Europe

Spanish institutions remain silent on racist murder in Murcia

Younes Bilal was shot by former military officer for standing up for himself against racist insults

Alyssa McMurtry   | 19.06.2021
Spanish institutions remain silent on racist murder in Murcia Protest in support of Bilal Younes in Madrid, Spain on Friday. (Photo: Laila Serroukh)

OVIEDO, Spain

Nearly a week after the brutal murder of a Moroccan man at the hands of a Spanish veteran in Murcia, southern Spain, the country’s institutions remain overwhelmingly silent about the attack.

Younes Bilal, 39, was shot three times on June 13 while sitting at a café with friends. It all started when the former military member, identified as Carlos, began insulting a waitress for sitting with a “group of Moors,” according to witness testimony and the lawyer of Bilal’s family.

After Carlos continued shouting racist slurs about Muslims, Bilal confronted him, asking him to respect Muslims and the waitress. Witnesses say this was the first time the two men had ever met.

After the argument, Carlos went home, changed clothes, and grabbed his gun. He returned to the café, confronted Bilal with more racist slurs, and fatally shot him three times in the chest.

The veteran fled but was later captured and brought into police custody. Upon investigation, police found several weapons in Carlos’ home and that he had no history of mental illness.

This shocking incident, which spurred protests in the town of Mazarron, where Bilal lived and had his life taken, did not make the front pages of most Spanish newspapers.

Besides passing condemnations by local political groups and the president of Murcia, the political response has been muted.

In the six days since Bilal’s murder, the Spanish government has issued two official statements condemning sexist murders. On Friday, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also personally called a man whose daughter was killed by her mother to express his “total rejection” of the crime.

But Spain’s progressive government has not officially mentioned or condemned the racially charged murder of Bilal.

Neither has the government of Murcia issued an institutional statement condemning the incident.

According to Spanish broadcaster Cadena Ser, the left-wing group Podemos tried to pass a motion in the regional parliament condemning the attack and racist discourse, but the other politicians shut it down.

In comparison, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several other federal government members attended a vigil for a Muslim family run down by a pickup truck driver earlier this month, just two days after the incident.

“We need Spanish politicians to get a little more involved here, not only at the level of institutional condemnations, which are obviously very important, but also in terms of economic support … Bilal supported his wife and three children working a modest job at a campsite. His family is suffering and have no support,” the family’s lawyer Melecio Castaño told Cadena Ser.

Several activists have also pointed out how sweeping racist incidents under the rug have only produced a growing sense of impunity, especially in the southern region of Murcia where there is a large population of migrant workers and immigrants.

On Wednesday, just days after Bilal’s brutal murder, another episode of racist violence took place in the Murcian city of Cartagena. A woman from Ecuador was waiting in line at a food bank when another woman approached her, yelled racial slurs about South Americans, saying “immigrants are taking our food,” and stabbed her in the back (non-fatally).

“You hear a lot about isolated incidents, but unfortunately there’s been a series of ‘isolated incidents’ in recent years in Murcia,” Juan Guirado, head of Convivir Sin Racismo, a local antiracism organization, told Cadena Ser.

In February, a mosque was defaced and vandals tried to set it on fire in the town of San Javier. Months later a similar attack was carried out on the headquarters of the left-wing Podemos party in Cartagena.

The second month of the year also saw residents of the city of Lorca protesting against the opening of a mosque.

In December 2019, a device made to look like a bomb was planted at the door of a center for young immigrants in Alhama.

“These racist attacks have a common thread – the growing discourse of hate. These racist and xenophobic discourses are legitimizing violent actions in our neighborhoods,” Margarita Guerrero Calderon, president of the MRC Europe social justice organization who is based in Murcia, said in a social media video.

In recent years, Murcia has become a stronghold for the far-right party Vox. In the 2019 general elections, the group, with hardline views on immigration, was the region’s most voted political force.

“It’s appalling that no public institution has been in touch with his family or friends, who are devastated … Younes was killed, but it could have been anyone sitting at that table. The situation is producing sadness and outrage. Our institutions should work to humanize immigrants, sit and talk with the community, repair the harm that this region, and especially its immigrant population, has been suffering,” Guirado continued.

He and several others have suggested that the reaction would have been radically different if a veteran was killed by a Muslim extremist.

“What happened to Younes is the same as terrorism. It comes from hate. It’s taking someone’s life based on their religion, race or culture,” Nabil Azrib, a friend of Bilal’s, told Cadena Ser.

Activist groups organized protests in Madrid and Barcelona on Friday, condemning the murder and racism in Spain, but the turnout was relatively low.

Commenting on why Bilal’s murder hasn’t provoked the same show of support as racist attacks in the United States, Moroccan journalist Youssef M. Ouled quipped: “Because there’s racism in the United States, but in Spain, there are just anecdotes.”

Guirado believes that the surge of racism in Murcia has a lot to do with the treatment of seasonal workers. The region is a major producer of fruits and vegetables for Europe and is heavily reliant on migrants, mainly from the African content, who work for low prices and often under precarious conditions.

“We’re constantly witnessing labor abuses and sexual abuses of migrants working in the field that end up going nowhere. These conditions of semi-slavery dehumanize people. If you take away their dignity, people begin to feel superior to them and if there’s no social, political or institutional reproach then extremist behavior flourishes.”

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