Anderson on Calderwood, 'Colonial al-Andalus: Spain and the Making of Modern Moroccan Culture'

Eric Calderwood
Samuel Anderson

Eric Calderwood. Colonial al-Andalus: Spain and the Making of Modern Moroccan Culture. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2018. 408 pp. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-98032-7.

Reviewed by Samuel Anderson (University of California, Los Angeles) Published on H-IslamInAfrica (May, 2019) Commissioned by Saarah Jappie (University of the Witwatersrand)

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Connections between Morocco and Spain run deep, spanning thousands of years and the Strait of Gibraltar. To many, the most familiar of those historical ties is medieval al-Andalus. Lasting from the eighth-century Umayyad conquest until the fifteenth-century Reconquista and glossed by the semi-historical idea of convivencia, or interfaith tolerance among Muslims, Christians, and Jews, al-Andalus and its heritage have been codified at the center of Morocco’s modern national identity. As Eric Calderwood convincingly shows in Colonial al-Andalus, however, this narrative was born out of a far more recent and historiographically obscure past: the Spanish colonization of northern Morocco in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This engaging book charts the evolution of what Calderwood calls this “Andalus-centric narrative” from its origins among Spanish proponents of colonization in the Spanish-Moroccan War (1859–60), to its apogee during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), and ultimately to its adoption by Moroccan nationalist activists in the 1940s and 1950s. The texts Calderwood analyzes vividly illustrate how this idea of al-Andalus developed “between Muslims and Christians, North Africans and Europeans, and past and present” (p. 25).

Calderwood identifies the Spanish-Moroccan War of 1859–60 as the moment when al-Andalus emerged as a powerful image for both Spaniards and Moroccans. The first chapter, “Tetouan is Granada,” draws its title from an account of the war by the Spanish writer Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, who asserted an enduring, familial connection between the two cities, and between Spaniards and Moroccans. In the second chapter, Calderwood profiles the contemporaneous Moroccan scholar Mufaddal Afaylal, whose works, including poetry and a chronicle of the war, engage with the cultural legacy of al-Andalus but outside the Andalus-centric narrative Alarcón initiated. Drawing as much on romantic literary imaginaries as on their authors’ eyewitness experiences, the works of Alarcón and Afaylal exemplify the malleable, at times contradictory ways in which Spanish-Moroccan relations were envisioned by a range of actors in Iberia and the Maghrib in the mid-nineteenth century.

The influence of the Andalus-centric narrative is clear by the early twentieth century, after the establishment of the Spanish protectorate in northern Morocco in 1912. In chapter 3, Calderwood jumps ahead to the 1920s and 1930s, when the Spanish writer Blas Infante articulated a vision of Andalusian nationalism (andalucismo) based on the conflation, “in time, space, and culture,” of medieval al-Andalus, the modern region of Andalusia, and Morocco (p. 120). A “cosmopolitan imperialism,” drawing on idealized notions of tolerance and racial mixing in al-Andalus, Infante’s andalucismo served as a critique of Catalan nationalism and Spain’s connection with the rest of Europe. This idea was taken up by an ally of General Francisco Franco, Rodolfo Gil Benumeya, who argued that Andalucia—and thus Spain and Morocco—was “neither Orient nor Occident,” but rather a combination of both (p. 134). These arguments about al-Andalus appealed to both sides in the Spanish Civil War but, as Calderwood shows, had particular power in Franco’s fascist regime.

The fourth chapter shows how Moroccan elites took up the Spanish Andalus-centric narrative during the colonial period. Here Calderwood focuses on a travel narrative, Ahmad al-Rahuni’s Journey to Mecca (1941). Franco’s regime sponsored hajj voyages for favored Muslim elites like al-Rahuni, much like other European imperial powers, but it also incorporated visits to Andalusi heritage sites like the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. Al-Rahuni’s text uses Qur’anic language to lend credence to Franco’s assertion that al-Andalus could rival Mecca as a site of Muslim pilgrimage, translating colonial discourse into an Arabic literary idiom and exemplifying the unexpected ties between the Moroccan elite and Spanish fascism.

The fifth and sixth chapters focus on the idea of “Hispano-Arab culture” in the period after the Spanish Civil War. They are rooted in narratives spun about medieval Cordoba, which represented the ideal of interfaith tolerance, and Granada, which represented cultural practices distinct to al-Andalus. The General Franco Institute for Hispano-Arab Research in Tetouan (a counterpart to the French Institute for Advanced Moroccan Studies in Rabat), focused on the first project, hosting conferences and publishing works on the discursively powerful idea of convivencia. Much of the fifth chapter is devoted to recounting a 1939 visit, under the auspices of the General Franco Institute, by the Lebanese American writer Amin al-Rihani, who endorsed the Hispano-Arab ideal of al-Andalus in part as a critique of French colonialism in North Africa and the Levant. The sixth chapter likewise focuses on two colonial institutions in Tetouan, the School of Indigenous Arts and the Hispano-Moroccan Music Conservatory, both of which asserted a deep connection between Spain and Morocco via the cultural traditions of al-Andalus—an idea that remains powerful in both Morocco and Spain into the present.

A second Lebanese intellectual grounds the final chapter: Shakib Arslan, a prominent advocate for pan-Islamic resistance to European colonialism whose interpretation of al-Andalus as a “lost paradise” deeply influenced Moroccan nationalists from the 1930s to the 1950s. During a 1930 visit to Morocco and Spain, Arslan encountered and mentored many young activists and scholars from both Spanish and French Morocco, including Ahmad Balafrij, M’hammad Binnuna, Muhammad Dawud, and Muhammad al-Fasi. These men actively reinterpreted Arslan’s notion of al-Andalus both to insert their specific activism into the broader anticolonial struggle across the Muslim world and to assert a direct, genealogical connection between medieval Andalusis and contemporary Moroccans. In so doing, Calderwood deftly argues, they ironically came to deploy the same language Spanish fascists used to justify colonialism in making their claims of a distinct Moroccan national identity.

Calderwood brilliantly analyzes this Andalus-centric narrative, but the narrative arc of his book is at times disjointed. In hewing so close to the chosen texts, the book forgoes historical context, which would help even specialists in the many fields that this book should appeal to. The circumstances surrounding the 1912 establishment of the Spanish protectorate in northern Morocco go mostly unexplained; so too are the Rif War (1920–27) and even the Spanish Civil War mostly glossed over. What happened, for example, between the Spanish-Moroccan War, the focus of the first two chapters, and the 1920s, when the third begins? The book should interest scholars from all disciplines who focus on Morocco and Spain, but also those who study North Africa, the Mediterranean, the Islamic world, and Europe, from the medieval period to the colonial and postcolonial periods. A better sense of the development of Spanish rule in Morocco would clarify Calderwood’s contributions for the wide readership this book deserves.

The book poses other, larger questions as well. The brief epilogue is a fascinating study of the Hassan Tower complex in Rabat (where that Almohad-era minaret now abuts the mausoleum of Mohammed V, built between 1961 and 1972, and other recent additions in an Andalusi style), but how and why this narrative became codified in the former French zone and by the ruling ‘Alawi dynasty is never explicitly explored. Indeed, throughout the book, French Morocco and scholarship on similar colonial narratives barely register.[1] Calderwood rightly critiques the overemphasis on French Morocco in the scholarly literature, but more comparison with the French case would highlight his contributions. I also found myself wondering if the Andalus-centric narrative influenced Spanish colonialism in the Sahara, but Spain’s other North African territory is not treated. Nor is the question of the place of Jews, either in the idealized vision of medieval al-Andalus or in colonized Morocco. That being said, Calderwood has published on this latter question elsewhere, in a special issue of the Journal of North African Studies focused on Morocco and Spain.[2] Yet, no single book can answer all of these questions. Calderwood has pioneered an innovative way of thinking about North African history, and this book will be foundational to the burgeoning interdisciplinary field of Spanish-Moroccan studies.


[1]. See, for example, Diana K. Davis, Resurrecting the Granary of Rome: Environmental History and French Colonial Expansion in North Africa (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007); and Edmund Burke III, The Ethnographic State: France and the Invention of Moroccan Islam (Oakland: University of California Press, 2014).

 [2]. Eric Calderwood, “Moroccan Jews and the Spanish Colonial Imaginary, 1903–1951,” The Journal of North African Studies 24, no. 1 (2019): 86–110.

Citation: Samuel Anderson. Review of Calderwood, Eric, Colonial al-Andalus: Spain and the Making of Modern Moroccan Culture. H-IslamInAfrica, H-Net Reviews. May, 2019. URL:

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