World view: This Spanish initiative should be a lesson to us all

Diasporas are a terrible menace, as the Israelis know to their cost

Share

Last month, Spain launched an extraordinary initiative: its Justice Minister announced a new law granting the right of return to Spain with Spanish (and, therefore, European) citizenship to anyone able to demonstrate blood connections to the Sephardic Jewish community expelled in 1492. The new version of the law, unlike the version trailed in 2012, does not require applicants to renounce their existing nationality. It has been enthusiastically received: one Israeli lawyer specialising in European citizenship applications reports around 1,000 enquiries. Spain’s Justice Ministry has received 3,000 applications so far.

In a mean and jealous world, Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon’s initiative shines like a light in the darkness. Burma’s reforming government should waste no time in laying out the welcome mat for the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Indians thrown out by the dictator General Ne Win in the 1960s.

Greece should do the same for the Turks expelled after the Ottoman Empire’s dissolution – and Turkey should welcome back its ethnic Greeks. As all these communities are characterised by enterprise, economic dynamism and familiarity with risk-taking, such a policy would have a singularly dynamic impact on the struggling economies of the countries to which they returned.

The Sri Lankan government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa would find no surer way of convincing the world of its good intentions than by inducing the huge Tamil diaspora to head home.

Exiled Palestinians are more of a challenge, given that their homes, towns and lands have been very substantially expropriated. A really imaginative general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party would even now be thrashing out the minimum necessary to lure Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, back to Tibet.

Diasporas are a terrible menace, as the Chinese, the Sinhalese and the Israelis know to their cost. Being wrenched away from your home is a trauma that never heals. Of course, merely to list these cases of mass exile and to name the obvious remedy – repatriation – is to appreciate how unlikely such policies are to be pursued. And to be impressed all over again by Mr Ruiz-Gallardon’s political boldness.

Critics say that his real reason is not the marvellous culture to which Sephardic Jews contributed, nor their persistent attachment to “their country, their language and their traditions”, as the minister put it, but the economic vitality they would bring to stagnant Spain. But that doesn’t negate the moral dimension.

And how about extending the gesture to the Muslims, booted out of Spain about 100 years after the Jews?

It is argued that the cases are different: the Jews were merely persecuted, while the Muslims were conquerors and invaders whose invasion was eventually repelled. Inviting them back would be like inviting the Germans back into Poland, the Italians into Albania, the British back into Bengal.

Yet if we are talking about culture, Islam was just as much a part of the old Iberian culture as the Jews were – arguably more so.

It could be said that Mr Ruiz-Gallardon would receive scant domestic applause for throwing down the welcome mat to people whose co-religionists brought bloody mayhem into the heart of Madrid in 2004, and whose growing presence is a political issue in many parts of Europe.

But if the problem with the Muslims is that many of them in the Middle East have shown little aptitude for co-existing peacefully with other communities, Israel’s appalling treatment of Palestinians opens them to the same objection. Mr Ruiz-Gallardon’s initiative is a bright light in a nasty world. But he is going to have a debate on his hands before it’s all over.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

LSA Level 3 required in Caerphilly

£50 - £60 per day + plus Travel Scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: O...

Welsh Year 6 Teacher required in Barry

£100 - £110 per day + Plus travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job:...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Welsh Teacher Year 2 required in Caerphilly

£100 - £105 per day + plus Travel Scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Pro-democracy protesters fill the streets in front of the Hong Kong government offices on a third day of the Occupy Central campaign  

Hong Kong protests: Why are we obsessed with the spread of democracy abroad when ours is failing?

Amit Singh
 

Daily catch-up: ugly buildings, fighting spirit, and a warning on low pay

John Rentoul
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?