Propaganda and the Myth of Reconquest
By Jorge Majfud
A few days ago a well-known syndicated talk radio personality repeatedly asserted an opinion that is becoming common these days: illegal immigrants should be denounced as dishonest and criminal, not only because they have entered the U.S. illegally but, mainly, because their objective is the Reconquest.
Let’s analyze the syllogism posited here. Even assuming that illegal workers are Reconquistadors – that’s what they were called – which is to say that they lay claim to vast territories lost by Mexico to Anglo Saxon settlers in the 19th century, one would have to conclude, according to the argument of the angry sophists, that the U.S. is founded on illegitimacy and the actions of alleged criminals. (Texas was conquered in 1836 and thereby re-established slavery in a Mexican territory where it was illegal; other Western states met the same fate, following a war with Mexico and a payment to the vanquished in the manner of a purchase, because by then money was already a powerful legitimating agent.)
Now, if a reconquest is a crime, then what is a conquest? In any case it would be understandable to assert that this immigration phenomenon is not politically convenient (although economically it appears to be so). But, dishonest? Criminal? Would they dare to qualify as criminal the Spanish Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula? No, of course not, and not because it wasn1t carried out in a bloody and racist fashion, but because in that case it was a matter of Christians against Muslims – and Jews.
Any conquest, like any reconquest, is a simple political deed that aims to hide behind morality. The legitimacy of the deed always originates from force; propaganda then takes on the task of confusing force with morality, or with exposing the contradictions to analysis. In general, the former is abused by the victors, and the latter is a meager resource of the vanquished. Much like today, in the Middle Ages propaganda, religious and political, was indispensable. The nobility, the upper classes, were the ones who produced the greatest quantity of nationalist propaganda, aimed at morally orienting the people. Nevertheless, both in the early years of the Muslim conquest in Spain, and later in the Spanish conquest in the Americas, the upper classes were the first to come to an agreement with the invaders in order to maintain their class and gender privileges.
Propaganda is the hook in the jaw of history. The idea of a reconquest is a fiction for millions of expatriated workers, the forever disinherited who simply look to survive and feed their economically marginal families by recourse to a hundred-years-old, unjust, anachronistic social tradition. But it is a strategic fiction for the propagandists who are able to use it to hide the dramatic political rationale – i.e., the rationale of power – that exists behind the moralizing discourse.
Every time I hear someone sermonizing, I lose faith. That faith to which the haranguers of the U.S. extreme right and the caudillos of Latin American liberation lay claim. The more I hear, the less I believe. But this surely is the fault of my personal inability to enjoy what other people enjoy, like the safety of trenches dug with propaganda and self-indulgence.
Jorge Majfud, The University of Georgia. July 2006.
Translated by Bruce Campbell