Ripoll and the deepest crack

"When will you stop coming?" implores the City Council's press officer.

17 August 2022 Wednesday 00:33
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Ripoll and the deepest crack

"When will you stop coming?" implores the City Council's press officer. In Ripoll, journalists are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Reporters from all over the world flooded the capital of Ripollès in August 2017, with the residents in shock after discovering that behind the terror of the Rambla and Cambrils were the imam and several boys from the town. They came back when it was a month old, when they were six, a year old… and now at five. The mayor, Jordi Munell (Junts), does not grant interviews. "We need to close the wound and we won't be able to do it if we keep poking around," reasons his spokesperson, Núria Perpinyà.

Those responsible for the Annour Islamic Community also want to turn the page, in whose mosque Imam Abdelbaki es Satty stealthily recruited the ten kids and launched them to kill in the name of Allah. They have just inaugurated a new 375-square-meter oratory, quite a leap about the narrow place where they used to pray. They do not give interviews, not even to explain what measures have been taken so that something like this does not happen again. "At first they showed their faces and talked a lot with the press, but they were treated very badly, and they are tired," justifies a Muslim who has offered, in vain, to act as an intermediary. "Go away, there's no one," growls a bearded man who has come to ring the bell of the mosque.

“Those who did it are either dead or in prison. End of story. Instead of going through this, you should explain what is happening in Ukraine and the crisis that is coming our way this winter. Now that's serious, ”replies the waiter of an Arab tea shop irritably.

Who does talk about the subject, and at all hours, is the councilor Sílvia Orriols, leader of Aliança Catalana, an ultra-nationalist party born in Ripoll after the attacks. Along with independence, she promises to “stop the Islamization of Catalonia”, with the same nostalgia for a supposed past of greatness and ethnic purity that the extreme right agitates in other countries, under other flags.

The trauma of 17-A redrew the municipal political landscape. In 2019, far-right votes increased fivefold. Aliança Catalana (then Front Nacional Català) appeared, which achieved 503 votes, and Som Catalans, another identity party that speaks of "migratory invasion", with 112. A dream that never reached Platform for Catalonia, now disappeared, which reached its peak in the 2011 with 312 votes and one seat, and dropped to 122 in 2015.

The attacks revealed the cracks in the model of integration and coexistence in Ripoll, where tensions were beating underground. With a few exceptions, the terrorists were not conflictive or socially isolated kids. They came as children from Morocco. They spoke Catalan and Spanish, almost all of them had studies and employment. Some were even considered exemplary young men. However, the ease with which Imam Es Satty seduced them into his violent ideology showed that a much darker substratum was bubbling beneath the surface. “They met all the assumptions of good integration. So you ask yourself: where did the chain break? There is still no answer and that leaves you with a very bad feeling inside”, says Anna Prieto, from the employers' association UIER, who found work for several of them.

"The absence of conflicts made us not realize what was underneath," says Roser Vilardell, director of the Museu Etnogràfic, next to the imposing monastery of Santa Maria. “Both personally and professionally, it touched me a lot. Things never happen just because, ”reflects the historian. “At the museum level, I thought maybe we hadn't done everything that could be done. We have always had a look towards the present of the territory, but perhaps without paying enough attention to diversity. It is something that we have tried to correct. On a personal level, I think that now I am more aware of the situations that you cause without realizing it, the discrimination that you do not see but that is very evident for those who suffer it.

Vilardell knows well that the attacks did not provoke the same self-critical introspection in all his neighbors. "For some it has caused the opposite, and they have been legitimized to say things that they did not dare before," he says.

The community gap has not only not been closed but has widened, says Teresa Jordà, from ERC, who was mayor of Ripoll in 2003-2011 and today is Minister of Climate Action in the Government of the Generalitat. “I don't think you can talk about coexistence, but rather about coexistence. Each one makes his life and nobody cares too much about the others. That already happened before, but now the coexistence has worsened. The attacks have done a lot of damage”, regrets the minister. Jordà considers that the extreme right offers a simplistic discourse that does not provide solutions. “Instead of appeasing, what it does is tighten the ropes and create discomfort. Now, it would not be honest to say that this malaise did not exist before the attacks”.

With almost 11,000 inhabitants, Ripoll has an immigration rate of 14%. Moroccans are by far the most numerous immigrants, although the Latin American population is growing. “It is a town with an industrial tradition, where jobs were passed from father to son, it has always been a bit closed in on itself. Little new sap has entered,” says Jordà. “There has never been a good integration. Without justifying the unjustifiable, because violence is, no one has cared about how these kids feel beyond whether they are apparently integrated. When their referents are not strong, someone may appear who channels their concerns into an extremist message. Educators and social workers have worked hard, but at the political level they have not gone to the bottom of the matter, ”launches the former mayor.

Behind the bar of Cafè Canaules, a magnificent restaurant in the central Plaça Gran, its owner, Joselina Soldevila, observes the town with a clinical eye. “Ripoll has been fragmented, between those from here and those from outside. There are many misgivings, although everyone pretends that nothing is happening. This is like the UN: they are all sitting there, disguising, but they have a mania”, says the mestressa.

“Eleven terrorists left Ripoll. It's a soccer team! It is not an accident. The system does not work”, says former councilor Fina Guix. In 2019 she left the Junts municipal group to go number two on the Orriols list. The mayor found out a month before the elections.

Guix, who has since left politics, criticizes the way the City Council deals with immigration. “Around 2015, in Ripoll we saw a change in the Muslim community. Before, if they had not integrated, at least they had adapted. Suddenly we were seeing more and more women with veils. From the Consistory we asked, they told us that it was the imam. But we did nothing. When I talked about the veil, or said that we should all have rights and duties, my own colleagues treated me as a racist," says Guix.

The former councilor describes as "undemocratic" that the rest of the parties apply a cordon sanitaire to Aliança Catalana. “Immigration must be talked about. And Orriols is the only one that does it, apart from Vox”.

“Five years are not enough to close wounds. We are very aware that we have years of work ahead of us”, says Elisabeth Ortega, head of the Ripollès Social Welfare consortium. Together with the Núria Riera technician, they have worked tirelessly on the elaboration of what they call a “new model of coexistence”. They have conducted more than a thousand interviews, received advice from international experts, and even traveled to places like Toulouse, which suffered the Mohamed Merah attacks in 2012. With all its challenges, Ripoll is an almost idyllic place compared to the ghettos of French cities, Riera acknowledges.

The attacks forced Ripoll to look in the mirror and, to them, to question their work. "One of the things that we realized had failed is the feeling of belonging," says Ortega. More than integration, they have begun to talk about inclusion. And not as an issue that concerns only immigrants but the population as a whole. “If you want migrated people to feel included, you have to leave them a space. It is a mistake to work exclusively with those who arrive, the receiving community also needs accompaniment to face all the transformations that we are experiencing and that arouse fears. It's not just immigration. There are many diversities that question us: LGBT, gender, age...”, explains Riera. Among other actions, they have promoted a pioneering program that, through role-playing games, tries to make the participants aware of how the mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion are generated.

Ortega admits that the reflection has not gone as far as they would like. In addition to the resistance of certain sectors, the political and social context has not helped. “These have been intense years, of great polarization. The attacks were in August and less than a month and a half later came October 1. One thing covered the other. And then the pandemic. The process that we had started was interrupted.”

“We are the ones who have suffered the most. Two fascist parties have come out in Ripoll. And that is not all. Before we were a town, now everything has been broken. Muslims carry a stigma. We know that we have our eyes nailed to the back of our necks, that whatever mistake we make, there are people who are going to make it big,” says a delivery man of Moroccan origin, in perfect Catalan from Ripollès. He does not want to give his name for fear of losing clients, something that already happened to him after 17-A. “A lot of people turned their faces to me. Friends I'd gotten drunk with as a youngster, girls I'd dated. This affected me. I've always heard the word Moorish, but when it's people you appreciate who suddenly say it, it's different,” says this 45-year-old man, who came to town as a ten-year-old boy.

In this time, he reflects, "Ripoll has changed just as the world has changed." “When my family came here, in the eighties, it was a town full of factories, there was plenty of work. They welcomed us with open arms. I am very grateful to this land. I am independent. I feel Catalan, although some make me feel that I am not”, she says.

The reaction of many Muslims has been to close down, warns job counselor Fadua Hamda Addaraa, born 40 years ago in Sant Joan de les Abadesses to Moroccan parents. She too, like Teresa Jordà, sees a missed opportunity. “Before the attacks we coexisted. When it happened, there was a will to meet each other, to find out why it had happened. Many entities were born, in Benestar Social they got down to work. All that has been diluted and we are back where we were. If you don't bother me, I don't bother you."

One of those citizen organizations that emerged in 2017, now defunct, was called Som Ripoll and aimed to preserve social harmony and avoid xenophobic drifts. Google throws a metaphorical dart: when typing “Som Ripoll”, the search engine directs to the local account of Som Catalans, the ultra party. “After 17-A, many people found it hard to say things in public that were only said in private. It all came to the surface,” says Addaraa.

The attacks have caused a lot of suffering and the temptation to want to turn the page is understandable, he says. She fears that it is false and, above all, that the ground is being paid to the ultras. “I understand that talking about complex and painful things is difficult, but keeping quiet paves the way for the extreme right. Orriols has it easy, nobody refutes what he says. Dialogue tables are not held, nor are evidence and data opposed to his arguments, ”she is indignant.

She, who does not wear a veil and speaks Catalan with no trace of the language of her parents, knows well what glass barriers are. “I find out through my daughter. She is eight years old and I have never told her that she is Muslim or Moroccan. She was born here, we speak Catalan at home, but she is encountering the same situations that I encountered as a child. The labels that I have not put on it are being put on by others”. The pigeonholes come from both sides. Her daughter has classmates of Moroccan origin who tell her that her mother cannot be a Muslim because she does not wear a hijab.

Under a harsh midday sun, Azeddin, a 20-year-old Moroccan who prefers to give only his first name, walks along one of the stone bridges that cross the Ter. He arrived in Spain three years ago in a small boat, still a minor, and has passed through centers in Cádiz, Barcelona and Girona. “I left Morocco to look for my future. I didn't tell my parents. In Spain there are many open doors, if you make an effort. My dream is to study computer science”, he confesses.

He ended up in Ripoll because that's where he got a one-year contract, as a sweeper, a requirement to regularize the papers. But he is clear that his path lies elsewhere. “In Ripoll there are many Moroccans and they are all watching each other, gossiping. I prefer cities, I like meeting different people. As soon as I can, I'll get out of here."

When he arrived in Ripoll he went to the mosque a couple of times. Until they told him that some terrorists had come from there. "I have not come back. Now I pray at home. I don't want any trouble, you know?"



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