A high school teacher in southern Spain is being sued for child abuse by the parents of a Muslim student who claims that the teacher "defamed Islam" by talking about Spanish ham in class. The case is one of a growing list of recent controversies that illustrate the increasing assertiveness of Muslims in Spain at a time when Spaniards are slowly waking up to the integration challenges posed by uncontrolled immigration from Muslim countries.
Although Spanish legal scholars are divided over whether the lawsuit has real merit, nearly everyone agrees that the case has potentially major implications for free speech in Spain. They also agree that the constant threat of lawsuits will force Spanish school teachers to carefully consider their choice of words in the future.
The latest dust-up occurred at the Instituto Menéndez Tolosa, a secondary school in the town of La Línea de la Concepción in the southern region of Andalusia, where José Reyes Fernández, a geography teacher, was giving a lecture about the different types of climates in Spain. During the class, Reyes mentioned that the climate in Andalusia offers the perfect temperature conditions for curing Spanish ham (Jamón Ibérico), a world-famous delicacy.
At this point, a Muslim student in the class interrupted Reyes and, according to local newspaper reports, argued that any talk of pork products is offensive to his religion. Reyes responded by saying that he was only giving an example and that he does not take into consideration different religious beliefs when teaching geography.
The Muslim student informed his parents, who then proceeded to file a lawsuit against Reyes, accusing him of "abuse with xenophobic motivations." Article 525 of the Spanish Penal Code makes it a crime to "offend the feelings of the members of a religious confession."
The Spanish ham controversy follows several other recent imbroglios involving Spain's Muslim community, which now numbers around 1.5 million (compared to only 100,000 in 1990), and exposes the growing uncertainty in Spain over how to deal with Muslim mass immigration.
In September 2010, for example, a discotheque in southern Spain was forced to change its name and architectural design after Islamists threatened to initiate "a great war between Spain and the people of Islam" if it did not. La Meca was a popular discotheque in the southern Spanish resort town of Águilas (Murcia) in the 1980s and 1990s. After being closed for more than a decade, the club reopened in August 2010 under new management, but using the original name, La Meca. The mega-nightclub, which has been visited by more than 100,000 patrons since its reopening, features a large turquoise-colored mosque-style dome, a minaret-like tower, as well as traditional Arabic architecture common in southern Spain.
But soon after its reopening, Muslims began to complain that the nightclub is offensive and insulting to their religion; a group of Muslim radicals posted a video on the Internet calling for a boycott of Spanish goods and jihad against those who "blaspheme the name of Allah." Spain's intelligence agency, the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI), warned La Meca's owners that the discotheque was being directly targeted by Islamic extremists.
In mid-September, the nightclub owners held a hastily-arranged press conference during which they – under the watchful supervision of local Muslim leaders – announced that the venue's name would be changed to La Isla (the island) "to avoid further problems and to ensure that patrons keep coming." They also confirmed plans to modify controversial features of the club's architecture, namely a minaret-like tower that will be converted into a lighthouse-like tower.
Other Islam-related controversies abound in Spain. In December 2010, for example, Spanish police raided an apartment in the northern city of Logroño to free a 25-year-old Pakistani woman who was forced to marry her cousin and was then held captive by her family and sexually assaulted for more than a month. She was freed after two passersby found a note the woman had dropped from the window of an eighth floor apartment where she was being held. Police arrested ten Pakistanis, including the woman's husband as well as her parents, on charges of kidnapping and sexual assault.
In an interview with the Madrid-based newspaper, El País, Huma Jamshed, President of the Association of Pakistani Women in Spain, says there are many such cases in Spain, although most of them do not end up with arrests. "It is difficult to understand. You have to know Pakistani culture, which is completely different from Spanish culture. This is a matter of interests. The families marry off their children to relatives in Pakistan to get the [immigration] papers here, and this is a guarantee of a future for them. Marriages between cousins are normal in Pakistan and women do not feel obliged. The problems begin when they come to Spain and are educated; they begin to work and know their rights, because then it becomes an abuse and they feel forced."
Meanwhile, the Catalan town of Lleida, where 29,000 Muslims make up more than 20 percent of the town's population, became the first municipality in Spain to ban the burqa head covering in all public spaces. Women found violating the ban, which entered into effect on December 9, will be fined up to €600 ($750). One day earlier, the Catalonian Supreme Court turned down an appeal from Watani, a local Muslim association, which had argued that the ban constitutes religious discrimination.
Also in December, an imam in Tarragona, a city in northeastern Spain, was sentenced to one year in prison for forcing a 31-year-old Moroccan woman to wear a hijab head covering. The local prosecutor had asked the judge to jail the imam and three others for five years for harassment" after the imam had threatened to burn down the woman's house for being an "infidel," but the Socialist mayor tried to get the case dismissed to prevent "a social conflict."
In November 2010, the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla, two enclaves in northern Africa, officially recognized the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, as a public holiday. By doing so, Ceuta and Melilla became the first Spanish municipalities officially to mark an Islamic holiday since Spain was liberated from Muslim captivity in 1492.
More than 10,000 lambs were slaughtered in conformity with Sharia rituals during the one-day festival on November 17. According to local media reports, many of the animals were imported illegally from Morocco because Muslim immigrants prefer to sacrifice lambs with long tails, lacking on lambs grown on the Iberian Peninsula.
Meanwhile, jihadists are now calling for a "crusade" to recover Ceuta and Melilla for Islam. They say they were provoked by an August 2010 border crisis between Spain and Morocco and that involves the two cities.
In October 2010, the Islamic Association of Málaga, in southern Spain, demanded that Television Española (TVE), the state-owned national public television broadcaster, stop showing a Spanish-language television series called El Clon. In an angry letter addressed to TVE Director General Santiago González, the authors express their "most energetic revulsion" against a show they describe as "not only anti-Muslim, but also attacking the basic principles of coexistence and integration guaranteed by all democratic societies." The authors accuse TVE of violating the Spanish Constitution for airing a program that criticizes certain aspects of Islam, such as forced marriages and the lack of women's rights in Muslim countries.
In September 2010, radical Muslims threatened to attack the Barcelona metro system on the day the city celebrates its annual September 24 holiday, Festes de la Mercè., which had its origins in a medieval Roman Catholic religious order established to liberate Christians from Muslim captivity at a time when the Iberian Peninsula was under Islamic occupation (711-1492).
In April 2010, a 16-year-old schoolgirl was banned from a school in Madrid after refusing to remove her hijab, a face covering, in violation of the school dress code.
In December 2009, nine Salafists in Catalonia kidnapped a woman, tried her for adultery based on Sharia law, and condemned her to death. The woman escaped and fled to a local police station just before she was to be executed by the Islamists.
In November 2009, a Muslim lawyer was ejected from Spain's high court in Madrid, where she was defending a client, because the lawyer refused to remove her headscarf.
In April 2009, Spain marked the 400th anniversary of King Philip III's expulsion of the Moriscos -- the descendants of the Muslim population who converted to Christianity under threat of exile in 1502 -- from Spain in 1609. The Spanish Socialist Party called on Spain to apologize to the Muslim world for the expulsion, which Muslims claim was the world's first genocide. Muslim leaders say Spain could right the wrong by offering Spanish citizenship to the Muslim descendants of the Moriscos, as an "apology and acknowledgement of mistakes" made during the Spanish Inquisition.
In February 2009, the Islamic Commission of Spain, the group that represents Spain's Muslims, complained to the Spanish government that there are only 11 cemeteries for the 1.5 million Muslims in Spain. The group says the lack of burial plots in Spain for Muslims makes it impossible for them to bury their dead according to Sharia law. Muslim leaders also called on the Spanish government to provide mosques for Muslim worshippers.
In October 2007, Amr Moussa, the Egyptian Secretary-General of the Arab League, asked the Spanish government to allow Muslims to worship in the cathedral of Córdoba, which had been a mosque during the medieval Islamic kingdom of Al-Andalus. Muslims now hope to recreate the ancient city of Córdoba, once the heart of Al-Andalus, as a pilgrimage site for Muslims throughout Europe. Funds for the project to turn "Córdoba into the Mecca of the West" are being sought from the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, and Muslim organizations in Morocco and Egypt.
In Granada, a city in southern Spain that was the last Muslim stronghold of Al-Andalus to capitulate to the Roman Catholic kings in 1492, there are now parallel societies; some Muslims want traditional Sharia law to be applied there instead of Spanish law. They are also demanding Muslim education and special Muslim schools for their children. They also want an equal share in the money made with ticket sales for the fabled Alhambra palace, which they regard as part of the cultural heritage of their Muslim ancestors.