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The Old Identity of the New Europe

From Reconquista to Recolonization

by TARIQ ALI

The Cultural Festival of the city of Granada awarded TARIQ ALI the Granadillo 2010 for his novels known as the Islam Quintet. The award was presented at a gathering of over 3000 citizens in the evening of January 2, a day that marked the surrender of the country’s last Muslim kingdom to the Catholic kings Ferdinand and Isabella. Earlier that morning the right wing had marked the day with fascist groups carrying banners that read: FOR A NEW RECONQUEST, EXPEL ALL THE MUSLIMS FROM SPAIN. The speech below was Ali’s response to the Award.

Thank you very much and I am privileged to be so honored, but I am only too aware of the significance of this day and the fact that you are honoring the ideas expressed in the ‘Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree’, the first novel of the Quintet that I started writing in this city over twenty years ago. I wanted to remind readers of the last tormented days of Islamic civilization in al-Andalus; not for reasons of nostalgia, but because the crimes that were committed—-the burning of the books in the Bibbarambla a few minutes walk from where we are now, the expulsion of the Jews, the forced conversions, the auto-da-fes (burning of heretics on the stake), the Inquisition and its secret police the Holy Brotherhood and the final expulsion of Spanish Muslims—all this marked the new identity of Europe and  we say its results in the 20th century in Germany, Italy and Spain itself in the period before the Second world War.

History never repeats itself exactly, but its echoes can sometimes be more deadly. So remembering the past is not designed to make people feel guilty of crimes committed by their forebears or to demand reparations but to ensure that we learn from the past and avoid the mistakes of the 15th and 20th centuries. Have we learnt anything?

In the realm of culture–music, literature, theatre–there are attempts to convey some of what has been lost: a Europe where once there was a co-existence of many cultures and traditions that created a unique synthesis in philosophy and literature. In the realm of world politics nothing has been learnt. The Reconquest  of the 15th century has been replaced today by a process of Recolonization. A million Iraqis died after the occupation of their country; giant US bases have been built to keep American soldiers in the country indefinitely. Afghanistan has been occupied for over eight years (and including by troops from your country). Might this have something to do with a widespread belief in the Muslim world that the Crusades are not yet over?

As citizens of Europe we all have moral and political responsibilities, one of which is to oppose the imperial wars supported by politicians of every stripe, politicians that we have elected. The EU is nothing more than a tiny satellite revolving round the American sun. Nothing more. How many treat the death of an Iraqi, an Afghan or a Pakistani as they would the death of a European or a North American?  If these double standards continue, Europeans are sleepwalking into further disaster and on a larger scale than what took place in Granada after 2 January 1492.

Above all, however bleak the world appears or is, we must not loose hope because to do so means to live in passivity and that would mean to accept that a better world is not possible. Thank you for the Granadillo.

TARIQ ALI’s latest book, The Protocols of the Elders of Sodom and other Essays,  has just been published by Verso.