You may not have been expecting the Spanish Inquisition to become part of the debate about whether or not a “mosque” should be built near the site where the World Trade Center stood. But now that a Very Smart Person has pointed out how racism and xenophobia and religious intolerance did in fact make America a stronger and more unified country, the time seems right to celebrate things that don’t often get celebrated.
Much like America’s long tradition of racism and xenophobia and religious intolerance, the Spanish Inquisition has gotten a bad rap from historians. But similarly to what some Very Smart People are saying about American racism and xenophobia and religious intolerance, it is undeniable that the Spanish Inquisition made Spain a more unified country. Before the Inquisition, the country was divided between Jews, Muslims and Christians. After the Inquisition, pretty much just Christians lived there.
History repeats itself in funny ways. As has been noted in influential publications, “The steady pressure to conform to American norms, exerted through fair means and foul,” such as cross-burning and massacres, “smooth” different types of peoples’ “assimilation into the American mainstream.” Seen in this light, the racks and thumbscrews and garrotes of the Spanish Inquisition were helpful in implementing the healthy “demands” a country makes of its minorities in the name of achieving wonderful unum. Mortal fear, it turns out, is a terrific assimilation lubricant and community strengthener.
You might be surprised at how much traction this side of the argument is gaining, even among people who in the past might have taken a strong stance against racism and xenophobia and religious intolerance. It’s almost surprising. But then, you know, these things are never to be expected.