A successful push for independence in the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia would lead to the establishment of a country with the third-largest percentage of Muslims in Western Europe, just behind France and Belgium, and far ahead of Britain and Germany.
An independent Catalonia, with its capital in Barcelona, would also be home to the largest concentration of radical Islamists in Europe; it would emerge as ground-zero for Salafi-Jihadism on the continent and become one of the top incubators for Islamist terrorism in the West.
Catalonia, historically one of the wealthiest and most industrialized regions of Spain, has harbored a strong streak toward independence since medieval times, when Barcelona was a Mediterranean trade center with its own parliament. But the ongoing economic crisis in Spain has redoubled calls for Catalonian secession from Spain and the establishment of an independent state.
Catalonia, the economy of which is larger than Portugal's (it accounts for one-fifth of Spanish output and generates 30% of its exports), is struggling to make repayments on its €40 billion ($51.5 billion) debt. On August 31, the credit rating agency Standard & Poor's slashed Catalonia's debt to junk-bond status.
Catalan politicians are blaming the central government in Madrid for the region's economic woes. They say the central government collects €16 billion more in taxes from Catalonia each year than it spends in the region.
On September 20, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy flatly rejected a demand by Catalan President Artur Mas that Catalonia should be allowed to collect and spend its own taxes. This demand for "self-determination" came just days after a massive pro-independence rally in Barcelona on September 11, in which up to 1.5 million Catalans called for forming a new European state.
On September 25, Mas announced a snap election in Catalonia (to be held on November 25), which is being viewed as a plebiscite to gauge popular support for his pro-independence platform. The Catalan parliament also approved a resolution to hold a non-binding referendum on secession once the new legislature is installed.
The ruling parties of Catalonia have also sought guidance from Brussels on the legality of secession from Spain, requesting a "roadmap" for membership of the European Union, along with the use of the euro, as an independent state.
Catalonia has 7.5 million inhabitants, including an estimated 450,000 Muslims, who account for 6% of the total Catalan population. In some Catalan towns and cities, the Muslim population now reaches up to 40% of the population.
As a result of mass immigration from Muslim countries, which began in the 1980s, Catalonia has emerged as "a major Mediterranean center for radical Islamists," and the United States has even proposed setting up an intelligence hub at the U.S. Consulate in Barcelona to counter the growing threat, according to American diplomatic cables that were obtained by Wikileaks and published by the Madrid-based El País newspaper.
A five-page cable, dated October 2, 2007, for example, describes the link between mass immigration to Catalonia and the rise of radical Islamism in the region.
The document, which is classified "secret" and apparently authored by then-Ambassador Eduardo Aguirre, states: "Heavy immigration -- both legal and illegal -- from North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria) and Southeast Asia (Pakistan and Bangladesh) has made Catalonia a magnet for terrorist recruiters. … The Spanish National Police estimates that there may be upwards of 60,000 Pakistanis living in Barcelona and the surrounding area; the vast majority are male, unmarried or unaccompanied, and without legal documentation. There are even more such immigrants from North Africa. … They live on the edges of Spanish society, they do not speak the language, they are often unemployed, and they have very few places to practice their religion with dignity. … Individually, these circumstances would provide fertile ground for terrorist recruitment; taken together, the threat is clear."
The cable also states: "There is little doubt that the autonomous region of Catalonia has become a prime base of operations for terrorist activity. Spanish authorities tell us they fear the threat from these atomized immigrant communities prone to radicalism, but they have very little intelligence on or ability to penetrate these groups."
According to Spain's National Intelligence Center (CNI), Catalonia is home to hundreds and possibly thousands of Salafi Islamists, who CNI says, pose the greatest threat to Spain's security.
Salafism is a branch of radical Islam that seeks to forcibly re-establish an Islamic empire (Caliphate) across the Middle East, North Africa and Spain, which Salafists view as a Muslim state that must be reconquered for Islam.
Much of Spain was ruled by Muslim conquerors from 711 and 1492, and Salafists believe that the territories the Muslims lost during the Spanish Reconquista still belong to them, and that they have a right to return and establish their rule there.
The historical irony is that unlike the rest of Spain, Catalonia was only briefly part of al-Andalus, the Arabic name given to the Spanish territories under Muslim domination. Barcelona, for example, was taken back from Muslim conquerors in the year 801, only 90 years after the Umayyad invasion in 711. For many years, Catalonia actually served as a buffer state (known as the Marca Hispanica) that prevented the northward spread of Islam into southern France. As a result of its relative freedom from Muslim occupation, Catalonia does not possess the Islamic cultural heritage (especially in terms of architecture) common to other parts of Spain.
Today, however, Catalonia not only has the highest Muslim population in Spain, it is also one of the most Islamized regions of the country. (See here for a 45-minute documentary about the Islamization of Catalonia.)
Consider the municipality of Salt, a town near Barcelona where Muslim immigrants now make up 40% of the population. Salafi Muslims have turned Salt into what has been dubbed the "New Mecca of the Most Radical Islamism." Among other projects, the Salafists are seeking to build a Saudi-financed mega-mosque in the town, where around 12,000 of Salt's 30,000 inhabitants are Muslim immigrants. The structure, with four stories comprising 1,000 square meters (11,000 square feet) accompanied by towering minarets, would be the largest Salafi mosque in Europe.
In addition to Salt, other towns in Catalonia have become centers for Salafi Islam in Spain. The movement is based in the Catalonian city of Tarragona, but Salafi Islam also has a major presence in the municipalities of Badalona, Calafell, Cunit, El Vendrel, Gerona, Lleida, Mataró, Reus, Roda de Bara, Rubí, Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Sant Boi, Torredembarra, Valls, Vic and Vilanova, not to mention Barcelona, which hosts five Salafi mosques.
Salafi preachers in Catalonia teach that Islamic Sharia law is above Spanish civil law. They also promote the establishment of a parallel Muslim society in Catalonia. Salafi imams have set up Sharia tribunals to judge the conduct of both practicing and non-practicing Muslims in the region, and to punish those who fail to comply.
In Lleida, where Muslims now make up around 20% of the city's total population, local residents have accused Muslim immigrants of poisoning dozens of dogs in the city because according to Islamic teaching dogs are "unclean" animals.
In Reus, nine Islamists kidnapped a woman, tried her for adultery based on Sharia law, and condemned her to death. The woman, by fleeing to a local police station, just barely managed to escape being executed.
In Tarragona, an imam forced a 31-year-old Moroccan woman to wear a hijab Islamic head covering. The imam also threatened to burn down the woman's house: according to him, as she works outside of the home, drives an automobile and has non-Muslim friends, she is an "infidel." The local prosecutor had asked the judge to jail the imam and three others for five years for harassment; but the imam was cleared of all charges after the Socialist mayor of the town said she wanted to prevent "a social conflict."
In Terrassa, an industrial city north of Barcelona, an imam from Morocco who preaches at a large mosque in the city center promoted violence against women by instructing his listeners to "hit women with the use of a stick, the fist or the hand so that no bones are broken and no blood is drawn." When questioned by police, he refused to provide evidence; he said he does not recognize the legitimacy of the Spanish state.
In Gerona, an eight-year-old Moroccan girl was suspended from a public school for refusing to remove her hijab in class. The Catalan government intervened by ordering the school to allow the girl to wear the hijab on grounds that it would be discrimination not to do so.
In Barcelona, a Moroccan imam said it is absolutely necessary to accept Islamic values as European values and that from now on, when describing Western Civilization, Europeans should replace the term "Judeo-Christian" with term "Islamo-Christian."
Elsewhere in Catalonia, Muslim immigrants are imposing Sharia law in public schools, where non-Muslim school children are regularly harassed for bringing ham sandwiches (see video here) to school for lunch.
Many of Catalonia's current problems with Salafi-Jihadism are self-inflicted. In an effort to promote Catalan nationalism and the Catalan language, Catalonian pro-independence parties have deliberately promoted immigration from Arabic-speaking Muslim countries for more than three decades, in the belief that these immigrants (unlike those from Latin America) would learn the Catalan language rather than speak Spanish.
Although some Catalans are having second thoughts about the wisdom of promoting Muslim mass immigration as a strategy to achieve Catalan independence, it is estimated that up to 10,000 Catalans with links to the separatist movement have actually converted to Islam in recent years. It is believed, for example, that two out of every ten Catalan radicals who belong to the far-left political party, the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), are converts to Islam.
According to one newspaper account, "the new converts refuse to observe Christmas, eat sausage, drink champagne or dance the Sardana [a Catalan circle dance], but prepare their meals with halal meat, read the Koran in Catalan and engage in proselytizing, especially among the more radical Catalan nationalists. One new convert says: 'I'm learning Arabic, but I prefer to read the Koran in Catalan. I praise God in Catalan. It is the language I feel in.'"
Catalan multiculturalists are also actively proselytizing Muslim immigrants, seeking to convert them to the religion of Catalan nationalism. In July, for instance, Catalan pro-independence activists, seeking to capture future Muslim voters, posted signs in front of mosques around Catalonia which stated that "Catalan sovereignty will help to integrate Muslim immigrants."
Salafi preachers, who do not believe in democracy -- it is a form of government made by man and not by Allah - -- are now calling on Muslims who are eligible to vote to support Catalan separatist parties as a means firmly to establish Islamism in Catalonia.
Abdelwahab Houzi, for example a Salafi jihadist preacher in Lleida who adheres to the radical Wahhabi sect of Islam, recently said: "Muslims should vote for pro-independence parties, as they need our votes. But what they do not know is that, when they allow us to vote, we will all vote for Islamic parties because we do not believe in left and right. This will make us win local councils and as we begin to accumulate power in the Catalan autonomous region, Islam will begin to be implemented."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.