By Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.
“Multiculturalism is a charade”–Angela Merkel
Across Europe, populist leaders of various right-wing parties are pointing a finger of blame at Islam for threatening domestic cultures and security even as critics decry such statements as a serious threat to freedom of religion and minority rights. That this phenomenon is having an effect on the general population of EU member countries can be ascertained by simply taking a look at the above poll.
Let’s take a look at the statements made by some of those extremists in nine countries of the EU (Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, the Check Republic, Slovakia, Italy, France, Poland, Hungary. I have eliminated the UK since it no longer is a member of the union, but there too there has been, and continues to be, plenty of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric. In any case, anti-Islamic sentiments are not exclusive to those nine countries; they are present in varying degrees in most of the 26 EU countries, not excluding northern Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Sweden, Finland, long considered a bastion of liberal thinking.
In Germany we have Alexander Gauland, deputy chairman of the Alternative for Germany party who has said this about Islam: “Islam is not a religion like Catholic or Protestant Christianity, but a faith linked intellectually with a takeover of the state. Therefore, the Islamization of Germany is a danger.”
In the Netherlands we have Geert Wilders, founder and leader of the Party for Freedom who said this: “Recently thousands of Arab men sexually attacked, humiliated and raped hundreds of women. All women are fair game. I call the perpetrators ‘testosterone bombs.’ We have seen what they are capable of. It’s sexual terrorism. A sexual jihad. And it is happening all over Europe.”
In Slovakia Prime Minister Robert Fico said this: ““Islam has no place in Slovakia.”
In Austria, former Freedom Party presidential candidate Norbert Hofer said this: ““We must stop this invasion of Muslims.”
In Austria, Johann Gudenus, vice mayor of Vienna, said this: “The new fascism in Europe is Islamism.””
In France, Marine Le Pen, head of the National Front party said this: “We have to oppose all demands that aim to shatter secularism — demands for different clothes, demands for special food, demands for prayer rooms. Demands that create special rules that would allow Muslims to behave differently.”
In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said this: “Islam was never part of Europe. It’s the rule book of another world.”
In Poland, former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said this: “There are already signs of the emergence of very dangerous diseases which haven’t been seen in Europe for a long time: cholera on Greek islands; dysentery in Vienna; various types of parasites, protozoans, which aren’t dangerous in the organisms of these people but which could be dangerous here.”
In Italy, Matteo Salvini, federal secretary of the Northern League party, when asked to opine on the election of a the first Moslem major of London, said this: “For me it is a worrying sign. … I think of London itself, where there are already some abusive courts applying Islamic law.”
The above statements speak for themselves and need no comments. But they do need some historical interpretation. Without an historical context they will surely be misinterpreted. Many of their proponents are in fact counting on such a misinterpretation. One of them is that of blaming the present turmoil on the refugees seeking asylum, when in fact they are the victims of a vicious war in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, often enough stirred up by the former colonial powers who drew misguided nationalistic borders ensuring ethnic strife, and are now parading as saviors and harbinger of democracy and freedom.
The above quote by Angela Merkel is indicative. She is decrying there the lip service given to multiculturalism, all but violated in practice. It is an ironic statement. But there are more cynical approaches and those are not necessarily from fascist-leaning extremists, but also by those who are part of the established political order. For example, in the aftermath of the devastating attack in Nice, Poland’s interior minister, Mariusz Blaszczak, (a member of Law and Justice Party) told reporters that the blame lay with the embrace of multiculturalism. “Have we not learned lessons from previous attacks in Paris and Brussels? This is a consequence of the policy of multicultural politics, and political correctness.”
There is little doubt that France has embraced multiculturalism and diversity better than Poland. The French like to portray themselves as largely tolerant and indifferent to ethnic and racial diversity. They also feel that they have a more positive view of Muslims than much of the rest of Europe. It has in fact one of the largest Muslim population in Europe (probably 10% of its total population). This tolerance may also be partially true for England and Germany, but it may not be the case in Hungary, Poland, Italy or Greece, as the above statistics bear out. In any case, it is all relative to what is being compared. To have one eye is better than being blind but it is not an optimal situation.
France’s relationship with its Muslim minority is a complicated one and it has to do with secularism vis a vis religion, as I, for one, have repeatedly argued in the pages of this magazine. Despite the ideals of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution regarding equality, freedom and brotherhood (noble sounding principles in the abstract), research reveals that Muslims face discrimination in the French job market and Muslims, similar to the Blacks in the US, make up a disproportionately large percentage of its prison population. France has passed laws prohibiting the wearing of full-face veils, which Muslims interpret as religious discrimination against them.
What seems to be at work is the normative level of French identity which is not based on its Christian heritage, largely ignored and even debunked as retrograde and “medieval”, but on a guarantee of diversity and neutrality based on a secular citizenship. To be sure, religion is tolerated and even protected but it is to remain a private affair with no voice in the public square. This might have worked if it were wholly voluntary, but many Muslims feels that it is imposed on them as a political ideology. They perceive France’s secularism as a schizophrenic attitude: it wants to foment ideals of liberty, tolerance and solidarity, but it also wants to impose secular norms on its minorities in the name of modernity and progress.
The situation in Germany, the other EU country with a large Muslim population does not fare any better. Once a libertarian force opposed to the euro and Greek bailouts, the fast-growing Alternative for Germany party has now squarely joined the anti-Islam ranks. In recent weeks this party has unveiled a scathing denunciation warning against “the expansion and presence of a growing number of Muslims” on German soil. Its rationale, if indeed there is one, is that it wants to protect women’s rights, national security and German culture. The party is fast growing and is now supported by almost 1 in 6 voters. It is is calling for a ban on headscarves at schools and universities and is preparing to release an anti-Islam “manifesto” based on “scientific research.” Echoes of Hitler’s “scientific” racial laws? In the formerly communist east meanwhile, the party has gone even further, startling local Muslims by launching an effort to stop the construction of Erfurt’s first mosque. Many of these Germans who wish to protect German culture, don’t usually bother worshipping on Sunday; they may identify as Christians in mane, but their religion seems to be soccer games on Sunday; some 75% of Erfurt’s 200,000 residents declare themselves as non-religious, but then they wish to prevent the construction of mosques because they do not fit well with ancient traditional Christian churches. Here again, cultural schizophrenia seems to be at work. It may indeed have to do with religion reduced to nothing but cultural embellishment, to mere “patriotism,” a religion bereft of its transcendent symbolism and mystical vocation.
There are even more ominous signs harking back to the Germany of the 30s and its treatment of the Jews. At least two German universities have closed Muslim prayer rooms, arguing that places of higher education should be secular and that Islam should not receive “special treatment.” They are encouraging Muslims who want to pray to use generic “rooms of silence” designed for all students. In Germany, as in other parts of Europe, there has also been a recent spate of attacks on mosques, including attempted arsons and vandalism. It may be worth remembering that the crematoriums for the concentration camps were built in Erfurt; that the Buchenwald was here. Here the majority, meted out terror and injustice on a minority, their fellow Jewish citizens. The question arises: will Germany allow this outrage to happen again?
Also alarming on a global scale is the rising opposition to Moslems, which has overtones of racial and religious persecution, as a campaign issue in the US (where Trump wants to prevent all Muslims from entering the country), in France, Austria, the Netherlands, Poland and other nations of the EU. Just to give a few examples of what have become fierce campaign issues: In France, acts of violence against Muslims surged more than threefold in 2015, jumping from 133 incidents to 429, according to the country’s Interior Ministry. In May, Polish police entered university dorms in Krakow to question a number of foreign students about connections to terrorism, prompting allegations of racial profiling and Muslim-bashing. In January, the Danish city of Randers passed a resolution requiring public institutions to serve pork. Supporters rallied in favor of the bill by saying Danish food culture should trump the religious requirements of Muslim immigrants. In April, the Italian province of Veneto adopted a change in a law that critics say makes it harder to build mosques. “I’m absolutely against the construction of new mosques,” Luca Zaia, Veneto’s governor from the right-wing Northern League, told the Nuova di Venezia newspaper. “I’ve already met some of these preachers, and I told them clearly that sermons need to be pronounced in Italian, for reasons of transparency.”
In an open letter to these extremist anti-Moslem groups Mina Ahadi, an Iranian dissident and critic of fundamental Islam, writes that they “basically represent the same authoritarian, homophobic and sexist — in short: inhumane — position as ultraconservative Islamic associations.” In response the Alternative for Germany party is relying on authorities such as Tilman Nagel, a former professor of Islamic studies at Göttingen University, who in a telephone interview, lashed out at political correctness and stated that “The fundamental principles of Islam can’t be reconciled with our free constitution.” One can wager that the same professor, if placed in an academic setting, will proceed to wax eloquent about freedom of religion and respect for foreign cultures and civilizations. Talking of schizophrenia! Europa, nosce te ipsum.
This article was published at Modern Diplomacy