Toledo Cathedral

The Palace of Communications, which also serves as Madrid’s city hall, displays a “refugees Welcome” banner over the main entrance.

by Aidan Shadis ’16

In 2015 the Spanish Center for Sociological Research reported that about 68% of Spain’s population identifies as Catholic Christian, making it the most prominent religion in the country. As a result of this, Christian holidays are considered very important, and school vacations typically revolve around them. My school in Spain doesn’t have a “spring break” but for the duration of Semana Santa, the Spanish equivalent of Easter, we didn’t have class for an entire week.

I decided to take advantage of this time off by doing some sightseeing around Spain, and visiting cities such as Barcelona, Toledo, and Madrid. I was able to visit some of Spain’s most iconic locations, and I had a great time. Overall, the week was amazing, with the exception of one moment. Two days after the attacks in Brussels, while waiting for my bus in Pamplona, I witnessed firsthand the results of the fear and hatred being spread by radical terrorist groups.

I watched as a woman wearing a hijab entered the station by herself and was immediately confronted by security. Two guards took her aside and began asking questions about where she was going and her reasons for travel. After a couple of minutes they finally let her continue to the ticket office but, while waiting in line, she began to cry and had to walk away before she could buy a ticket. It was obvious that the interrogation by the guards had bothered her, and justifiably so. Neither I nor any of the other travelers had been questioned that way, making it clear that she was profiled as a possible threat simply for wearing her religious apparel.

Because of the recent bombings in Brussels, the guards had reason to be extra vigilant, but to determine that someone is a threat simply because of their religion is absolutely wrong. This type of thinking is not only impacting the lives of ordinary people such as the woman that I saw, but is also detrimental to the millions of refugees fleeing war-torn countries. Islamic refugees from countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are struggling to not only find a new home, but also a society that will accept them. In times like these, we can’t let fear control and divide us. We know now that by ostracizing an entire group people such as Muslims or Refugees we are only propagating radicalism and acts of terror. After all, it’s no secret that ISIS uses footage of republican front-runner Donald Trump to spark hate and recruit new members.

While in Toledo, I found it very relevant that the city was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO for its cultural and monumental heritage, as well as its historical co-existence of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cultures. I learned about how these groups of people with differing religious views lived together in peace, and even when Christian Castilian forces conquered the city they preserved all of the Jewish synagogues and Muslim libraries. The Toledo School of Translators was even founded and the cathedral of Toledo was used as a translations center to allow Jewish and Muslim scholars to help translate the Hebrew and Arabic books into Castilian Spanish, allowing knowledge to spread throughout Europe.

I think that societies today in both Spain and back home could learn a lesson from Toledo about acceptance and its benefits, because if we don’t stand together against the hate that is brewing, incidents like the one I saw in the bus station are going to continue happening, and innocent people are going to continue to get hurt.

Aidan Shadis is a senior at Lincoln Academy, currently spending the school year in Pamplona, Spain with Nacel International. He is the son of Brooke Cotter and Gabe Shadis of Damariscotta.