From confession to nation
Without associating them with the same causes or the same outcomes, historians take into account, in the wake of Henri Lapeyre's studies, the differences in demographic growth rates between communities. They nevertheless give more weight to political factors : the creation of a unified state in the peninsula answered both a Europe-wide trend towards national identity and an internal trend arising from the voluntarist drive ensuing from the unification of the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile. They also note the limited Evangelisation and assimilation observed by figures as significant as the Archbishop of Valencia, Patriarch Ribera, and, beyond, by Rome. This observation must however be qualified for there was a current of thought that stressed this partial failure the better to insist on the need to expel those elements considered deviant (Jews and Muslims from the Levant clinging to cultural characteristics linked to their original religious blueprint) from the Visigothic heritage. Meanwhile, historians disagree as regards the potential threat presented by Sultan Zidan Abu Maali 's victory over his brother Mohammed esh Sheikh el Mamun in the spring of 1609. Was it a genuine cause or a mere pretext used by the Spanish administration and clergy in order to force Philip III's hand?
The better to grasp the context of this episode, we must cross reference Spanish and Moroccan sources. The latter show that this fratricide war had no actual bearings on the Morisco problem in so far as Sultan Zidan could not afford to get involved in a military expedition directed at the Iberian Peninsula. The conflict was essentially concerned with internal policy matters. All too aware of the deterioration of the great Al-Mansur,'s empire, the brothers were seeking to establish their legitimacy in the eyes of the Moroccan people. Zidan's call for the reconquest of Al Andalus can thus be understood as a way to consolidate opinion against his brother El Mamun who after his early military losses sought support in Spain. He would, in 1610, hand Larache over to the Spanish Realm with a view to obtain its assistance in regaining his lost throne. This action caused a controversy between ulama justifying him and those who condemned him, as well as the anger of the Moroccan people who wondered how a part of the land of Islam (dar al-Islam) could just be granted to Christians who had expelled the Muslims from their “Paradise”, their “Promised Land” (Al Andalus).
Having set in train a broad process of political, economic and religious changes calling on collective representation such as the Crusades, the Spaniards were creating the conditions for their domination of Atlantic trade. Their action had major implications for the balance of power between two worlds : one mostly Christian and the other mostly Muslim. The Ottomans who had the makings of major rivals in this field did not succeed in breaking out of the Mediterranean lake, blocked by the Spaniards on one side and by the Moroccans on the other. The latter, though winning the battle of Wadi al-Makhazin (1578) against the Portuguese, contrived to scupper the Ottoman's plan to recover the Atlantic port of Larache because they blamed the death of Sultan Abd al-Malîk on Turkish soldiers. This geopolitical factor, along with others mentioned earlier show that rifts within the confessional blocks must be taken into account if one is to grasp ongoing trends and the way centres of power shift on the long term.