Jewish and Muslim Memories of Morocco

Estas entrevistas forma parte de una colección de historias orales que tratan del pasado Judío de Marruecos. La iniciativa, que conduje como un miembro del grupo Salam Shalom Barcelona, intenta preservar las memorias de personas Judías Sefarditas Marroquíes y Musulmanes Marroquíes quien solían vivir en Marruecos. Específicamente, su memorias de la comunidad judía en Marruecos durante el siglo veinte. Salam Shalom es una iniciativa que se explora la cultura Judia y musulmana en Barcelona.

Para ver el resto de los videos:

These interviews are part of a collection of oral hisotires exploring Morocco’s 20th century Jewish history. The initiative, which I led as a member of the group Salam Shalom Barcelona, aims to preserve and compare the memories of Moroccan-Sephardic Jews and Moroccan Muslims who used to live in Morocco, and may still visit there. The interviews focus on their recollections of the Jewish community in Morocco throughout the twentieth century, and their memories of Jewish-Muslim relations. The vast majority of Jews and Muslims in Spain originate from Morocco. Salam Shalom is an NGO exploring Jewish and Muslim culture and history within Barcelona

To see the rest of the videos. Si sabes de un archivo que sería interesado en tener estas entrevistas, enviarnos un correo.

Locación de las entrevistas: Barcelona / Período de coger estas entrevistas: April – August 2019

Una initiativa de Salam Shalom. Supported by Mozaika and Screenshot 2020-05-27 at 10.50.33

Entrevistadora/Interviewer: Flora Hastings

 

 

Moises Israel Benasayag

(Interview in Spanish)

 

 

 

Abdul and Fatimah

(Interview in English)

 

 

Salam Shalom organizó un evento de seguimiento, en asociación con Euroarab and TolDot. Moisés, originario de Tetuán, fue entrevistado por Med Ahsissene y Zouhair El Hairan (también originario de Tetuán) sobre sus recuerdos de su crecimiento y eventualmente huyendo de Tetuán. Luego Toldot nos sirvieron comida marroquí-sefardí.

Salam Shalom organised a follow up event, in partnership with Euroarab and TolDot. Moises, originally from Tétouan, was interviewed by Med Ahsissene and Zouhair El Hairan (also originally from Tétouan) about his memories of growing up and eventually fleeing Tétouan. We were then served Moroccan-Sephardic food cooked by Toldot.

 

 

Photos by Federico Szarfer Barenblit

 

Clips from the event (In Spanish):

 

 

Anthropology Is: Bendy Minds

The best anthropologists make their minds bendy – they try to warp their perspective of the world (how it works, how ‘society’ is organised, what ‘culture’ is) and explore these questions from another perspective (and in doing so, may allow their questions to radically change) Saba Mahmood had the bendiest of minds. She showed up white liberal neo-imperialist feminists and anthropologists who went into Middle Eastern nations and placed Muslim women (from a diverse range of locations) within their white, liberal conceptual frameworks. From their perspectives – if a Muslim woman was observant, she was oppressed. Accordingly, the less Islamic they were, the more ‘liberated’.

What’s the point of anthropology – understanding cultures and societies in their diversity – if you already know what’s good and bad for groups/individuals before hand? if you can just slot them into an oppression/liberation narrative? So Mahmood made her mind bendy – she went and researched a group of Muslim women in the ‘Women’s Mosque Movement’ in Cairo after the Egyptian Revolution. Mahmood saw how the way white liberal feminists understood ‘submission’ was, for this mosque movement, irrelevant. For the practitioners of this all women’s Mosque movement, ‘submission’ to Islamic values was not a oppressive, passive, docile and dogmatic act. Submission meant an active, intellectual and bodily moulding of the self in order to internalise Islamic values and practises until they emerged from the self and body without conscious effort. Submission was a form of empowerment. To understand this, Mahmood had to deconstruct dominant European conceptions of agency, the body and freedom and in turn see how such concepts, applied to the Mosque movement, concealed as opposed to revealed something of the culture which Mahmood was studying. Much Euro-American academia (and especially anthropology), if it doesn’t question itself (and its political agendas), can violently assimilate sociocultural difference to its own terms, hierarchies and views of the world.

The best anthropologists, like Saba Mahmood, endlessly question the terms through which they understand different social and cultural groups. Many Egyptian Islamic feminists disagreed with the Women’s Mosque Movement relation to submission, although that doesn’t discount the need to understand a multitude of perspectives on the matter of women’s diverse experiences of freedom and oppression.

Read Mahmood Cairo ethnography in her 2004 Politics of Piety.

A Century of Women Who Changed Literature: the 1930s

 

Commissioned by Ponder journal

 

Hurston, a prolific folklorist and novelist who documented the African American culture of the rural South, died penniless in 1960. Her writings were tossed into a fire outside her house after her death, left to burn until a passing friend salvaged them from the flames. 15 years later, the renowned novelist Alice Walker would stoke a different kind of fire when her essay ‘Looking for Zora’ led to widespread recognition of Hurston’s talents.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston’s most famous novel, is as politically relevant today as it was in the 1930s. The novel’s controversial use of language brings the voices of those who are often silenced into centre-stage. The novel follows the tales of its protagonist, Janie Crawford, as she relays her life to her friend, Phoeby. Janie leads Phoeby through stories of her domineering husbands, the claustrophobic micro-politics of porch-side gossip, the Okeechobee hurricane and eventually, to her final love and partner, Tea Cake. The story is part set in Eatonville, an all African American town in Southern Florida where Hurston herself grew up.

 

The book caused a literary backlash after its publication for its extensive use of African-American dialect. Across a 1930s America still plagued with the racist ideology that had legitimised slavery just decades earlier, “serious” literature was equated with standardised English (the language of the media, universities, the “educated”). The judgements given to certain styles of speech and writing were often steeped in racist and classist hierarchies as white supremacist ideology had influenced the mainstream to see African-American dialect as proof of a lack of education and “non-seriousness”.

Despite pressures from the literary world to do so, Hurston refused to translate the African-American dialect of the novel’s characters into standardised English. Such a move would have culturally misrepresented the groups within the novel. Beyond this ideological choice, Hurston artfully plays around with the voice of the book’s narrator*. While the novel’s narrator begins by using standardised English, as the story progresses and Janie rids herself of her misogynistic husbands, the narrator progressively picks up Janie’s dialect. By the end of the novel, Janie’s voice seeps into the narrator’s: ‘‘Janie fooled around outside awhile to try and it wasn’t so”. Janie’s increasing control over the book’s narrative is symbolised by her emboldening refusals to speak at the behest of others. As Janie sat in court at the novel’s close: “She didn’t plead to anybody”.

Janie’s growing empowerment is mirrored by Hurston’s as a novelist – both women refused to mould their speech or writing to the racist and patriarchal hierarchies of early 20th century America; predictably, the novel yielded little success after its publication in 1937.

As a doctoral student in Anthropology, Hurston’s work forms a guide for how I aim to write. Anthropology, which Hurston trained in, is about understanding how groups and individuals comprehend the world from their given perspectives. Within anthropology, language is seen as a crucial way through which individual or group identity is formed – it’s integral to how people organise and comprehend their reality. Unlike many anthropologists at the time, Hurston refused to speak over those she researched and wrote about, allowing her to thrust the voices of communities into a domain which often relied on representations of such groups by others, which were misinformed at best and unequivocally racist at worst.

Taking Hurston’s example beyond 1930s America and anthropology, how would present-day European xenophobia be different if people listened to migrants’ voices more than their representation by right-wing papers like the Daily Mail?

 

*the term used by the literary critics Barbara Johnson and Henry Louis Gates

*the narrator of many of Hurston’s novels is often a non-personal voice which narrates the main events of the novel, distinguished from speaking characters (who are identified by speech marks).

Remembering the anti-fascist Jewish radicals of the ’40s

commissioned by Huck magazine

I’ve always wondered how my grandparents ended up getting married. My grandmother loved going to classical music concerts, while my grandad loved jazz nights. My grandmother would drag him to the opera where he would invariably fall asleep; while my grandad would try and get her to go car racing, which she would always refuse (it messed up her hair). It’s even more strange to think that, not long before they met in the ’50s, my grandad John Wimborne was punching fascists and being arrested for attempted murder.

I was completely unaware of my grandad’s anti-fascist activism as a child. I only learnt about his history with The 43 Group a decade later, after he’d passed away, when my grandmother handed me a heavy folder of newspaper clippings. It was his homemade archive, filled with newspaper articles documenting the groups’ controversial political activism.

The 43 Group were a grassroots initiative, predominantly made up of Jewish ex-soldiers, who fought the rising wave of fascism in ’40s Britain. Their main tactic, for which they were notorious across the UK, was using their World War II military training to shut down fascist rallies.

70 years later, as far-right voices become louder and more influential in modern politics, the group’s legacy of direct political action could not be more relevant.

Along with the rest of Europe, the UK experienced a rapid growth in fascism in the ’30s. Britain’s pin-up fascist was Oswald Mosely, who founded the British Union of Fascists. Mosely’s political speeches were filled with antisemitic vitriol. The ultra-nationalistic, upper-class demagogue pinned the nation’s perceived decline on the thousands of Jewish immigrants in the UK, many of whom had fled the pogroms of the Russian empire.

Amongst them were my grandad’s parents. Depending on which uncle you ask, they either came to the UK from Poland or Ukraine in 1918 or 1890, with the family name of the Bumchicks or the Weinbergs. After arriving, they opted instead for the British-sounding surname ‘Wimborne’  – a word that was apparently glimpsed on a road sign to Wimborne Minster.

The ‘Wimbornes’ arrived to an east London divided between the British working class and Jewish Eastern European immigrants. Poverty reports from the early 20th century note the dark-bearded men in Russian-Polish dress, the wigs of orthodox Jewish woman, and their unplaceable Yiddish tongue. From the perspective of the ‘native’ East Londoners, the spike in Jewish refugees pushed up rent prices and increased unemployment.

Mosely became a beacon of hope to many struggling working-class families, angry at a lack of state support. He offered a vision of Britain for the British, partly gained through deporting a large number of Jewish immigrants. Mosely’s fascist rallies would incite the destruction of Jewish homes and synagogues, the chanting of Nazi anthems and ‘Jew-beating’ on East London’s streets.

Even after the decisive defeat of Europe’s fascist forces by the end of World War II, around 1,000 loyal fans gathered to greet Mosely in his first re-appearance after the war in 1946. “They screamed and raised their arms to give the old fascist salute,” described BBC journalist Trevor Grundy, who witnessed the event. Before long, the old tune of “The Yids, the Yids, we’ve got to get rid of the Yids” soon returned to London’s streets.

The 43 Group formed in 1946 as a defiant response to the mounting fascist threat. With the government refusing to ban the fascist rallies, despite the desperate petitions of the Jewish community, a group of Jewish men and women saw violence and espionage as the only means through which to confront Mosely and his footmen. “It started again, this ‘keep quiet’ business, but we were not going to keep quiet,” ex-43 Group member Stanley Mocks recalled.

Mainly formed by Jewish ex-servicemen and women, The 43 Group translated the skills they had learnt on the battlefields of World War II to the streets of London.  The violence involved was justified – it was seen as an extension of their objective during the war: defeat the fascists.

Speaking in a London History Group documentary, 43 Group co-founder Morris Beckman recalled “flying wedges of hard-cased men” knocking down the podiums of fascist rallies. Knuckle dusters, potatoes stuffed with razor blades, and tightly wound newspapers were tools to attack the fascists in bloody street-brawls. There were no logged fatalities from the fights, but hospitalisation was not unheard of. Many 43-Groupers, women and men, would train weekly in a West End gym. Non-Jews were recruited to infiltrate fascist groups, enabling secret lists of forthcoming rally locations to be shared. The 43 Group slowly expanded, with four offices in London and nearly 1,000 members.

Despite the group’s palpable curbing of fascism, they were denounced by representatives of the Anglo-Jewish community such as The Board of Deputies of British Jews. The 43 Group’s violent tactics raised fears that they would tarnish the public reputation of Anglo-Jewry.

My grandad was only 18 when he helped found the group. Having gained two years of military training in the Royal Navy, he split his time between working at his father’s West End hat shop and fighting violent antisemites. Just one year later, in 1947, both the group and my grandfather were catapulted into the public sphere.

On the night of December 22, 1947, Charles Preen, a prominent fascist, claimed that he had been shot at. In a clipping preserved in my grandfather’s archive, Preen told the Evening Standard that “there was a bang and something whizzed past my face”. A few days after the shooting, he would single out my grandfather in a police line-up. “Preen came forward, looked straight at me and pointed me out,” reads Wimborne’s alibi, also stored in his archive.

In a show of solidarity, fellow 43 Group co-founder Gerry Flamberg – who had not been singled out in the same identity parade – stepped forward and commanded to be charged alongside my grandfather. Like that, the pair were both put on trial with attempted murder.

The enduring battle between fascists and anti-fascists was suddenly brought into a high-profile court case, and the nation was watching. The 43 Group anxiously sought a defence lawyer: Sir Maxwell Fyfe, one of the principal prosecutors for Britain at the Nuremberg Trials. His steep legal fees were paid for by the donations which flooded into The 43 Group from across the UK.

With Preen’s history of antisemitic acts and his tenuous court evidence, the magistrate described him as a witness he could not believe. After a brief trial, Wimborne and Flamberg were acquitted as not guilty. It was a clear setup. The trial would become a symbol of anti-fascist triumph for years to come. (In a 43 Group reunion 50 years after the event, Flamberg denied the charge with his characteristic bravado: “I’m supposed to be a crack shot, I wouldn’t have missed it!”)

During the three years following the trial, fascism in the UK slowly declined. With little need for the 43 Group to be on the prowl, the group officially disbanded in 1950. In a ritualistic end, confidential documents were burnt to impede potential investigations into their illegal shenanigans, such as allegedly being helped by the infamous Jewish East End gangster Jack “Spot”.

My grandad’s confrontation of fascists has influenced my involvement with Jewish groups who are committed to meeting the enemy face-to-face – minus the tactics of hardcore violence. Militant anti-fascist Jewish fronts in the UK no longer exist. However, Jewish groups such as Jewdas are often first in the counter-demonstrations of far-right marches, raising funds for anti-fascist organisations through debauched Jewish themed parties.

Many of Jewdas’ members – I am now one myself – can be seen wearing anti-fascist badges, and disrupting neo-fascist rallies with jeers and signs. And with the rise of the far-right across Europe today, the importance of these kinds of groups is paramount. Marches such as Tommy Robinson’s ‘Brexit Betrayal March last year, which gathered between 3000 to 5000 supporters in central London, prove the emboldening of those with deeply xenophobic and racist views. The surge in far-right support no doubt correlates to the rise in antisemitic attacks measured in the UK, with 16 per cent more anti-Jewish hate incidents in 2018, not to mention the steep climb in Islamophobic attacks.

As with The 43 Group in the 1940s, Jewdas’ radical, anti-establishment ethos leads to frequent denunciations from both The Board of Deputies and the mainstream press. However, this just shows that we should never forget the history that came before us. The 43 Group may have used questionable tactics, but we can take lessons from their boldness, spirit, and willingness to take action – our futures may depend on it.

A couple of thoughts about anti-Semitism and Labour

 

1) I’m going to vote Labour and from my perspective as a non-Zionist Jew, I do not synonymies anti-semitism with criticism of Israel (I acknowledge the latter can tip easily into the former). I think though, as Leftist Jews try to make sense of the Right-wing media’s stronghold over accusations of anti-semitism via Zionist Jews and figures like the ‘Chief Rabbi’, we can’t just say ‘criticism of Israel is not anti-semitism’ or the chief Rabbi is making things up when he states many British Jews are anxious at the thought of a Corbyn government.

To deny these statements assumes there’s one definition of anti-semitism, there isn’t. Anti-semitism, like most terms and categories, is constructed through one’s sociocultural perspective. As Jews come from different sociocultural perspectives/ positions, they will have distinct notions of anti-semitism. They will also have different fears and hopes for Jewish life. I assume that for many Zionist jews, they see critique of Israel as anti-semitism, as Israel it very important, if not central, to their Jewish identity and they see Israel as central to the posterity/ safety of the Jewish people. A leftwing government which criticises Israel/ supports Palestine will accordingly threaten their identity and feeling of security. Their fear is real to them, as if enough governments which are pro-Palestine get into power then Israel could be threatened via things like trade sanctions. Secondly, Corbyn is anti-semitic via their definitions and threatens the existence of Israel.

As much as I disagree with this Zionist perspective, the intense polarisation and miscommunication between Left and Right jews will only grow without genuine acknowledgments of our different sociocultural positions and the different ways we construct and define concepts – such as anti-semitism – through our own cultural logics. When you shout at each other ‘this is’ or ‘is not’ anti-semitism, we may use the same term but we’re talking about two entirely different things. To simply say this or that is not anti-semitism, this or that is not real fear, will not get us any where.

The above way of looking at things threatens liberalism and cultural relativism to the extent of political inaction, I don’t agree with this, but I think inter-group discussion and intervention should come from a place of cultural understanding (but not in the historical European colonial ‘lets understand to conquer’ way, but lets understand to talk and change things way (also a problematic stance but less so))

2) As a left, non-Zionist Jews I feel like my voice, and my loosely bound community’s voice, have been erased and misrepresented by the right wing media. I find it sad that the majority of journalists either don’t care enough about (mis)representation of minorities to do enough research about Judaism to know that the ‘Chief Rabbi’ does not represent all Jews. Of course, it benefits the right wing press to show Jews as a homogenous block as it adds weight to Corbyn anti-semitism claims.

People write about cultures (entirely different from their own) far too easily and with barely any research (I know this is also because of poor working conditions for journalists etc). For most minority groups, they watch themselves be (mis)represented by majority groups, instead of being given mainstream platforms to represent themselves.

(I’m not disavowing anti semitism in the Labour Party / I know both Zionist and non-Zionist jews dont vote for labour solely on their Israel stance but other instances of anti semitism. I do think the anti semitism in Labour has been inflated and taken out of context of the anti semitism manifest in wider society)

The Unsung Savior of Cairo’s Jewish Community

commissioned by Haaretz

 

At first glance, the 92-year-old man sitting in a Parisian apartment and clutching a book to his chest does not look in the least bit like the hero at the center of a tale of a high-stakes escape.

However, this is exactly who Clement Behar was: The unsung savior of Cairo’s Jews, who risked his own life to rescue members of the community from persecution in the 1940s and 1950s.

Clement Behar recounts his story of saving Cairo’s JewsFlora Hastings / Haaretz

Forty-six years later, his story is still emerging from obscurity – Behar, formerly known as Chehata, has published a memoir in which he revealed how he helped release scores of Jews from Cairo’s prisons. The self-published oeuvre, titled “A Story of a Life with a Difference,” came out in 2003.

Born in 1925, Behar grew up in the Egyptian capital at a time when the city was a Jewish, Muslim and Christian cosmopolis. Joining his father’s prospering electrical business at 15, he was propelled to Egypt’s elite social circles. As a teen, he saw anti-colonial movements gain more traction shortly after the British Empire granted nominal independence to his homeland in 1922.

His family, much like many other Egyptian Jews, enjoyed financial and social success. But in 1948 matters took a turn for the worse: Israel was established as an independent state after Jewish militants defeated the British Mandate of Palestine. A day later, on May 15, the War of Independence broke out. The young country survived the invasion of five Arab nations which opposed Jews taking over Arab lands. It even gained control over more territories, sparking a deep anti-Jewish sentiment in the region.

A portrait of Clement Behar aged 28, taken in 1953.
Flora Hastings

At the time, Egypt was home to 80,000 Jews who resided there for three millennia, with some immigrating from Europe since the late 19th century. Despite their stature, the country’s Jews were put in a precarious position over their alleged loyalty to Israel. Many of them perceived themselves as more Egyptian than Jewish, and rejected calls by Egypt’s growing ethnonationalist circle to leave.

The calls quickly escalated into violence. One infamous incident is the Balfour Day riots, which took place in November 1945. They began as anti-Jewish demonstrations on the 28th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, but quickly turned into altercations in which five Egyptian Jews were killed and hundreds were injured. In 1948, the riots worsened. Hundreds were murdered, Jewish synagogues were burned down and Jewish areas in the country were bombed. Many Jews were jailed, often on suspicion that they had spied for Israel.

This is when Behar’s operation was set in motion. “Every day, officers arrested young Jewish people, and their families came to see me and enlist my help,” he wrote in his memoir. 

‘Obliged to help the Jews’

In 1953 the Egpytian Republic was born, and gave rise to a national socialist president – Gamal Abdel Nasser. Egypt was finally freed from the British occupation, but the Jewish community only suffered from these developments. The Pan-Arabist movement continued to grow under Nasser, and Jews were seen as an obstacle to its goal: Uniting all Arab nations into a single state. By 1950, 40 percent of Egyptian Jews fled. “I felt morally obliged to help the Jews,” Behar told Haaretz.

He began to do so, using his close friendship with a high-ranking police officer named El Hamichari. Behar negotiated the release of imprisoned Jews through “gifts and bribes.” Dressed neatly and wearing a traditional fez, the young Behar easily entered and left Cairo’s police stations, where he was often mistaken for an officer thanks to his command of Egyptian Arabic.

The Jewish community continued to shrink. 14,000 Jews had escaped to Israel, while others sought refuge in different countries. Egypt’s chief rabbi also became a target. In his memoir, Behar wrote that in 1954 President Nasser sent Rabbi Nahoum Effendi a “poisoned invitation.”

To mobilize anti-Israel sentiment, Effendi was called on to give a speech publicly denouncing the Jewish state. The rabbi “prayed that he would be spared the ordeal,” Behar wrote, but was powerless to decline the invitation.

Cairo's former chief rabbi, Nahoum Effendi (second from the left) with Behar (furthest to the right).
Flora Hastings

Behar decided to save the rabbi. He enlisted the help of a daring Jewish hospital manager, Dr. Bensimmon, who prescribed medication for the rabbi as well as “a very strict diet which made him actually unwell.” The national papers reported that Effendi was very ill and could not attend the event. Behar wrote about the chief rabbi’s gratitude. “May God keep you near me to have you by my side in difficult times,” he told Behar.

The prison escape  

Behar continued his operations to aid the Jewish community in its plight, but eventually his luck ran out. Egyptian police caught him smuggling money out of the country for the chief rabbi’s son. As he waited for his trial, Behar wrote a letter to his wife Dorette and their four children. He begged them to flee Egypt immediately. After he was sentenced to six years of hard labor behind bars, Behar “decided to escape there and then.”

In his memoir, Behar wrote that he wore civilian clothing prior to his trial. Exploiting his attire and the prison’s shortage of guards, he made his big escape. “I went downstairs, I walked to the prison gates and just walked out of prison,” he recollected.

Clement Behar's false Lebanese identity card.
Flora Hastings

From there, Behar bolted to a Christian monastery where he sought cover with the help of a monk he befriended when the latter paid visits to the prison. Behar wrote that for 18 months he was on the run. “I shaved my moustache. I work dark glasses and started running in all directions, incognito, to find a way of escape. I would return to the monastery at night,” he wrote.

After close to two years at large, Behar acquired a false Lebanese identity card under the name Sami Refaat Abdul Hadi. His cover story was that he was Muslim businessman. “I knew Arabic perfectly well. No one would have suspected that I was Jewish,” Behar wrote. Later, he was aided by a high-ranking police officer named Captain Said Nached, who sheltered him in his home until he was finally able to board a flight to Damascus.

Longing for Egypt

In 1956, Behar moved on from Syria to Lebanon. He was able to seek shelter there because Beirut and Cairo were political enemies at the time – then-Lebanese President Camille Chamoun, a Christian Maronite, was seriously opposed to Nasser’s Pan Arabism.

As a political refugee, Behar resided in the magisterial mansion of the president’s secretary for several months. He also managed to obtain a Lebanese passport. “After being sheltered in a monastery, I was familiar with all the prayers and Christian traditions. I was very much in need of that in the circle I was mixing in at that time,” he related in the memoir.

Later, Baher was able to secure a visa from Switzerland and made his way to France, where his wife and sons were living. In 1958 he arrived in a northern suburb of Paris as an illegal refugee, where at long last he reunited with his family. “‘They are all here! In the twinkling of an eye, I had forgotten everything: Jail, my walkabout, my nightmares.”

Speaking to Haaretz decades after his fugitive journey ended, Behar teared up when he talked about Egypt. Asked how he felt about his exile from his native land, Behar responded: “I spent at least 25 years locked up inside myself because of leaving Egypt, my roots and identity. It took me that long to accept that I live in Europe.” Despite the many years he spent in France, Behar said that he still felt more “Egyptian and Arab than Jewish.”

Six months after our interview, Behar passed away in October 2017. He did not hear of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi’s surprising recent overture in which he offered to build synagogues in Egypt should members of the Jewish community choose to return. Behar himself only went back to Egypt once in 1980. In his memoir he wrote of a walk along Cairo’s Jewish quarter, where he found “the synagogue which had fallen to pieces… All I had was a blow to the heart.” He told Haaretz that his feeling was that he “returned as a tourist.”

Writing the memoir helped Behar accept his journey, but he remained ambivalent about his homeland until his death. His is a tale of triumph; it is also a story of bitterness and longing, which linger with may other Jews who were forced to flee their Middle Eastern homes a century ago.

The New Spanish Islamophobia

 

Published by The New Internationalist 

 

Tanned, muscular men ride stallions across a rural landscape. Plaintive piano plays in the background. Where are these men? The title of Vox’s political campaign video tells you: ‘The Reconquista will begin in the lands of Andalusia’.

This controversial slogan is part of a strategy that helped secure the rising far-right party twelve seats in Andalusia’s regional election last year. Next week, Vox are one of five main contenders in Spain’s general elections, signalling the party’s unanticipated growth. It is expected to receive 29-37 per cent of the vote.

The Reconquista, meaning the ‘reconquering’, draws on the history of the Iberian Christian conquest of Muslim Spain, which ended in 1492. Vox’s proposed political reforms make the relevance of this history clear: if elected, the party claims it will deliver an end to supposed uncurbed migration, placate the ‘threat’ to Spain’s national identity from the growth of Islam, end state-funded abortion and repeal gay marriage laws.

Spectres of the past

The history of medieval Christian-Muslim conflict forms this far-right party’s repertoire of symbolism. For eight centuries, Spain was governed by Islamic rulers, known as the Moors. In 711 CE, the governing Umayyad dynasty travelled from Syria to Spain and eventually conquered the then Visigothic lands, renaming them ‘al-Andalus’. Contemporary Spain is replete with vestiges of this past, from Moorish architecture to the many Arabic-origin words in the Spanish language.

With the end of the Reconquista in 1492, a Spanish national identity began to emerge. The newly reigning Catholic monarchs took violent measures to forge it. Those who were not Catholic would not be considered Spanish in this new social order. This process would eventually lead to the expulsion of the peninsula’s vast Jewish and Muslim populations.

Spanish ethno-nationalism continued well into the 20th century. Spain’s former dictator, General Franco, granted the Catholic Church immense power, prohibited any religion save Catholicism and enforced the standardisation of ‘core’ Spanish culture, from the Castilian language to bullfighting. Francoist Spanish nationalism was defined against the nation’s former Jewish and Muslim subjects, such as through the dictator’s heavy use of Spanish Reconquista symbolism in his propaganda. Francoist rhetoric even blended the myth of the ever-present ‘Moorish threat’ to Spain with the ‘menace’ of Eastern European communism.

With the death of Franco in 1975, Spain officially disbanded its explicitly authoritarian structure. However, its ethno-nationalist past still haunts the public sphere.

‘Spanishness’

Moroccans are Spain’s second largest minority. Many within Spain’s Moroccan community are ancestrally related to Spain’s historic Muslim population. At a market in Cordoba, pejoratively called ‘Morro’s Mercado’ by locals, Tariq, a Moroccan vendor tells me about the strong anti-Muslim prejudice he recognises in Andalusia: ‘They think in Morocco there are only camels and the desert,’ he says. Beyond the perception of Morocco as an excessively ‘backwards’ country, some Spaniards even perceive the influx of Moroccan immigrants to Spain since the 1970s as posing a ‘re-Islamization’ of the country.

Outside more blatantly Islamophobic cases, there are Spanish traditions which revisit this Christian-Muslim schism. Each year on 2 January, individuals across Spain dress as either ‘Moros’ or ‘Christianos’ and re-enact the last battle of the Reconquista, where the medieval stereotypes of the Moors as violent and religiously fanatic are inflated through carnivalesque caricatures.

Although these cultural rituals are thought to commemorate a strife from a by-gone past, Vox’s dogwhistle calls for a new Reconquista casts these cultural rituals in an even darker light, further entrenching the idea of Muslims as antithetical to ‘Spanishness’.

Acceptable in the mainstream

Appeals to the Reconquista are not a new development in Spanish politics. In an attempt to drum up support for the Iraq War, José Aznar, Spain’s former Conservative prime minister, explicitly linked the medieval Moors to al-Qaeda. He stated in 2004 that ‘the problem of Spain with al-Qaeda began with the invasion of the Moors’, who were repelled thanks to the ‘successful Reconquista’.

Vox is building on this rhetoric. The party’s leader, Santiago Abascal, petitioned for Andalusia’s regional day to celebrate the conclusion of the Reconquista in 1492. At a meeting in Seville, Abascal stated that he wanted the ‘Andalusia of the Catholic Monarchs against that of Blas Infante’. Infante was a libertarian socialist writer known as the father of Andalusian nationalism. In the early 20th century, he strived to turn Spain’s legacy of medieval Jewish, Muslim and Christian co-existence into a contemporary reality.

The language used in the party’s political speeches is rife with Islamophobia. Vox’s secretary general, Javier Ortega Smith, stated in 2016 that ‘the enemy of Europe is called the Islamist invasion’. Santiago Abascal, Vox’s leader, rejoined Smith by stating that Spain’s Muslim community will become a ‘problem’ in an interview last year. The party’s proposed political reforms include banning both Islamic education and halal food in Spanish state schools.

This is all part of a Europe-wide phenomenon. In the week following the New Zealand/Aotearoa mosque shootings on 15 March, the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes reported across Britain increased by 593 per cent. These attacked are fuelled by continent-wide stereotypes, from the perception of Muslims as jihadists to perceiving Muslim immigrants as an unassailable threat to Western values.

Vox’s anti-Muslim stance have helped win the party favour with Europe’s largest far-right political groups. In 2017, Abascal claimed an affinity with France’s ultra-conservative Marine Le Pen for their mutual protection of ‘Christian Europe’. Le Pen, along with the Netherland’s far-right Geert Wilders, have openly supported Vox through expressing hopes that the party will gain seats in May’s European parliamentary elections. The growing coordination between Europe’s far-right parties only threatens to strengthen the institutional legs of a continent-wide Islamophobia. 

Jewish history caught in independence tug-of-war

 

Published for Jewish Renaissance Journal

 

After a 400-year vacuum, Judaism has reappeared on the Iberian Peninsula in unexpected ways. Spanish institutions have proudly united medieval Sephardi identity with a modern Spanish identity. Meanwhile, Catalan institutions recently asserted that their medieval Jewish communities had a separate Catalan identity.

In the 1990s the Spanish government revived an interest in Sephardi history and formed La Red de Juderias, a multi-million-euro Jewish tourism network. Spain’s Jewish archaeological sites were renovated and archives digitised to rediscover this unknown legacy. ‘Spanish’ and ‘Sephardi’ became interchangeable terms in the Red’s publications.

The pluralism of the medieval La Convivencia – an era of intellectual symbiosis between Muslims, Jews and Christians – was reimagined as being the foundation of Spain’s current progressive identity. The act of connecting modern Spain with the past was a precursor to the 2015 Law of Return for Sephardi Jews. The introduction of the law can be seen as an attempt to diversify Spain’s national image.

But which Spain? Medieval Spain was built by Jews, Muslims and Christians who coexisted under La Convivencia. The Catholic, Castilian Spain that followed, whose foundations support today’s nation, has little to do with this history. The Law of Return requires proof of the applicant’s ‘special connection’ to Spain through a Spanish language and culture test. Most Right of Return laws, such as those of Germany or Poland, do not require this.

Alfons Aragoneses, head of law at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University, questions the historical accuracy of Spain’s identification with Sephardi Jews: “Spain did not exist before 1492, but the law supposes that the Sephardim were conscious of belonging to Spain and that they were always nostalgic for Spain. Spain did not exist until the 19th century!” At least, the Spain that formed after the 1492 union of the Castilian and Aragonese Crown did not exist when the Sephardim lived on the Peninsula.

Catalonia too has been weaving nationalistic threads into its Jewish past. Tessa Calders, the daughter of the renowned Republican exile Pere Calders, has been calling for the current interpretation of Jewish medieval history to be revised and the adapted version to be recognised in any representation of Jewish history. “The Jews were kicked out of Spain and lost memory of their Catalan identity. Now Spain has reinvented their past,” says Calders, who is a lecturer in Hebrew at the University of Barcelona. She believes the Jews living in northern Spain before the expulsion were not Sephardi but were Catalonian.

This pro-Catalan understanding of history has been embraced by Catalonia’s regional governments: in 2016, five municipalities split from the Red de Juderias to create a new tourism network, the Xarxa de Calls. Jusep Boya is the head of Museums for Catalonia and the manager of this new organisation. In his office off Barcelona’s Las Ramblas, he envisaged the new network as a vehicle for Catalonia’s reconnection with its Jewish history. “We cannot comprehend Catalonia without the Jewish culture which is attached to the very soul of Catalonia,” he said.

Pancracio Celdrán, a former professor of medieval history at Haifa University, disputes that there was a conscious 15th-century Catalan identity. “These medieval ‘Catalan Jewries’ were really the Jews of the Kingdom of Aragon, not of Catalonia.” Others say that Catalonian nationhood only developed in the 19th century.

With only 40,000 Jews in Spain today, the groups who should have a platform to challenge these revisions of history have no representational power. Most of those involved in the departments for Jewish tourism in both governments are not Jewish and have little specialisation in the history of Jews living in Spain. The situation needs addressing: Spain was ranked the third most antisemitic country in Europe in a 2014 survey. Instead of politicising Sephardi identity for their own narratives, isn’t it time for both sides to let the Sephardim delineate their own ancestral past?

A Rejection Of Spain’s Sepharad (Pt. 1-6)

 

Published by Mozaika journal

part 1 of 6

 

Prologue: Locating Sepharad in Spain’s Law of Return

 

“Berlin’s Jewish population goes back to about 1670.

Some of these Jews had Sephardic roots, but they’re hard to trace.

I charge US$80/hr, 10 hours minimum.”

Roger, a specialist in German Jewish genealogy, responds to my inquiry about tracing matrilineal surnames. Trying to chart my family’s genealogical path back 500 years to Sepharad was proving expensive, if not impossible.

To prove my ancestral origins in Spain before the Inquisition of 1492 means being nationalised under Spain’s Law of Return for Sephardim.

This law, as stated by the then Minister of Justice Rafael Catalá in 2015, was the ‘correction of a historical error’. Not any error within the 20th Century, but that of the 15th Century’s mass Inquisition.

As is the case with the Spanish government’s relationship with their Sephardic community, the law appears at first glance to be more progressive than it in fact is.

These relations materialise in the succession of initiatives set up since the 1990s in the name of Spain’s Sephardism. For nearly a year, I have been deconstructing these initiatives, from the law to the Jewish tourism industry.

This series (link to index) of articles for Mozaika will challenge their altruistic facades, by exploring how these serve the government’s diplomatic, economic and political interests, and the negative impacts on the Jewish community, and on historical validity itself.

The confusion and frustration thrown up by my attempts to pass the law stand as a prologue to the fraught understanding between the wider Jewish community and Government.

Since 2015, thousands of Sephardim have embarked on a tenuous mission to prove their ancestry, eager to leave violence in Venezuela and Turkey, or trying to get into the EU.

The first form of proof for many, is their last name.

‘Absche’ did not sound Sephardic, the earliest my grandmother could go back, but the world of jewishgeneaology.coms charged a subscription fee. The Spanish Ministry, not providing their own list, at least intervened to denounce a hoax-list of Sephardic names that spread faster than Trump’s twitter through the Israeli web.

Family documents, related to Sephardic tradition, were the next option.

The law stated that I could present:

‘The “Ketubah” stating that the marriage took place following Castilian traditions’

Jewish papers are a more slippery prey than last names. My grandmother couldn’t even find her birth certificate. Things were lost in the 1939 move from Nazi Berlin.

Secularism became the next barrier. My great-grandparents, who felt ‘German above Jewish’ had followed thousands of Sephardic Jews through their assimilation to secular, diaspora cultures.

Lost Sephardic surname; vernacular proof; documentless, and a non-observant family for at least 3 generations. Regardless, my position did not feel unique for the 21st Century.

Portugal’s Law of Return had relativised their requirements to include the oral genealogy of Jewish families and communities as a form of proof. They accept:

‘Testimonial evidence, i.e, reputable witnesses who can attest to a family’s oral tradition’

So how were other Sephardim managing to prove their identity?

Legal advice would be a common route for the many dissuaded to risk attempting the process alone.

‘It would be 4,000 euros’, Reve, an Israeli entrepreneur, told me bluntly. The cost to use his pop-up company to accompany prospective-Spaniards through the law’s processes. Does this law also have an economic filter? 

The trial does not end at your proof of Sephardism. The law also requires evidence of your ‘special connection to Spain’.

The Spain in which my ancestors had lived, or the Spain which was formed following the mass expulsion of Jews and Muslims?

The former, Medieval Spain existed 500 years ago, and was built by the Jews, Muslims and Christians who had co-existed there for 9 centuries under La Convivencia. The Catholic, Castilian Spain which came after, whose foundations support the present day nation, have little to do with this history. The Spanish Inquisition ensured there was no overlap.

The ‘connection’ the Spanish government wanted was to Modern Spain, and they required a Spanish language and contemporary culture test to show this. I would have to complete this in a Cervantes Institute center –– what if my country didn’t have one?

Germany, Poland and Portugal’s Law of Returns seem more sensitive to the fact that Jewish returnees may wish to begin reconnecting with the country that expelled their ancestors on their own terms.

As the Spanish law states, I would have to show this connection through carrying out ‘cultural or economic activities in favor of Spanish people or institutions or in Spanish territory’.

This connection to Modern day Spain, according to the Minister of Justice, can be applied to the broad diaspora of Sephardim, extending from Amsterdam to Cairo. In the hyperbolic Preample, the introductory statement to a law, the Minister writes:

‘The love for a conscious Spain at the end of the historic and sentimental baggage of the Sephardi’s palpitates.’

Sephardic identity’s presumptuous reduction, merged with the economic filter, were features to be traced across the Government’s other initiatives.

Beyond the 2015 Law of Return, there is La Red de Juderias, set up in 1995; a Jewish tourism network, and a cultural and diplomatic El Centro Sepharad Israel, set up in 2006.

The stated purpose of such initiatives is to rediscover the Sephardic legacy, make amends for historical persecution of Sephardim and spread knowledge of Sephardic culture through Spanish society.

Although some of these aims have been part-realised through these initiatives, the benefit to Sephardic Judaism following their fulfilment has been sorely missed.

On the contrary, their negative effects cover a wide spectrum, from offended and silenced Sephardim, to the distortion of historical accuracy.

The actuality of being Jewish in Spain prefaces the need the community has for institutional support.

There is little open integration of the 40,000 Jews in Spanish society, with synagogues mainly hidden and guarded by national police and Judaism only being legal since 1978. Doubt and curiosity lead many to hide their identity, while the atmosphere of university campuses often tips into anti-semitism. Jewish academic and culture movements exist, but without any wide platform.

With Spain still the third most anti-Semitic country in Europe, change must come through public, institutional representation.

 

 

 

 

Spain’s False Restoration of Jewish History

 

part 1/6

commissioned by Mozaika Journal 

Selective Memory

The Spanish Government has allegedly, after five centuries, situated their Jewish legacy within their national history. In fact, the history which they present as complete, has been reduced, and narcissistically conflated with Spain’s present national identity.

This is the most subtle way in which the Government has not lived up to their stated intentions towards the Jewish community.

Not only do Spain’s government-owned institutions present a biased version of the past, but the act of historicisation has been framed as evidence of the country’s progressive national identity today.

In part one of this series, I set out to explore the motivations the Spanish Government have for emotively reclaiming “their” Jewish history, before seeing how this history has been misshapen. 

The process of ‘re-discovering’ Jewish history enabled Spain to appear closer to its post-Shoah European neighbours. The symbolic gesture distanced the nation from its un-democratic image during Franco’s regime.

After the natural death of Franco in 1975 marked the end of Spain’s forty year isolationist stance, the country’s modernisation was crucial for its absorption into the EU community.

I met Lucia Aguilar, a lecturer in Sephardic history, in her office in the university of Pompeu Fabra, to discuss the effects of Spain’s delayed entry to the EU.

Some knickers were hanging over the side of a crumbling balcony opposite her window; they belong to one of the residents of the buildings used as army barracks during Franco’s dictatorship, who refuses to move out to make way for a bigger university campus. The past can be stubborn.

‘I have grown up in a context in which one can understand this complex of inferiority. Because of Francoism,’ Lucia explains, ‘It is in our social or cultural imaginarium from the 19th Century that we are behind somehow.’

On top of Spain’s late entry into democracy, they also bypassed the international war trials which followed the collapse of other European countries’ dictatorships. For Germany or France, the compliance with a collectively decided set of ethical standards helped to move the political order on from the past, to shape a democratic, modern identity.

In the year following Franco’s death, this legal process would be avoided to prevent a relapse of fighting. The legislative application of this was 1977’s Pact of Forgetting, which prohibited those in power from holding Franco’s officials to account for crimes against humanity, or from reversing the court rulings of those persecuting under the regime.

The country’s uncommonly quick shift into democracy was mythologised as seamless, and used in official rhetoric to evidence Spain’s return to its rightful position alongside Europe’s other progressive countries.

Today the myth of the transition endures, and is mainly upheld by Conservative political parties. Spain’s official Government website is the first to perpetuate this narrative:

‘The transition brought about a genuine national reconciliation… demonstrating the degree to which the Spanish had overcome the wounds of the Civil War’.

The corruption scandals permeating the right and left constantly evoke images of Spain’s un-processed past. Rising separatist movements have culminated in the raids and arrests of Catalonian officials under the Spanish police in the run up to their October referendum.

The words from Catalonia’s leader, Carles Puigdemont resound across headlines: ‘We will not accept a return to the darkest times. The government is in favour of liberty and democracy’.

Without threatening the myths of the 20th Century, and delving into this recent history, the nation must to find new ways to fully reform its national brand.

One such door, in my view, is Medieval Jewish history.

What better way to courageously self-reflect, than through returning to the 15th century ?

As Jeff Juris, an academic writing on Spain’s Jewish tourist network, states, this initiative was the embodied act of Spain’s restoration of a progressive nation:

‘The act of studying and ‘recovering’ the Jewish past is itself being employed as a mark of modernity. After decades of censorship under Franco, Spanish officials are eager to demonstrate their willingness to engage in legitimate historical inquiry’.

This ‘mark’ can be seen from the official ‘correction of a historical error’ in the Law, to the ‘recovery of the Sephardic legacy’ in La Red de Juderias and El Centro Sepharad.

Alfons Argoneses, the head of Historical Law at Pompeu Fabra, has written extensively about Spain’s relation to its past. He discusses the ‘culture’ of remembering the Holocaust that expanded in the 1960s, when Spain was still in a dictatorship, as we sit outside his faculty’s building:

‘There is a clear desire on the part of the Spanish Government to participate in this global culture and to integrate Spain in this emerging European culture of remembrance.’

The weight of the Government’s symbolic ‘remembrance’ of the past is through the Medieval era, partly because no relevant, and thus unflattering, continuities can be drawn between the current Government and with the persecution of 5 centuries ago.

Paths of Sepharad, a publication from the Red, sums up how the institution wishes to frame the profundity of Spain’s cultural initiatives:

‘This (Jewish) heritage has remained eclipsed, diluted and in some aspects, proscribed for a long time…until very recently we have agreed to live with a certain mutilation of our own history’.

However, the inauthenticity of this nation’s delve into its own unflattering past, culminating in an apology through the Law, is shown through a number of ways.

Firstly, the history which has been selected to be revised to form the Sephardic legacy, has been reduced and idealised and absorbed into the fabric of Spain’s “progressive” national identity, whether this be in laying claim to the inheritance of the diversity of convivencia or Sephardim’s love for Spain. 

This historical revision can not be traced back to an isolated, centralised decision. Rather, it has accumulated into official history after 3 decades of Government affiliated figures have controlled the excavation and exhibiting of this past.

Secondly, The apology from the government, which is the culmination of this act of historical inquiry, is incomplete through its avoidance of the most recent history of such persecution, which is in the 20th Century.

At best, Franco’s role within the persecution of Jews can be called ‘passive’. Not only did Spain provide a whole devision of fighters to aid the Nazi’s against the USSR, but they enabled German intelligence services to operate on Spanish soil. Thousands of Jewish refugees were also turned away from Spain’s border, which effectively sent them to concentration camps. Spanish Jews and Republicans were also deported to the Nazi’s camps.

 

 

Part 2/6

 

Convivencia’s Golden Phoenix

 

La Red de Juderias is the most widely known, and publicly criticised, of Spain’s Jewish endeavours.

The Red was the main apparatus through which this revision could take place.

In 1995, the Spanish government matched the emotive ‘rediscovery’ of their Sephardic legacy with the formation of a highly lucrative nationwide tourism industry.

Its launch accompanied the digitalisation of archives from the 15th Century, the restoration of crumbled Jewish sites, and the return of a form of Jewish presence through towns and cities for the first time in five centuries. The positives of this endeavour should not be denied.

However, the way that Medieval history has been revised indicates the inauthenticity of this historical excavation.

Lucia Aquilar, who has also worked within the Red, sees the industry’s account of the past as repetitive and framed in a positive light:

‘Well normally the museums exhibit the convivencia story – another time? – C’mon’ Lucia continues to critique the over-use of convivencia, ‘through this period they construct a myth of the three cultures’ co-existence – to make a nice story, projecting a positive image of Spain’.

Her view is echoed by Alfons Argoneses, who has conducted pioneering archival research into the historic treatment of Sephardic Jews under the Spanish Government.

Alfons disputes this popularised revision of Convivencia:

‘Do we idealise Convivencia? Yes of course, this is taking place now. I mean the word ‘Convivencia’ is full of content –– for long periods of time these were communities of violence’. The archival evidence showing that Jewish communities often fared better under Muslim than Christian rule is ignored, which would be an interesting counter-narrative for today’s territorial conflicts.

Not only is this past reduced to an idealised coexistence, but it is deemed as something uniquely ‘Spanish’.

Within the process of a nation constructing their official account of history, periods are chosen to embody the desired ‘spirit’ of the nation and are idealised and reduced in the process. These selected pasts, are anachronistically made continuous with the present day identity, ignoring the intermediate history that pulls such a past and the present apart in all aspects.

‘Spain did not properly exist until the 19th century!’ Alfons fumes. The irony of this reclamation of convivencia, and Sepharad into a core part of Spain’s identity, is that it was the formation of modern day Spain which lead to the Jews and Muslims’ expulsion from the Peninsula.

The academic Jeffrey Juris notices this tonal shift in a book published through the Red, which continues this inconsistency:

‘The rhetoric in Paths of Sepharad represent a striking discursive shift. Far from excluded, the Jewish past is claimed as a central pillar of “Spanish” heritage and Sephardis are symbolically redefined as “Spaniards”’.

This merging of Sephardic and Spanish enables the Red to reclaim an inherent part of Spanish nationalism.

However, we can see that the Government only reclaims a historic group as ‘Spanish’ when it suits it in the present.

If Sepharad can be deemed as ‘Spanish’, what about the Moors and Muslims that also lived within Spain for centuries? The Law of Return, however, does not extend to this group, which was also expelled through violent inquisitions.

Bayi Loubaris, the president of The Association for Historical Legacy of Al-Andalus, took offence at this double standard: “The Spanish state should grant the same rights to all those (Muslims) who were expelled, otherwise their decision is selective, if not racist”.

Spain’s cosmetic promotion of its resurrected convivencia-esque cosmopolitanism, is shown through the country’s statistics. Spain is the eighth most Islamophobic country in Europe, as well as the third most anti-Semitic.

However, the media’s promotion of Spain’s efforts may lead many to think otherwise. It is revealing, that on the press section of the Red’s website, this centre recently promoted a series of articles written for Mexico’s Diario Judio by Daniel Ajzen.

Ajzen’s slightly surreal articles follow Government rhetoric in their outlining of Spain’s reclamation of an integral part of their character:

‘Today, this same Spain rises like a phoenix to reclaim the privileged place that it had…A country that tries to recover the best of its character, to return to be an integral part of the world and therefore has today a dynamic, multifaceted, Jewish community’.

Colonialism in Morocco ?

Within Spain’s selection of the more flattering periods of Jewish history, they have scrambled linearity and avoided the legally repressed 20th Century. Un-scrutinised and accounted for history, is simply sidestepped.

As with the Red, which stops its history at 1492, El Centro Sepharad Israel omits Franco’s persecution of Jews, to Colonialism in Morocco.

The centre’s stated purpose is to ‘further the understanding of Sephardic Jews in Spanish society’, which any honest exploration of recent history would have achieved.

As 60% of the 40,000 Jews in Spain are Sephardic, and the majority of these came over from Morocco in the 1950s when Independence was gained, exploring Spain’s colonial presence in the region may help familiarise the presence of this demographic in Spanish society today. For many, the idea of Sephardim returning after the Inquisition is a foreign concept.

However, when the website discusses Sephardim in Morocco, there is no mention of Spain’s colonial presence in North Africa. This is not just an anomaly on a government homepage, but is a silence felt in the lack of funding and exhibiting of this crucial historical era.

The website states that:

‘The Sephardim of Morocco developed an important economic and commercial activity’ and they served as a link between Morocco and ‘Western European countries such as the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, France, England and Spain itself.’ (my italics).

The author vaguely mentions the ‘colonial appetites of Western European countries over North Africa’. However, the website alleviates any culpability by framing this as a benign force:  ‘settlers encountering depressed and impoverished Jewish communities, who often saw colonization as an opportunity to improve their material and cultural situation’.

There is no mention that colonial presence raised resentment and mistrust of Jewish communities, and this presence, along with the formation of Israel, lead to their often forced expulsion in the 1900s.

Indeed, the majority of Spain’s Sephardim moved over from Morocco in the 1950s and ‘60s, to come to a Spanish dictatorship where it was illegal to practise Judaism publicly until 1978.

Speaking to a Moroccan Sephardi, Aaron Azagury, about his arrival to Spain in 1968, I found his experience helpful in accounting for the lack of knowledge of Jews in Spain today. His hearing aid battles with the loud music of the Eixample cafe he chose to meet at, but his story perseveres through a 2-hour interview:

‘Even today people do not know what a Jew is, but if you go 40 years ago – and you said ‘Jew,’’ [He acts out a conversation, gesticulating with his hands], you don’t have horns, you don’t have a tail? You’re not a Jew!

…When I was at school in Tangiers, some of the boys called me ‘dirty Jew’, but I have friends from that time still today. There was anti-semitism, but they knew Jews! we were together – we went as boy scouts together  – here that was non-existent’

With Spain still possessing Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco today, the potential discomfort of researching and exhibiting this part of Jewish history is avoided. Government institutions stick to promoting more neutral periods, Jewish history is trapped in the Medieval era.

This is also the case with Franco’s treatment of the Jews, as can be seen on the website:

‘The role of Spain during the Holocaust remains a chapter still underdeveloped. To date, most research and publications have focused on the humanitarian work of a few Spanish diplomats.’

Alfons Argoneses, writing on the way that Spain remembers the Holocaust, explains that: ‘the Spanish Government proposes a version of history that obscures…Franco’s support of Hitler during World War II and his complicity in the deportation of Spanish Jews and Republicans to Nazi camps’.

Silence can be louder than words, and the unexhibited parts of the 20th Century tell us about the past characteristics which the government do not want to inform their present identity today.

The Law’s New Identities

The Law unifies the two main ways the Government has addressed Jewish history. Not only does it present a version of Sephardic past, and present identity which is in line with their revisionist account, but it frames the law as the culmination of the nation’s ‘correction of a historical error’.

The Law steps off the page of history through projecting this revision of the past onto present Sephardic identity.

Given that the Sephardim bear a ‘love for Spain’, as the preamble states, there is apparently nothing wrong with asking them to demonstrate their ‘special connection’ through taking a Spanish language and contemporary culture test.

The notion that Spain still possesses the qualities which Sephardim would be nostalgic for, and can identity their Sephardism with, is shown through the Preamble of the Law as the ‘The children of Sefardi…maintained a flood of nostalgia immune to languages and generations’.

Lucia Aquilar, explains how the Government’s fabrication of this nostalgia in Sephardic Jews could be relocated in Modern day Spain:

‘They make a narrative of continuity since 1491. The Spanish state is creating an artificial identity of Sephardic Jews as a whole group – being nostalgic of Spain – having been frozen from 1492.’

This bears close echoes to Primo Rivera’s Right of Return law from 1924, where in the Royal Decree the Sephardim were described as having ‘feelings rooted in love for Spain’.

Both accounts take the Medieval age and place it within the framework of Modern Spain’s identity, as if the diversity and cultural symbiosis of convivencia had been maintained throughout the inquisitions that expelled Muslims and Jews.

Victor Sorrenson expands on this constructed identity. In his view, not only is Spain different from Sepharad, but the reason many came to Spain was out of necessity, not choice. This is unsurprising, considering that only in 1968 were they allowed to practise Judaism in the open:

‘When the people came here, it was not for sentimental reasons, it was because they were trying to escape from Morocco when Morocco won Independence. They were trying to escape from Nazism in Central Europe, as well as from Latin America in a time when there were military dictatorships there. They did not come for emotional reasons, it was not part of our identity.’

On a purely practical level, this ‘correction’ may lead more to feelings of frustration than atonement. The amount of restrictions on the law mean that the 250,000 Spanish Jews, who are estimated to pass the law in the future, will be dramatically less.

Spain’s avoidance of a process of self-scrutiny, which many of its European neighbours have undergone, means whole swathes of Sephardic and Jewish history are not known, and Spanish society has no consciousness of their government’s complicity with Shoah: two manifestations of anti-semitism.

It is revealing that Catalonia, a nation which fights for the legal freedom to process the persecution of the 20th Century, is also pioneering research into this more recent persecution.

I spoke to Jusep Boya, Catalonia’s Head of Heritage, on why the nation was funding research into this period of history. We sat in an office behind the proud ballrooms of Palau Moja, where none of the embroidered benches had red ropes cordoning them off:

‘We have to talk about this nowadays. I want to make you see that we have a didactic approach to tolerance. We want to make people conscious of the injustice, the errors’.

Boya speaks for a nation who are more authentically progressive through their actions, not because of their rhetoric and symbolic gestures, and whose Jewish community will benefit through this.

 

 

Part 3/6

 

Spain, Israel and The Jewish Pawn

 

 

Spain’s Cultural Diplomat

I think its a political thing – you need it to have some kind of excuse to be friend of Israel. With this law, you repair the hard feelings of people.’

Laura Kolesnicov, the director of Barcelona’s Reform synagogue ATID, offers her view as we sit in the office in Gracia. This is her reasoning for why Spain passed the Law of Return. The synagogue is minimalist, and from the outside appears to be a block of flats.

What about the ‘correction of a historical error’, I ask. This possibility is deflected by a knowing smile.

Laura’s theory, echoed by journalists, forms another side of the Spanish Government’s inability to fulfil the altruistic claims of their institutions, which I have been exploring through this series (hyperlink to index) of articles.

Since the 1990’s the government has politicised Sephardic identity through using this as a diplomatic negotiator within its relations with Israel. Such a tactic further prevents Sephardim from building an independent, diasporic identity understood in wider society and contextualised in Spain’s recent history.

Judaism, almost as a default, is conflated with Israel.

Although over the last century, the Spanish government has used Jews to forge links with a diverse range of countries, from the Western Axies to Egypt, today their focus is on Israel.

Spain’s recognition of Israel as a state came later than other European countries; their approval was a prerequisite to their joining the EU’s Economic Council in 1986. Within the last decade, mainly under the PP, diplomatic relations have been growing primarily through business.

Although it is not surprising, nor necessarily bad, that Spain is connecting to Israel over their mutual Jewish past and present, it may be accused of instrumentalising Spanish Sephardic culture in order to build a union with Israel.

Because of this partnership, the government institutions which represent Sephardim have become sensitive to shifts in the sociopolitical climate.

The first of such institutions was seen in 2006, with the formation of El Centro Sepharad Israel. Their stated aim is to ‘foster greater knowledge of Jewish culture within Spanish society and to promote the development of ties of friendship and cooperation between Spanish society and Israeli society’.

However, this cultural initiative will potentially be as unstable as relations with Israel.

With the polarisation of the left and right peaking during the nation’s recent recession, the Left being pro-boycott and the Right being pro-trade, we see that promotion of Sephardic Jews has become a factor within this fight.

Through political discourse of the Left and Right, “Jews” has come to represent diplomacy with Israel. Their identity is subject to the unceasing intensification of the Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as the power play of political parties.

I interviewed Isaac Quereb from his office in Madrid this May, the leader of the only politically affiliated group in Spain, the FCJE. Quereb forecasts the centre’s political instability: ‘If an extreme Left party got in, we can’t be sure whether or not the Government would leave the Centro de Sepharad’.

The Centro’s lack of concern for the reality of Spain’s Sephardim, is suggested by Irit Green, an ex-Politician of the Israeli Government and a Sephardi local to Madrid who I interviewed over the phone:

‘It is a Government business you can say. For instance – a very sensitive thing – they made a conference on anti-Semitism on the same day that we have Shavuot, the celebration when we receive the Torah. Sometimes we have a big event in the community, while they choose to hold an event at the same time.’

In a similar model to El Centro Sepharad Israel, the PP have just announced the opening of a Ladino language center in Israel this year. Ladino is the original language of Sephardim, and is seldom learnt by the young Sephardic generations of today. Although this is positive in terms of the preservation of Ladino, the nine academics hired from Israel could have helped to stimulate more academic presence within Spain’s universities.

The Guardian reported that when Isaac Quereb was asked what he thought of Spain’s new language center in Israel, ‘he would prefer the institute to be based in Spain rather than Israel’.

Although Darío Villanueva, the RAE director, earnestly told El País concerning the center, ‘We must pay this historic debt’, it is dubious why this would manifest in Israel, not Spain.

The Law, however, is the best example of the repercussions of Judaism’s mercurial nature in the political realm today.

The Law’s Eye in Lebanon

Sitting in Bet Shalom, a reform synagogue on a sloping street off Barcelona’s Gracia, I speak to Jaim Cassim, the synagogue’s president. Additionally, he is the president of the committee set up to make the law, as he is also a lawyer.

When inquiring why the law was not easier to pass, Jaim admitted that:

‘In the moment that it was signed, there was a conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel. The IDF fired a missile in Lebanon and killed a Spanish soldier, and a minister [of foreign affairs], started to harden the conditions of this law.’

Laura’s theory that the law was primarily gestural diplomacy came into focus.

If the law’s stated aim of wishing to correct a historical error were true, and the Government had a genuine concern for the ancestors of the expelled Sephardim, its rubric would not be altered by diplomatic blows.

The law’s practical difficulties further support the theory that it was passed for more self-interested motives. Diplomatic relations and appearing historically progressive, have been prioritised over any sincere desire to ‘correct’ a historical error.

Hannah Zohar, a Venezuelan Lawyer, outlines the practical impediments that affect those groups most in need of citizenship in her office in Barcelona’s Poblenou area.

She argues that the law ‘should be more flexible… We are talking about a time in history from 500 years ago and there are cases in which people are not (religiously) Jewish’.

The law claims not to discriminate against those who are no longer religious, although without evidence of Sephardic traditions within recent family past, proving one’s Iberian origins is a temporal feat. Unlike Portugal’s Law of Return, Spain does not accept testimonial evidence of one’s Sephardism.

Even with all the required evidence gathered, the requirements for the Spanish culture test go further in complicating this process. As mentioned in the prologue of this series (link to prologue), the test must be passed in a Cervantes Institute center, although:

‘Not all countries have centres. I have a client from the Dominican Republic where there is no center for this exam.’

In Venezuela, there was no center until January, despite the law’s issuing two years ago.

The tight window of the law also dissuades applicants, as it is only validated for three years. As Zohar explains, ‘many people were not informed in time… You are leaving out the people who want to apply’.

Jaim Cassim sheds light on how many Jews have been able to pass the law: ‘you know the truth? Very few Jews have passed that law. At the beginning they thought many Jewish people from all around the world are going to become Spanish because of this law, in matter of fact – very very few went on to win citizenship rights’.

Building an Independent Diasporic Identity

Although the Spanish Government is not able to control the immediate association of Jews with Israel, and in many ways this is a correct assumption, it should be sensitive to the negative effects of this reductive identification. Part of this sensitivity would be not focusing on promoting this link in one of the rare institutions Jews have to represent their identity in Spain.

The history of the public conception of Jewish identity cannot be understood outside of the institutions and government’s which have reduced and misrepresented the group. Spain is working within such a tradition.

Although many Jews within Spain support Israel, it is their lack of choice about how they are perceived in relation to this nation that becomes a difficulty.

Laura expands on this problem:

‘In the street, people don’t know anything about Jewish people, while they know even less about the difference between being Jewish and being Israeli.’

Her voice is raised as she imitates these questions, her words are embedded with frustration:

‘How come you’re not from Israel? And if you are Jewish why are you not living in Israel?

The repercussions of this are felt in Spain and Catalonia.

In May of last year, a Catalan lawmaker requested that the head of Barcelona’s Jewish community would leave the local government’s parliament because he was a “foreign agent”. The American singer Matisyahu, in 2015, was not allowed to perform in Spain until he declared his views on Israel.

In 2015, the most affirmed question that the ADL gave to Spanish society was ‘Jews are more loyal to Israel than the countries they live in’ –– a stereotype which grew within Spain during the beginning of Franco’s reign.

Isaac Levvy, the founder of LICRA, a new association set up to tackle anti-Semitism in Catalonia, told me that he wants to disentangle these immediate presumptions:

‘Number one is to show that Jewish people are separate from Israel. What’s bad is that every time something happens in Israel it means Jews here are vulnerable.’

The Left already struggle to see Jews and Israel as not interchangeable, but the Right are institutionalising this lack of distinction for economic gains.

It cannot be denied that the majority of Jews identify with Israel, although this connection is formed in a variety of matrixes. However, the majority of Spain’s Sephardim are from Morocco, and they may have more connections and ancestral memory of Arabic than Israeli culture. Likewise, many of the country’s Ashkenazi Jews came from Argentina’s dictatorship.

These historical contexts inform their identity today, as well as premising their existence within Spain –– in short, they are not conduits from Israel. They have sociocultural roots within Spanish soil, which have never been dug up and examined independently from Israel.

 

 

Part 4/6

 

Spain’s Lucrative Sephardic History

 

When Spain shows an interest in its Jewish history, as well as its present Jewish community, it is often attached to a money-making scheme.

A cursory glance at the articles and figures criticising the law implies this economic framing.

The Gatestone Institute determines that the law could ‘exceed €5,000 per individual’, based on the ‘gathering of documents, having them translated and certified, making travel arrangements to take the exams, and submitting the paperwork to the proper authorities’, and the need to hire legal advice.

A congressman from the Basque country, discussing the law, stated that with the combinations of the practical impediments and the cost:

“The government has the clear intention that the fewer the number of applicants, the better. And the economic filter ensures that only people with high purchasing power can apply.”

However, the more long-lasting effects of the Spanish government’s profiteering, is in the way Jewish culture has been reduced within the process of its alleged ‘rediscovery’. The Red was an instrument through which Spain could diversify its national history and enhance its tourism industry.

This institution was built on the prospect of profits, not intellectual integrity.

The promotion of the industry was lofty, as the vacuum of Jewish knowledge in Spain ‘led us to a profound conviction as to the necessity of incorporating this piece of our past history in our total history’. This statement, spoken by the former Minister of Commerce and Tourism, Javier Gomez Navarro, comes in the introduction to the network’s guidebook.

However, the way the industry was set up ensured this could not be done properly.

Each town with a Jewish Quarter is invited to be represented by, and be part funded by, the Red. With a steep annual membership fee, each town has to ensure that they can attract tourists to make up for their annual payment.

Yet many of these towns and cities were not previously tourist destinations, nor do they possess any substantial amount of place-specific Jewish history. Instead of hiring researchers to enrich their limited museum collections or so-called ‘interpretation centres’, they have pumped money into Jewish-themed vineyards, restaurants and cultural events with vague sounding historical connections.

An economic report for Tarazona’s Jewish Quarter reveals the kind of investments which are intended to complement a Jewish Quarter: ‘Sizeable groups of American Jews [are] eager to leave their dollars in the city’s stores, restaurants and hotels’.

This has often led to culturally-insensitive tourist traps, ranging from the sobering to the farcical — you can go and witness a re-enactment of a Jewish wedding in Catalonia, conducted by a real Rabbi!

Josh Nathan-Kazis went on a journalistic odyssey around the Spanish Jewish quatres to assess these sites. He describes being shown around Lucena’s Jewish Quater by Manuel Lara Cantizani, the municipal’s head of tourism:

“He pulled out a poster for a half-marathon he’s organised… The run is sponsored by McDonald’s; the M in “Marathon” is in the shape of the golden arches. The poster has silhouettes of two runners on it. Behind each of them are photos of Jewish gravestones recovered from the graveyard. The runners, Lara said, are supposed to be Jews. “As if two Jews, with the stone, they are running, finding their future patrimony.”

The economic filter, as well as avoiding the task of investigating politically tense history, has lead to the most relevant parts of the Sephardic heritage remaining ‘undiscovered’.

From Spain’s colonial presence in North Africa, to Franco’s civil war and 40-year dictatorship, to the Jews from Palestine and Germany who marched on the streets with anti-fascists.

It’s harder to tell Jewish persecution through 20th Century buildings, or to re-enact asylum seeking from Morocco to Spain. With no more presentable – and thus lucrative – Jewish sites being built within Spain following 1492, it is in this year that Sephardic history uniformly stops.

The tourism industry doubles up as the official Government restoration of this past. However, their stopping of history in the Medieval era is counter-productive to the advancing of the way Jews are perceived in Spanish society today.

Lucia Aguilar discuss how with the expulsion of Jews 500 years ago being the nearest reference many have to Judaism, the perception of a Jewish person is often trapped in a Medieval context. The use-value of school children being shown the Jewish life cycle is limited.

‘For me it is the route of current Spanish anti-semitism – people still express Medieval stereotypes!’ Lucia finishes.

It is difficult to shift such rusted pre-conceptions of Jews, from them being money-zealots to selfish. The idea that Jews returned after the inquisition might be a novelty to many. However, those with the most specialist knowledge of how the retelling of this past could improve are barred from collaboration.

Meira Odina sits tensely in a cafe in Barcelona’s Eixample.

She gesticulates, re-enacting her conversation with the former president of La Red de Juderias: ‘If you want to take advantage of this heritage, at least provide the real part of this heritage, which is education’.

With twenty years experience in cultural management, and a recent MA in the field from Barcelona, she has been consistently denied the chance to volunteer in one of the Spanish’s government’s cultural institutions. Meira would be one of the few Jewish people working there, if not the only.

Isaac Quereb, the leader of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, explains the Federation’s relation to the Red:

‘There is no Jewish presence. Now, we are starting to claim it. But! We have a very important weakness, we don’t have money’.

The industry’s executive control by tourism officials and government-affiliated groups, leaves no room for those with the most knowledge of how Jewish culture could help combat anti-Semitism.

Although the PP, following pressure form the FCJE, have now made it obligatory to teach the Holocaust in the school system, this process has not been put into practise as of yet and is doubted by many of my interviewees.

Outside of this, there is no research center to explore the less well-known history of Spain’s intervention or of making this learning experience more accessible to the general public through proper museums, such as in Paris or Berlin.

Furthermore, Victor Sorrenson tells me that although the Hebrew Chairs are:

‘Amongst the oldest in the universities, such as Salamanca, Granada and Barcelona, these faculties are about to close due to a lack of students and budgets – it is a matter of time.’

The government’s self-interest within the Red’s formation, whether through making a profit or the public reclamation of history, has again led to the initiative being counter-reproductive in helping develop the knowledge and understanding of Judaism within Spain today.

 

Part 5/6

commissioned by Mozaika journal 

 

Conclusion: Spain’s Dual Movements Lead to an Impassé

 

Spain has an awkward relationship with its past. The lamentable restoration of Cadiz’s Castello de Matrea is no exception.

A stupefied journalist from the Guardian explains the reconstruction process of the tower ‘in which new materials have been used to protect older stones’.  The writer quotes the project analysis from locals: “They’ve cocked it up.”

Although the institutions set up in the name of Spain’s Jewish community are presented as testaments to the government’s reformed approach to the group, they go like the Castello de Matrea: new facades, protecting and disguising old social dynamics. 

To answer the question of why the Spanish Government’s approach to its Jewish community has remained ineffective despite the vision outlined by its stated purpose, two wider historical contexts should be grappled with.

The first views the present-day relationship between the Government and Judaism in Spain, as perpetuating the problems that have existed for over 300 years.

Sephardic Jews have habitually popped up in the viewfinder of the Spanish government, but only when they could be put to use.

Alfons Argoneses’s paper, following his pioneering archival research, outlines how Spain’s Law of Return was rife with motifs of this timeworn relationship.

Political structures accustomed to profiting from minority groups are difficult to dismantle, especially with steadfast anti-Semitism and a lack of vocal Jewish opposition.

The more recent context within which Spain’s current approach of Judaism can be understood, begins in 1975 with the death of Franco.

The way the nation has processed their Francoist past, is analogous to their tackling of their Jewish history.

The method of dealing with the past in question, has endured across the course of Spain’s democracy, and is largely practised by Conservative leaders.

If it begins with stating the nation’s seamless progression to a democracy in 1975, then it transitions to refuting that the devisions from the regime are still alive and ends by denying that the lack of accounting for such unsolved problems affects emerging groups in the present.

Today, PP officials will deny any request for trials of the past due to the equal guilt of both sides of the fight, while separatist regions only distract from Spain’s true identity as a unified nation.

This version of the past is actively protected. ‘The Pact of Forgetting’ prevents trials addressing crimes under Franco, while school history textbooks are censored from telling a unified vision of history and Independence referendums are blocked.

Such an approach, all in the name of Spain’s liberal democracy, presents an obvious conflict with the fulfilment of this identity. Spain’s national identity is pestered by a past withheld a burial.

The inauthenticity of this progression from the past is shown through the continuities that linger on in the present, which in turn re-enflames historic problems. 

Right and left parties still likened to the political functioning of Franco’s regime. 

During the recession of 2008, Podemos was quick to draw parallels between Francoist politicians and the corruption scandals which permeated the PP.

The historian Jaume Muñoz Jofre embeds ‘the incessant rhythm with which corruption cases are uncovered in recent years’ within a history of autocratic political ruling which extends even beyond Franco. These deeply embedded power dynamics had not been publicly vilified.

Furthermore, with the PP’s monolithic imposition of Spain’s national unity, younger generations petition for the same Independence fought for under Franco.

This October, Spanish tanks have been promised on the streets to prevent Catalonians from voting. What, one may ask, are the recent raids and arrests of Catalonian officials by the Spanish police reminded the press of?

The parallels of the Government’s approach to their Jewish history, and the problems this creates in the present are many.

First, the official approach to recent history denies Spain’s complicity with the Holocaust, and wrongly positions Franco as supporting Jewish survival.

The lack of official archival research into this period, and the continual emitting of recently unfavourable parts of history, including the immigration of Jews from Morocco following Independence, must be addressed for any official progression from the past to take place.

These parts of history need institutional representation, and will help contextualise the presence of Spain’s 40,000 Jews in a more relatable history than the Medieval Era.

Spain’s national historiographic machine cannot continue to incorporate chosen epochs of the past into the current national identity.

A progression from the past that is truly authentic must be earned through action – it is not purely symbolic.

The Government’s, and especially the PP’s, utilisation of the nation’s Jewish history to suit their diplomatic and economic ends is a clear evocation of the past. Such practises have stilted the development of the position and understanding of Jews within society.

The government institutions, deconstructed through this series (link to main index) of articles, should be the first site of reform: From a cultural centre built with an independent identity from Israel, to more Jewish and specialist collaboration, to museums that promote the parts of history which have not yet been told to a wider audience.

With the continuance of these systemic problems, Spain will be continuously dragged into the past.

The shocked reaction from the media when the list of the 6,000 names of Jews which Franco intended to send to Hitler in 1942, which was only discovered last year, is a good example.

With multiple platforms for alternative voices existing outside of Government institutions, it is not difficult for the distance between the reality, and the presented reality, to grow. The PP’s asserts that the wounds of the ‘civil war are healed’, grating against the reality of Spain’s rising nationalist movements.

It’s embarrassing. Spain gets pulled back into the past, in the act of “moving forward”.

The fight against anti-Semitism, and the furthering of the understanding of Jewish people and their history in Spain, can no longer be left to Jewish communities.

This is a national problem, not just a Jewish problem. It needs a solution on a parallel scale, with the visibility and support of government-backed institutions.

Kings In The Alhambra, Tanks In Barcelona

 

 

Published by Novara Media

Re-published by Edge of Humanity Magazine (abridged version)

 

The latest independence referendum in Catalonia has been declared illegal and central government has offered the region a simple choice; abandon the plans for the referendum or lose all their budgetary powers. This battle for Catalonian independence is among the latest in a long history of cultural struggles in Spain, where individual cultural, religious and ethnic groups find themselves at odds with authorities wishing to impose a monolithic, centralised vision of Spanish history. 

Decapitating history in Barcelona.

Judging by the decapitation of the late Spanish dictator last October, the past is still contentious between Spain and Catalonia. The assailant, and Franco’s head, was never found. The headless statue remained stationed outside El Born’s Cultural Centre of Memory, housing 18th century archeological remains from Barcelona. The centre’s objective: “to promote the memory and reflection of local and national events“.

Franco’s caste-iron silhouette atop his horse, stood close to the door leading to the hundreds of Catalan artefacts uncovered 27 years ago. The ceramics and metal-work evidence Catalonia’s artisan history. The fragments disrupt Franco’s myth of Spain having a unified national identity. Under the dictator’s 36 year rule, Catalonia’s cultural identity was strangled.

Cultural difference was erased in the many distinct areas of Spain, namely the Catalonian and Basque regions. Catalan was banned, spoken largely only in closed quarters, while ancient Catalan traditions, from Correfoc to Els Castells, were made illegal. Camp Nou, Barcelona’s football stadium, was one of the only places where Catalonians could speak their language. Even now, the crowds at the games are peppered with independence flags.

 

cat1A Catalan Independence march last November, by Barcelona’s Placa Espana.

 

To see the placing of the two statues of Franco so close to the centre’s doors as a provocative statement is only my reading. The figures were part of an exhibition entitled, Franco: Victory, Republic and Impunity in Urban Spaces. Their stated purpose was to encourage a re-interpretation of Spain’s Francoist history.

During the Spanish Civil war of 1936-9, Franco’s Nationalists forcefully took power from the Republican party, ending the country’s democratic rule. The death toll proliferated when Franco invited Hitler to test his bombs on Republican civilians. Barcelona was the centre of Catalonia’s historically Republican population.

The city’s current mayor, Ada Colau, gained her political experience in street protests and city activism, not in parliament. Barcelona has a long history of revolutionary anarchism, further evidenced by the controversy of the exhibition’s gesture. Civilians passing through El Born would have parents who were on the Nationalist or Republican side during the regime, with these divisions still kept alive in many families.

The responses to the statues materialised not in introspective meditations but in physical acts of violence: the decapitation, the eggs and graffiti decorating his body like farcical war-ribbons, the pig-head placed on the severed neck. A Catalonian, whose family had been Republican under Franco, had to be restrained when he tried to punch a worker installing the statue. The figures were removed after only 48 hours of their showing.

On October 1, the Regional Catalan government will hold a de facto independence referendum whose results could see an immediate split from Spain, despite a lack of national government sanctioning. The question on the draft legislations is simple: “Do you want Catalonia to be a state that is independent from Spain?”

Many Catalonians want independence not simply to re-affirm their separateness and explore their recent history without the censorship of central government, but to distance themselves from the way that this past still lingers within Spain’s current government, the conservative Christian-Democratic Partido Popular (PP), which was founded by a former minister under Franco’s regime. This past haunts the party, sewing historical devisions that the PP have not addressed, and leading to efforts to control the way this past is remembered.

 

dog2A Catalan Independence march last November, by Barcelona’s Placa Espana.

 

The ‘Pact of Forgetting’.

The PP is not the pioneer of Spain’s historic stitching up of the past – rather, it’s a faithful heir. This official approach to the past began in 1977, with the passing of the ‘Pact of Forgetting’to facilitate the move into a fledging democracy. This law made it illegal to persecute any of Franco’s officials. Investigation or official condemnation of their crimes were also prohibited, unlike the rest of Europe who’s fallen dictatorships saw extensive trials. As a result of this law, still in place today, the way that the history of the regime and civil war can be officially taught is highly controlled in state syllabuses.

The current Spanish government’s website echoes the centralised version of the nation’s historical memory, claiming that the transition to democracy in the 1970s showed that “all the wounds from the civil war had been healed”. History textbooks today still refuse to indict Franco’s Nationalists for shedding more blood than the Republicans, stating that both sides are equally culpable: “In a graveyard far off there is a corpse, who has moaned for three years.”

 

span4A Spanish patriot in Barcelona on the 12th of October, The National Day of Spain.

The Pact has more tangible effects than how history is recalled. The law limits the allowance of families to exhume the mass graves within Spain where their relatives are buried. Federico Garcia Lorca, a renowned Spanish poet rumoured to be one of artist Salvador Dali’s lovers, lies beneath the country’s soil. Killed by a firing squad in 1939, Lorca was buried in a mass grave, alongside thousands of other Republicans. Since 2008, Baltasar Garzon, one of Spain’s most renowned jurists, has unsuccessfully called for a repeal of the Pact three times. Garzon had tried to call for the exhumation of 19 graves, one which may have hidden the poet.

Fiscal controls over historical memory.

The PP’s support of this law, which they claim prevents groups with historical Nationalist and Republican roots from re-sewing divisions, embodies their desire to protect the memory of Francoist Spain. This desire manifests through the wider measures the party takes to limit the self-scrutinising excavation of history. The PP have little political incentive to disturb the allegedly still waters of Spain’s historical memory.

Conservative values consolidated under Franco’s regime survived its collapse. To this day, public institutions lean heavily on Castilian language and culture, traditional Catholic church values and the symbolic power of the monarchy – values which play well with the party’s  large conservative votership.

Manuel Fraga’s role as senator of the PP until 2011 was a prologue to the party’s multiplying efforts to protect the legacy of the Francoist past. Fraga was the Tourism and Foreign Affairs minister under Franco. He ordered the execution of the Communist leader Julian Grimau by gun shot. After Franco’s death, he earned the epithet “¡La calle es mía!” (The streets are mine), due to his ardent repression of street protests through police violence. When he died in 2012, the El Pais newspaper awkwardly proffered the following take: “He was famous for his seemingly endless energy” – delicately skirting around his violent past and keeping to his political achievements of the 21st century. Their retelling of Fraga’s history, through euphemisms and polite omissions, reflects the government’s own approach. In 2009, the European Parliament wanted to include Francoism as part of their day recalling European totalitarianism. The PP refused to join the discussions, while the Conservative Spanish MEP, Jaime Mayor Oreja claimed that “it would be historically foolish” to disrupt the fabled peace of Spain’s transition to democracy. The past’s physical remnants are also guarded. Public funds still pay for the maintenance of The Valley of the Fallen – a vast mausoleum in Madrid that houses Franco’s body with a public mass each year held to commemorate his death.

In 2004, José Zapatero’s left-wing government stood to challenge . With less stake than the PP detoxification of public memories of the Franco regime, the party took the first legal steps to begin dredging up the crimes of the country’s past. Zapatero introduced The Historical Memory law in 2006.  For the first time, the law funded the exhumation of mass graves of Republicans, awarded rights to Franco’s victims and removed hundreds of Francoist monuments. The law also allowed for Spain’s different regions to advance their own understanding of history in school textbooks, shattering the centralised version of previous education administrations.

However, with the PP elected to power in 2011, the need for such a law was openly denied by its leader, Mariano Rajoy. The past was back in the hands of the right. “I would eliminate all the articles in the historical memory law that mention using public funds to recover the past. I wouldn’t give even a single euro of public funds for that”, he told Spanish media, following his election as president. Withdrawing all government funding to the program was one of the first things he did in his ascent to power in 2011; the offices involved were closed.

 

 

IMG_0942A political pero in Barcelona on the 12th of October, The National Day of Spain (Pro-Spanish unity march)

 

Spain’s unstable foundations.

The PP’s control over the way history is remembered, should be read in the wider context of their handling over how Spain’s national identity is understood. The PP is the natural heir to five centuries of governmental efforts to centralise and homogenise the question of what – and indeed who – counts as properly Spanish. Diverse groups who might disagree with this monolith vision of Spanish identity have historically been silenced, and still are today; from geographical and cultural groupings of the Catalonians, Basques to religious and ethnic groups such as Muslims and Sephardim.

We must understand contemporary wranglings over Catalonian independence as part of a longer historical struggle, even if this articulation of separatist groups only mobilised in the early 20th century. Equally, this tradition of control inherited from Franco by the PP, stretches back from the first rulers that pioneered the formation of modern Spain.  To look at the formation of the nation itself contextualises current devisions over the proper answer to the question of who is Spanish.

The Alhambra is a palatial fortress sitting on the hills of Granada in Southern Spain. Before Spain claimed this region, it sat within the lands of the Iberian Peninsula, and was part of the regional Moorish kingdom of the 13th century.  The building’s geometrical patterns and Arabesque aesthetics were constructed by Muslim, Jewish and Christian craftsmen. These religions lived in the Iberian Peninsula in a complex, pluralistic society: three cultures under Muslim and Christian rule. Conflict existed between the groups, but there were no forced conversions. When the Catholic crowns of Aragon and Castile united in 1492, the compound identity of the Iberian Peninsula became Catholic. The monarchs had been slowly claiming the lands of the Peninsula from its Muslim rulers, until the inquisition of the 15th century when the remaining Moors fled. The Catholics had demanded conversion, or expulsion. With the clearing of the peninsula, the process of the formation of Spain’s nation-state identity began. Isabelle and Ferdinand eventually made the Alhambra their royal court, and its symbolic power as a testament to a multicultural society was co-opted. Spain’s identity formalised with the union of the Catholic crowns of Aragon and Castile in 1492.

The Castilian’s gradual imposition of a national identity expanded to its neighbours. The laws of Castile were eventually imposed on Catalonia in 1716. Castilian, one of the many languages spoken within Spain, came to mean Spanish. Spanishness became synonymous with being white, Castilian and Catholic. After two short-lived republics, and a long line of Catholic monarchs, Franco intended to continue writing this story into the 20th century:

The costs of not being considered ‘Spanish’ were steep, when these characteristics became pre-requisites to being incorporated into the nation’s corpus. I spoke to Victor Sorrenson, in his office in the oldest Sephardic synagogue in Barcelona, about post-Inquisition Spain: “It is not surprising that in the period after the expulsion the notion of “blood cleansing” appeared, where forced conversoes with a Jewish past were ‘stained’.”

This act, lead by the Catholic church, entailed the systematic torture and interrogation of suspected Jews up to the 18th century:

In the twentieth century, the discourse of pure blood especially nourishes the undemocratic right, like the Falange española

Franco brought the propagandistic discourse of Castille’s pure blood and a rigid cultural prototype into the 20th century. During and after the Civil War, large-scale concentration camps housed ex-Republican servicemen and political dissidents. Those seen as ‘un-recoverable’ were shot.

 

cat3A Catalan Independence march last November, by Barcelona’s Placa Espana.

 

In a history where race, religion, ethnicity and cultural-geographic groupings overlap with each other, we shouldn’t attempt to map Catalonia’s marginalisation onto patterns of racial and ethnic oppression. But they do offer us a glimpse into how profoundly committed the Spanish central government is to maintaining a unitary identity by using force and sanction to bring to heel all those seen to deviate. A unitary identity becomes a powerful way of exercising control over a population; a false idol of monolithic so-called Spanishness to unify a population in a time where many have staked their political and economic futures on a unified Spain. Catalonia is one of the nation’s wealthiest regions, and independence might threaten to plunge the remainder of Spain into economic chaos. In these circumstances, a tool as urgent and powerful as a sense of unified Spanishness is one worth defending at a high cost. Though it has shocked many in the international community, Spain’s move to starve Catalonia’s budget into de facto submission is by no means beyond the pale of this logic.

Plastic national identities.

That the state remains invested in heavily policing Jewish and Muslim life in Spain chimes to the same anxiety; that repressing certain groups has proved so politically and economically useful, any identity which granted them full Spanishness threatens to undermine a project of exclusion. To guard Spanishness, white Catalonians must be forcibly brought in, whilst racial and ethnic ‘Others’ are cast out. Under the PP today, the ease with which groups can be included, or excluded, from Spain’s national identity evokes the power of Spain’s historic leaders to manipulate at will the concept of Spanishness.

Last year, Spain offered a Law of Return to the many expelled Sephardic Jews, officially claiming they were a crucial component of Spanish identity. The law is designed to make the naturalising process highly expensive and complicated, despite it being a Law of Return, which many see as a way to filter out less affluent Sephardim. It is important to note that this same definition of Spanishness was not expanded to include the many Muslims expelled from the land in the 15th and 16th century.

 

Bayi Loubaris, the president of the Association for Historical Legacy of Al-Andalus, took offence at this double-standard: “The Spanish state should grant the same rights to all those who were expelled, otherwise their decision is selective, if not racist”. The rigid definitions of Spain’s identity were felt more recently in Catalonia. In Place de Jaume of Barcelona, there is a man ensangrado(bloodied) most days of the week (or to use the Catalan for bloodied, ple de sang). He stands with posters of mauled bulls, slaughtered by a matadores. Catalonia’s regional government passed a law in 2010 which banned bull-fighting in the region. But Spain’s government annulled the ban in October of last year, deeming bull fighting a “national heritage”.

 

span5A Spanish patriot in Barcelona on the 12th of October, The National Day of Spain.

 

These cultural battles become the shibboleths for grander – and altogether more violent – battles over which kinds of government have the right to make and enforce laws on the territories of Spain. What can be seen as a paranoid enforcement of a unified, centralised identity fuelled the notorious Basque separatist terrorist group, ETA, standing for “Basque Homeland and Liberty”. Between 1986 and 2010 they killed 829 people, both politicians to civilians.

Just as laws prevent history textbooks from teaching diverse understandings of the 20th century, the will to limit a pluralist understanding of Spain’s national identity can be seen in the academic field. I spoke to a recent PhD graduate, Angy Cohen, from Madrid University. She specialises in Sephardic Jewish identity, through which she explores the historically shifting identities of Spanishness. She is frustrated at a culture still hostile to deconstructing definitions of Spain’s identity, reflected through funding restrictions:

It’s interesting that Spain has some of the best historians I’ve ever seen, the level is extremely high but Spain’s national identity is blocked – so if you trying to re-define Spain’s national identity – it will be a struggle. It’s all bound up because these questions lead to the claim of certain regions of Spain for self-determination. Its a very complex question that has to do with this inability – this very long history of persecution and repression of Spain’s national identity.

Tanks in Barcelona?

Under the PP, a centralised identity enforced through multiple legal and institutional formations has become a conduit for re-articulating deeply conservative values; the heritage of Franco’s reactionary governance. Thus, it is unsurprising that the fight for independence is seen by many Catalonians as the fight for a more progressive, democratic Spain. Spain’s current constitution states that for any regional law in Catalonia to be changed, the Spanish parliament must vote. Catalonia, with a small minority of representational seats in the national government, will side-step legality to ensure a referendum goes forward this October 1. Its draft legislation is clear:

If the Spanish state effectively impedes the holding of a referendum, this law will enter into effect in a complete and immediate manner when the [regional] parliament has verified such an impediment.

Catalonian’s are far from unified in their opinion on independence. Reasons for wanting national autonomy vary widely; from the primarily economic, to those of a more cultural or historical nature as discussed above. But many Catalonia’s are uncomfortable with voting for an independence that has no clear independence plan. To anyone spectating the fallout from Brexit, this may seem hauntingly familiar.

Though Carles Puigdemont does not have the unanimous support for the illegal vote that he claims, Catalonians are largely unified in their belief that they are entitled to a vote. Despite the fact that the vote is unlikely to swing the way of independence at this stage, the very fact of the referendum re-articulates lines of division and in declaring autonomy and difference, even as it looks to re-sign up to the uneasy contract at the heart of the modern Spanish state, a detente between the unified state and its fractious regions.

If the vote goes ahead, Spanish tanks have been promised on the streets of Catalonia during the voting period. Once again, central state power has failed to fully realise itself through a monolithic cultural identity and so has resorted to the old reliables; money and guns. Catalonian independence is no guarantee of prosperity or liberty for Catalonians, many of whom would likely face just the same ethnic or religious discrimination as is handed down by governments past and present. But the simple fact of holding the referendum tests the limits of what states will do to protect their territorial integrity. A firm fist on the national wallet and tanks on the streets of Barcelona.

 

catA Catalan Independence march last November, by Barcelona’s Placa Espana.

The Clash of Barcelona’s Jewish leaders

 

Published by Jewdas

   Re-published by the Jewish Renaissance 

 

The Israeli Times was the site of a less-public conflict in the aftermath of Barcelona’s attack last week. Its pages perpetuated a time-worn pattern: In times of conflict, Jewish communities’ relations to their diaspora are challenged un-constructively by Jewish leaders.

After a van plunged into the teeming Las Ramblas, killing 16 and injuring 100, two pillars of the community clashed in their public response to the attack, amplified by the paper.

Barcelona’s Chief Rabbi Ben-Har, portended Europe’s ‘doom’ and asserted that ‘Jews are not here permanently’. The Rabbi called for Spain’s 40,000 Jews to ‘buy property in Israel’, as their home was a ‘hub of Islamist terror for all of Europe’.

After The Israel Times published the Rabbi’s statement, Victor Sorrenson, a spokesman for the Jewish community, sent a loaded email to the paper’s inbox.

‘Barcelona is not afraid, its Jews join them in this stance’. His definitive message was ‘social action’ from Barcelona’s community, not departure.

I spoke to Victor from his office in Barcelona, to find out how two community figures can have such a polarised reaction to the event, and his view on the future of the diaspora in Europe.

Victor opened by explaining that the Rabbi’s view was not ‘representative’ of the community, unfortunate considering that the newspaper had jumped to publish his response:

‘The Rabbi should not have attended the media the same day of the attack. Beyond the fact that the media may have exaggerated their position, I think it is a mistake for a religious leader to take sides that way. He has been in Barcelona for six years, the community, one hundred’

Victor expanded on the logistics of the post-attack community response, as there had been a an elected ‘crisis committee’, and Victor was appointed as the ‘spokesperson’:

‘The message was very clear: Condemn the terrorist attacks, give all our support for the authorities and participate in the social fabric of Barcelona to show our commitment to the city’.

The Rabbi’s response, siting the imperative for the community to move away from the diaspora as opposed to solidarity, is a tired motif. Such soothsaying undermine the diasporas’ efforts, and success, in re-inscribing their identity into Europe.

European leaders heaped critique on the Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, following his response after the Paris Kosher-supermarket and Copenhagen attacks last year. His message was clear: ‘Israel is waiting for you with open arms’.

Accusations of Netanyahu’s strategically-timed damning of the future of Europe rippled across the media’s international waters.

Chief Rabbi Bar-Hen, echoing the view of many vocal zionist Jewish leaders, claimed that the community in Barcelona was ‘not permanent’. Victor counter-acted this pessimism:

‘There is a growing interest in the general Catalan population in Jewish matters, an interest that we see translating into spiritual, historical and intellectual curiosity. In short, there is a vibrancy to Jewish life in Barcelona. This will be the trend for the future. I do not know anyone, either before or after the attack, to consider leaving for security reasons’

The Rabbi, ignoring Spain’s sociocultural specificity, had warned Jews not to ‘repeat the mistake of Algerian Jews, of Venezuelan Jews. Better [get out] early than late’. Outside of drawing parallels with other continents, he claimed that ‘Europe is lost’.

Victor, when this was re-sited to him, argued that: ‘Each country has a different history. To encompass all on the same label “Europe”, is reductionistic and shows an ignorance of the reality that is being lived politically’.

Despite its pervasive anti-semitism, Spain has not had a violent attack against Jews for years, unlike France. Victor suggests that in the face of new terror threats rising in Spain, the Jewish community feels supported:

‘What I can say is that our relationship with the security forces is excellent. We work with them on a regular basis, since as in so many other places, Jewish spaces had been targeted before the terrorist threat.’

The disregarding of Barcelona’s place-specific security-levels forms part of a mind set that undermines diasporic identity by homogenising it within Europe. The diasporas’ sociocultural idiosyncrasies are a distraction to Israel, seen as the only true Jewish homeland.

The Rabbi seemed impervious to the irony that thousands of Israeli’s had been trying to pass Spain’s Law of Return of 2015. If an applicant can prove their ancestor’s Sephardic origins they can be nationalised as Spanish. A writer from Haaretz evokes the reaction in Israel:

‘Normal countries, with normal people, don’t go crazy just because an economically-challenged country offered them citizenship. But Israel did’

The Chaplin-esque image of these paradoxical movements sites the insecurity of Jewish life, where is safe? Israel certainly isn’t.

However, expanding on the future of the diaspora within Europe as a whole, Victor has a restless energy:

‘One of the projects I coordinate is the European Days of Jewish Culture, where 324 cities from all over Europe participated simultaneously last year. I think it is representative that Judaism in Europe goes beyond anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

We Jews are an active part of European society, we are not a museum object.’

 

IMG_2390

A light shines on a hole marking where the Mezuzah stood 500 years ago in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter, until the Inquisition sent Spain’s Sephardim from Cairo to Amsterdam. Since the late 19th century, Sephardim have returned to re-build their identity into Sepharad

 

 

Victor’s vision for the role of the diaspora within Europe is one of social activism and building more presence for Jews in public spaces.

He co-runs the Berlin-born initiative Salaam-Shalom in Barcelona, organising workshops between the cities’ Jews and Muslims. Victor also founded Mozaika, a journal publishing academic papers and pioneering archival research on Jewish history and culture in Catalonia.

What one sees as an offering of support, others see as a strategically placed call to Israel when a community is vulnerable. The reconstruction of the diaspora’s identity into post-Shoah Europe is advanced by their show of solidarity in events such as the Barcelona attacks. Such responses ensure a reciprocation from their neighbours in the likely event of their own targeting.

Culture Cuts: Sri Lankan Tamils

Culture Cuts: Sri Lankan Tamils

 

*All names have been changed, and photos obscured, to secure the subjects’ anonymity. There are no facial photos of the interviewees. Place names and specific information are included to the degree that the interviewee was comfortable with..

.

Published by Novara Media

.

“I want to show you a cemetery”, an unexpected endnote to an interview about teaching the Tamil language in the borough of Newham. Lashani pushes open the door of a disused room, three flights up. Light enters from a window yawning over a communal space, encased by a block of houses. Our viewpoint is through the back of the London Tamil Sangam of which Lashani is the head teacher.

“Its a disused Jewish cemetery from before the 2nd world war, you can only see it from these houses,” Lashani tells me. She points to the dignified epitaphs and faded Hebrew script. The cemetery’s gates have been closed to the public since 2003, after 386 of its tombstones were defaced. Their crumbling facades recall the bombs that swept across London.   

.

.

finf

.            The Sangam center, founded in 1936, is one of the oldest Tamil organisations in London.

.

The centre teaches the Tamil language to second-generation Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, many of which are Newham residents. A small proportion of Lashini’s student’s parents came to the UK during the course of Sri Lanka’s 26 year civil war. The economic reasons for immigration in the 70’s became the seeking of asylum in the 80’s following the country’s growing instability.

Today, there are close to 200,000 Sri Lankan Tamils in England, with the majority living in London.

Although Sri Lankan Tamils have found employment in financial and medical fields since the 70s, many refugee and asylum seekers from Sri Lanka seek emotional and practical support from community centres. Offering financial advice, legal aid, free meals, English lessons and counselling, these centres are fuelled by donations, volunteers and council grant schemes.

However, councils across London are drastically reducing their funding to the centres that support this diasporic group, despite growing demands for their services under the last five years of the Conservative’s austerity measures. In London’s most deprived communities, social care has fallen by £65 per head since 2010, while charities have lost over £3.8 bn from Government funding over the last decade.

Before travelling to Newham to find out about how local government cuts are affecting London’s Tamil community, I went to Murugan Temple in Highgate to learn about Sri Lanka’s past.

26 Years of Civil War

Bali sighs. This conversation is at best recycled. New revelations are not unearthed. He treads with expert feet along the timeline of Sri Lanka’s past violence. He is a Tamil, and left Sri Lanka in 1976 following the country’s civil unrest.

Nearing his 80’s, he tends to circumvent political discussion, volunteering every weekend at Highgate’s Murugan Temple. “As long as your heart is clear you can come to this temple. We ingrain no politics – God can punish those who are bad, that is my philosophy.”

We walk along the 12 inward facing shrines of the temple’s body. Worshipers perform parikrama: making circles around the statues of Gods. “We bought the deities over from Southern India”, he whispers, not to disturb the Sanskrit chants emerging from the temple’s inner sanctum. He ushers me to the ticket office, our conversation interrupted when he gives me a placard displaying the Tamil alphabet. 

.

.

tamilalphabet

The Tamil language is spoken from Southern India to Malaysia, and by Tamil diasporic communities across the globe. Online forums contest whether the language is older than Sanskrit.

.

.

In 1948, Britain’s colonial rule of Sri Lanka ended. During their regime, ethnic tensions between the Sinhalese and Tamil population   emerged, exacerbated by Britain’s unfair advantaging of the Tamil minority. The Sinhalese, mainly Buddhist and Sinhala speaking, make up roughly 75% of Sri Lanka’s population, while the Tamils, mainly Hindu and Tamil speaking, make up just under 12%.

“The Tamils were in the top posts during Britain’s rule. When the Sinhalese came into power following Independence, they wanted to stop the Tamils from going to university”, explains Bali.

Over the course of the following few decades, a series of reforms were implemented by the Sinhalese to disadvantage the Tamils, beginning with education. “The Tamil’s entrance marks were made higher than theirs, making it very difficult for them to get into higher education”. In 1956, Sinhalese was made the country’s only official language.

After nearly three decades of Tamil oppression under Sinhalese rule, 1976 saw the formation of the Tamil Tigers. Prabakaran, who led and founded the military group, became the unfiltered microphone that amplified thousands of disillusioned Tamil voices. The group’s main objective was to secure a separatist state for the Tamils, within Sri Lanka’s borders.

A few months following the Tiger’s formation, The Tamil United Liberation Front, a Pro-Tamil rights parties, entered their first general election. Bali started to cry as he told me about the democratic party, holding its biography. With 70% of the electorate being Sinhalese, the party stood little chance of instigating reforms.

With the chances of peaceful political reform for the Tamils minimal, the Tigers became the vanguards of Independence. They attacked both Sinhalese and Tamils to secure this title. Freedom fighters quickly morphed into terrorists on the international podium.

“They slipped a letter warning that they would kill my father if he remained in Northern Sri Lanka in 1985. He was a District Chairman for the government. While he was sleeping, they came and shot him in the head. They didn’t have a plan, they just shot”.

.

.

  censorimage2

.Hindu Priests are traditionally Brahmins, the highest caste within the Hindu System. The Tamil Tigers fought to dissolve the caste system, advocating for an egalitarian and Communistic mode of governance.

.

censortest

.The main duty of the Pujari is to act as an intermediate between the worshiper and God. They traditionally wear a Janaeu, or white thread around the body. The knot symbolises the priests’ pledge to to be pious.

.

The Tigers’ Separatist nation was gradually secured in the North and East of the country, with its own functioning government, bank and television station.

The perfecting of the suicide bomber. Massacres of Sinhalese Civilians. The utilisation of child soldiers. The murder of Tamil defectors. It was not easy for the Tiger’s to retain the core ideals of their manifesto while preventing the government’s forces from defeating their de facto state.

Sri Lanka’s majority-Sinhalese military were guilty of numerous human right’s abuses during their combat with the Tigers. Notorious for their high levels of sexual assault of woman civilians and Tiger fighters, this problem has far from disappeared. During the war, thousands of Tamil civilians disappeared. White vans would remove suspected Tiger sympathisers to faceless detention centres.

The civil war clawed itself into the 21st century. The fighting picked up speed, and international recognition, until its culmination in 2009. In the last year of fighting, the accusatory fingers of foreign governments pointed at Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s former president:

During the defeat of the Tamil Tiger’s in 2009, thousands of Tamil civilians were shelled in “safe zones”. These zones had been allocated by the Sri Lankan government in the final phase of the war. The casualties proliferated on both sides. Up to 20,000 Sinhalese and Tamils were killed in the last 4 months of combat.

Ethnic cleansing! Genocide! Protests in Parliament Square surged. Calls for foreign intervention were unanswered. The final surrender of the Tigers came a day before Prabakaran’s body was found floating in mangroves.

Today, Sri Lanka’s recovery from the war is slow. Improvements of Tamil rights under the new president Sirisena lack momentum. Military camps and detentions centres are still rooted on Northern Sri Lanka’s soil. War crime allegations have not been assessed by an external judiciary. The newly elected army chief lead a key division of the military during the last two months of the war.

.

.

  shrine3

The Temple’s priests, or pujaris, conduct the daily puja, a Sanskrit word for worship. There are up to 16 main steps in the worship, from washing the deity’s feet to offering them a seat.

.

Bali traces invisible lines over his open palm. At the end of our conversation, he returns to the 80s:

“They burnt our library in Jaffna in 1981. There were Tamil scriptures, manuscripts. They were written on Palmera leaves – they are all gone..the whole collection was kept in the library”. Jaffna library was burnt during civilian riots. A similar dent was felt in the cultural archives of Mao’s China and Nazi Germany – the burning of books always ignites a greater fire.

.

.

The Tamil Language – Culture Cuts

.

.

Bali’s regret of the offensive against Tamil cultural artefacts, reverberates in Selvan’s concerns about the state of the Tamil culture under the current Sri Lankan government. I met Selvan, a Tamil refugee of the 80’s, in a Hare Krishna temple in East Croyden.

He promotes the teaching of the Tamil language in London, fuelled through his fears of its increasingly marginalised status in Sri Lanka. FreedomHouse reports that ‘the status of Sinhala as the official language puts Tamils and other non-Sinhala speakers at a disadvantage’.

Sinhala is spoken predominantly in the South, the region with the most economic growth and governmental departments, while the North, with high levels of poverty and unemployment, is majority Tamil speaking.

In the North today, efforts to improve an economy failing through the infrastructural damages of the war are minimal. Sirisena’s lack of initiative is felt by Selvan: The school of his Tamil-majority village was bombed 7 years ago. Today, the rubble has been cleared, but there are no efforts to reconstruct the building.

.

.

selvans-school

After negotiating with locals MPs and gaining approval from the region’s military commander, Selvan’s charity, Sinnathurai Children Foundation was registered. We built the old school again and now it’s an afternoon school for children. When it rains they are living in huts still!” (pictured above).

.

.

Selvan sees London’s community centres as crucial for fostering Tamil culture outside of Sri Lanka’s borders. “We are distributed everywhere now, all over the world. We have to show our children what our culture is, our religion – to teach them the language…A lot of things have been lost but even if we move to another country we still have our culture”.

However, Lashani, from the London Tamil Sangam, has had to start charging a small fee for lessons following local government cuts.

Lashani prepares her students for the Tamil language GCSE, enabling many 2nd generation refugees to speak to family members in Sri Lankan that do not speak English.

.

.

  censorfinalnovara

The Sangam centre’s library houses current Sri Lankan and Southern Indian Tamil newspapers, as well as poems originating from 300 BCE.

.

.

“Many of the elder generation are lonely and can only speak Tamil here,” Lashani explains. “People are suffering in silence.. I lost my husband a couple of months ago..I can share my sorrow with people, and speak about them in my own language”. With a further £20m cuts this year to resources teaching the English language, the center works to prevent language barriers from isolating refugees.

The cuts faced by the Sangam center are marginal in comparison to the nearby Upton and Hartley centres. Following a withdrawal of fundings from NewHam’s shrinking grant scheme, both centres closed last year. The charities hosted lessons in Hindu culture, English classes and events for the elderly.

Newham council, despite being the 6 most deprived area in England, will receive £284 less for every home in the borough as of 2017, while Richmond, a substantially wealthier area, will have its grants cuts by just £57 per home.

The effects of these cuts reverberate in North London, with New Barnet’s Sangam Centre’s facing depleting council funds, a charity providing advice to Sri Lankan Tamil women. With charity grants predicted to have disappeared by the next 4 years, this decline in funding can only sharpen.

.

.

                 London’s Community spaces – Frontiers to Censorship

.

.

“The Tigers are freedom fighters”, Ravi asserts. ‘Ravi’, a fake name, agreed to talk to me after I assured him that the interview would be anonymous. Community spaces encourage the sharing of sorrow, the dispersion of loneliness. They also become places where frustration can be shared without fear of censorship.

Ravi taps his hand on his knee. His gold chains vibrate with the movement. The emblems are obscured as they disappear into his white t-shirt. We sit on a soft carpet in a temple in Wembley. He is a second-generation refugee. “I know nothing, only what my Mum tells me”. His proviso dissolves as we begin talking about censorship in Sri Lanka.

“I have friends here with bullet wounds, I can give you their number”. The offer was never followed up. What’s in it for him? To publicly discuss or protest for Tamil rights in London could place yourself on Sri Lanka’s watch list:

Under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act, suspected Tiger sympathisers are detained on return to the capital’s airport. This can result in interrogation and torture without trial.

“If you put my name or my picture in a magazine, then I can’t go back to Sri Lanka..I protested in 2009 during the civil war, there were photos of me in Parliament Square – there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll be caught if I went back”.

.

.

cencorship

“It is not a catch-penny book, with life like that of a mushroom”. An excerpt from the Preface of the Bhavitha Gita, the main text of the Hindu and Hare Krishna faith.

.

.

The Home Offices August Report on Sri Lanka disclosed that family members have been questioned in Sri Lanka, following the participation of relatives in anti-government protests abroad.

Ravi has family in Sri Lanka. For many in the same position, it is fear for their protection that dictates how politically active they are in their places of asylum, meaning community centres and temples often become substitutions for street protests.

Wembley’s Hindu temples will have to shoulder increasing council tax following Brent’s growing cuts, despite the fact that many of them relieve the pressure of food banks by providing free meals on a daily basis. The council recognises this financial reality as a pattern spanning across the UK’s borroughs: ‘We are not alone, as around 86 per cent of councils are planning to increase council tax’, their website states.

.

.

The UK’s Closing Borders

.

.

Beyond the shrinking resources that help the Sri Lankan’s who have been granted asylum in the UK, it is also the routes for potential refugees that are threatened under the UK’s tightening borders.

Newham’s Tamil Welfare Association has been supporting asylum seekers coming to the UK from Sri Lanka since 1985. The center is a 10 minute walk from the Sangam Tamil Language School. Along High Street North, connecting the two centres, the walk of Hindus to their daily puja (worship) is soundtracked by the sound of saluhs (prayers) in the borough’s local mosques. 

.

.

newtemple

.

.

The centre’s building is small, its outreach extensive: Asylum seekers with no legal representation and stuck in detention centres while their claim is reviewed, or refugees seeking legal advice, often call Pradeep, one of the founders.

A woman in her 50’s cries in the centre’s waiting room, she is handed a letter by one of the volunteers. I question whether I should be there, taking up an hour of Pradeep’s time. The center has about 30 walk-ins a day. During our interview, he would run to retrieve a yellow legal file and deposit it on the desk of his colleagues, talking on the phone in Tamil.

The UK’s toughening asylum seeking process highlights the importance of the center. Since 2005, the majority of refugees are granted access to the UK for only 5 years, while over a half of asylum seekers are detained during their application review.

Pradeep knows the UK’s border control process intimately – he was part of the surge of Tamil refugees seeking asylum in England in the 1980’s during the build-up to the civil war.

He’s laughing. Pradeep’s response to my question of whether he thought conditions for asylum seekers had improved significantly since his arrival, which he recounts to me:

“I left on my own. Afterwards my family came here, one by one. Actually my father was shot by the Sinhalese and he survived. When I arrived here, I was detained with 58 other Tamils in the Ashford Remand center in 1985, but we started to fight. With the help of Jeremy Corbyn, the detainees were released. We initially formed this organisation as a self-help group, with a group of refugees putting money in”.

Pradeep is not overawed with Jacques Audiard’s recent film Dheepan, depicting the struggles of a Tamil refugee following his arrival in Europe. The film ends with an angelic choir. They infuse a shot of Dheepan, the protagonist, as a black-cab driver parking in his suburban driveway.

He see’s the blockbuster as symptomatic of a lack of understanding surrounding the reality facing many refugees on arrival to their places of asylum. Perhaps the recent Ken Loach film I am Daniel Blake, with its benefit freezes and food banks, is a more accurate depiction of life following the granting of refugee status.

The UK’s shrinking support for incoming asylum seekers and refugees, renders the future of Pradeep’s charity unstable. Despite the centre’s popularity, it increasingly relies on volunteers, and donations from local residents.

After its near collapse in 1994 following a withdrawal of government funding, its continuation is testament to the associations’s importance in alleviating the suffering of the Sri Lankan Tamil refugee, and asylum seekers, that reach out to it from across the UK. However, Pradeep, remains concerned for his centre’s future:

“There is bad media coverage of the situation and funders are withdrawing. Policy wise the government is not giving grants for asylum seekers.. the general public is a bit scared of refugees. It’s very hard to run a refugee charity..normal charities don’t face hatred”.

.

.

smallnahibpraying

.

.

Refugee centres provided advice to Sri Lankan Tamils in South-East London are also facing cuts. An employee from Lewisham’s Refugee and Migrant Network reports that ‘our charity has had to absorb the clients affected by centres that have closed down due to funding cuts’.

These centres, supporting London’s multiple diasporic communities, have experienced increasing demand: the Red Cross reports that over 3,000 asylum seekers have been living in ‘destitution’ this year.

After an asylum seeker is granted refugee status, the government grants them 28 days before their financial support is cut, despite the fact that finding a job often extends far beyond a month. As a direct result of this law, the Red Cross measured a 10% rise in refugees seeking food parcels or emergency cash from them since 2015.

  

Autumn Statement

.

.

In 2013, David Cameron broke official protocol by visiting a camp for displaced Tamils in Northern Sri Lanka. His cameo appearance intending to draw attention to Sri Lanka’s lack of investigation into alleged war crimes. Cameron left, the news moved on but the cutting of resources that support Sri Lankan refugees in the UK continued.

Cameron’s stunt echoes Theresa May’s first series of speeches as Prime Minister, broadcasting solidarity with the working families of England. Encouraging words, often unsubstantiated.

Change, however, is forthcoming in the Home Office. As of 2016, only 14 out of 147 asylum applications were accepted from Sri Lanka. This is a distinct fall from 2015’s 45% acceptance rate of appeals.

The decrease in asylum granting is not so much a reaction to some of the ‘improvements’ marked in Sri Lanka, but to the influx of refugees to European and UK borders. With the UK gaining more control over its borders in the wake of Brexit, this decrease is set to continue.

The futures’ of Sri Lankan Tamils with rejected asylum applications are unstable – they are sent back to a country they initially left over concerns for their safety. Jasmine Pilbrow, a student who refused to sit down on a flight instrumental in the deportation of a Sri Lankan Tamil in Melbourne last year, draws media attention to a process seldom reported on.

The ongoing problems in Sri Lanka should make the obstacles faced by Tamils refugees harder to ignore: the censors on freedom of speech, the difficulty of Tamils resettling in the North following their removal during the war and the threat of torture and detention are proving slow to improve.

Once asylum seekers arrive to the UK’s borders, the support of these community centres are crucial. Many asylum seekers’ visa applications are stretched from months to years, with the UK having the longest wait for a work permit in Europe. With social welfare continuously decreasing, the practical and emotional support of these centres for Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees grow in importance.

The livelihoods of these centres will be measured in Phillip Hammond’s upcoming autumn statement. As it stands, the UK’s austerity measures are set to continue into the 2020s, although Hammond has hinted at a divergence from Osborne’s long-term budget. However, the new Chancellor’s recent assurance that ‘we remain committed to fiscal discipline’ renders any substantial reversal of the Conservative’s ongoing cuts doubtful.

Weddings

.

.

.

nick5

.

.

.

secondwed13

.

.

.

secondwed17

.

.

.

wed4

.

.

.

wed7

.

.

.

wed8

.

.

.

wed9

.

.

.

wed10

.

.

.

wed11

.

.

.

wed12

.

.

.

wed25

.

.

.

 

wedlightii

.

.

.

 

weds27

.

.

.

.

.

.

Kerala

 

.

.

.

Aisha, 20

Janmashtami (Hare Krishna’s Birthday)

.

.

aisha

.

.

Breaking earthen pots filled with curd to celebrate the legend of Krishna, the child-god, from stealing butter. Locals hang their butter in pots from the ceiling to ward against the deities theft. 

.

.

..new.

.

..

newIIII.

.

.news.

.

.

water

.

.

.stick 1

.

.

.

templeII

.

.

temple

.

.

.

Shoba, 17

Varkala beach .

 

girlI.

.

.motorII

.

.

.

tea

.

.

.

Held every month at Sivananda Ashram, thousands of locals travel from the surrounding area to this health camp – gaining a free consultation and meal and leaving with a bag of Ayurvedic medicine. The Ashram is volunteer run and not profit driven, all of its proceeds go towards funding the registered medical charity.

 

.

..

.queue copy

 

.

pensive.

.

.handII.

.

.

hand.

.

.friendsII.

.

.friendsI.

.

.

.

 

Elephant Rehabilitation Center,

Neyyar Dam 

.

 

.ele.

.

Chamudeswery Temple,

Nedumangad

.

A Hindu archaka who conducts ritual worship and the elephant he is sculpting 

.

elephant+..

 

.priestess1

.

.

..fatherandson.

.

.templeII.

.

..

.

.

 

.

.

.

Brainchild Festival Performers

.

.

.

The Performers of  BrainChild Festival 2016

(official festival photographer – 8th-10th July)

Click here to see the Brainchildren and here to see my Utopias series

.

.

.

.

.

Steeze Cafe

Jerkcurb

.

.

.

.

.

Jerkcurb - Steeze (8th) 4

.

.

.

.

Jerkcurb - Steeze (8th) 5

.

.

.

.

Jerkcurb - Steeze (8th) 6

.

.

.

Space Jam

.

m.

Space Jam - Steez (8th) 3

.

.

.

.

Space Jam - Steez (8th) 5

.

.

.

.

Ezra Collective - Steeze (9th) 2

.

.

.

The Audioters

.

.

The Audioters - Steez (9th) 2

.

.

.

.

The Audioters - Steez (9th) 4

.

.

.

.

The Audioters - Steez (9th) 5

.

.

.

.

MVC - Steeze (10th) 1

.

.

.

.

Steeze - performer ? - (10th) 5.

.

.

.

.

Steeze - performer ? - (10th) 2

.

.

.

.

Steeze - performer ? - (10th) 6

.

.

.

SumoChief

.

.

SumoChief - Steeze (10th)  1

.

.

.

.

SumoChief - Steeze (10th)  2

.

.

.

.

SumoChief - Steeze (10th)  4

.

.

.

.

SumoChief - Steeze (10th)  5

.

.

.

.

SumoChief - Steeze (10th)  6

.

.

.

.

SumoChief - Steeze (10th)  7

.

.

.

.

SumoChief - Steeze (10th)  8

.

.

.

.

SumoChief - Steeze (10th)  9

.

.

.

.

SumoChief - Steeze (10th)  10

.

.

.

.

SumoChief - Steeze (10th)  11

.

.

.

.

SumoChief - Steeze (10th)  12

.

.

.

.

Brain Stage

Nerija

.

Nerija - Steeze (10th) 9.

.

.

.

.

Nerija - Steeze (10th) 1

.

.

.

.

Nerija - Steeze (10th) 4.

.

.

.

.

Nerija - Steeze (10th) 8

.

.

.

Babeheaven

.

.

Babe Heaven - Brain Stage (8th) 2

.

.

.

.

Babe Heaven - Brain Stage (8th) 4

.

.

.

.

Babe Heaven - Brain Stage (8th) 10

.

.

.

.

Babe Heaven - Brain Stage (8th) 11

.

.

.

Huw Bennett Quintet 

.

.

Huw Bennett Quintet - Brain Stage (8th) 1

.

.

.

.

Huw Bennett Quintet - Brain Stage (8th) 2

.

.

.

.

Huw Bennett Quintet - Brain Stage (8th) 6

.

.

.

Alfa Mist & Barney Artist

.

.

Alfa Mist & Barney Artist- Brain stage (9th) 2

.

.

.

.

Alfa Mist & Barney Artist- Brain stage (9th) 4

.

..

Alice Phoebe Lou

.

.

Alice Phoebe Lou - Brain Stage (9th) 1

.

.

.

.

Alice Phoebe Lou - Brain Stage (9th) 2

.

.

.

.

Alice Phoebe Lou - Brain Stage (9th) 6

.

.

.

.

Alice Phoebe Lou - Brain Stage (9th) 9

.

.

.

.

Alice Phoebe Lou - Brain Stage (9th) 12

.

.

.

.

Alice Phoebe Lou - Brain Stage (9th) 13

.

.

.

.

Alice Phoebe Lou - Brain Stage (9th) 14

.

.

King Nommo

.

.

King Nommo - Brain Stage (9th) 2

.

.

Jelani Blackman Music

..

Jelani Blackman Music - Brain Stage (10th) 2

.

.

.

.

Jelani Blackman Music - Brain Stage (10th) 6

.

.

.

.

Jelani Blackman Music - Brain Stage (10th) 8

.

.

.

.

Jelani Blackman Music - Brain Stage (10th) 10

.

.

.

.

Jelani Blackman Music - Brain Stage (10th) 13

.

.

Junk Son 

.

Junk Son - Brain Stage (10th) 1

.

.

.

.

Junk Son - Brain Stage (10th) 2

.

.

United Vibrations

..

United Vibrations - Brain Stage (10th) 2

.

.

.

The Shack

.

.

Contours 

.

.

Contours - The Shack (8th) 1

.

.

.

.

Contours - The Shack (8th) 2

.

.

.

.

dj1

.

.

The Dead of Night in the Middle of Nowhere 

..

.

The Dead of Night in the Middle of Nowhere - The Woods (9th) 1

.

.

.

.

The Dead of Night in the Middle of Nowhere - The Woods (9th) 4

.

.

.

.

The Dead of Night in the Middle of Nowhere - The Woods (9th) 8

.

.

.

.

The Dead of Night in the Middle of Nowhere - The Woods (9th) 9

.

.

.

.

The Dead of Night in the Middle of Nowhere - The Woods (9th) 11

.

.

.

.

The Dead of Night in the Middle of Nowhere - The Woods (9th) 12

.

.

.

The Cinema

.

The Beanfield by Breech Theatre

.

.

The Beanfield by Breech Theatre - the Cinema (8th) 1

.

.

.

Creamer Mag – Zine Making Workshop

.

.

Creamer Mag - Zine Making Workshop - The Cinema (10th) 1

.

.

.

.

Creamer Mag - Zine Making Workshop - The Cinema (10th) 2

.

.

.

.

Creamer Mag - Zine Making Workshop - The Cinema (10th) 3

.

.

.

.

Brainchild(ren)

Details & Portraits of 2016 BrainChild Festival 2016

(official festival photographer – 8th-10th July)

Click here to see the Performers and here to see Utopia series

.

.

.

.

cam1

.

.

.

.

beer

.

.

.

.

.blursleepyexperiment

.

.

.

.

dance2

.

.

.

.

dance4

.

.

.

.

dancer

.

.

.

.

dancing

.

.

.

.

dancing3

.

.

.

.

experimentsleep

.

.

.

.

fairy

.

.

.

.

feet1

.

.

.

.

fire

.

.

.

.

friends1 copy

.

.

.

.

froggies

.

.

.

.

glitter copy

.

.

.

.

glitter3

.

.

.

.

hands copy.jpg

.

.

.

.

magic4

.

.

.

.

molly copy

.

.

.

.

molly

.

.

.

.

netting

.

.

.

.

orange1

.

.

.

.

.

pom

.

.

.

.

.

pom4

.

.

.

.

rachel

.

.

.

.

sailor

.

.

.

.

smiley2

.

.

.

.

steeze

.

.

.

.

strongbow

.

.

.

.

.

watchers3

Brain Child Utopias

.

Portraits of 2016 BrainChild festival goers 

(official festival photographer – 8th-10th July)

Click here to see the BrainChildren and here to see the Performers

.

.

.utopia copy

.

.

.

.

Majestic 2

.

.

.

.

Majestic 3

.

.

.

.

Majestic 4

.

.

.

.

Majestic 5

.

.

.

.

Majestic 6

.

.

.

.

Majestic 7

.

.

.

.

Majestic 1

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Black Lives Matter

Power

 ..

The difference between poetry and rhetoric

is being ready to kill
yourself
instead of your children.
.
.
I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds
and a dead child dragging his shattered black
face off the edge of my sleep
blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders
is the only liquid for miles
and my stomach
churns at the imagined taste while
my mouth splits into dry lips
without loyalty or reason
thirsting for the wetness of his blood
as it sinks into the whiteness
of the desert where I am lost
without imagery or magic
trying to make power out of hatred and destruction
trying to heal my dying son with kisses
only the sun will bleach his bones quicker.
.
.
A policeman who shot down a ten year old in Queens
stood over the boy with his cop shoes in childish blood
and a voice said “Die you little motherfucker” and
there are tapes to prove it. At his trial
this policeman said in his own defense
“I didn’t notice the size nor nothing else
only the color”. And
there are tapes to prove that, too.
.
.
Today that 37 year old white man
with 13 years of police forcing
was set free
by eleven white men who said they were satisfied
justice had been done
and one Black Woman who said
“They convinced me” meaning
they had dragged her 4’10” black Woman’s frame
over the hot coals
of four centuries of white male approval
until she let go
the first real power she ever had
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children.
.
.
I have not been able to touch the destruction
within me.
But unless I learn to use
the difference between poetry and rhetoric
my power too will run corrupt as poisonous mold
or lie limp and useless as an unconnected wire
and one day I will take my teenaged plug
and connect it to the nearest socket
raping an 85 year old white woman
who is somebody’s mother
and as I beat her senseless and set a torch to her bed
a greek chorus will be singing in 3/4 time
“Poor thing. She never hurt a soul. What beasts they are.”
 .
.
By Audre Lorde
(also known as Gamba Adisa – “Warrior-She Who Makes Her Meaning Known.”)
.
.
.
.

The Difference Between Poetry and Rhetoric

.

.

Rhetoric is violent action far before it is a dialectical tool. These actions are guided through narratives written long before you, and yet are about you. Poetry is something that originates from the speaker, rhetoric is something imposed on the speaker from the outside. Rhetoric is always political, poetry is granted the right to be non-partisan. Rhetoric trawls, obdurate through the shifting attitudes of time, feeding on the detritus of the past.

A Racist mentality understands the other through rhetoric that subjugates individuality to narratives written from the colour of skin, the way you dress, where you live. Rhetoric is the ally to defining one’s identity through their social demographic, the ally to simply causality. Subject x was born in y and therefore equals z. White privilege is being allowed to manipulate, play with, dodge expectation – x was born in y but maybe that doesn’t equal z ?

Rhetoric pulled the trigger that shot Philando Castile in Minnesota – the cop had read the sign of him pulling out his ID as him pulling out a gun because Castile had already lost his right to individuality, he had become a collection of visual associations leading  to the cop predicting the next action according to a narrative that provided a simple causality. Castile (x) is an African American (y) = he is about to attack me with his gun (z).

White privilege would have added 10 seconds of delay. The situation would have been ambiguous for the policeman, through the more complex cause and effect – relaxing the agitated arm and the twitching finger on the trigger of his gun. “They took a good man, a hard-working man” Castile’s mother tells the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Castile’s mother was granted the platform to define her son through her knowledge of his individual character too late: rhetoric is the fastest form of meaning. The pulling of the trigger is the signified of hateful jargon.

“I didn’t notice the size nor nothing else

only the colour”

The cop from Audre Lord’s poem explains. ‘Only the colour’ –  this is the meaning of being colour blind in America.

The judges do not remove the filters over the eyes of racist cops, their acquittal darkens their vision. The allowance for this colour blindness accepts a system that makes black skin and violence synonymous. The system that ignores the correlation between (racist, socialised) ‘instinct’ and (pre-meditated) ’self defense’.

The primacy of meaning is placed on the need to protect the self, on the 2nd amendment – not socialising the ‘self’ through viewing it within the context of the larger social reality, and seeing an isolated moment as symptomatic of a larger problem. To view the ‘self’ as a sacred entity in isolation permits the dissipated morality, the anachronistic engagement of self-defence. All acts of self-preservation are permitted in the battle between life and death that has always fuelled the myth of American Exceptionalism. Is the perpetuation and advocation of these battles between different social demographics surprising in a country that carved its identity through the genocide of the Native Americans? No, it’s America’s Manifest Destiny.

‘I have not touched the destruction within me’. The speaker of ‘Power’ has to learn not to respond to the shooting of the 10 year old boy with more violence, as this will not mean justice, this will mean further death to black children. White privilege is being able to fight violence with violence, but for the causality of the provoked violence to be taken into account as a cause. The privilege for the situation to be rarefied through contextualisation. A Racist mentality is seeing the response of violence as a dialogue in continuum with other acts of unrelated violence that cumulate to form the mentality that the law will use to denounce the offender. Rhetoric always lift an act and an individual out of their specific context.

The white cop, acquitted, will have the freedom to wield their destruction again in the name of the law. In Lorde’s ‘Power’, poetry paradoxically becomes an effacement of self, a mode of metaphorical self-murder. Why ? Within the violence of the society the poem springs from, the desire to use language removed from the social realm becomes tainted by the deficit of action this entails against those that impose rhetoric on the verbally and physically oppressed. It is using a foam sword against the metal baton of a policemen. It is rhetoric, action, that supersedes poetry in an environment that will read someone’s skin tone over listening to their words.

“Let me tell you first about what it was like being a Black woman poet in the ‘60s, from jump. It meant being invisible. It meant being really invisible. It meant being doubly invisible as a Black feminist woman and it meant being triply invisible as a Black lesbian and feminist”.

Lorde, In A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde, battled with her poetry against the system that imposed rhetoric over her, that tried and failed to efface her individuality. In the Black Lives Matter protest on the 11th of July, thousands of protesters listened to the poetry of ‘Power’, thousands saw her words and responded with more words, shouting out the rhetoric.

.

,

,

,A reading of ‘Power’ 

Black Lives Matter Protest

12/07/2016

A(enable HD viewing >)

.

.

.

 

Sharene

(from Tennessee)

..

.

blacklivesmatter

..

.

.

. .

.

.

 

.blm2

 

 

#IBIM

(I’m Black I Matter)

...

 

 

BLM5

.

.

.BLM3

.

.

.

 

.

.

.

 

The Fists of Brexit

.

.

‘It really annoys me when people intellectualise this and start talking about figures and polls..when we tell you racism isn’t an academic thing its a lived experience..why are we not listening to the visible minorities in this country, Polish people are being attacked, they’ve said so so I can not see why people are denying it’

– Comedian Ava Vidal on Channel 4 news

‘In its purest form, a newspaper consists of a collection of facts which, in controlled circumstances, can actively improve knowledge. Unfortunately, facts are expensive, so to save costs and drive up sales, unscrupulous dealers often “cut” the basic contents with cheaper material, such as wild opinion, bullshit, empty hysteria’

– Charlie Brooker for the Guardian

‘migrants have been weaponised to stoke fear and get out the vote for the leave campaign’

– Akwugo Emejulu, Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh

.

.

A faith in the images painted by Leave campaigners lead to the championing of faulty statistics, silencing the reality they worked to stifle. The pressures on the public sector were placed on the shoulders of immigrants, allowing the impacts of the Conservatives’ austerity cuts to hide behind misrepresented figures. Murdoch’s Sun failed to mention what Britain gains in return for its ‘350m’ weekly EU fee. The false promise to redirect this fee into the NHS circulated around Britain faster than Farages’ UKIP campaign bus could. The picture of Britain forged by the Leave campaigners was erected through the muting of the points of view that the movement worked to attack.

To move through shock at the vote to Leave and accept that Britain’s identity is inseparable from its racist, homophobic and xenophobic past is to address the challenges of the present. Within national crisis it is people of colour, the LGBTQ and migrant community that suffer the most. The rapid succession of headlines deflect from the testimonies of those who have suffered attacks. Attention is easily tethered to the broader political spectrum. Leadership resignations, the revelation of lies, the fluctuation of the economic market distract from the need to openly condemn and show solidarity against the rise of fascist sentiments in real time. The ‘Go Home’ message scrawled on the Polish Social and Cultural Association and the petrol bomb destroying the Kashmir Meat and Poultry in Walsall happened within 3 days of one another.

The momentum of the Leave vote was fuelled by a black and white monologue – headlines clenching fists and providing the rhetorical ammunition for racist attacks. Marches, protests, conversations, questions and as Ava Vidal stresses, listening, will form a voice to counter the shouts of Britain’s rising fascists.

..

.

 

.March for Europe 2/7/’16

Parliament Square

.

IMG_7117 copy.

 

 

brexitclose1

.

.

.

.brexit1

.

.

.

.

...IMG_7059 copy.

.

.

.

.

IMG_7063 copy copy.jpg.

.

.

.

..IMG_7078 copy.

.

.

.

.

IMG_7106 copy.

.

.

.

.IMG_7113 copy.

.

.

.

.IMG_7116 copy.

.

.

.

.IMG_7123.

.

.

.

.IMG_7124 copy.

.

.

.

.pig2 copy.

.

.

.

 

.pigcropped

.

.

.

.

.

Pride

*cropped = Logos of corporations that, outside of their self-promotion in Pride, have contributed nothing to the furthering of lgbtq rights

.

.

.

judgepride

.

.

.

.pride1.

.

.

.

.pridesupport.

.

.

.sexypridenew.

.

.

.

.

...oldmanpride.

.

.

.prideangry2.

.

.

.fancy2.jpg

.

.

.

.

prideproud1.

.

.

.

.

Part III – The Miners of Cerro Rico

 

To read about the conditions of the mines go here and to read more about Julio Zambrana and the Cruz family go here

Cruz1

Martina (far left), is next to heavily pregnant Daisy, 15. Miriam Cruz , Alex’s wife stands with one of her two girls, while Zaida and Grover Isaac Frafan Ortega (far right) have four children.

IMG_3395 (1) copy

Martina and Miriam, her daughter-in-law, peel potatoes they harvested from their allotment in the campo on the outskirts of the Municipal of Potosi. Biweekly, the family stay in a small hut on their plot of land while tilling their produce. Martina turns the potatoes into Papa Rellenas, a traditional Bolivian street food which she sells to miners returning home from the mountain. Miner do not usually eat within the mountain, using juice and cocoa leaves to stave off hunger.

IMG_3399 (1) copy

Martina Cruz is the matriarch of 5 children and 10 grand-children. Unlike the rest of her family, whose clothing reflects the phasing out of traditional Bolivian dress in the urban centres of Bolivia, her traditional pollera, or pleated skirt shielded the children from the dry winds as they hid in the folds of its fabric.

martinacropped

rod

rodneww

Grover Isaac Frafan Ortega, 24 is the father of 4 children with Zaida, his wife.

skeleton

The bare terrace of the Cruz’s home is exposed to the dry winds of the altiplano, and the temperature falls a few degrees lower than within the sheltered streets of Potosi’s Historic center. The home, built by Guillermo Cruz, Martina’s husband who Julio mined with from the age of 18, no longer lives with the rest of the family. 13 family members inhabit the two room home, as well as a litter of puppies.

IMG_3375 (2) copy

Julio stands outside his office, wearing his Alpaca coat for the cold winter months in Potosi. He commissioned a local artisan to cover the front of the building with graffiti depicting miners drilling for silver and tin; working as a reminder of the conditions, and mode of labour, he wishes to alter through his foundation ‘A New Dawn for the Children’

julio

A stack of receipts of payments to the miners reflects the fruits of Julio’s activism for the miners. In 2011, Julio paid a lawyer to get a law reconstituted, obliging all tour companies in Potosi to give 15% of their ticket to the mining co-operative they visit-ed. Outside of this fee, the miners receive juice, cocoa leaves and dynamite from the tourists, purchased from the miner’s mar-ket. Julio has successfully requested for tour companies to be removed from Lonely Planet, or the ‘bible’ as he calls it, through their unethical treatment of the miners.

Part II – The Miners of Cerro Rico

.

.

.

Jul io Zambrana and the Veins leading out of Cerro Rico 

Intervention

A cloaked Incan stands at the base of the carmine coloured mountain, talking to a hatted Spaniard. The Virgin Mary’s disembodied hands frame the conic mountain, her head floating before the summit. Gold streaks suggest the divine sanctioning of the Spanish’s colonisation of Potosi’s Cerro Rico in the 17th century, when the ‘Virgin Mountain’ was painted by an anonymous artist. The oil paint is cracked, it is four centuries old. Today, the West’s intervention within Cerro Rico is of a mixed variety, materialising in charities as well as in exploitative foreign mining corporations.

‘How do they know about us?’ Julio asks when explaining why he does not work for one of the European charities in Potosi. Julio  Zambrana began asking these questions at the age of 20. Now an activist for miner’s rights and running an ethical tour company, he saved his wages from mining and studied history and tourism. ‘I used to sleep 3 hours, wake up at 7 and go straight to university’. He has been a passionate advocate of education since, using himself as an example to other miners who struggle to leave the mountain. Julio wants to provide the children of miners the vocabulary to question and re-mould this intervention.

The Cruz Family

For the Cruz family, the question of education is fraught. Like many parents within the mining quarter of Potosi, the Cruz’s desire for their children to complete their education comes from a knowledge of the growing fatalities of mining life. The mountain collapses, mining equipment for co-operatives remains antiquated, Morales does not heed the calls for a growth in public infrastructure in Potosi. Education can offer a permanent vein leading out of the mountain – Julio’s foundation will provide the dynamite.

From the concrete terrace of the family’s two-room home in Potosi’s mining quarter, the city center feels far away. The Northern Bolivian Quechuan overtakes Spanish at this altitude. The Old Town of Potosi’s center is not exposed to the dry winds blowing in from the Andes; busy with tourists hundreds of meters below. Windburned marks on cheeks are signs of those living on the margins of Potosi’s social consciousness, 4,700 m above sea level.

Julio used to mine with Guillermo Cruz, Martina’s husband. Living within the city center, Julio has forged documents proving that Roberto Cruz, Guillermo’s son, works at his office, allowing three of his daughters to attend the prestigious Colegio Santa Rosa in the city center. Guillermo’s daughters are a rare exception. Topography is political in Potosi; catchment areas determine your future.

The print of a Bugs Bunny jumper is distorted, stretched over 15 year old Daisy’s heavily pregnant belly. She is the girlfriend of Chacho Cruz, Guillermo’s son. Above ground, there is no El Tio, the protectorate of the mines, to guard over the women and girls that grow up in mining communities. The drop out rate within primary and secondary education is the highest for girls; sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy and a lack of encouragement leave many woman dependent on their partners for a living. For miners of co-operatives with no state wage or pension, their early deaths through blood poisoning leave their families stranded in the informal sector, often scraping a living through street vending.

‘Chacho is the youngest, 17 years old’, Julio exclaims before ascending the mountain to their home, ‘his brothers and father never wanted him to work in the mines’. He re-enacts the dialogue between Chacho and his father Guillermo, after Chacho’s then fifteen year old girlfriend, Daisy, became pregnant:

‘I am going to work!’

‘Where?’

‘With you, Papa how old were you when you married our mother’

‘Fuck you – I was 17 years old – it’s different! I am your father and I don’t want you to be a miner, you have to study’

His mother Martina switches from Quechuan to Spanish as she tells us that Chacho has decided to leave high school, marry Daisy and become a miner like his two older brothers.

Education: a weapon against the lack of systematic change in Potosi

Julio is angry, his curses ricochet between Quechuan, Aymara, Spanish and English. His hands point in many directions when he speaks; at the invisible figures that run Potosi, the owners of refineries, the over-worked teachers, the government officials. He jolts from the seat of his dim office, body erect, finding it hard to sit down when talking about the lack of government intervention in Potosi.

He’s angry at the postcards he sells in Sucre to raise money for miners that do not cover the cost of his bus ticket and accommodation. The laws he paid to get reconstituted to prevent tourists from exploding dynamite in the mines in 2008 and tour companies being legally obliged to pledge 15% of their profits to the miners in 2011. That basic educational items demanded by the miners in 2014 have not been granted by Morales’ government. State funded schools in Potosi’s lowest income areas remain under staffed, under attended and under stocked. But Cerro Rico’s mouth will not close in the near future and signs of public infrastructure seem to remain within the torn protest posters of miners.

Education provides an escape from the poor working conditions of the mines, current and future. Chacho’s life-span within the mountain is as perilous as the foundations of the mines themselves. Through the re-privatisation of Cerro Rico in 1985, transnational companies such as Coeur Mining Inc have managed to retain their mining operations within the treacherous top levels of the mountain.

Julio’s new foundation, Nuevo Amanecer Para Los Niños* wants to push through these unideal circumstances. A steel-grated window is swallowed into a dense cave. A glinting drill extends like a welded sword, the tearing sound of stone against metal is imagined. Gaunt cheeks hover above an advert selling beer made of Quinoa. The paint is not cracked. The muriel Julio commissioned a local artist to embellish the front of his office with works as the visual prologue to the conditions he wants to see changed. The image offers a more realistic portrait of Cerro Rico than ‘The Virgin Mountain’ – painted from the inside, like Nuevo Amanecer Para Los Niños.

* ‘New Dawn for the Children’ Beginning with the 250 families of his co-operative, Julio wishes to expand the aid of his foundation to the children of the 22,000 workers on the mountain. His foundation will begin by supplying basic materials that state schools in the mining quarter often fall short of, and miner’s can not afford to purchase; text books, pens, pencils.

His foundation’s long term goal is to facilitate and support the career paths of young adults that have graduated or are enrolled within high school, such as their running a hostel set up by Julio and working in his cafe next to his office. The jobs Julio could offer would provide a bridge to the intercity economy of Potosi, or of  the changing landscape of Bolivia, and transform the stigma that sees higher education as a preserve of Potosi’s middle class.

         __________________

To read more about the conditions of the mines and Bolivian politics go here and to see photos of the Cruz family and Julio Zambrana go here

‘Nuevo Amanecer Para Los Niños’ has been legalised by the government, and should be ready to receive donations by the end of July, 2016. There is no website as of yet, but it will be searchable through the name of the foundation. Please visit and share to spread awareness of this worthy cause.

.

.

.

Part 1 – The Miners of Cerro Rico

.

.

.

.

Open and Closed Dialogues – The Miners of Cerro Rico, Evo Morales and the Plurinational Voices of Bolivia

 

Clashing conceptions of progression within Bolivia

Papa Francisco sweats with altitude sickness. He has little time to acclimatise to the political tensions inherent within his visit. Thousands of Bolivians have waited 8 hours for his hallowed wave in the August of 2015. While the Pope stands on the steps of La Paz’s main Cathedral in the colonial-style architecture of Plaza Murillo, the clock on the adjacent Congress Building ticks backwards. Evo Morales’ support was perhaps with the ticking hand, whose anti-clockwise movement  is meant to help the Bolivian people rediscover their sarawi, which means ‘way’ in Aymara.

Morales remained within the Cathedral as the Pope stepped outside. His skepticism towards his country’s Catholic fervour, for him representative of the colonial past, is known. The noise of his absence was drowned in the warring selfie-sticks of the crowd.

This visual cacophony of the country’s national identities reflect the present state of Bolivian politics and Morales’ presidency itself. Like the rainbow colours of the Qullasuyu Wiphala, Bolivia’s national flag, Morales’ policies have many shades. The president must retain amicable relations with the Western investors, while appeasing the demands of Bolivia’s thirty-seven indigenous groups for a greener and more localised economy. Three terms ago, Morales was elected as the first indigenous president of Bolivia. For many, Morales election meant a retreat from the Neoliberal policies of the 1980’s and 90’s, and the return to an economy that slowed down an infrastructural transformation of Bolivia’s rural areas.

Morales is still attune to the historically silenced voices of the country’s indigenous groups, necessitating a more measured response to foreign investment and expansion in Bolivia’s natural resource sector. In the systemic reorganisation following Bolivia’s 1952 socialist revolution, 3 miners were incorporated into the cabinet. Workers’ rights were at the center of Bolivia’s political consciousness.

However, following the failure of the MNR in the decade leadings up to the economic crash in the 1980’s, the meaning of progression within Bolivia is still fraught. If the clock hand it moving anti-clockwise, it is still tethered to a larger structure. Morales may have re-nationalised three of the countries biggest mines in his first term, but there are no miners within Morales cabinet. The president is fiscally pressured to expand the country’s raw resources sector, and allow private companies their investments. Morales has to juggle between these conflicted interests; new balls are added, some are dropped.

The Conditions of Cerro Rico Mines – past and present

The mines of Cerro Rico feel like a ball left on the political wayside. Dropped in the re-privatisation of the mines in the 80’s, Morales has never picked it up again.

Cutting streams through the heavy dust, our head lamps trace the bumpy caverns of the mines. Poor ventilation fills your mouth with crystalline silica dust quicker than words can come out. Far away vibrations rise through my feet as we stand silently at the convergence of 6 veins. We listen to the explosions of dynamite. Miners furrow deeper into the mountain. El Tio, the demonic protectorate of the mines, resides on a makeshift throne in a lower level of the mountain. The destructive quality of Morales death ear to the calls of the miners’ is visceral.

Catholicism does not pierce to the farthest enclaves of the mine. Inside Pachamama, also known but its ancient epithet ‘the mountain that eats men’, the miners sacrifice cocoa leaves and absinthe to the Lord of the underground. These offerings protect them from Silicosis and the mountain’s gradual collapse. The names that attempt to humanise the mountain speak of the desire to comprehend the death toll of its ancient precincts – since the 16th century, 8 million miners have died.

I am rich Potosi..envy of all Kings’. The mantra on the cities’ 17th century coats of arms is one of the first songs of Capitalism. Silver coins flooded out of the mines, the momentum of the Spanish empire, the shackles that lead to mita, the forced labour system that enslaved thousands of African, Inca and Peruvian labourers. If the mountain has dried up after its 5 hundred years of exploitation, the thirst for its silver and tin has not. Through the windows inlayed within the meter-thick stone walls of the National Mint of Bolivia, where coins were hammered to bear the mark ‘P’, the mountain today is peppered with the shacks of miners that live near the entry holes of the mine’s veins.

The labourers in Cerro Rico mines are either part of a co-operative, contracted by the state, or by private foreign companies. This clash of employment systems speaks of Morales’ own difficulty in navigating between the invested interests in Bolivia. He kept the mountain privatised after it was deemed ‘not profitable’ enough to remain nationalised in the 1980’s, leaving the co-operatives vulnerable to exploitation by the private interests of U.S. companies such as Couer Mining Inc.

Co-operatives, with no fixed salary, tunnel into the most dangerous parts of the mines to ensure a wage. These 22 thousand workers do not have time to form unions and demand more rights. In 2011, Morales deemed the co-operatives ‘anti-national’ through signing contracts with Couer’s mining company, and yet the government is fiscally pressured into allowing these private companies to invest $240 million dollars into the mountain as part of their profits go to the state – mining is Bolivia’s second largest source of income.

The miners of Cerro Rico

Julio Zambrana showed me the palms of his hands, callous from when he forgot to wear gloves as he slid down a wench into the lower levels of the mines. ‘I was not spider man or Rambo, I was eighteen’. Julio worked in a co-operative mine at the age of eighteen, and now runs a tour group that gives 15% of each ticket to the miners he visits.

Climbing up through the miner’s Sunday market, selling second-hand toys from the U.S. and China, we ascend to the Cruz families home. Julio worked in the same co-operative as Guillermo Cruz, but unlike Julio who managed to attend university, he has remained in the mines. His children and grand-sons have become miners as well. The family of thirteen live in a two room shack in the miner’s region. Their home is over 4,500 meters above sea level, the view of Potosi makes the 2nd highest city in the world seem low down.

From the concrete roof, you can see the bare Andes mountains. The wind of the altiplano leave windburn on the cheeks of Guillermo’s ten grand-children. Martina Alejo Cruz, the grand-mother, cries as she looks North across the mountains. Cerro Rico steals years from her family, and it stole the life of her 16 year old son through asphyxiation. The average life expectancy of a miner is 40 years through the scourge of Silicosis, poisoning of the blood.

Morales and the calls of the miners

The dust is thick in the mines, vision is impeded. Transparency needs to be enhanced on all aspects of the mountain. The logistical chaos of the mines prevent the enhancement of job security and an open political dialogue about the working conditions for miners. Violent protesting is the main dialogue between Morales and the miners.

Morales is in conversation with more voices than the socialist governments of the 1950’s. His presidency is unique for the extent of his adherence to the demands of Bolivia’s indigenous groups. Renamed the ‘Plurinational state of Bolivia’ in 2014, it is this pluralistic nature of Bolivia that prevents Morales from easily adopting one policy towards Cerro Rico. The strains of the Qullasuyu Wiphala clash. The miners suffer from Morales inability to follow a clear policy with Cerro Rico.

The president has not heeded many of the 26 demands from the miner’s protest in 2014, mainly geared towards the growth in employment possibility through an investment in public infrastructure within the region. If Cerro Rico is not going to be re-nationalised, and the top levels of the mines are collapsing in after their 500 years of exploitation, than the miner’s plea for public infrastructure is a plea for a secure future.

If Morales heeds the calls of Potosi’s miners for a growth in public infrastructure, he may anger the environmental calls of the indigenous leaders and anger the private and foreign companies that have invested millions of dollars in the mines, but he will save thousands of lives. ‘I hate Evo Morales’, states Julio. If Morales blames the co-operatives for their ‘anti-national’ deals with private companies, than the miner’s blame Morales for the working conditions and lack of employment options that force them to shake hands with the private companies that exploit them.

To read more about Julio Zambrana and the veins he is building out of Cerro Rico mountain go here 

.

.

.

.

.

Peckham Powder

I shot Kevin powder (Jason Attar) for his latest intergalactic venture into Peckham. Powder roams the streets enlisting pedestrian astronauts to endeavour into space (on a small budget, mainly using imagination) seeking the strongholds of South London’s idiosyncrasies. Peckham Powder is still being filmed.  

His last 2013 film, shot by Danny Wimborne, was centred in Dalston. Hercules’ trials look trivial compared to Powder’s sweeping vision of hosting the biggest night in east London’s living memory. One Night in Powder was shot in 30 days, with the help of such street mavericks as Garey Dolphin, the self-proclaimed Vice President of Canada.

powder

One Night In Powder won Best Comedy London Independent film festival and Best Micro Budget Film London Independent film festival in 2013. Powder brings urban dimensions to otherworldly fantasies built through the kindness of strangers. 

.

.

.

IMG_6233 copy

.

.

.

IMG_6348 copy

.

.

.

trolley

.

.

.

blurwebsite

.

.

.

IMG_6424 copy

.

.

.IMG_6459 copy

.

.

.IMG_6510 copy

.

.

.IMG_6515 copy

.

.

.

IMG_6552 copy

.

.

.IMG_6583

.

.

.

IMG_6618 copy

.

.

.

artsykevintwo

 

El Rocio

.

.

El Rocio Pilgrimage 

Andalucia 

.

.

Day One – The Cathedral

.

.

.

IMG_0284 copy

IMG_0303 copy

.

.

.

IMG_0204 copy300

.

.

.

IMG_0273 copy copy

.

.

.

IMG_0205

.

.

.

IMG_0433 copy

IMG_0434 copy copy

.

.

.

IMG_0215 copy

.

.

Day Two

 Morning

.

.

IMG_0402 copy

.

.

.

IMG_0415 copy

.

.

.

IMG_0478 copy copy

.

.

.

IMG_0460 copy

.

.

.

Siesta

.

.

IMG_0568 copy copy

.

.

.

IMG_0654 copy copy

.

.

.

IMG_0519 copy

.

.

.

IMG_0736 copy copy

.

.

.

IMG_0804 copy

.

.

.

IMG_0855 copy300

.

.

.

IMG_0806

IMG_0856 copy copy

.

.

.

IMG_0889 copy

.

.

.

horse phone man 2

.

.

.

Dusk

.

.

IMG_0476 copy

.

.

.beer dude300

.

.

.

best horse 2

.

.

.

IMG_0454 copy.

.

.

IMG_0662 copy

.

.

.

IMG_0421 copy copy

.

.

.

IMG_0634 copy

Gauchos and Uruguayan Politics

(To read about the History of the Uruguayan Gaucho go here, and to see photographs of Juan’s estancia go here)

Juan Morales was born on the ranch he now runs, Panagea Estancia. As a boy, he rode two hours on horse back everyday to a one-room school house overlooking acres of grassland. His two daughters might start riding there as well, if he and his partner Suzanne decide to send them there instead of the local town’s boarding school. Juan was taught in a class of thirty pupils, but four decades later, there are only three pupils. With one class for different age groups, Juan and Suzanne decide between the quality of their daughters’ education and sustaining a school that allows the children of neighbouring Gauchos to remain at home. Since the 1950’s, there has been a migration of rural workers to over-crowded cities and the school is testament to their stories

Uruguay, on the map, is a fish swimming peacefully between two sharks, Argentina and Brazil. With a population of under three and half million, change could be wrought quickly. José Alberto, Uruguay’s previous president, fought with left-wing urban guerrilla group Tupamaros in the 60’s – robbing banks to give money to Montevideo’s poorest. You wouldn’t see him in the Legislative Palace wearing a three-piece suit because he donated 90% of his monthly wage to charity. In his last presidential term, he passed the experimental legalisation of Marijuana to combat the street drug Pasta Base, a by-product of Cocaine. With the effects of this law yielding mixed opinions, the new leftist president Tabaré Vázquez is radically developing Uruguay’s environmental footprint, and as of 2015, 95% of the country’s energy is supplied by renewable sources.

However, in the less developed North, the working conditions of many Gauchos resemble their distant ancestors’. Juan becomes impassioned when discussing Gaucho’s lack of a fridge in the summer, or their lack of running water. A Gaucho all his life, he began accepting travellers to his Estancia fifteen years ago with the intent of sharing a manner of life he fears is depleting. Gauchos figure less than 3% of the population. Without a growth in rural workers, there is little Government incentive to extend electrical grids to the most isolated parts of the North. Above all Juan hopes for the modernisation and expansion of rural work, even if this threatens the preservation of the traditional Gaucho lifestyle he has grown up with. He feels that Vázquez overlooks the potential of rural work as a mode to tackle poverty, unemployment and drug abuse within Uruguay’s cities. I interviewed Juan last August to find out more about his concerns:

Would you say Gauchos in Uruguay have similar political views to one another?

I would say that most Gauchos share the same philosophy and attitude regarding everything in life and this includes politics, yes. In Uruguay, under 5% of the population live in the countryside. Out of this percentage, around 3% are Gauchos. We are in 2015 now, and you go to visit any ranch in the North of Uruguay and people are still living like they are living half a century ago – exactly the same. If you go to the ranches in Northern Uruguay, no one has electricity – no one has running water. I am lucky, I have a generator and a fridge. I just complain about the Gauchos that live in the darkness. I am speaking for the Gauchos that do not have a voice.

Near the Brazilian border?

Uruguay is split in two, by the Rio Negro (black river). You have the South – quite developed, and you have the North, where we are. Since most owners of the land do not live in their farms, they live in the cities. They go to their ranches in the weekend – we call them ‘weekend Gauchos’ they go to take a look and then come back to the city.

Do they have workers there?

Yes, living there. They do not care at all about the conditions of the Gauchos living there. That is why there are Gauchos living in 2015 – they live with candles and no running water and no decent roads and no mobile coverage. The thing is that most of them have been living like this for their whole life – they do not know any different.

And there’s not resentment from them towards Uruguay’s urbanisation?

The thing is that, the Gaucho life is so hard and tough – and demanding, that there is not a place for resentment. They do not have time or energy to go to these feelings. They have to survive in a very harsh, hard environment all of the time.

Do you think rural work is a viable solution to the abuse of Pasta Base in the cities?

It would be a huge step. As the book of Martin Fierro says; “muchos vicios nacen del ocio” (many vices arise during leisure). But you need to create a new mentality with programs that try to integrate the rural population with the urban one. In Uruguay the rural and urban population do not know each other – they are pulling in different directions.

If a higher percentage of the countryside was electrified, would be a growth of new Estancias?

Absolutely! We need people in the countryside, For God’s sake! 2015 without electricity! It is amazing. And our government claims that Uruguay is the most electrified country in Latin America. They say that 95% of the people have electricity. Yes, correct, 95% have electricity. But if you consider the countryside, I would say that 75% of the countryside does not have electricity. The government’s percentage is about size, not about numbers of people. This small percentage does not matter to politicians.

Does rural work offer better economic prospects than lower paid jobs in the city? Do you think the government should encourage more Uruguayans to work in the rural sector?

Correct. Uruguay is a rural based economy, and needs more people working in rural areas – every day it is more difficult to find hands. All those people living on the favelas outskirts of Uruguayan cities are a “waste” of human resources, in a country with a chronic shortage of them.

Do Gauchos get a proper education in your opinion?

Everybody has been to school, state school. It is compulsory. You do not get many things if you have not been in school. To get to the Gaucho school near here, it is 7km. Start early in the morning with a horse, and when you go there, you get the feeling of what the children feel when going to school. Every day on horseback, they ride to school, over rivers. Some of them for hours!

Do you think that if there is no increase in electricity within the next 20 years, that there will be a gradual decline in new generations of Gauchos?

Yes, exactly, that is a good way to put things in perspective. If we keep it the same way, there will be a moment when there are no Gauchos at all, because no one, only very old people, will be living in the countryside.

So Gaucho culture is dying out.

Nobody wants to live in the countryside, you don’t have a fridge! Imagine from November to March, 25 degrees – without a fridge! If the government invested in resources to bring the slums of the cities into the countryside – than we would have a new Uruguay. So far we are unable to think in this way.

The thing is you need to make a decision: Do you want, in the 21st century, to keep people living like they were in the 19th century, just for the sake of keeping a culture, or do you think people have the right to have internet, and electricity and a bloody phone and a fridge running in bloody summer? I am very sorry if that is going to take some part of the Gaucho culture but of course we need to change that.

The History of The Uruguyuan Guachos

The Story of the Uruguayan Guachos 

(For photos of Juan’s estancia go here)

Juan Moralez is not a typical Gaucho. He treks up Machu Picchu each June, has travelled on horseback across Argentina and he met his Swiss-German partner Suzanne in Tibet when he was 20 – she’s a vegetarian. Juan refers to all tourists as city slickers, laughing at their faces when telling them that the estancia’s generators provides two hours of electricity per day. Concerned that the traditions of Gaucho life are retreating in the face of urbanisation and the exodus of rural workers from the countryside, Juan and Suzanne opened their estancia for travellers willing to work fifteen years ago.

Gauchos have been living amongst Uruguay’s grasslands, or Pampas, since cattle were first introduced there by the Spanish Major of Buenos Aires in 1630. Emigrants from Europe were needed to manage the cattle, and the majority of Gauchos were Spanish or Italian settlers. Mythologised as nomadic, isolated figures, Gauchos were enlisted by warring Colonialist militias in the bloody battles between Europeans countries over ownership of the fertile land. When they were not fighting, they rode between large estancias to work for a season, cultivating their national image as skilled equestrian herdsmen. Travelling on bus through Uruguay today, you still see Gauchos wearing ponchos, baggy cotton trousers and woollen berets.

Juan, who I interviewed last August, explains that Uruguay was first formed as a ‘“buffer state” between the Spanish crown and the Portuguese crown – meaning Argentina and Brazil. The story of Uruguay’s fight for Independence, won in 1828, is as not as ‘bloody as the history of Peru or Mexico’, Juan explains. Yet unmarked graves from the 1800’s scatter his own Estancia, telling silent stories of hardship. ‘The Charrúa, about 3,000 of them, were the indigenous population of Uruguay, either killed by the Spanish or absorbed’. It was the first constitutional president of an independent Uruguay that led the Salsipuedes massacre of hundreds of Charrúa, taking place in the region of Tacuarembo, an hours drive from Juan’s estancia. ‘The last four Charrúa left alive were sold to a circus in Paris. They died there, and in 1983, they sent back the bones that were exhibited in Paris’, tells Juan.

There is a small, painting of José Artigas in the public school closest to Juan’s estancia. Known as the ‘father of Uruguay’s nationhood’, he ran away from a religious school aged twelve. Working on a farm, he acquired the vagabonish nature of a Gaucho and began illegally smuggling cattle. As a military lieutenant, he channelling popular discontent towards the colonialists in the early 19th century, he used guerrilla warfare tactics with the aid of Gauchos to fight the Spanish royalists in Montevideo. Guachos, originally fighting for colonist factions, cemented their national identity as fighters for Uruguayan independence in the 19th century. In the 21st century, Uruguay is still distanced from its monarchist roots: democratic, lacking in corruption and until last year, lead by Mujica Cordano, the left-wing socialist who was proud to be known as the ‘poorest’ president in the world.

The image of the Gaucho is a source of national pride in the present day constitutional republic. Many wealthy, cosmopolitan ‘weekend Gauchos’ in Uruguay don the traditional horsemen’s outfit to survey their estancias as a pastoral escape from the crowded city. Belinqa, who works on Juan’s Estancia, it is a full-time look.

Before dawn, he wakes to prepare mate, allowing time for the dried leaves of yerba to steep in hot water. Overrun by a family of wind-strewn cross-breeds, his house is chipped electric blue and yellow paint, with drying cow hides hanging on a washing lines between trees. He lives one hour from Tacuarembo, a busy town he has visited only a handful of times – rivers scare him. His working day begins at four and ends at dusk, and he and Juan manage the Estancia’s hundreds of cattle. Their jobs vary from herding cattle across the 2,400 acres of Pampas, choosing bulls for mating season and distributing tic medicine. He speaks Portunol, a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese, and will always be wearing his Bombachas de Campo, traditional cotton Gaucho trousers. This has been Belinqa’s routine for over 20 years, although Juan’s Estancia has been in his family for over a century.

Uruguayan Gauchos

 

To read about the History of the Guachos go Here and for Uruguayan Politics go Here

horsesunset

My horse crossing marshland before herding hundreds of cattle into a neighbouring field

IMG_2116 copy

Juan’s leather chaps and his Bombachas de Campo, traditional cotton Gaucho trousers

IMG_2339 copy

Suzanne leaves cloths out to dry – with no electricity she completes her household tasks with the help of a head-torch

IMG_2412

Belinqa dries the hide of a heifer after a day of herding cattle

IMG_2429

Belinqa feeds his dog a sheep’s heart before preparing the hide for drying

IMG_2566

Belinqa’s ‘facon’ (knife) and ‘rebenque’ (leather horse-whip)

IMG_2589

An angry bull plunges into tic repellent

IMG_2181 copy

Juan herding his cattle back to their pasture after injecting them with tic repellent

IMG_2223 copy

Juan’s leather chaps

IMG_2378

Belinqa and his rebenque, or leather horse-whip

IMG_2430

.

.

.

IMG_2955 copy

A view of Juan’s 2,400 acres – making his estancia medium sized

IMG_2821

With no computers, the three pupils throw tyres over bottles, while their horses are tethered to posts over- looking the playground

IMG_2822

Jennifer, 9, and her little brother ride to school everyday. In the summer season, rain fall causes flooding in rivers, making their journey hazardous, and sometimes impossible

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 19.44.58

From 30 pupils in 1995, to 3 pupils in 2015 – this school suffers the result of generations of would-be gauchos travelling to cities and towns to seek work

IMG_2448

Blue Milk

Blue Milk Journal (link)

Commission

Issue: Dawn

Ali (5.20 am)

 

alieyes

 

 

alidark

‘I’m from Afghanistan.. Near by the Dead Sea, It’s all green there lovely. But it’s not a big city like here. I travelled around Italia..Roma..Torino just to see. I have to move, can’t stay in one place. Otherwise it’s work sleep work sleep work. 2015 was a bad year. 2016 will be change and better. I had a girlfriend not anymore. There’s trouble in Afghanistan.. Iraq so I came here. There was trouble here three guys from England, Birmingham come and touch everything thing tried to rob me’

 

Amelia (4.45 am)

 

ameliafoggy

 

ameliablackbackground

 

‘I would change my life. You know what you are going to do and make it better. I will get better.’

 

Michael (6.20am)

 

paranew

 

‘We just started.. we’re working for 12 and a half hours, 13 hours. We’re based in Waterloo but they’re stations every five miles. I’ve been in Waterloo since I moved here from Australia five years ago. I came from the countryside so this is a bit busy for me… I come from 100 acres in the middle of nowhere, kangaroos and koalas…I used to be a ski patrol in Canada and wanted to do more..It’s so unpredictable, that’s the only thing that could get me up at four in the morning, as soon as you miss a day that will be the best day..the scary ones are the ones you don’t know enough about, we are like jack-of-all-trades – we know a bit of everything and not a lot of anything in particular, that’s when your hands start to sweat..I wish there was no ignorance I wish people were not ignorant, I wish it didn’t exist.. It’s weird we chose a job that deals with it all the time, I guess that’s why. I think I would change people’s attitudes to each other, you see some horrendous behaviour here’

 

Zoe Jordan

Jumpers Studio Flat Shots

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 23.38.03

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 23.38.46

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 23.39.29

Layers II

layersfabirc.jpg

 

empanadachurch