There is little doubt that Islamopobia is rife in Europe, a continent that only 60 years ago was host to the worst genocide in human history, shocking in both scale and execution. Today, one by one European countries are electing far-right parties into parliament and presidential office, and Muslims and other non-white Europeans are finding it harder to “fit into” European society.
I just read a brilliant article called “The success of Islamophobia in Europe” (here). There is no doubt that things in Europe are getting tense:
Immigrants are caricatured and scapegoated, whole ethnic groups are implied to have criminal personalities and to be anything but normal, moral and hard-working. Wilders, for example, speaks of Moroccan ‘street-terrorists’ while his party proposes replacing civil servants with street militias; the Sweden Democrats commissioned an advertisement showing a woman in a burqa harassing an elderly pensioner; the Danish president of the International Free Press Society, Lars Hedegaard, asserts that Muslim men routinely allow their daughters to be raped by family members, while the Scandinavian internet is awash in tales of ‘Islamic rape gangs’; and the head of Germany´s new Freedom Party, René Stadtkewitz argues that it is impossible to integrate (Turkish and Arab) Muslims into German society without doing fundamental damage to its Judeo-Christian culture.
What is even more worrying is that so many Europeans seem to support anti-Islam rhetoric. In an election in the Netherlands in the summer of 2010, Wilders’ party received approx 2 million out of the 8 million votes that were cast. If that isn’t scary I don’t know what is.
The article brings up many good points. One of these is the fact that Europe seems to be plagued by the Holocaust, yet not by its colonial past. Why so much guilt over the Holocaust but not the colonial empires so many European countries ruled over brutally?
While the Holocaust has increasingly been taken as the foundational trauma for the whole of western Europe – a shared inheritance enabling an overarching moral project – colonialism has been approached from the opposite perspective. Notwithstanding that at one point 85% of the world was under European control – affecting the economics, ideologies, politics, consumption, and cultures of all Europe and all non-Europe along the way – colonialism nonetheless has been seen as a matter of purely national significance, to be dealt with individually as each nation and state might occasionally see fit.
One major misleading effect is that non-western immigrants are now largely imagined to be encountering Europe for the first time and to be bringing with them a purely alien culture untouched by decades and centuries under European control and influence. It is as if Europe had never gone out into the world in any significant cultural fashion, but only economically and militarily, while its own cultures were somehow left magically untouched.
Another interesting point is that Islamophobia is not necessarily a resurgence of racism:
The critical innovation of these movements, particularly in northern Europe, is that they have managed – for their supporters – to delink Islamophobia from racism so that today it is quite possible to argue that one is both anti-Islam and anti-racist.
This could explain why the Dutch, for example, normally obsessed with political correctness, have no problem complaining about (at the least) or insulting (at the most) Islam. Stephen Gash, co-founder of Stop Islamisation of Europe, has taken as his tag-line: “racism is the lowest form of human stupidity, but Islamophobia is the highest form of common sense.” This reminds me of how being anti-Islam has become acceptable in many parts of the world. It’s okay to complain about Islam, to generalize about Muslims, and to support anti-Islamic proposals/laws/wars. Muslims are the ultimate ‘Other’ and so any negative action/rhetoric used against them is completely understandable and therefore acceptable.
Across Europe there is legislation against hate speech, against racism and anti-Semitism, against the defamation of whole groups, minorities, and (if inconsistently) religions.
When Muslims appeal to such legislation, said legislation is suddenly accused of inflicting an unacceptable limitation on one’s freedom of speech – a misuse of anti-hate legislation that silences all criticism.
The author suggests 2 solutions to the problem. One: the formation of Islamic political parties in Europe (yeah right! there will be some kind of mass conflict before that happens); and two: remove all anti-hate speech legislation (so all groups can be targeted? isn’t it better to ensure that anti-Islam speech is punished, the way all other hate-speech is?)
Personally, I think the problem at this point can only be solved through socialization. No legal, economic, or political solution will work anymore. The problem is racism, Islamophobia, and the fact that Europeans just do not seem to like people different from them. The colonial past and the Holocaust are two events that make it clear that Europe has an issue with difference. This is not to say, of course, that ALL Europeans are like this; but from my personal experience, many are. This is especially the case with Muslims, who are seen as completely different and simply backwards. They are not modern, rational, and do not support human rights (what exactly are human rights? are they universal or western? when did non-white people agree to these universal human rights?)
How rare it is for a national politician to claim Muslims as one of his or her own. The fundamental paradox is that while the established and progressive elite of continental Europe are fiercely against rhetorical and institutionalized discrimination – to the point that many consider this a deep violation of their most vital personal and national values – many are at the same time highly unwilling to stop considering Islam and immigrants as backward in one fashion or another.
Elite and populist alike agree on the Muslims´ otherness; they just differ on the question of what to do about it. And as long as they agree on this – through their actions even more than their words – we have nowhere to go but down.