syndicalism, anticommunism, and authoritarian nationalism. Falange is Spanish for Phalanx, a military formation of tightly packed spearmen favoured by the Spartans and Alexander the Great.

In a Phalanx, each shield overlapped and every row would raise their weapon at a slightly higher degree, creating a near-impenetrable wall of spears. Phalanxes required discipline and trust: each man was only as strong as the man next to him. Falangists seek to emulate that disciplined effectiveness state-wide.

The Falangist economic system is national syndicalism; the revolutionary syndicalism of the labour movement with an authoritarian twist. The idea is that all national industries are organised into syndicates represented at the government level, to work for the national economic good rather than private profit. Tariffs are high, industries are regulated and the government intervenes to prevent recessions. National Syndicalism was envisioned as an alternative to both capitalism and communism, helping weather the Great Depression in Italy, Portugal and Spain.

jose primo de rivera

Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, an idealistic aristocrat and son of the former dictator founded the Falanges Espanola in 1933. Modelling his thought on Italian fascism he advocated syndicalism and land reform but opposed both communism and liberal democracy. Violence and revolutionary reform would regenerate Spain and transform it into an imperial power once more.

When the new republican government executed de Rivera weeks before the Civil War, the Falanges aligned with the Nationalist rebels. Francisco Franco incorporated Falangism into his ‘National Movement’ as an ideological framework but curbed its revolutionary edge to reconcile it with his conservative support base. Falangism’s anti-capitalism was abandoned and, particularly after Franco aligned with the US after WW2, its anti-communism emphasised. Instead of being run by the workers as first intended, the Spanish syndicates were organised from the top down. Franco’s one-party dictatorship lasted from 1937-1975.

pierre gemayel.jpgFalangism was not an exclusively Spanish phenomenon, however. Pierre Gemayel (pictured), a young Lebanese Catholic, attended the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and was awed by the Nazis’ disciplined spectacle. He subsequently modelled the Kataeb party, or Phalanges, on the fascist parties of Europe, complete with brown-shirted paramilitary and Roman salutes.

In 1958, 18 years after independence, the Phalangists emerged as the leading party of Lebanese Christians. While in power, they developed the country’s infrastructure and tourism, introduced public education and bitterly opposed the  Pan-Arab zeitgeist.

In the Lebanese Civil War of 1975 to 1990, the Phalangists allied with Israel against Hezbollah and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. In 1984 Phalangist militias under Gemayel’s son Bachir, massacred 2,000 Palestinian civilians in Beirut’s Sabra-Shatila refugee camps.

phalangist millitamen

Phalangist Militiamen in the Lebanese Civil War

Losing its primacy after the war, the Kataeb Party resurfaced in the 2005 Cedar Revolution. Though still to the right, the Phalangists have shed their fascist roots, focusing instead on Christian Democracy, Lebanese identity and opposition to Syria and Hezbollah.

Falangist movements sprouted across Latin America in the 30s and 40s too, though without lasting impact.

The Argentinian Tacuara Nationalist Movement, a gang of Falangist guerillas, perpetrated over 30 anti-Semitic hate crimes in the early 60s. In ’63, the Tacuaras robbed a bank of 14 million pesos (753,000 USD in 2017) but were dispersed in the resulting crackdown.

The far-right Bolivian Socialist Falange, meanwhile was the country’s second-largest party from 1954-74. Though weaker, it still stands today.

Primo di Rivera disliked the term fascism, though Franco embraced it wholeheartedly until 1945. Contrary to the Argentine Tacuaras, antisemitism was notably absent in Spanish Falangist thought. The Lebanese Phalanges even included Jews in their ranks. Regardless, Falangism is the only fascist political system to outlive the Second World War.

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