Recent news stories compel us to reflect on the interconnected themes of identity and privileged classes. The American media informs us that gender is a “fluid concept,” and that we should celebrate Bruce Jenner’s freakish transformation from man to something other than man. In another story, almost amusing in the confusion that it has sown into the ranks of the far left, there is the revelation that a local NAACP president was actually masquerading as a person of black ancestry.
Where does the “fluid concept” of identity become pure fraud? Who decides what a person is, or is not? The individual, or society? Or is it a bit of both? And, more to the point, why are some people and classes subjected to rigorous scrutiny in these matters, while others get a free pass? These are some of the questions that agitate the mind of the reflective follower of current events. The answers have much to tell us about the nexus between ideas and power.
Who Decides Who Is What?
Bruce Jenner seems to have been a person of conflicted identity for quite some time. Photographs of him from the 1970s, seen in retrospect, now make it clear that something has not been quite right for many decades. To his credit, at least Jenner revealed himself openly in his transformation; everyone knew what was going on. The same cannot be said for Rachel Dolezal, who apparently costumed herself as a black person, and sought societal benefits for an identity that she fraudulently appropriated.
Was Dolezal deluded and unstable, or was she cunningly milking the system for her own benefit? You decide.
Yet these two individuals, who both ostensibly suffer in varying degrees from mental illnesses, have done us the service of causing us to think about the concept of identity. Can identity be manufactured? If so, is it any less real than one that is inherited from birth? The answers are not entirely clear.
And who decides who gets the benefits? If gender and ethnic identity are whatever a person says they are, how can anyone uphold the concept of racial quotas in hiring or admissions, affirmative action, or preferential treatment for certain minorities or genders? Have such concepts now been rendered out of date? With its embrace of “fluidity” the left has cannibalized itself: in one stroke it has rendered key points in its ideology (privileged treatment for certain classes) irrelevant.
One can only see imagine where all this will lead. If I can assert that I am an American Indian, or a Pacific Islander, or any other protected class on a government application, who can stop me? Can I claim to be a combat veteran by virtue of having seen a lot of Rambo movies, and claim a pension? And how about disabilities? Will the definition of “disability” now be expanded to include those “triggered” by upsetting things they see on the internet?
In the end, these paradoxes will be resolved just as they always have been in the past: by the decrees of power and the interests of the powerful. They will shape the definitions as they see fit, to accomplish the goals they desire. Ideology and definitions will serve the expediency of the moment, and the interests of the privileged classes.
Spain’s Parliament Passes A New Law
Another recent news story that highlights these issues was Spain’s recent enacting of a law that would allow Sephardic Jews, whose ancestors had been expelled from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, to apply for Spanish citizenship. Spanish lawmakers are tripping over themselves to show the world how wonderful they are, in attempting to rectify this ancient wrong.
Historians tell us that on March 30, 1492, the joint monarchs ordered the expulsion of all unbaptized Jews from Spain within 120 days. It was a fanatical decree, and one that impoverished tens of thousands of Spanish Jews who were forced to sell their holdings at rock-bottom prices.
Jewish communities which had been in Spain for generations since the coming of the Arabs (and through the caliphates of the Almohads and Almoravids) were suddenly dispossessed and ruined. It is estimated that about 50,000 accepted conversion, and over 100,000 went into exile in Portugual, North Africa, the Balkans, and other parts of the Ottoman Empire.
The story is tragic enough, and Spain’s efforts to right this wrong are commendable. But how, after the passage of five centuries, will anyone be able to decide who is descended from a Sephardic Jew expelled from Spain? And what percentage of lineage qualifies: being one percent Sephardic Jew, or ten percent, or twenty? Who decides who is and who is not a Sephardic Jew? How is Spain going to decide who is, and who is not, eligible?
The closer one looks at these matters, the more complicated they become. It would appear that the new Spanish law leaves the field wide open for ethnic fraudsters who want to acquire a European Union passport.
What About Spain’s Expulsion Of Muslims?
Yet there are darker implications that have not been covered by the mainstream press.
While the media has dwelt on the historical plight of Spain’s Jews, it has not uttered a whisper of outrage against the even more brutal treatment of Spain’s Muslims just seven years after 1492. Their expulsion and tragic diaspora merits no sympathy at all, apparently.
Spanish Muslims arguably contributed far more to Spanish culture and language than did the Sephardic Jews. The Spanish language is imbued with Arabic words and expressions; Andalusian architecture is totally Arabic in form and conception; southern Spanish city names and geographical names are mostly Hispanized Arabic names; classical Spanish music, instruments, and poetry can be traced directly back to Syria and Egypt; and the blood of the Spaniard inherited the passion and zeal of his Arabic ancestors. Without the Moors, Spain is not Spain.
In 1499, the Moors (Spanish Muslims) were ordered out of Spain. In the same way that the Jews were given a choice between conversion and expulsion, so were the Moors. The Islamic population of Granada, which had been specifically guaranteed religious liberty by treaty, was now totally dispossessed. Isabella ordered them out. Spain broke its treaty guaranteeing them residence and religious freedom, and treacherously expelled them.
Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros, a Christian fanatic with the ear of the queen, destroyed all Arabic books he could lay his hands on, and took steps to remove all Moors by force from Castile and Leon. The wealth of Muslim merchants and scholars was confiscated or destroyed. Precious manuscripts of works of science and philosophy, most dating back to the Middle Ages, were lost or destroyed. Thousands died during the deportations.
Muslim merchants were ruined overnight, their families forced to flee for their lives. The persecution took final shape in 1502: a regal edict of February, 1502 gave the Moors the same choice as the Jews a few years before. That is, they had 120 days to choose between exile or conversion.
Moorish leaders pleaded in vain that, when they had governed Spain for hundreds of years, they had given religious liberty to Christians and Jews. It was to no avail. Cardinal Richelieu, himself no stranger to brutal edicts, called the Spanish expulsion order of 1502 “the most barbarous in history.” During the decades that followed, over 3,000,000 penniless Muslims went into exile as a result of the edict; it was thirty times the number of expelled Sephardic Jews.
With these cruel edicts, it may be argued that Spain cut its own throat. Its Jews and Muslims were among its most productive citizens. They were merchants, craftsmen, bankers, doctors, book publishers, and scholars. From this point on, an intolerant shadow was cast over Spanish cultural life, enforced by the directives of the Inquisition. It would take centuries for the nation to recover.
Why The Different Treatment?
Yet we did not see the Spanish Parliament this month offer free European Union passports to descendants of the Moors kicked out of Spain. Why not? Why are not the sufferings of the Moors not acknowledged, while the sufferings of the Sephardic Jews are? There were over thirty times more Moors expelled from Spain than were Jews expelled.
The Moors have contributed more to Spanish history and culture. Why is this fact not acknowledged? What is Spain afraid of?
Are some people more special than others? We will see if the Spanish Parliament will dare to offer the same rights to its Moorish victims as it has offered to its Jewish victims. I, for one, am not holding my breath.
Viewing all of this with a dispassionate eye, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the forces of power anoint some groups, and some individuals, as more special than others. Identity, gender, race, and religion are indeed “fluid” concepts: and it is centralized power who will tell us who is who, and what is what.
In an age when anyone can instantly claim they are anything, only one arbiter of identity is left: the prerogatives of the centralized state. And the definition of identity will change when expediency says it must change.