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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Reconquista movement fuels anti-Muslim sentiment

Spain's Reconquista movement uses social media to spread hateful messages about Muslims and recruit new members.

The rise of far-right movements around the world has been fueled, in part, by their use of social media to spread propaganda, coordinate activities, and recruit new members. The Reconquista movement in Spain is a case in point, as it borrows tactics and rhetoric from far-right groups in other countries, including the United States. 

The Reconquista Movement

The Reconquista movement takes its name from the successful effort by Christian leaders to reconquer vast parts of the Iberian peninsula from its Islamic rulers and expel Muslims during the Middle Ages. It’s a term embraced by some on the far-right, who see their opposition to Islam and immigrants as a divinely ordained sequel of sorts to that bloody, centuries-long conflict. Anti-Muslim rhetoric from accounts linked to Reconquista soared after a Moroccan man attacked two Catholic churches in the southern city of Algeciras in January, killing a church officer and injuring a priest. The man, an unauthorised immigrant, is now jailed in the psychiatric ward of a Spanish prison awaiting the results of a judicial probe; authorities believe he acted alone.

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This movement relies heavily on social media to spread its message and recruit new members. Its adherents use Twitter to spread hateful messages and threats of violence, and in some cases, they pose as Muslims as a way to disparage actual followers of Islam. They also exploit Twitter’s loose rules to evade suspension and create new accounts after being banned. The far-right party Vox helped popularise Reconquista online, using the term repeatedly in Tweets ahead of the 2019 election. Vox, whose members express strongly anti-immigrant views, now holds 52 seats, or the third largest number, in Spain’s 350-member lower legislative chamber.

Globalization of Far-Right Tactics

The Reconquista movement borrows tactics and rhetoric from far-right groups in the United States and other countries. For example, it uses Pepe the Frog, a crudely drawn amphibian who has become a mascot for white supremacist and anti government groups in the U.S. In one Reconquista meme, Pepe is shown wearing the garb of a 16th century Spanish conquistador. The movement also borrows the same rhetoric used by far-right groups in the U.S., including the spread of misleading claims about trans rights, COVID-19 vaccines, feminism, climate change, and foreign policy.

According to Joel Finkelstein, co-founder of the Network Contagion Research Institute, a Princeton, N.J. group that partners with Rutgers University on the Network Contagion Lab, a training and educational centre focused on cyber threats, the remarkable overlap of tactics and interests isn’t a coincidence, but reflects how far-right groups in many countries are learning from one another, copying each other’s successes. He warns that this is a recipe for disaster and that the rhetoric could lead to real-world violence.

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The Reconquista movement in Spain is a disturbing example of how far-right groups can use social media to spread hateful messages and recruit new members. Its tactics and rhetoric are not unique to Spain, but rather reflect a global trend of far-right groups learning from each other and copying each other’s successes. It is important for governments and social media platforms to take action to curb the spread of hate speech and prevent the potential for real-world violence.