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EUROPE: ‘Rethink Rhetoric Against Islam’

Analysis by Julio Godoy

PARIS, Aug 15 2011 (IPS) - Conservative governments and centre-right parties in Europe were attacking multiculturalism and denigrating Muslim immigrants long before Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik used similar arguments to justify mass killings in Oslo and Utoya Island.

Now, more than three weeks after the massacres in Norway, many experts are calling on governments and parties “to disarm their rhetoric against Islam,” Armin Laschet, former minister for integration in the German federal state of North Rhine Westphalia, told IPS.

“A critique on some practices of Islam, and on deficits on the integration of Muslims in European societies should still be possible,” he said.

However, he added, “you cannot accuse a Muslim person in Germany, who worships her faith, who respects ritual such as Ramadan, and who raises her children respecting God, and otherwise leads an exemplary civil life in our country, of the extreme actions of regimes such as the one in Saudi Arabia.”

Such a differentiation is obligatory in the debate over the integration of Muslims in European societies, Laschet said.

Laschet pointed out that numerous examples of Muslims who live a perfect civil life in Europe show that the deficits of integration are caused by social, economic, and educational marginalisation.

“Look at the numerous Muslim doctors and engineers from Iran, who live as good citizens all over Europe,” he said. “But if illiterate immigrant Muslims come from extreme poor rural areas – say, in Turkey – to Berlin, it is clear that they will find enormous difficulties in coping with the mores of a modern industrial society.”

In Norway, the leader of the local conservative party, Erna Solberg, complained that “the way European extremist anti-Islam groups today denigrate Muslims and Islam is very similar to the way Fascist and right wing parties denigrated Jews in the 1930s.”

Such considerations are of extreme importance, in the face of repeated diatribes by European conservative political leaders or heads of government against Muslim immigrants and against Islam.

Typical of the Conservative denunciation of Muslims were the declarations last February of British conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who accused a so-called “doctrine of state multiculturalism” of having encouraged “different cultures to live separate lives” in Europe. He said that this doctrine encouraged “these segregated communities (to behave) in ways that run completely counter to our values.”

In this context, Cameron explicitly referred to Muslim immigrants, arguing that a terrorist threat has emerged in Europe “overwhelmingly from young men who follow a completely perverse, warped interpretation of Islam, and who are prepared to blow themselves up and kill their fellow citizens.”

In his speech, held at this year’s Munich Security Conference, Cameron stressed that this “state multiculturalism” is the root of radicalisation and terrorism. “As evidence emerges about the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by what some have called ‘non-violent extremists’ and then took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence,” Cameron said.

Cameron made his statements on the same day that the neo-fascist English Defence League (EDL) had scheduled a demonstration in London against multicultural and multiethnic society.

Leading members of the British Labour Party accused Cameron of “writing propaganda material for the EDL.”

In October, German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the multicultural and multiethnic model of society that emerged in Europe during the 1960s as “a total failure”.

Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union, for decades rejected the fact that Germany is a multiethnic society. In the early 2000s, the party launched a referendum campaign to stop the nationalisation of immigrants’ children born in Germany.

In Germany, the ‘jus sanguinis’, or right of blood, and not the ‘jus soli’, or right of soil, continues to determine the right to citizenship.

Merkel’s comments were triggered by a debate that followed the publication of the controversial book ‘Germany Abolishes Itself’, by former German central bank director Thilo Sarrazin. In the book and in interviews, Sarrazin, member of the Social Democratic Party, accused Muslims and Islam of being too demanding and failing to integrate into German society.

“No other religion in Europe makes so many demands,” said Sarrazin of Islam. “No immigrant group other than Muslims is so strongly connected with claims on the welfare state and (with) crime… in no other religion is the transition to violence, dictatorship and terrorism so fluid.”

Sarrazin went as far as to claim that race determines intelligence.

The critique of Muslims and of Islam has also been common among French conservatives. President Nicolas Sarkozy, in 2005, called immigrant youth living in the outskirts of Paris “scum” – which he would clean “with a Kaercher”, an industrial, high pressure cleaner.

In Austria, the Freedom Party (FPÖ, after its German name), the third largest in the country, has almost always campaigned against immigration – sometimes using openly racist slogans. This year, the party’s main slogan is ‘Daheim Statt Islam’- At Home Instead of Islam.

According to the most recent opinion polls, the FPÖ enjoy support of approximately 24-29 percent of voters. The same polls show that the FPÖ has support of more than 40 percent of people less than 30 years of age.

Hans Leyendecker, a prominent German reporter, appealed to the public “not to fall into this propaganda trap” of anti-Muslim movements in Europe.

“These hot debates on the risks of Islamic terror most of the time ignore the basic fact, that its attacks occur mostly in Muslim countries, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia, and that its main victims are Muslims themselves,” Leyendecker wrote in an op-ed piece in the daily newspaper ‘Die Sueddeutsche Zeitung’. “In 2010, there were some 250 terror attacks in Europe. Only three of these attacks had an Islamic background.”

Similarly, political scientist Stefan Weidner, editor in chief of the German magazine ‘Fikrun wa Fann’ (Art and Thoughts), published in Arabic, said that Behring Breivik tried to justify his crimes using the same arguments advanced by the mainstream European anti-Islam movement. “Now, this movement is demanding a differentiation between a ‘moderate’ and ‘violent’ critique of Islam.”

Actually, Weidner added, Christian European terrorism as practiced by Behring Breivik is not attacking Muslim communities, just as Islamic terrorism seldom attacks western cities. “Instead of attacking the government headquarters in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), Behring’s hatred of Islam led him to launch the most brutal possible attack against his own society.”

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