Welcome to the Ministry of Information.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

day eight: the bad guys win

I spent yesterday, day eight, in Toledo. Although it has nothing to do with the city, I kept thinking of the great Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach song 'Toledo'. Its chorus has one of the most complicated figures in pop music:
'But do people living in Toledo
Know that their name hasn't travelled very well?
And does anybody in Ohio
Dream of that Spanish citadel?'
I don't know what people in Ohio dream about. I hope they're dreaming about clean elections. But I had to smile when I stumbled into Calle de Toledo de Ohio. Improbably, the answer to the reverse question is yes.

Reader, I was in that Spanish citadel, and I felt the sadness of history a number of times while there. The most acute moment occurred at the Sinagoga del Tránsito, a structure built as a synagogue in 1366 and now part of a Sephardic Museum. I'm sure most readers know enough Spanish history to recall that Muslims ruled all or part of Iberia from 711 to 1492, after which time Spanish Muslims and Jews were forced to leave or convert to Catholicism. I was not aware until yesterday that Jews had lived in Spain since Roman times and had suffered under the Visigoths, even before the Muslims arrived from North Africa. Spanish Jews apparently welcomed the Muslims, under whose rule learning and intellectualism flourished in a milieu of general religious tolerance. At least it was immeasurably more tolerant than what came before or after.

As Spanish Catholic armies defeated the Muslim emirates bit by bit over the centuries—a campaign that the Spanish still refer to as the Reconquista—their fanaticism only increased. At Toledo's Catedral, every seat in the long first row of the choir depicts, carved in wood, the 'reconquest' of a different Granadan town by the Catholics: triumphalist self-congratulation for their bloody success enshrined in the cathedral for centuries to come. With the expulsion of Jews and Muslims in 1492, a systematic fifteenth-century ethnic cleansing, the Sinagoga del Tránsito was converted into a church, and the armies of los Reyes Catolicos turned their insane fury toward the New World.

So there I was in a big empty room that was once a synagogue, then a church, and now a museum. All I could do was contemplate the ugliness that had transpired there. It's every cosmopolitan's worst nightmare: that the most fanatical and unreasonable people in a multicultural country could form an army and drive out or kill everyone they deem troublemakers—basically, the humanist intellectuals and minority religious groups. In short, the bad guys won and built a new culture based on their overcoming the supposed evildoers. Sometimes the bad guys win and that's all there is to it.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home