Reconquista, Reconquête : Islamophobic Reconquest Narratives in Far – Right Political Rhetoric

Photo: Éric Zemmour. Photograph by Chang Martin (Sipa via AP Images)


By Kathryn Hemmer


“Without Lepanto and Carlos V, the ladies in this room would wear burqas.”

So proclaimed former Vox Secretary General Javier Ortega-Smith in an inflammatory speech to European Parliament in 2019.

Ortega-Smith is not alone among Spain’s far-right politicians in his celebration of bygone Christian military campaigns. In the same year, Iván Espinosa de los Monteros (another Vox party leader) boldly claimed that “Europe is what it is thanks to [Spain’s] contribution, ever since the Middle Ages, of stopping the spread of Islam.” Here, Espinosa was alluding to the Reconquista, otherwise known as the ‘Conquista Cristiana,’ which historians define as the series of battles fought between Christian and Muslim states for territorial control of the Iberian Peninsula leading up to the 1492 Siege of Granada.

Vox’s obsession with the medieval Reconquista culminated in its 2019 election slogan: “La Reconquista.” And while Spain has the strongest claim to that history, it is not the only country whose far-right politicians have centered the idea of reconquista in their campaigns. In a fascinating development, Spain’s northern neighbor saw a newly founded right-wing party—Reconquête (“reconquest” in French)—make a splash in the 2022 presidential elections.

Why has the far-right chosen “Reconquista” as its rallying cry? And in what ways do political actors use it to promote Islamophobic policies in present-day Europe?


The Reconquista in Spanish Memory

The term “Reconquista” wasn’t coined until the 18th century, and it wasn’t popularized in political discourse until the Franco dictatorship of the 20th century. During this period, politicians began painting the victory of the Catholic Kings as the culmination of an 800-year struggle to “[expel] the illegitimate Muslim invaders” and “[unify] the Iberian Peninsula under one rule.” In this retelling, the Catholic military campaigns birthed a newly-defined nation in direct opposition to the Muslim territories, which represented a culture “alien to Spanish identity.”

This mythologized portrayal of the Reconquista characterized the Muslim occupation of al-Andalus (the area of the Iberian Peninsula under Muslim rule) as historically unique when, in reality, al-Andalus had previously experienced periods of Carthiginian, Roman, and Visigoth occupation. While the 800-year period following the Umayyad conquest consisted of territorial struggle between evolving Christian and Muslim kingdoms, it also saw many generations of coexistence. And although the Kingdom of Spain that claimed victory in 1492 was a unified Spain, it had only been created in its modern form a generation earlier, when Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand’s marriage united the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile.

In this sense, Spain in 1492 was hardly ‘liberated’ from what conservative historians might label as brutal Muslim oppression. While Christians and Jews were subject to special taxes under the Muslim administration , they had been allowed to freely practice their religions and could even elect their own judicial representation. That all changed under Catholic rule. In 1492, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand signed the Alhambra Decree, expelling all Jews from Spain. A decade later, a similar edict forced all Muslims to choose between conversion, death, or expulsion.

Spanish history would doubtlessly have evolved in a markedly different way given another 500 years of Muslim rule. Yet, the modern characterization of this alternative as objectively ‘bad’ inevitably rests on Islamophobic and racist assumptions. Further, it echoes Franco’s fascist political ideology of Spanish National Catholicism, which rejected all forms of multiculturalism in favor of a universal Catholic identity.

Ultimately, the Reconquista exists as a historiographical construction—a marked simplification of the era’s complexities—which depicts Spain’s expansion as a battle of good versus evil as opposed to a turbulent period of conquest that resulted in the eventual ethnic cleansing of the region’s Muslim and Jewish populations.


Covadonga to Granada

 Vox branded its campaign, ‘La Reconquista,’ not just as a nationalist homage to Spain’s military might, but also as a reference to what it views as a necessary modern reconquering of Spain from ‘Islamization’ and Muslim immigration. In keeping with this ideology, its 2019 general election campaign consisted of a symbolic route stretching from Covadonga, the reputed starting point of the Reconquista, to Granada, the last Islamic stronghold.

However, Vox wasn’t unique in its use of Reconquista imagery. In a bizarre episode of vaguely-machista right-wing squabbling, Pablo Casado of the conservative People’s Party tweeted a picture of the ‘Victory Cross,’ which, according to legend, was carried into the Battle of Covadonga by King Pelagius of Asturias. Casado captioned the photo: “We are going to begin the reconquest of Spain.” In response, Vox posted a picture of its own party leader, Santiago Abascal, donning a 16th-century morrión war helmet with a caption boasting that Abascal would lead the “new Reconquista” and that Casado could “keep trying.”

Vox’s use of historical sites and symbolism to evoke Spanish nationhood represents what Bull and Hansen refer to as ‘agonistic memory,’ a form of historical memory that relies on a “division of the historical characters into good and evil.” In conservative Reconquista thinking, the Christian kingdoms are associated with moral good whereas the Muslim caliphates are presented as ‘illegitimate’ and ‘morally corrupt.’ This strategy enables conservatives to then frame Islam as an entrenched threat to ‘good’ Christian values.

Modern politicians continue to imply such a fundamental clash between Spain and Islam. In a speech at Georgetown University, former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar stated:

The  problem Spain has with Al Qaeda and Islamic terrorism did not begin with the Iraq Crisis. In fact, it has nothing to do with government decisions. You have to go back no less than 1,300 years, to the early eighth century, when a Spain recently invaded by the Moors refused to become just another piece in the Islamic world and began a long battle to recover its identity.

This type of discourse feeds into conservative depictions of a transhistorical, homogenous Spain that has no culpability in relation to its supposed Muslim ‘antagonists.’ In other words, it presents contemporary Spain as an innocent nation that faces the same tensions as it did a millennium ago.


Reconquête in France

While Spain is the cradle of Reconquista ideology, similar rhetoric can now be heard in France. When French politician Éric Zemmour launched his far-right party, Reconquête, in December 2021, he delivered a speech calling for the “reconquest of the greatest country in the world.”

Zemmour’s reconquest ideology predominantly stems from France’s recent history of Muslim immigration—the majority of which comes from countries formerly occupied by the French colonial empire. Zemmour’s mission revolves around the symbolic reconquest of France’s ‘lost territories’: its low-income urban peripheries (banlieues in French), which are home to a disproportionate number of immigrants and which represent the epicenter of Islamization in the eyes of far-right conspiracy theorists.

Unlike Spain’s 800 year history of Muslim rule, France had only a brief (less than 20-year) encounter with the Muslim Umayyads in the 8th century. However, this hasn’t stopped right-wing extremists from invoking the period in their racist demands for an anti-Muslim France. The seminal Battle of Tours, for example, has reached the level of national myth in France: one that portrays the Umayyad defeat as the founding of Christian Europe and as grounds for the present-day expulsion of French Muslims.

 Although Reconquête closely parallels Vox’s appeals to medieval history, it also makes use of a different Islamophobic narrative: ‘great replacement theory.’ Now used worldwide in far-right circles, the great replacement conspiracy theory traces its modern roots to France, where, in 2011, French author Renaud Camus published a book of the same name. The book warned that Muslim population growth—as a result of mass migration, demographic growth, and decreasing birth rates among white Europeans—posed an existential threat to French culture and civilization. Use of the concept proliferated in political circles in 2015 as the refugee crisis emerged.

Great replacement theory notably inspired the political ideology of Éric Zemmour, who penned a 2014 bestseller, ‘Le Suicide français’ (The French Suicide), on the topic. In it, he describes the “Great Replacement” as targeted and violent in nature, arguing that the French are experiencing “a de facto colonization from the populations…who impose—through numbers and, sometimes, with violence—a de facto sharia.”


“Unbreachable” Walls

In their pursuit of “reconquest,” Vox and Reconquête have devised a range of explicitly violent policies targeted at Muslims and non-European immigrants.

In Spain, Vox has proposed the construction of “unbreachable” walls surrounding the North African exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, the deportation of tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants, and eliminating the ‘mosque’ designation from the Great Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba.

In France, Zemmour’s 2022 Reconquête platform included proposals to limit asylum to 100 people per year, “slash immigration to almost zero,” grant police a “presumption of legitimate defense” for the use of force, and end the right to citizenship of children born in France to immigrant parents. Zemmour has even called for a law to ban “non-French” baby names, a proposition that mimics the 1803 law passed by Napoleon which required that babies be named after Christian saints or ancient historical figures.

Such extreme platforms require correspondingly radical justifications. Thus, Vox and Reconquête both frame their ‘reconquests’ in military terms, presenting Islam as a violent movement incompatible with “Spanish” and “French” values—in other words, white Christian values.

Spain’s Vox has gone as far as to accuse Muslims of plotting war. In one highly-publicized hate speech trial, the Spanish Supreme Court investigated Vox’s Secretary General for declaring that “this reconquista hasn’t ended” and that “our common enemy, our future enemy is the Islamist invasion.” Vox’s Twitter account was relatedly suspended for hate speech following a series of tweets inflating statistics about crimes committed by Muslims.

Vox has villainized even the most vulnerable Muslim populations. In a statement supporting Ukrainian refugees, a Vox party leader claimed that, “these are real war refugees, women, children, and elderly people” different from the “invasions of young Muslim men of military age who have launched themselves at Europe’s borders in an attempt to destabilize and colonize it.”

Meanwhile in France, Zemmour of Reconquête commonly references an alleged ‘war’ waged by Islam on Europe (Zemmour almost never differentiates between Islamic extremism and the religion itself). He describes this so-called war, saying, “They kill and kill again…Islam’s war takes three distinct forms:  invasion, colonization, and all-out war.”

Given France’s violent colonial past, fearmongering about a future Islamic colonization of Europe adds a layer of racist irony to Zemmour’s conspiratorial ideology. And yet, it is precisely this type of invention that allows right-wing extremists to justify their hate speech and militant calls for reconquest.



“Reconquest” rhetoric is so effective because it provides a historical and militaristic justification for present-day Islamophobic policies while also appealing to the conservative and nationalist tendencies of the far-right. In places like France, where the medieval ‘Reconquista’ had less historical impact, politicians have also resorted to white supremacist conspiracy theories to strengthen their case.

Ultimately, these strategies rely upon the manipulation or outright fabrication of historical and contemporary truths. With hate crimes against Muslim people on the rise across Spain—and with a reported 67% of French citizens concerned about a ‘great replacement’—it is clear that the far-right’s Islamophobic and racist calls for reconquest have gained footing even in the mainstream. In the years to come, whether or not the public allows such distorted histories to enter the collective consciousness will have potentially devastating effects on the Muslims who call Europe home.

Kathryn Hemmer is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College and can be reached at