“Let Us Be Moors” Islam, Race and “Connected Histories” by Hisham Aidi

“Let Us Be Moors” | Middle East Research and Information Project – published in MER229 “Seamos moros!” wrote the Cuban poet and nationalist José Martí in 1893, in support of the Berber uprising against Spanish rule in northern Morocco. “Let us be Moors…the revolt in the Rif…is not an isolated incident, but an outbreak of the change and realignment that have entered the world. Let us be Moors…we [Cubans] who will probably die by the hand of Spain.” [1] Writing at a time when the scramble for Africa and Asia was at full throttle, Martí was accenting connections between those great power forays and Spanish depredations in Cuba, even as the rebellion of 1895 germinated on his island. Throughout the past century, particularly during the Cold War, Latin American leaders from Cuba’s Fidel Castro to Argentina’s Juan Peron would express support for Arab political causes, and call for Arab-Latin solidarity in the face of imperial domination, often highlighting cultural links to the Arab world through Moorish Spain. Castro, in particular, made a philo-Arab pan-Africanism central to his regime’s ideology and policy initiatives. In his famous 1959 speech on race, the jefe maximo underlined Cuba’s African and Moorish origins. “We all have lighter or darker skin. Lighter skin implies descent from Spaniards who themselves were colonized by the Moors that came from Africa. Those who are more or less dark-skinned came directly from Africa. Moreover, nobody can consider himself as being of pure, much less superior, race.” [2] With the launching of the “war on terror,” and particularly with the invasion of Iraq, political leaders and activists in Latin America have been warning of a new imperial age and again declaring solidarity with the Arab world. Some refer rather quixotically to a Moorish past. Linking the war on Iraq to Plan Colombia and to the Bush administration’s alleged support for a coup against him, the erratic Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez has repeatedly urged his countrymen to “return to their Arab roots,” and attempted to mobilize the country’s mestizo and black majority against white supremacy. “They call me the monkey or black,” Chavez says of his domestic and international opponents. “They can’t stand that someone like me was elected.” [3]

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