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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 16 - A childishly absurd stew over sovereignty of a goat-haunted wart

THUS wrote Sir William Napier in his highly-readable 1808 history, The War in the Peninsula: "The Spanish character, in relation to public affairs, is marked by inordinate pride and arrogance. Dilatory, improvident, singly and in mass, they cherish an absurd confidence that everything suggested by their heated imaginations is practicable; they see no difficulties and the obstacles encountered are attributed to treachery."

Hold hard; you lovers of Spain and the Spaniards, I am also an aficionado of that country and its talented, hospitable and industrious people, but by the high-topped sierras, the languorous gardens of the Alhambra and that colourful, violent, tragic, triumphant, jumble of history, architecture, bullfighting blood and sand and the chicken íní chips and "tea like mother made" Gehennas of the British-tourist-sodden coastal strips, Napier probably had a point, at least as far as pride and arrogance are concerned. The haughtiness of the hidalgo and the Lucifer-pride of the don are still deep in the Iberian psyche, combustible and ready for display in matters that affect Spanish dignity and territorial integrity.

Proof of that is shown in the childishly-absurd stew over the islet of "Parsley" - or Perejil to give its map name - between Spain and Morocco, two grown-up nations thought to be observant of the protocols of international politesse and not given to nursery-type howls of anguish and physical force over some minute, geological bauble.

Yet when Morocco dispatched 12 soldiers to establish what it claimed was its sovereignty over the tiny, goat-haunted wart on the Mediterranean lip, the Spanish government reacted as if the nation were being reinvaded by the Moors. To oust the Moroccans, clinging to the rock like limpets on a shipís hull, Spain deployed submarines, aircraft and frigates around the island and sent in a helicopter-borne, commando raid that overwhelmed the dazed, remaining half-dozen and dispatched them bloodlessly back to the mainland.

Moroccoís foreign minister, Mohamed Benaissa exploded, "This is equivalent to an act of war," but in Spanish tavernas, the nation rejoiced at the "reconquista" of the island, an act in which lives might have been lost, but seen, in the pulsations of Hispanic pride, as possibly as significant as the expulsion of the Moors from Granada.

Meanwhile, Gibraltarians are grimly pointing out the mindset and double standards of Spain that wants full sovereignty over the Rock but keeps a tight grip on its own North African enclaves, however insignificant, and would, say Spanish military sources, have shed blood to retake Perejil.

With further confirmation of Spainís territorial attitudes, it is hardly surprising that the Rock residents are entrenched even further in their desire to remain linked to Britain. There they are, 28,000 of them clinging to two and a half square miles of territory with the Rock, a 1,396-feet-high lump of Jurassic limestone, like a ring on the earlobe of Spain.

These people are an awkward political anomaly. They are proud to live in a British possession and are - can you believe it? - patriots. Britishness to this mixture of Italian, British, Maltese, Jewish, Moslem, Hindu and Spanish descent means a moral force bolstering democracy, law and order, commonsense, courage in adversity and responsible global citizenship: a tall order to live up to for a nation, crime-ridden, drugs-sodden and where corruption at national and local government level is rife. Still, the Gibraltarians cling to their old loyalty to Britain, now critically strained by the recently-announced shared sovereignty with Spain objective.

When I was in Gibraltar a few years ago, I was told by an administration official, a fervent supporter of the fight for the Rockís self-determination, "Britainís declining interest in Gibraltar has only whetted the appetite of a predatory Spain. If the Spaniard wants to kill you, he comes with a knife. The British," he added, "are splendid at killing by kindness. We will not give into Spanish pressure to be taken over or by the slow, benign pushing of Britain."

A local tourist coach driver told me, "We are proud to be British and we will not give that up." A Gibraltar Information Bureau official commented, "Spanish control would mean the loss of our rights and our identity. Even the apes," he added, "never go to Spain."

I salute the awkward Gibraltarians. A little drop of parsley on the Spanish territorial plate may have done them some good.

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