Guiris and other immigrants

I had it in mind to give a full analysis of Spain's immigration dilemmas, but my buddy Baltasar made a face like Mafalda when her mother serves soup.

Balta, who is now editing our Spanish-language blog Lecturas y lectores, thinks our blogs should be amusing and snappy. In his opinion, Spain's biggest immigration problem is the invasion of the guiris -- meaning (the origin of the word is obscure) Englishmen and other northern Europeans and their kin (including North Americans) who wear ridiculous clothes, never get the jokes, and dance like the mechanical scarecrows in Grass's Dog Years. Balta has found this view of guiris partying, which he finds hilarious: YouTube - EL GUIRI

But it's another kind of immigrant that gets more attention in the Spanish news these days. These folks seem to dance even as they walk, sometimes wear colorful clothes from their homeland, and do get the jokes -- even jokes that nobody else gets. Even though a lot of what they go through to get here doesn't seem very funny. They come from Senegal, Mauritania, Mali and other countries of Africa, in cayucos (big open fishing boats used in Senegal) to the Canary Islands or in pateras (smaller open boats, often inflatable, originally used on the Spanish coast and in the Strait of Gibraltar to carry supplies to ships).

But the really big numbers of immigrants come from Eastern Europe, especially Rumania, Bulgaria and Poland, in chartered buses. And the next biggest numbers from South America, especially from Ecuador and Colombia, by plane and usually with tourist visas. Most of all of these groups (except the guiris) are looking to make a buck, bucks (or rather euros) being much more plentiful in Spain these days than in their home countries. They work in construction, in restaurants, or (especially the Africans) fishing boats, or in agriculture. Low-paid and often dangerous jobs, especially construction where rushed foremen ignore safety regulations.

And a lot --a minority surely, but a big minority -- in criminal enterprises of one sort or another. Spain is especially attractive to criminals from northern Africa (Morocco, Algeria), Eastern Europe and South America, partly for geographical reasons (as a gateway between one of these regions and the others) but more because (a) the economy is booming and (b) it floats on an ocean of black and gray money, that is, money that can't be traced. A lot of that money comes from the construction industry, where people make unregistered cash transactions to avoid heavy taxes. And a lot of the rest of it comes from prostitution rings, drug traffic and various other frauds.

So, all of that is going on, making some Spaniards rush to close the gates -- except maybe to the guiris, who spend a lot money. Spain, for over a century an exporter of migrants (first to South America, later to France, Germany and other northern countries), is suddenly the receiving country, and that's hard to get used to.

BUT closing the gates can't be done! Spain cannot physically close the oceans to the cayucos and pateras, and as a member of the European Union it can't legally close its land or airport borders to other Europeans. And for sentimental and historical reasons, it is not easy to close the borders to South Americans either.

But there is an even more serious reason why Spain can't close the gates. "Spain will need at least four million immigrants from now until 2020," headlines El País (6 October 2006: "España necesitará al menos cuatro millones de inmigrantes hasta 2020"). Without them, the country will not be able to fill the jobs it is creating. That is because the Spanish birthrate is so low ("In the 1970s we decided to stop having kids," says a Spanish demographer, referring to the lack of state support for families), and because the population is aging.

So the only viable option, if Spaniards want to preserve Spanish identity, is to make it as easy as possible for the newcomers to learn the language, accept and be protected by the laws, and to become Spaniards. It's happened before in this country, though not always peacefully: Iberians and Celts (including Basques?) were followed by Phoenicians who were followed by the Vandals and other Goths who were followed by the Berbers who were followed by the Arabs and the Jews and the Gypsies and on and on, to all the many peoples who have made modern Spain.

Chart at top of page from El País, 14 February 2000
Photo of immigrants in a cayuco from Leyendo a la sombra
Mafalda cartoon (by Quino) from historieteca.com

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Dawn comes late to the east coast of Andalusia. Here in Carboneras, we are almost 2 degrees west of Greenwich (1.53 degrees, to be precise), but the clocks of all of Spain (except the Canary Islands) are set to the same hour as Paris, which is 2.2 degrees east of Greenwich. At seven in the morning the sky and sea are black. (In Greenwich, it is only 6 a.m.) Then, without warning, a glimmer of bright pink marks the line where sea meets sky, just a few minutes before eight. The glimmer grows wider and diffuses, soft layers of light above and ripples of pink and orange below, where the light from the sky flashes against the broken sea. The fishing boats have not yet extinguished their deck lights, but the sky is now light enough for us to see the silhouette of a small sloop, a black shape like a saucer on the water, its black mast bare and its stays slack. Softer grows the light, and wider. More little boats become evident through the disappearing gloom, even now a a tiny low craft with human lumps, like a motorized log or maybe a kayak, and a more serious working boat, just large enough for three men to work the nets and pulley, and with a box-like cabin in which maybe two of those thin and knotted men could crouch to fetch or store their gear. And now at last it is day, inspiring the raucous hilarity of the gulls.


Fashions in fanaticism: Redeker & the mullahs

The usual agitators of the Muslim masses have expressed their outrage at French philosophy teacher Robert Redeker for saying things like this:
Exaltation de la violence : chef de guerre impitoyable, pillard, massacreur de juifs et polygame, tel se révèle Mahomet à travers le Coran.
("Exalting violence: a pitiless warlord, robber, mass killer of Jews and polygamist, that is the Mohammed revealed in the Koran.") Somebody claiming to be a defender of the faith has even emailed death threats and called for attacks on him, posting a map to his house.

How fashions in fanaticism change! Tamerlane of Samarkand, who was as vociferous a Muslim as ever was, would have had no problem with Redeker's description of Mohammed or himself as a pitiless mass killer. He styled himself the "Scourge of God" as he piled up the skulls of those he had massacred in the name of Allah in Baghdad and in India. To Tamerlane and countless other Muslim warriors, from Saladdin to modern Chechen guerrillas, Mohammed's trickiness and mercilessness in war have been considered admirable.

Or maybe what really set off the European Muslims was Redeker's concluding statement:
Haine et violence habitent le livre dans lequel tout musulman est éduqué, le Coran. Comme aux temps de la guerre froide, violence et intimidation sont les voies utilisées par une idéologie à vocation hégémonique, l’islam, pour poser sa chape de plomb sur le monde.
("Hate and violence live in the book in which every Muslim is educated, the Koran. ...") That may be debatable. But if so, let's debate it. The stupidest response is to send the message, "If you call me violent, I'll kill you!"

Here's the original text: 20minutes.fr - Le texte de Robert Redeker qui fait polémique


Network of Spiritual Progressives - An Interfaith movement

Sounds good, but is there room for us nonspiritual progressives too? We support most of the same things, it's just that we don't try to palm off any of the responsibility on a Higher Being. Network of Spiritual Progressives - An Interfaith movement Religious people sometimes have trouble believing that we non-religious people can have any ethics, while we non-religious wonder if the ethics of the religious are real -- that is, a responsibility assumed by the individual as his/her own, rather than an edict from an imagined spiritual father.