Al-Andalus, Al Qaeda, and the historic symbolism of September 11th
It has been 12 years since the tragic events of September 11th 2001. By striking at the heart of one of the greatest cities of modern Western civilization, Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda affiliates sought not just short-term death and destruction, but also what in their beliefs would be justified as an historic avengement.
In the ideology of global jihad (holy war), acts of terror today are merely battles in a continuous war between Christianity and Islam, spanning 14 centuries. Therefore, the historic symbolism of such acts is also important. The September 11 date carries a crucial historic significance through two key occasions that defined modern Western civilization.
392 years before the attacks in 2001, two entirely unrelated events on the same day, spanning both sides of the Atlantic, were to change the course of history. This happened in two countries today know as Spain, and the United States of America.
What we today know as Spain was always a melting pot of various cultures, with Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Carthagenians, Visigoths, Moors, and others leaving their footprints on the Iberian peninsula throughout the centuries.
In the years 781 years between 711 and 1492 AD, successive dynasties of Muslim Moorish rule left a legacy that includes several of Spain’s World Heritage sites and main tourist attractions, such as the Alhambra, Córdoba and the Medina Azahara.
781 years is a long time in the history of any place on Earth. Until recently, though, the Islamic era of Al Andalus (the Arabic name for the Iberian peninsula) was scantily mentioned in most history books. Where referred to, it was generally limited to la Reconquista – the conquest of Moorish territories by the then newly formed Catholic Spanish kingdom.
Córdoba, today a small Spanish city of 330,000 inhabitants, is believed to have been the world’s most populous city in the 10th century. Under Islamic rule, Córdoba turned into a global centre of arts, science and technology, famed for its multi-cultural identity, with Christians, Muslims and Jews living, working and prospering together. It was a beacon of civilization, far more advanced than any other part of Europe at the time.
Granada, home to the legendary Moorish citadel Alhambra, is today a major tourist attraction in Spain. This was one of the last outposts of Islam in Southern Europe, and its fall in 1492, marked not only the rise of Spain as a Catholic kingdom after 800 years of Islamic rule, but also the beginning of the end of the vibrant cultural pluralism and inherent tolerance of Al-Andalus.
Throughout the 16th century, the oppression against Muslims and Jews grew increasingly harsh under the new Catholic monarchy. It all culminated on September 11th 1609, when a royal decree was announced across Spain, ordering the expulsion of all Jews and Moriscos (former Muslims converted by force to Christianity, often suspected of candidly practicing their old religion).
Over a period of 4 years, a grand project of ethnic cleansing on a scale not to be seen again in Europe until World War 2, saw more than 1 million people dispossessed, and evicted from the country that they used to call home. The impact on the Spanish society was massive: The country as a whole lost 1/8 of its population, and some regions as much as 30%. Almost forgotten in Europe today, this was one the major atrocities in the history of mankind.
The date may ring a bell, though: September 11th, 1609.
While Al-Andalus may have been left out from the history books of the Western world, the reconquest of the Iberian peninsula is a centerpiece of the ideologies of Al Qaeda and of global jihadists. If September 11th 1609 was the starting point of one of the biggest campaigns of ethnic cleansing in history, instigated against Muslims by the new Catholic kingdom on the Iberian peninsula, then that event is probably what Osama Bin Laden, Ayman Al Zawahiri and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had in mind when choosing September 11th as the date for the tragic attacks against another target in the Western world: New York.
Coincidentally, September 11th 1609 was also the date when Henry Hudson, as the first European ever, set his foot on the Manhattan Island, marking the beginning of the settlement that later became New York.
September 11th 1609 became a turning point in the relationship between Christianity and Islam. It marked the final extinction of what used to be a gem in the Islamic world. It also was the starting point for the beacon of Western civilization that became New York.
In the ideology of global jihad, the Western world is a monolithic alliance of crusaders, bent on destroying Islam, in the same way as many islamophobes view the entire Muslim world as conspiring to destroy the West. From that perspective, the two events of September 11th 1609 give the date an important symbolic value, both as the beginning of a forgotten atrocity of cataclysmic proportions, and as the starting point for one of the most admired cities in the Western world.
The double historical importance of the date logically links the choice of a date to the choice of a place: The date of September 11th connects the city that in many ways symbolizes modern Western civilization, with an event for which the avengement is a cornerstone of Al Qaeda’s ideology.
By choosing September 11th as a date, and New York as a location, Osama Bin Laden and his fellow Al Qaeda commanders may have seen a dual symbolism that would signal a new turning of the tables.
King Phillip III of Spain may have had no idea of who Henry Hudson was, and when the latter landed on Manhattan, he certainly had no idea of the ethnic cleansing on the other side of the Atlantic. The mere symbolic value of those two historic events of September 11th 1609, may nevertheless have attracted the most tragic events in New York’s history 392 years later.
Pictures from my trip to Spain in December 2012.