1492 Expulsion, Inquisition, Balfour Declaration and the European Question!

The combination of the 1492 Expulsion and Inquisition of Muslims and Jews may seem out of place at a first glance when the Balfour Declaration is discussed and added to the list. For sure, all these three are monumental events, but while in the case of the Expulsion and Inquisition the consequences were immediate and discernable with hundreds of thousands effected, the Balfour Declaration is only a letter that had far reaching consequences but is less understood from an epistemological and historical perspective. In my view, what brings these distinct and historically separate occurrences is Europe’s relations, past and present, with the constructed other is that Europe has had a permanent problem with the other and it has been the hallmark of the past 500 years of history in the region.

In 1492, Europe – and particularly starting in Spain – embarked on crafting a “pure” racial and religious identity which required the forceful expulsion and conversion to Christianity of both Muslims and Jews. Achieving this “pure” or, if I may, the “pure” European to the “source” meant the Expulsion for those who challenged the newly self-crafted cantors of identity, White and Christian. Understanding and accepting that race is a socially constructed category does not mean it was not vested with meaning and mobilized by power to effect those ascribed with inferior racial characteristics. Setting aside the actual invention of Whiteness and Europe as distinct categories, the “purity” of European blood and race was constructed on externalizing and otherizing Muslims and Jews. Consequently, the constructed European identity meant the negation of Muslims and Jews being part of the “us”, forever to be the despised and otherized as “them”, which meant an epistemic and structural exclusion from 1492 onward (some theorize an earlier demarcation).

If to be a European meant to be White and Christian then the Muslim and Jewish subjects couldn’t be true Europeans to the “source”, since they failed on both counts. This raises even more complicated questions concerning the Inquisition itself. Could a Muslim or Jewish person become European by means of a conversion since the identity has two elements that are infused epistemologically? The European White Christian identity is constructed with theological line of argumentation, which means that “purity” of blood i.e. the foundation of modern racism is theologically constructed that precludes the inclusion of the Muslim and Jew even after conversion. The Inquisition becomes not only a function of ascertaining correct conversion, but also a system of violence intended to control and marginalize if not to totally eliminate the theologically constructed inferiors. “God” himself demands purification of space, time and bodies from the defilement of the inferior being in proximity to the divinely ascribed superior race, the European White Christian person to the exclusion of all other.

This brings us to the European Question – Europe’s inability on an ontological and epistemological basis to accept inclusivity and equality of all members of the human family. The inherent superiority or, if you may, the European White Supremacy is incapable of emerging out of its paradigmatic box of racial purity despite claims to the contrary that were articulated in the enlightenment and modern period. The foundational basis of European identity has not shifted much and racial superiority has been codified into domestic and international legal structures that obfuscate the reality deeply embedded into the racial system.

At this point you may ask what is the connection that is implied in the title of the essay and if we can put these three items together. In 1492, Queen Isabella I of Castilla and Ferdinand II of Aragon decreed the Expulsion of Jews first and then Muslims from Andalusia as well as setting in motion the Inquisition to guarantee the authenticity of conversion by both communities. For all intended purposes, the Inquisition managed to economically, politically and socially dispossess Muslims and Jews while structurally constituting them as the impure other, so that an orthodoxy of race and blood could be constituted. The consolidation of European White and Christian identity occurred by means of the Inquisition tormenting those who were deemed to be insufficiently Christian and for sure non-White. What began with the Expulsion in 1492, followed by forced conversion and the Inquisition, was concluded with a second round of massive expulsion and removal of Moriscos in 1609 and afterward. Thus, Europe’s achievement of purity of “race” and “religion” was achieved by means of genocide, torture and transfer of Muslims and Jews to the outside.

The Balfour Declaration boils down to the European Question, the inability to include the internal Jewish and, at present, the Muslim other. I am intentionally flipping the argument and paradigm on the use of the “racial” question. European thinkers as well as Zionists used and accepted the terminology that framed Jewish personhood and rights in Europe as a question needing a solution. “The Jewish Question” is nothing else than a European framing of their racial epistemology constructed around and after 1492. Being a Jew is not a question, but an aspect of a religious and social identity that was problematized in the formation of modern Europe based on Whiteness and Christianity.

In the same way, the Inquisition and Expulsion externalized the Jewish subjects from “pure” Europe, the Balfour Declaration in 1917, allowed the “Jewish Question” to be answered on historical anti-Semitic basis by externalizing and racializing of the Jewish subject. The Balfour Declaration is the triumph of Europe’s Inquisition over inclusion and equality. At the core of the Balfour Declaration is the assumption that a Jewish person does not belong in Europe for he/she, as a person, does not share or have anything in common with the European counterpart. This is, if one understands or accepts the racist and supremacist notion that to be a European means to be White and Christian, which is superior to every other constructed racial human category. The Balfour Declaration formulates the modern European purity to the “source” in racial, cultural and scientific terms, which stipulates the voluntary “removal” of Jews from Europe to a new colonial enterprise.

In 1492, the Expulsion and Inquisition were carried out by force and torture but the uniqueness of the Balfour Declaration is found in a segment of modern Jewry, the Zionists and almost 50 years before WWII, who internalized Eurocentric anti-Semitism and accepted to voluntarily and in partnership to remove themselves from Europe and become partners in a distant settler colonial project. The consequences of the Zionist embracing of Europe’s anti-Semitism as the only way to resolve the endemic racism that emerge from the historical development of European identity itself, is the severing of long standing relations and epistemic alliances between Muslims, Arabs and Jews that had extended over centuries. The implication of the Balfour Declaration is that it universalized European “purity of race” identity formation and made it the basis for relations across the Global South.

Far from being a Jewish liberation movement, Zionism at the core is the total surrender of Jewish moral and ethical agency as well as its historical resistance in alliance with the Muslim world opposite European White Supremacy. At best and through the Balfour Declaration, Zionism has achieved the role of a middle man for European political, economic, social and religious hegemony in relations to the Global South. Accepting the impossibility of “integration” of a Jewish person in Europe is the highest form of anti-Semitism and racial epistemology, a position that Herzl and the founders of Zionism have accepted and internalized.

The crisis in Palestine emerges directly from the depths of European history of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The “European Question” has not been answered and the forging of this “purity of race to the source” is still around and finding manifestation in all types of internal policies and regulations affecting the Muslim, Jewish and people of color subjects as well as externally in the constant intervention around the globe to civilize and modernize the “permanently” conceptualized inferior other.

In all honesty, the question that must be asked is what are the historical, philosophical, literary, theological and cultural roots for European rejection of equality and inclusiveness of others, which translated into genocidal racist tendencies in the past and contemporary period. For anyone struck with amnesia and for whom history is only yesterday, then this list can serve as an illustration; the Crusades, Inquisition and Expulsion of Muslims and Jews, Genocide in the Americas, Slavery, Colonialism across the world, WWI and WWII. Notice that I did not bother to list low intensity conflicts post WWII and the Cold War, which maimed and destroyed the lives of many across the Global South. We must speak of a European question and dispense the idea that a Muslim, Jewish and people of color problem exists, but rather that they are collectively problematized to maintain Europe’s denial and obfuscation of the roots of the rejection of inclusivity and tolerance. Indeed, Europe is in urgent need of a structural 12 step program that can address the layered and historical denial of its problem with living with the Global and diverse other