In the 16th century, Spain was the wonder of Europe, with her vast empire in Latin America and the Philippines and her wealthy possessions in the southern Netherlands and Italy.  She came close to defeating and ruling England and Holland and, for a time, annexed Portugal with her colonial empire in Africa, Asia, and Brazil.  Spain was a country united by a fierce Catholicism that had been developed over the centuries in which the Iberian peninsula had been reclaimed from its Muslim invaders and occupiers.  The Spaniards were a proud people who made Spanish a world language and peopled the world with their descendants.

The following centuries were ones of political and economic decline.  Occupation by Napoleon’s savage and rapacious armies (so well portrayed by Goya), unilateral declarations of independence by the Latin American colonies, and humiliating defeat in the Spanish-American War destroyed Spanish power.  A failure to achieve economic development and alleviate poverty led to the disastrous and destructive Spanish Civil War (1936-39).  Anarchists destroyed churches and murdered priests, monks, and nuns.  Communists took their orders from the Soviet Union.  Hitler and Mussolini provided military support for General Franco, who was able to establish a brutal dictatorship.  Even in the early 1930’s, he had encouraged his Moorish troops to commit atrocities against strikers in the Asturias—a part of Spain proud to be the only province never to have been conquered and demeaned by the original Muslim invaders—and, in the Civil War, he used them again.  Muslim Moroccan soldiers, whether under Spanish or under French command, were notorious for their mistreatment of innocent civilians not just here but in Italy (1943-45) and probably in Vietnam (1945-54).  Franco’s subsequent statist economic policies further retarded Spain’s economic progress.  Millions of Spaniards emigrated either to find work or to escape from a politically repressive society.  Life was unpleasant for individuals under Franco, but there was no threat to the continuity of Spain or to Spain’s national identity.  After his death, Spain was able quietly to become a capitalist democratic monarchy not very dissimilar from the other Western European countries, and all seemed well.

The problems facing Spain today are quite different.  Spain is approaching her demise not as a result of failure or poverty or oppression but from a loss of will.  As the British have shown, a nation can survive the loss of an empire and reverse a long period of economic decline.  As the United States has shown, it is possible to recover from a disastrous civil war.  The current Spanish disease is different: It is a wasting and incurable malady, and the patient does not want to recover.  The disease is self-induced and self-inflicted and will lead to a welcome death for a people who have ceased to believe in the value of their own distinctiveness, traditions, and survival.  Spain is committing suicide.

The most striking warning comes from the collapse of the Spanish birthrate.  Between 1960 and 1990, the Spanish birthrate halved, dropping from 21.7 to 10.2 births per annum per 1,000 women aged 15-45, and it is now below the European average.  Part of the reason lies in the ease with which abortions may be obtained in this supposedly Catholic country; even French women travel to Spain to obtain cheap, no-questions-asked abortions.  In 1976, a Spanish woman had, on average, 2.8 children.  Today, she has 1.67.  Women who have completed secondary school have only 1.37 children; college graduates, a mere 0.77.  Spain is dying out, and her educated women are leading the way.

Other countries in similar circumstances, such as Sweden in the 1930’s or France in the late 1940’s, have adopted pro-natalist policies.  Spain is content to rely on the replacement of her own people by Muslim immigrants to stave off an absolute fall in the size of the Spanish population.  Spain could have sought and obtained unlimited numbers of immigrants from the Spanish-speaking world in Latin America to prop up her numbers and maintain her traditional identity in a new Atlanticist context.  Indeed, many Spanish conservatives favored such a policy.  Instead, she is passively allowing an influx of Muslims from Morocco or elsewhere in the Maghreb.  They come in small boats or even swim (and often drown) across the narrow straits between Spain and Morocco.  They pretend to be in transit to France or the Netherlands but disappear into the cities and countryside of Spain.  The immigration service and the Guardia Civil try to stop them, but they are betrayed by socialist Spanish governments that prefer cowardly amnesties to expulsions.  This is, in part, because of corruption.  Moroccans provide cheap labor for the large farms in the south and for the building industry in Madrid.  No doubt, these employers are prepared to pay off politicians and officials to permit this influx of labor to continue at the expense of the living standards of the Spanish working class.  Resentment of this has led to clashes between Spaniards and Moroccans in small towns in Andalucia.  It would be simpler and fairer for the Europeans to import even cheaper fruit and vegetables directly from the farms of Morocco herself or from the Arab world generally, but the agricultural protectionism of the European Union prevents this.  Besides, Spanish landowners and contractors, who have never taken any interest in the welfare of less privileged social classes in Spain, are pleased with things as they are and happy to bribe Madrid.

Within a generation, a quarter of the children in Spain will be Muslims.  Spain is rejoining the Arab world.  They may well prove a difficult minority to assimilate, since their primary loyalty will be to the Islamic world.  Their memory of their ancestors’ success in invading and conquering the whole of Spain (except the Asturias in the far north) will not help matters.  They will be the sea in which anonymous terrorists can swim.  Spain has become the main entry point into Europe from the Muslim world and, thus, the ideal place for Islamic militants to gather and organize.  The Al Qaeda bomb atrocities on four crowded Spanish trains came about in exactly this way.

What is happening in Spain is predictable in terms of the theories of the great medieval Arab sociologist Ibn Khaldun, who noticed how successive waves of hardy, fiercely puritanical Berbers and Arabs of the desert and the mountains, such as the Almoravids and Almohads, would periodically overcome and deprive of their land their laxer, settled, commercial neighbors who had grown soft, wealthy, and neglectful of religion.  In time, they, too, would become “civilized” and be displaced.  The Spaniards were once a hardy people of the mountains who reconquered their country from decadent Muslims who had grown to love luxury.  Now, though, the cyclical changes described by Ibn Khaldun are entering their second phase.  The newly rich and urban Spaniards have become soft and prefer the luxury of two-earner, one-child families to the stern requirements of maintaining their numbers and defending their country and identity.

The Spanish refusal to recognize the Muslim threat from within and properly to monitor and control their Muslim immigrants made the Al Qaeda attacks on Spain possible.  Like many other countries, Spain seems to have swung rapidly from the ferocious xenophobia of her past to becoming a nation enfeebled by political correctness.  Spanish Catholicism has lost its force.  The Socialist government has halved the income traditionally flowing from the state to the Church (the state had, after all, been responsible for the loss of the land and property of the Church that could have sustained it without state funding) and begun the politically correct funding of the mosques of the infidel.  There is a supine acceptance of decay and the violence of others in a country that now fears her own past.  Spain’s hysterical demands for the return of “colonial” Gibraltar—the people of Gibraltar themselves having voted overwhelmingly to stay British—are, ironically, both an extension of that same left-liberal ideology that prevents the proper curbing of immigration and a way of distracting public attention from Spain’s failure to deal with the new Moors.  Spain is a country on her way out.  No wonder the Basques, Catalans, and even Galicians want independence from Castile and Madrid.  Who wants to live in the same house as a corpse?

Why, too, should the Spaniards feel guilty about their expulsion of the Moors just over five centuries ago?  When the Moors quit Spain, it was no different from the enforced departure of other settlers after the defeat of a colonial power, as happened to the French in Algeria or the Dutch in Indonesia.  A million French settlers had to flee Algeria after independence.  The Algerians feel no guilt about this; indeed, they probably gloat over it.  Why should the Spaniards feel bad because the Arabs and Berbers who had invaded and taken over their country were forced out?  Even after the medieval Muslim regimes had been defeated and the Moors slowly driven back across northern and central Spain, culminating in the fall of the Moorish kingdom of Grenada in 1492, those Muslims who remained were often disloyal to Spain.  The Moriscos, Muslims who had nominally converted to Catholicism, continued to conspire with the Muslims of North Africa and those even further afield after the victories of the Christians, and revolts on their part, not mere Catholic bigotry, led to their expulsion.

The Reconquista (the reconquest of Spain from the Moors) was a brutal business, but, then, so are most wars of liberation, as we know from the expulsion of the French in the Napoleonic period and the Germans in World War II from the countries they had occupied.  The fusion of religion and nationalism made the Spanish resistance to the invaders and subsequent advance especially obdurate and determined.  The patron saint of Spain is Saint James, whose relics are the goal of pilgrims to Compostela, the city where the bells of the cathedral were stolen by the Moors and transferred to that monument to Islamic triumphalism, the mosque in Cordoba.  He was known as Sant Iago Matamoros (Saint James the Killer of the Moors) and was believed to intervene directly and physically on behalf of the Christians in their crusade to free their country from the Muslim yoke.  He is seen on his charger atop many a church steeple.  Before charging into battle, Spanish armies would cry “Santiago y España!” (“For Saint James and Spain!”).

Earlier this year, Spanish leftists wanted to take down his statue in Compostela, lest it cause offence to Muslims.  Only the protests of the local tourist industry, which makes a fortune out of secularized but nostalgic pilgrims, prevented this.  Yet why should we be any more severe in our judgment on (or the Spaniards more ashamed of) this fusion of religion and national polity than we would be of the Almoravids and Almohads, the successive waves of bigoted and puritanical Muslim sectarians who swept in from Morocco to seize power in Spain?  Today, it is Muslims, not Christians, who seek to establish bigoted single-faith states.  They need to learn from the past.  The Spaniards do not.

In Spain, in the 21st century, the legacy of past bigotry is a fear, guilt, and paralysis that prevents the Spaniards from expelling illegal Moroccan immigrants.  The Moors creep back like brambles.  Nor have the Spanish authorities investigated and monitored Al Qaeda and other radical groups with sufficient thoroughness, on the basis of ethnic profiling.  The final expression of Spanish feebleness was their voting the opposition Socialists into power in the election of 2004 after the agents of Al Qaeda had murdered 200 Spaniards by setting off bombs in railway trains.  A proud people would have voted for assertion, defiance, and resistance after such atrocities.  The Spanish voted for appeasement and surrender.  It was fair enough to be against the Iraq war (supported by the previous Spanish government), but the speed at which the new Spanish leader Rodriguez Zapatero hurried to declare the withdrawal of Spanish forces was bound to be perceived as a disgraceful surrender to terrorism.  If it was indeed a surrender on his part, well, that was what the fearful Spanish voters wanted and intended.  The Spaniards hope that pulling out of Iraq will divert the terrorist attacks to Britain or Poland.  The Islamic extremists knew in advance that they would behave in this way, and, well before the election, they were saying that the Spanish government could not withstand two blows—or three, at most—from them and that the victory of the Socialist Party would then be guaranteed.

There are two ways in which a nation can commit suicide.  One is by failing to reproduce itself.  The other is by refusing to defend itself.  The Spaniards have chosen both.  In doing so, they have proved themselves to be ultra-Europeans, for the Spanish disease is endemic in most of a secular, enfeebled Europe whose liberal elites resent what they perceive as a determined, religious, belligerent United States for refusing to share in their “civilized” decline.  Very low birthrates throughout Europe and an unwillingness by European countries to put enough resources into their own defense and security mean that Spain is merely the lead lemming.