A Key To National Character In The Arab World... And In Spain
03/02/2023
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Years ago, John Derbyshire wrote about irredentism, the desire to regain territories that other people are living on, but your people have some alleged historical claim.

In modern terms, he referenced Palestinians wanting Israel back, the Communists wanting Taiwan back, and Irish Republicans wanting Northern Ireland back, but since it was just after 9/11 he referenced Osama bin Laden not only wanting Israel back, but still being ticked off about the Christian reconquest of Spain in 1492.

Let the whole world know that we shall never accept that the tragedy of Andalusia would be repeated in Palestine. We cannot accept that Palestine will become Jewish.
                —Osama bin Laden, October 7th [2001]

Andalusia is the southernmost bit of Spain, which remained Moslem until Ferdinand of Aragon reduced it in 1492. Our bearded adversary is whining about something that happened 509 years ago! This is tough for Americans to grasp, I know. With the exception of a small number of southerners still fretting over Abraham Lincoln’s ”War of Northern Aggression,” and of course the race-resentment cliques banging tiresomely on about slavery reparations and the Battle of Wounded Knee, Americans are a forward-looking people not much inclined to froth and fume over injustices done to their ancestors, preferring instead to use their energies in building a secure and prosperous life for their descendants. Elsewhere, as bin Laden’s little rant reminds us, things are different.

”Our Lost Land,” October 18, 2001

You will frequently see Palestinians holding up door keys allegedly to the houses they or their grandfathers lost when they lost the war with Israel in 1948.

This is a custom that also goes back to the defeat of the Muslim occupation of Spain in 1492—there are many Muslims in North Africa who have an old key that they will point at and say ”This is the key to my house in Granada.”

I remember writing to Derbyshire at the time to say that this was a plot point in A.E.W. Mason’s 1934 story The Key, which features an unemployed, broke Englishman being asked by a Spanish crook to steal a key from a Kaid in the Atlas Mountains:

”And you want my key, Mattee?”

The Kaid did not wait for an answer. He crossed the moonlit patio and lifted the key from its nail. He brought it back into the alcove and he balanced it between his fingers, the light from the candles rippling along its stem and its wards, until it seemed a thing alive which moved.

”Not a speck of rust. Not a flaw in its metal,” the old man continued. ”Yet it has hung upon that pillar for three hundred and fifty years. We call it the Key of Paradise. For it opens the door of my house in Spain.”

Mattie Driver had expected just this statement. Here and there about Morocco, in Rabat as in the Atlas, in Fez as in Marrakesh, in the great houses of the Nobles hung similar keys. Their ancestors, driven out by Ferdinand and Isabella, had carried their house keys away with them against the time when they would return to Spain and fit them into the locks again. Even now their descendants keep alive that faith.

”Perhaps even I—” said the old Kaid, and he broke off with a laugh. ”But if so, the time must come soon, Mattee, very soon,” and he sat absorbed like a man gazing upon a treasure.

”And where is this house of yours, Sid Mohammed-el-Hati?”

”At Elche.”

Mattie drew a deep breath. He was thinking.

”Yes, this is a bigger piece of villainy than I dreamed of. But I don’t understand it. I think I am afraid.”

Aloud he said:

”Elche is that old Moorish town with its famous date palms thirty kilometres or so from Alicante.”

”Yes,” said the Kaid. ”My house stands on the river bank in a great garden. I have never seen it.”

”And who occupies it now?” Mattie asked.

”The Conde de Torrevieja;” and with a cry Mattie sprang to his feet.

”I was sure of it. Listen, Sid Mohammed! A man calling himself Juan Gomez, a merchant of Cordoba, hired me to steal your key. 

Here’s the National Character point in A.E.W. Mason’s (fictional, but Mason had personal experience of Spain and Mexico) story: It’s not only the famous irredentism of the Arabs, but the fact that in the 440-plus years between the Reconquista and this break-and-enter plot, the Spaniards hadn’t changed the lock.

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