Rightwing Spanish leaders under fire over anti-Islam comments after attack on churches | Spain
Spain’s conservative and far-right political leaders have been accused of seeking to smear and stigmatize Muslims and migrants following a suspected Islamist terrorist attack on two churches in the southern city of Algeciras, which killed one person and injured four others.
On Wednesday evening, a man with a machete entered the church of San Isidro in the Andalusian city and seriously wounded a priest there, then went to the nearby church of Nuestra Señora de la Palma and killed its sacristan Diego Valencia. Three other people were injured as a result of the riots.
The preliminary report of the judge investigating the incident suggests that the killing was carried out “for terrorist purposes” and was linked to “Salafi jihadism.” A 25-year-old Moroccan was arrested in connection with the attacks and remains in custody.
Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlasca said the suspect was “never on the radar of any national service due to radicalization,” adding that the man previously arrested had only been tried for “illegal migration and illegal stay in Spain.”
Although this atrocity prompted condemnation and abhorrence from Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups, the reaction of the leaders of the conservative People’s Party (PP) and the far-right Vox party was denounced by members of the country’s socialist-led coalition government. and migrant and anti-racist NGOs.
Controversy arises as Spain prepares for a year of municipal, regional and general elections.
Speaking on Thursday, NP leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo said that, unlike some Muslims, Christians have long since stopped killing in the name of their faith. “There are people who kill in the name of God or in the name of religion,” he said. “However, many centuries have passed since we saw a Catholic or Christian kill in the name of their religion or their beliefs. But there are other nations that have citizens who do this.”
Some have suggested that his comments show little understanding of recent history, especially in Europe. Pilar Alegria, Spain’s Minister of Education and spokesperson for the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, tweeted: “Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut and look responsible than to talk like that.”
Feihoo later attempted to clarify his remarks by insisting that no religion should be stigmatized.
“Obviously, what happened had nothing to do with religions; no religion can be criminalized,” he said. “Fanaticism is one thing, religion is another. That’s what I think. But having said that, I think we can all agree that there is no problem with Catholic terrorism in the whole world. However, there is a problem with Islamic fundamentalism in some parts of the world and also in some Islamic countries.”
He said that Islamic fundamentalism is an international problem requiring a joint response.
“If someone wants to distort it, then they can go for it,” he added. “But I asked for respect for what happened, and I asked for prudence and that people don’t use a single case of bigotry to stigmatize or criminalize any religion.”
Vox leader Santiago Abascal offered his condolences to the Valencia family and attempted to blame “illegal immigrants” and the government for “opening borders and spraying subsidies”.
He added: “Some open doors for them, others pay for them, and people suffer. We cannot tolerate the spread of Islamism in our land.”
Ione Belarra, leader of the far-left anti-austerity Podemos party and Spain’s social rights minister, called Abascal’s words “pathetic” and a perfect example of how the far right is getting into politics by spreading hatred against migrants.
“I think it’s terrible to spread hatred against a group that is already stigmatized for who they are, especially in a difficult moment like this,” she added.
In a joint statement on Friday, six NGOs, including the Spanish Committee for Refugees and the SOS Federation of Racism, said they were seriously concerned that political leaders were delivering speeches “filled with dangerous, xenophobic, racist and hateful messages about origins and beliefs” . .
The NGOs urged political leaders to emulate the calm response of the people of Algeciras, adding: “In an election period like this, it is especially necessary to steer clear of vote-winning strategies that threaten social cohesion and instead opt for inclusive narratives rather than those that stigmatize, criminalize and damage the dignity of people who are migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.”
Juan José Marina, parish priest of Nuestra Señora de la Palma, where Valencia was the sacristy, said the church has always gotten along well with the local Muslim community. Marina said that about 75% of the people who came to use the services of the Catholic charity Cáritas in the area were Muslims, adding: “We have always had a good relationship. Never, never had a problem.”
Francisco Cesar Garcia Magan, general secretary of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, said people should not be so quick to judge the aftermath of the Algeciras tragedy.
“We cannot fall into a light discourse about the demonization of the entire collective, because that would mean saying the name of God in vain, and that would be wrong, just like killing in the name of God is wrong,” he said. .