Cervantes’s Don Quijote and Trump’s “Bad Hombres”

Cervantes’s Don Quijote and Trump’s “Bad Hombres”

            Great books seem never to outgrow their relevance. The recent celebration of the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’s death (1547-1616) reminds us that the author of Don Quijote had a lot to say about some of the current US initiatives that are allegedly so crucial to our national security. I am referring, of course, to Trump’s unwelcome mat for Muslims, the Wall, and the stepped-up deportation of undocumented foreign residents. There are some eerie similarities between the way Spain in the early 1600s and the United States in early 2017 have reacted to the perceived threats from peoples whom they held to be dangerous outsiders. Back then in Spain, it was Muslims and Jews; today in the US, it is Muslims and Latinos.

            Christians, Muslims, and Jews cohabited in the Iberian Peninsula for eight centuries of intermittent peace and sporadic war. In Miguel de Cervantes’s time Spain overtaken by an Islamophobia that they shared with much of southern Europe. There was some measure of valid geopolitical justification for this fear, although it was largely grounded in stereotypes abetted by xenophobia, jingoism, and religious zeal. Matters came to a head in 1609 when the threat-mongers induced King Philip III to order Spain’s roughly 300,000 Moriscos (Muslims who had converted to Christianity) to leave the country. What followed provoked personal tragedies, economic chaos, grass roots resistance, and a nation whose vision of itself narrowed for the next 350 years.

            What history calls the Spanish Golden Age began with three world-changing events all of which happened in 1492: in January, the end of the northern Iberian Christian kingdoms’ 800-year-long war to retake the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslims; in March, the decree that Spain’s large Jewish population must either convert to Christianity or leave; and in October, Columbus’s first landing in the Americas. All three events had a profound effect on newly united Spain’s concept of itself. Henceforth Spain would be a single nation with a single religion and a self-imposed obligation to propagate that religion around the globe (their religion was Catholicism; ours, at least with respect to our missionary zeal, has been democracy and a capitalist economic system). No longer did Spain hold to its medieval ideal—true in both the Muslim and the Christian kingdoms— of a government tolerant of religious diversity so long as members of the minority religions paid their taxes, kept the peace, and accepted their second-class status. Some medieval Spanish kings termed themselves rey de las tres leyes, monarch of the three laws, meaning the three religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Ferdinand and Isabel broke with this tradition when they styled themselves the Reyes Católicos, the Catholic Monarchs. By the last decades of the 1400s the New Order demanded religious conformity, and it was enforcing that conformity with the Inquisition. To the religious-political establishment, Jews and Muslims, even former Jews and Muslims who were now Christian, were the “Other.”

            The Catholic Monarchs did not have a Fox News, but nonetheless they effectively got the message out about the “Other.” Their way of living was dangerous, infectious. It was important to keep them out, deny them access, both to head off potential violence and to keep them from changing our way of life. Those other religions preach hate of Christians; their adherents are taught that doing harm to us Christians is a virtue. As Matthew Carr points out in his 2009 Blood and Faith: The Purging of Muslim Spain, official and clerical language of the time dehumanized Moriscos by speaking of them as swine, barbarians, and heretics, an infection that needed to be cleansed or uprooted. For Donald Trump, in a statement later removed from his website, these others are “people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life” (December 7, 2015). As for Mexicans, “They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists” (June 16, 2015). Back in Cervantes’s day the leaders worried that those others would dilute or pervert Spain’s allegedly pure Catholic faith, and that they and their allies would mount armed attacks against the country. Today’s reigning administration and its supporters in the US seem to worry about the Muslim others subverting our susceptible youth, or somehow imposing Shariah law, or launching “radical Islamic terrorist” acts. They also worry—in ignorance of the United States’ history of overcoming successive waves of opposition to German, Italian, Jewish, Greek, and East Asian immigration— about all those brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking immigrants diluting America’s white English-speaking essential core.


            Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra didn’t set out to write a novel, not as we know the term. In the late 1590s there was no such thing. There was something called a novella, a genre developed in Italy by Boccaccio and others. It was an entertaining tale that could be read aloud in about two hours, after dinner entertainment in a pre-television age. This new novella would be a satire about a man out of his time: an old, poor, half-crazy old man who fashioned himself a knight errant, like those who had disappeared 150 years earlier, if indeed they had ever existed. The hook would be that this geezer would encounter new technology like the recently imported windmills and imagine them to be fantastical creatures. He would meet small town bureaucrats and minor nobles and imagine them to behave like ancient lords and ladies. And he, all by himself, outside of the law, would set things right again. Think of an old man these days dressing up like Roy Rogers, 100 years after the last free-range cowboys and 50 years after the boom of western novels and Bonanza, and then riding into some town like Schenectady, with his white hat and his two rusted Colt 45s, to catch the bad guys or to save the poor widow’s ranch from the greedy outlaws. In other words, a farce.

            This short novella pretty much exhausted the comic possibilities of the crazy-old-man-confronts-modernity idea. But Cervantes soon realized two things. One was that his story lacked dialog, two contrasting points of view, two opposing world visions. And the other was the encounters of this wandering dreamer offered a wide canvass for social commentary, for engagement with the quirks of the Spain of his day. Cervantes kept what he had written—it became the first six chapters of the first part of Don Quijote—and went on from there. Don Quijote rode back to his village and picked up a sidekick, Sancho Panza, — the great-great grandfather of the Lone Ranger’s Tonto, Cisco Kid’s Pancho, Batman’s Robin, and Xena the Warrior Princess’s Gabrielle. The protagonists’ conflicting worldviews and self-contradicting behavior let him season the story with irony. Yet because Cervantes doubted that his gallivanting pair of misfits would be enough to hold readers’ interests for long, every few chapters he digressed to stick in another story.

            When his book came out in 1605 it was the meandering misfits who captured the audience’s hearts. After twenty years of accumulating unpublished manuscripts, Cervantes used this book’s success to find publishers for all of his old manuscripts. He also started work on a sequel, published as the Second Part of Don Quijote in 1615. No need to stick in extra stories now, just don Quijote and Sancho, encountering the varied world of rural Spain. Since Don Quijote was only fiction, and the protagonist was (allegedly) a madman, and his sidekick was (allegedly) a doltish peasant, Cervantes could have them say almost anything without incurring serious risk to himself.

            That Second Part of Don Quijote: that’s the one, the first modern novel.


            What about its author? Miguel de Cervantes’s early life reads like adventure fiction. He was born into a poor middle class family, his father a barber-surgeon, his mother sold into her marriage by a bankrupt minor noble. The family moved often to escape their debts. In 1569, at age twenty-two, Miguel ran off to Italy to experience the ebullience of the Renaissance. Rome was the happening place, like Paris in its day, or New York, or Los Angeles. When he ran out of funds in Italy, he joined the army as a marine. Cervantes was based in Naples, then part of the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon, and his light soldierly duties gave him time to read, meet the literati of his time, fall in love, and father a daughter. Events soon destroyed this idyllic life.

            The capitulation of Granada in 1492 had put an end to the 800-year-long war of reconquest in which the Christian kingdoms of the northern Iberian Peninsula gradually pushed the frontier between Christian and Muslim lands further and further south. This lengthy war was part of a series of wider Christian campaigns against the Muslim east and south, the most famous of which are undoubtedly the Crusades. It is telling that when Pope Urban II in 1096 summoned Christians to the Crusades he discouraged Spaniards from participating because he preferred that Spaniards put their energy into defeating Islam at home.

            By 1492 they thought they had.

            Just as Islam had spread rapidly in the seventh century following Muhammad’s death, quickly dominating the Middle East, North Africa, southern Italy, and almost all of Spain, in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries it was on the move again, impelled largely by the energy of the Ottoman Turks, whose capture of Istanbul in 1453 gave them a foothold in Renaissance Europe. Over the next two hundred years the Turks occupied Greece, the Balkans, and much of eastern Austria, arriving right up to the gates of Vienna. The Ottoman fleet controlled the eastern Mediterranean, while the western Mediterranean was rendered all but lawless by pirates based in Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, and Oran. Both Turks and pirates regularly raided the coast of Spain seeking booty and captives to hold for ransom.

            Spain and France, the only two European countries with coasts on both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, allied with the Papal States and various Italian duchies and republics to try to take back the Middle Sea for the merchants of Christian Europe. Hapsburg Spain was the alpha member of the alliance. The commander of their combined fleets was the immensely capable and popular Juan de Austria, King Philip II’s half-brother, who, like Cervantes, was then just twenty-four years old.  He had already distinguished himself in his late teens by crushing a Muslim revolt in the Alpujarras region of Spanish Andalucía. In early autumn of 1571 the fleet of the so-called Holy League set sail for the east, where intelligence informed them that the Turkish fleet was massed in the Gulf of Patras.

            The battle of this first gulf war was joined at Lepanto on October 7. It was the largest naval battle ever fought up to that time. Cervantes was a marine, that is, a ship-based soldier. Despite his raging fever, and orders to remain below, he fought bravely, even after taking three bullets and losing the use of his left hand. After the battle, in which most of the Turkish fleet was destroyed, Cervantes was sent to recuperate in Messina. When he had recovered, he was permitted to rejoin his comrades despite his handicap, and took he took part in several other important naval battles. Finally, in 1575, he was sent back to Spain with a letter of commendation to King Philip II.

            But now Spain’s and Cervantes’s luck both turned sour. Juan de Austria, the hero of Lepanto, had awakened the jealousy and envy of his half-brother the King, who decided not to let Juan follow up on his victory, but instead dispatched him to quell a rebellion in the Low Countries. This folly had three disastrous consequences. The Turks regrouped and quickly reasserted their control of the eastern Mediterranean. Juan de Austria contracted malaria in the Dutch swamps and died. And the war in the Low Countries, something like Spain’s equivalent of Afghanistan and Iraq, dragged on for decades, sapping Spain’s strength and will and finances.

            Young Cervantes’s luck? On the way to Spain his ship was captured by Ottoman pirates, and he spent the next five years as a hostage in Algiers. We know a good deal about his experiences there, thanks to the diary of a fellow prisoner, Fray Diego de Haedo, that was published in 1612 after they both had been ransomed and returned to Spain. We know, for example, that Cervantes was held by a former king of Algiers, Hassan Pasha, who was known for his cruelty and his use of physical punishments. We know that while Hassan Pasha was waiting for someone to pay Cervantes’s ransom, he leased his prisoner out as a gardener and laborer. We know that Cervantes had a good deal of freedom to move about the city and make friends. We know that he used some of his free time to write skits and plays that he and his mates performed to keep up their spirits. We know that four times Cervantes organized escape attempts for himself and several fellow prisoners, and that these were unsuccessful. For some reason Hassan Pasha let him live.

                        Michael McGaha, in his review of María Antonia Garcés’s Cervantes in Algiers, has written about what the city was like during this period:

Located in an extraordinarily beautiful natural setting and enjoying a superb climate, Algiers in Cervantes’ day was one of the largest, wealthiest, and most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Especially in comparison with Cervantes’ native Spain, Algiers was home to an amazingly free and tolerant society. It had a large, prosperous, and influential Jewish community that was mostly Spanish by language and culture, and Christians too were free to practice their religion. Most notably, it was a society in which any man, regardless of race or ethnicity, could rise to the very pinnacle of power by dint of intelligence and hard work. A former slave could, and did, become king there. Cervantes, who hated Spain’s rigid class system based on ancestry rather than merit, cannot have helped admiring this aspect of life in Algiers.

During the five years he lived in North Africa, Cervantes became acquainted with all sorts of Muslims, ranging from noble, generous, enlightened men such as Hajji-Murad, to amoral and sadistic ones like his master Hassan Pasha. He came to know Christians who had become Muslims, Muslims who were secret Christians, and Jews. He talked with people of every social stratum.

            Cervantes, unlike many highly placed politicians of his day, and undoubtedly ours, had a deeply nuanced understanding of Islamic culture based on personal experience. In his writing he never stereotyped Muslims as “bad hombres” (as Trump did with Latino immigrants in the final presidential debate on Oct. 19, 2016) but rather dealt with them as individual humans moved by the same concerns and passions and interests as any good Christian. The characters he penned into being were generous and venal, cruel and compassionate, steadfast and self-contradictory, troubled and passionate, just like ourselves.

            Several of them appear in one of those novellas encapsulated in the 1605 first part of Don Quijote (chapters 39-43). The “Captive’s Tale” is a romance, peopled by young lovers, cruel captors, and kindly benefactors, and a wealth of colorful and diverse minor characters. The plot, enriched with descriptions of places and customs, is punctuated by improbable coincidences, exciting chases, and cliff-hanging suspenseful moments. What is notable for our purposes is the author’s avoidance of the stereotyped characters typical of the novella genre. All Cervantes’s main characters, Muslim and Christian, are individuals. Several have switched religion, from Christian to Muslim, or the reverse, and the authorial voice condemns none of them for their decision, even though some are berated by other characters in moments of anger. All are simultaneously flawed and admirable. Zoraida, the veiled Muslim maiden who is secretly Christian, loves her father Agi Morato but almost gets him killed during her attempt to flee with her Christian lover. Moreover, she has stolen her father’s treasure to finance their escape. The captive, a plucky young fellow —who, in a Pirandelian aside, says how much he admires the Algerian exploits of a certain Saavedra, clearly Cervantes himself, that he hasn’t got the time right now to narrate to his audience— seems a bit callous about spiriting this girl away from her culture and is quite happy to have her daddy’s treasure.

            The most notable character in the story is Agi Morato, Zoraida’s Muslim father. As he gradually discovers what his daughter has done, he pours out his emotions in a stream that resembles the stages of mourning: puzzlement, anger, rejection, denial, bitterness, resignation, and desolate, irretrievable loss. For Cervantes, he is a father before he is a Muslim, even though in the context of contemporary Spain’s paranoia about Muslim influence and attack, Agi Morato was most assuredly the enemy. In the climactic scene, as Agi Morato is marooned on a deserted beach by the escaping lovers, he manages to draw from us every drop of our store of empathy. Cervantes here has done much like what Shakespeare did with the Jew Shylock in Merchant of Venice, he has turned the hated other into a tragic hero. Very few artists have the talent to pull that off.

            Cervantes’s message, the one that he hammers over and over in his portrayal of the myriad innkeepers, prostitutes, peasants, thieves, nobles, bureaucrats, and especially, the women of all classes who people his stories, is that people are individuals, not personifications of stereotypes, and must be dealt with, must be judged, as such. With this moral compass, it is not surprising that he would strongly oppose any policy designed to treat groups of people on the basis of negative stereotypes. It so happens that his country instituted just such a policy in 1609 when King Philip III issued the proclamation ordering Spain’s 300,000 Moriscos to depart the country.

            A little background is in order.

            In the 1480-92 war to conquer the Muslim kingdom of Granada, King Ferdinand promised that any town that capitulated to the Spanish armies would be spared; its citizens could retain their homes, their language, and their religion. They must surrender their arms, and their leaders would have to leave, but everyone else could stay. Those who wanted to convert to Christianity were encouraged to do so, but there would be no Inquisition to police the completeness of their assimilation. Cities that refused to surrender would be devastated. Not surprisingly, after a few examples like Malaga, whose citizens were enslaved after a three-month siege, most towns gave in after only token resistance. Contrary to popular belief, in 1492 Christian Spain did not expel the majority of Granada’s Muslims; it absorbed them.

            The Iberian Christian kingdoms had been absorbing Muslims for centuries as they pushed the borders south. In fact almost all the rest of Christian Spain contained sizeable Muslim populations, with dense concentrations in the Levante region along the Mediterranean Coast and central Aragon (comparable to today’s California, Arizona, and Texas?). Some Muslims lived in enclaves and spoke the language and practiced the customs of their North African ancestors; others were indistinguishable from their Christian neighbors except for their religion. Some of those who along the way had become Christians and had married Old Christians still retained some of the customs of their Muslim neighbors. What they all had in common was that they were Spaniards.

While King Fernando lived, his promises were honored, but after his death in 1516 the regent, Cardinal Cisneros, ordered mass conversions, the burning of Arabic manuscripts, and a variety of other measures detrimental to the remaining Muslims. This sparked a revolt, centered in Granada, that ended in many Muslims being forced to choose between baptism, exile, or execution. Tensions from then onward remained high, and Castile was obliged to maintain a large military force in Granada to deter future revolts. Since now all remaining Muslims were officially Christian, the remaining mosques were destroyed or turned into churches.

In 1526 the Catholic Monarchs’ grandson King Charles V issued an edict under which laws against Muslim practices by Moriscos would be strictly enforced; among other restrictions, it forbade the use of Arabic and the wearing of Moorish dress. The Morisco communities managed to get implementation delayed for forty years by the payment of a large sum of money to the Crown. But when the Inquisition began actively pursuing Moriscos who were continuing to observe Muslim customs, fear and resentment multiplied, not only in Granada but in Morisco neighborhoods throughout the Peninsula., which in turn led to a second rebellion starting in December 1568. This violent conflict, really a civil war, took place on King Philip II’s watch mainly in the mountainous Alpujarras region on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, between Granada city and the Mediterranean coast. The Spaniards sent an army, captained by Juan de Austria. The Moriscos responded with mobile forces, small groups, attacking, running, hiding, and striking again as best they could. The Spanish term for this so called little war – guerilla- has lodged in our language. Several thousand foreign troops, from Turkey and from North Africa, infiltrated into southern Spain to help the Morisco rebellion. Juan de Austria crushed them in three years.

1598 saw a new, weak king, Philip III. His ministers, notably the Duke of Lerma the Alpujarras war still fresh in his mind, lobbied that Spain should rid itself of its Morisco population once and for all. They made three points: (1) Moriscos were unassimilable, they would always cling to their language and culture. (2) Moriscos, who were still Muslims or sympathized with them, were committed to violence against Christians. They were collaborating with the Turks, and with the Barbary pirates. Rumors circulated (fake news?) that they were exploring armed assistance from the King of France. And (3) the Morisco presence would inevitably change the nature of what was fundamentally a Catholic nation. Change “Catholic” to “Christian” and we could be listening to radio talk-show hosts today.

Alternative strategies were discussed and rejected. Martín de Salvatierra, the bishop of Segorbe, suggested that the Moriscos all be shipped to Newfoundland, but only after first castrating all the men and sterilizing the women. The archbishop of Valencia, Juan de Ribera, argued that the king should enslave all the Moriscos and put them to work in the royal galleys and mines, or that even if the adults were expelled, the children should be seized, enslaved, and Christianized for the good of their souls; Pope John XXIII canonized San Juan de Ribera in 1960, undoubtedly for other reasons.

Other leaders argued that the Moriscos were not a threat. The Alpujarras war was long past. The Moriscos, dispersed throughout Spain, had no arms. The borders were more than adequately protected: soldiers guarded the passes in the Pyrenees; there were watchtowers all along the Mediterranean coast. The apparatus for vetting passengers arriving at the ports was functioning well. Some Spaniards opposed the expulsion for economic reasons, since large landowners and manufacturers in many parts of Spain depended on Morisco labor. Others thought the policy to be fundamentally un-Christian. The royal councilor Fray Luis de Aliaga lobbied for giving the Moriscos time to assimilate and become fully Christian, saying that more effort should be put into educating them. But overall, the prevailing conviction was that the majority of Moriscos were dangerous heretics and traitors.

The expulsion proclamation covering Valencia was issued on April 9, 1609. It justified the expulsion, just as in the in the 1492 decree that expelled the Jews, with sweeping generalizations based on traditional stereotypes that to a large extent ran counter available data, should they have deigned to look at any. In the decree’s preface the king argued that we tried several things to get them to become wholly Christian, but none have done so, preferring instead to remain obstinately Muslim. My advisors insist that this has offended the Deity. The Moriscos are heretics, apostates, and violators of royal policy. I have been informed by my intelligence services that their intent is to disturb the peace of this realm. Although this justifies my dealing harshly with them, I have been lenient and have only ordered their expulsion.

The royal order gave the Moriscos three days to abandon their homes and make their way to the ports to be ferried to North Africa. It stipulated that "under the pain of death and confiscation, without trial or sentence... they may take with them no money, bullion, jewels or bills of exchange... just what they could carry.” After three days any Christian would be free to arrest them, strip them of their possessions, or kill them if they tried to resist. If any of them should try to hide or bury their valuables, their neighbors would be permitted to kill them. In any settlement of over a hundred households, six households must remain behind to protect the houses, sugar refineries, rice paddies, and irrigations systems; these must be the oldest residents, and those who have shown the greatest signs of adapting to Christianity. Any Christian who “shelters any of them in their houses, or hides them, or helps them evade the order, will be sentenced to six years at oar in the royal galleys.” Any children of mixed marriages who are under six years old may remain, with their mothers, even if the she is the Morisco partner; if the father is the Morisco, he must leave.

Over the next five years the order was extended to Moriscos living in Aragon and Castile. Meanwhile, Cervantes was in the middle of writing the continuation of Don Quijote.

Even before that first edict was proclaimed, news of the impending expulsion devastated the Morisco communities. People frantically began to prepare for the worst while they hoped for the best. When the exodus actually began, it was even worse than they had feared. Families were split. Bandits preyed upon the columns of refugees. Innkeepers, carters, and ship owners gouged the fleeing Moriscos. The countries to which they fled, particularly the Muslim kingdoms of North Africa, accepted them with reluctance. After all, the Moriscos were Christians, and some of their families had been so for centuries. Some countries isolated the newcomers in refugee camps. There were thefts, rapes, murders, and starvation. Standard stuff. Today’s newspapers are full of such things.

Yet not every Morisco left Spain. The expulsion order had provoked anger and outrage among substantial portions of the Old Christian population. Since in most of Spain the Muslim and Morisco populations had been living side by side with their Old Christian neighbors for centuries, many were friends, business associates, and through intermarriage, even related to each other. There was public outcry, but it was muted. Spain was not a democracy, so there would be consequences – and even more than that – fear of consequences, for speaking out (sound familiar?). On the whole, opposition, despite the dire warnings enumerated in the Edict of Expulsion, tended to act locally and quietly to thwart the decree. In many areas local authorities refused to cooperate with the officials monitoring the expulsion, although no one dared to openly declare their town a sanctuary city. But they sheltered their friends, hid them. Some swore—falsely—that their neighbors had always been Christians, and were not Moriscos at all.

Recent studies, particularly those published by the British historian Trevor J. Dadson (Los Moriscos de Villarubia de los Ojos, 2007), describe many examples. Dadson calculated that of the 300,000 or more people affected by the expulsion order, two-thirds never actually left. And of those who did leave, large numbers later returned from North Africa, Portugal, and France to their towns of origin.

What is generally overlooked in all the statistical data are the human stories, the personal tragedies, the stress, the uncertainty, the sorrow that such upheavals inevitably produce. This is where Cervantes comes in with his talent for raising difficult moral and political issues and his genius for evoking empathy.


In chapter 54 of the 1615 second part of Don Quijote, as Sancho Panza leaves the Island of Barataria where he has served as governor, he runs into a group of German pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. They are begging for alms, in German: “Gelt, Gelt!” Sancho has no money, but instead he offers to share his food with them. One of the pilgrims greets Sancho by name: “How can it be, brother Sancho Panza, that you don’t recognize me? I am your neighbor Ricote, the Morisco shopkeeper of your village.” They all sit down to a sumptuous picnic lunch that includes both ham and wine, both traditionally forbidden to Muslims and therefore a kind of visible safe-conduct in Ricote’s hands.

Sancho worries about what Ricote is risking: “How do you dare to return to Spain, where if they catch you and see who you are you it will go hard with you?"

Ricote answers that he will be alright, so long as Sancho doesn’t betray him.

The German pilgrims are German, the Morisco in disguise, an the Old Christian Sancho Panza  share the meal and laugh together as they struggle to understand each other’s attempts at a common language. “Every now and then some one of them would grasp Sancho's right hand in his own saying, ‘Espanoli y Tudesqui tuto uno: bon compano;’ and Sancho would answer, ‘Bon compano, jur a Di!’ and then go off into a fit of laughter that lasted an hour.”

This is not a bad summation of one of Cervantes’ principal themes: despite our differences, all our differences, we share a common humanity and we can get along together. The scene is a festive prelude to Ricote’s narration of the terrors and tribulations of his expulsion experience. His Majesty’s proclamation, he tells Sancho, “filled us all with terror and dismay.” He adds that the uncertainty about what would happen destroyed his peace of mind, for even before the order took effect “the full force of the penalty had already fallen upon me and upon my children.”

Ricote explains how he knew he would have to sell their home and how it was only prudent that he go on ahead to make arrangements to settle the family in some new land, leaving his children and his uncle detailed instructions about what to do in his absence, and where he had hidden his resources.

Of course Ricote does not criticize the king’s policies directly, —to have him do so was not politically feasible for Cervantes. Instead, he praises them so fulsomely that his exaggerated justifications for the policies and praise of the monarch’s wisdom cannot but ring hollow. Ricote explains:

I knew of the base and extravagant plans that our people harbored, plans of such a nature that I think it was a divine inspiration that moved his Majesty to carry out a resolution so spirited; not that we were all guilty, for some were true and steadfast Christians; but these were so few that they could make no headway against those who were not; and it was not prudent to cherish a snake in the bosom by having enemies in the house. In short it was with just cause that we were visited with the penalty of banishment, a mild and lenient one in the eyes of some . . .

That this speech is implicitly sarcastic become clear when Ricote immediately adds:

 . . . it was to us the most terrible that could be inflicted upon us. Wherever we are we weep for Spain; for after all we were born there and it is our natural fatherland. . . .  such is the longing almost all of us have to return to Spain that most of those who like myself know the language, and there are many who do, come back to it and leave their wives and children forsaken yonder, so great is their love for it.

When Ricote left Spain he wandered through France, Italy, and Germany looking for a home. For Cervantes’ readers, Germany was the heartland of the Reformation, and Protestants were the arch-enemies of Spain. Here is Ricote’s astonishing report:  “I reached Germany, and there it seemed to me we might live with more freedom, as the inhabitants do not pay any attention to trifling points; everyone lives as he likes, for in most parts they enjoy liberty of conscience. I took a house in a town near Augsburg, and then joined these pilgrims.”

There is one additional point for Cervantes to hammer home thorough Ricote: the uncertainty that comes of leaving loved ones behind in times of trouble, of civil stress, of forced choices, when a person can never be certain how his loved ones will react to the pressures that circumstances will inevitably impose upon them. Ricote explains that he will go back to Valencia, recover his buried resources, and

cross over from Valencia to my daughter and wife, who I know are in Algiers, and find some means of bringing them to some French port and thence to Germany, there to await what it may be God's will to do with us; for, after all, Sancho, I know well that Ricota my daughter and Francisca Ricota my wife are Catholic Christians, and though I am not so much so, still I am more of a Christian than a Moor, and it is always my prayer to God that he will open the eyes of my understanding and show me how I am to serve him; but what amazes me and I cannot understand is why my wife and daughter should have gone to Barbary rather than to France, where they could live as Christians.

Ricote is naturally worried about where they are, and about their safety; but he is also worried that his wife and daughter, the two people about whose values and beliefs he was absolutely certain . . . he might not have known them at all.

The rest of the story of Ricote’s family plays itself out a few chapters later (chapters 63-65). It is pure Renaissance romance, filled with miraculous coincidences, a few moments of violence and terror, and the inevitable happy endings. You will have to read it to see how it all comes out. Yet despite the happy ending, Cervantes has made his points clear. There is indeed a measure of military threat against Spain, though its assessment is undoubtedly overblown. The cultural threat to Spain is patently ridiculous. Philip III’s policy is, in addition to fundamentally unworkable, unjust and inhumane. As always, Cervantes implies that justice must be applied to individuals for individual specific acts, not to groups in retribution for imagined group crimes. Or worse, to prevent hypothetical future crimes by members of some stereotyped group.

He makes another point that tempers with its optimism the horrors occasioned by the policy of expulsion. Good people like Sancho Panza recognize the institutional wrongs, and will do all they can to help the affected individuals in their individual acts of resistance.

And Spain? As a result of the expulsion, the economy of the eastern Mediterranean coastal region collapsed. The distinguished historian Henry Kamen (The Spanish Inquisition, 3rd Edition, 1999) termed it an “immediate economic catastrophe.” Aragon, especially along the Ebro Valley, and Catalonia suffered similar ruin. Many villages were abandoned. The human suffering was, as always in such events, incalculable.

In a broader sense, Spain’s century of systematic and authoritarian rejection of —shall we call it diversity?— that blossomed in the 1480s with the establishment of the Inquisition, soon followed by the Catholic Monarchs’ conquest of Granada, the expulsion and conversion of the Jews, and decades of intensifying animosity against Muslims and Moriscos that culminated in the expulsions of 1609 to 1614, narrowed the country’s vision. All through the Middle Ages Spain had been the most humanly diverse place in Europe, and now it wasn’t. Even though Renaissance Spain enjoyed a Golden Age of arts and literature, fueled by American silver and cochineal and cacao, year by year it lagged behind the rest of Western Europe, for not only had it ostensibly rid itself of Jews and Muslims, it had stigmatized as Semitic the talents for which the Jewish and Muslim populations had been stereotypically known: skilled technical manual labor, sophisticated agricultural dexterity, the business and industrial skills of literacy and numeracy. In retrospect, as a half-century of post-Francisco Franco historians have noted, Spain it did itself in.

Cervantes, a man both in and out of his time, was an intractable enemy of making policy decisions based upon stereotypes. Toward the end of the Ricote episode (chapter 65), Cervantes writes a diatribe against the Spanish government’s having done exactly that. But, being Cervantes, his weapon is irony, and its vehicle is extravagant praise. When don Antonio, a prominent noble, suggests that maybe he could bribe a powerful government official, Bernardino de Velasco, to allow Ricote’s family to stay in Spain, Ricote urges him not to do it, because the official in charge is incorruptible. And, Ricote

adds, the royal policy is both wise and justified. He says that Velasco knows

that the whole body of our [Morisco] nation is tainted and corrupt, ... [he knows] all our schemes and plots, importunities and wiles, ... he is ever on the watch lest one of us should remain behind in concealment, and like a hidden root come in course of time to sprout and bear poisonous fruit in Spain. . . . [Spain is] now cleansed, and relieved of the fear in which our vast numbers have kept it. Heroic resolve of the great Philip the Third, and unparalleled wisdom to have entrusted it to the said don Bernardino de Velasco.

Must we likewise applaud the heroic resolve of the great Donald Trump and the unparalleled wisdom of his cabinet appointments?