The Creation and Concept of Europe and the Ideological Germs of Racism.

Author:Monteiro-Ferreira, Ana


There is a tendency to think about Portugal in its devastating interactions with Africans as having started in the 15th century while in fact, there is a much earlier and consistent contact between the Portuguese and the peoples of Africa; it is the period of roughly 780 years during which the Moors established and ran highly developed and strong cultural centers and kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula after the first Moorish invasions in 711 to the fall of Faro (Portugal) in 1249 and that of Granada (Spain) in 1492; but it is also the history of the unabated and consistent religious and military warfare of Reconquista (Reconquest) following the re-occupation of the Central Plateau by the Christian Castilian-Leonese forces unified under the neo(visi)gothic myth in the 12-13th century (Nogueira, 2001) that swept all over Mediterranean kingdoms, states, and city-states and extended throughout the 15th century of the Common Era; and the history of the Crusades, religious military expeditions against Muslims (1095-1291) promoted and sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church that together with western European kings sought to recapture former Christian territories, liberate the Holy Land, and regain control of the Mediterranean (Bloch, 1982). It is in this parallel history of the foundation of Portugal and the creation of Spain in the process of becoming a unified nation after 1492 that the roots of racism are to be found as well as the legitimating of the humanitarian catastrophe triggered by the Portuguese expansionist campaigns in Africa and trade in enslaved African peoples (Fonseca, 2010; Fitz, Portela e Novoa, 2014).

These centuries of bloody warfare developed in two distinct and yet inter-related fronts between the Eastern and Western centers of Christianity and between Islam and Christianity as Arabs started their expansionist drive north and west of the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century. Thus, they are important and fundamental factors to understand the political and religious implications of what was to become the concept of 16th century Europe; its values, beliefs, and prevalent ideology; how it set the stage for the disaster that befell the African continent and its peoples; how it justified the predatory ethics of European Modernity and a new world order. Therefore, the discussion of this topic will revolve around the history of facts and history of ideas and their intertwined relationships.

The History of Facts

During several centuries of its dominance and despite its diversity and regional political variations, the unifying power of the Western Roman Empire had established over the European continent a shared sense of cultural unity under Pax Romana, built upon the extended incorporation of Roman law, and the religious ideology of Christianity as underlying common and integrating factors (Heather, 2006). After its collapse, six facts in the history of Europe during the first millennium, covering the Middle Ages up to the 15th century, stand as central in explaining the propitiatory conditions for the creation of a political, economic, social, and cultural concept of Europe.

First, with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire marked by the abdication of Romulus Augustulus in September 4, 476 and as its power waned, Rome and Constantinople, the two centers of Christianity in Europe, entered a process of competition for expansion and consolidation of alliances actively pursuing political and economic relationships between religious and secular institutions in their search for power and influence (Durant, 1992; Heather, 2006). Second, after the collapse of the gigantic grip of the Western Roman Empire, western and southern Europe witnessed a reenactment of previous warfare conditions, assailed by massive invasions of northern and eastern groups ravaged by famines. As a result, during the second half of the first millennium western and southern European kingdoms were still struggling for the consolidation of their geographical boundaries after the establishment of independent political units with central governments (Smith, 2005). Third, as kingdoms consolidated, centralized power, and pacified their territories, they also organized their political, social, and economic systems of support. Medieval Europe's economic and military subsistence relied on (1) a feudal system of servitude, economic in genesis, and (2) slavery as the result and practice of war. In that feudal economic system, the serf could not leave the land. He provided labor in times of peace, and contributed to the effort of war whenever the king required his lordship's armies; while the enslaved, on the other hand, could be bought and sold and had, for that reason, some kind of mobility. In fact, captives and slaves brought from all parties were one of the most valuable trades of war, and skin color was not a distinctive trace of slavery (Backman, 2003; Fonseca, 2010; Mattoso, 1982).

Furthermore, the great center of development was the Mediterranean basin: the crossroads of commerce, knowledge, culture, and civilizations. From the times of the splendor of Kemetic civilization, and Asian and Persian Empires, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Turks, Africans, and Arabs all gravitated around the Mediterranean Sea making and unmaking nations, kingdoms, states, and city-states. For the first thirteen centuries of the Common Era political and economic control of the Mediterranean world was also polarized between outbreaks of Christian religion followed by that of Islam around the sixth century. Next, the political and religious history of Christendom in Eastern and Western Europe up to the Great Schism of the East in 1054, reflects the century-long struggle of different political and religious centers to gain power and leadership: Constantinople, Rome, Alexandria, and Venice as one of the many effects of the continuous struggle amongst these centers of religious and political power was the increasingly swift and overwhelming thrust of Arab/Muslim invasions: (1) of Eastern Europe in 634, and the conquest and collapse of the Byzantine Empire with the siege of Constantinople in 717-718; (2) the Arab conquest of ancient Egypt starting in 639 and subsequent Arab invasions of the African continent, especially North African nations between 652 and 665; (3) the Moorish conquest of Sicily in 700; and finally (4) the Moorish settlements in the Iberian Peninsula starting in 711 (Armstrong, 2002).

Finally, the dispute over the Mediterranean Sea between Christians and Muslims was therefore a pivotal question for Christianity since in less than one century both European centers of Christianity--Constantinople and Rome - saw their areas of influence encircled and endangered by the overwhelmingly fast grip of Islam through the East, South, and West simultaneously.

The Foundations of Portugal and Spain

The foundations of Portugal and Spain are intimately related to the need of the Christian church in the West to recover, rebuild, and secure the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal established its first national nucleus in 1143 and the consolidation of its geographical present-day borders took place by 1249 after Portuguese King Afonso Ill's conquest of Faro, the southernmost town in the Algarve (the Moorish Al-Gharb Al-Andalus). And as facts and timelines described ahead will demonstrate, the history of the foundation of the Portuguese nation is not only associated with that of Reconquista on the West of the Iberian Peninsula but especially with the spirit and the letter of the Crusades.

Portucalense county, the founding unit of what is Portugal today, was offered by the king of Leon and Castilla to one of the first Crusaders, a French Count, Henri de Bologne, as was the customary rule and reward for those who distinguished themselves in the fight against the so-called infidels. Under the protective sponsorship of the Roman Catholic Church, in the name of God and the Christian Faith (Ramos, 2009) Portucalense county increased and expanded its territory by warfare against the common enemy: the Moors or infidels; and both the reconquest of Lisbon by his son, the first Portuguese king Afonso Henriques, and subsequent recovery of the territories beyond the river Tagus and the Algarve that consolidated Portuguese borders, were only possible with the help of hosts of French and Anglo-Saxon Crusaders on their way to Jerusalem during the fourth and fifth Crusades (ibidem).

In Medieval Western Europe, a religious renovation and explosion of ancient Christian values was underway at that time. As the powers of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church increased they also attempted to recover the control of Jerusalem and the Bible Lands by taking advantage of the instability created by the Turkish armies against the Muslims. And exhortations to public acts of faith by means of pilgrimages to the Holy Lands were called upon and Christian kings and noblemen were encouraged to join in the effort of protecting pious pilgrims and sacred places from the ravaging attacks of the so-called infidels.

The Crusades: Military Expeditions

Crusades were military expeditions organized by the Christian kingdoms of Western Europe and supported, indeed actively sponsored and promoted by the Roman Catholic Church between 11th and 13th centuries in order to recover the control of Jerusalem and the Holy Lands under Muslim influence since the 7th century. They numbered a total of nine, and included the infamous Children's crusade in 1212.

The first Crusade took place in 1096-1099 after the Pope's proclamation of total and complete absolution of sins and a torrent of indulgences promised to all those who would travel East in defense of the Holy Lands and Christian pilgrims. Moreover, the council of Clermont also pronounced excommunication against anyone who should invade the possessions of a prince engaged in this Holy War while any debt obligation would...

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