‘To believe in a European utopia before Muslims arrived is delusional’
Monday, 10 December 2007
It is pernicious to regard prejudiced views within migrant communities as exclusive to either them or their cultures
Monday December 10, 2007
In October, a promising young Iranian-German footballer, Ashkan Dejagah, refused to go to Israel to play for the German under-21 team in a European qualifier. Dejagah, who was born in Iran and came to Germany as a child, claimed if he went to Israel he might be denied entry into Iran. His decision not to go sparked accusations of antisemitism from German Jewish groups alongside calls from some politicians that he be dropped from the team (after some deliberation, German officials decided to keep him on the team).
The debate that followed shed light on how much you have to know, and how much you have to forget, to become German in some eyes, and laid some ground rules for Dejagah’s inclusion and integration. “Whoever represents Germany, whether a native German or an immigrant, has to identify with the history and culture of our society,” said Ronald Pofalla, the general secretary of the conservative Christian Democrats. “If he does not want to do so out of personal political reasons, then that national jersey should be removed.”
There are at least six million reasons why Dejagah would be better off not identifying with German history and culture when it comes to contemplating a visit to Israel. But, for the time being, here are just two. First, he will find a far less murderous recent history of antisemitism in his Iranian heritage than he will in his German. Second, if any nation exemplifies the limits of integration without a vigorous culture of anti-racism it is Germany – the European nation where Jews were most assimilated and almost found themselves wiped out.
The point is not to handcuff the likes of Pofalla to their history but to liberate them from self-delusion. No competition between Iran and Germany to see who has hated Jews least can produce a winner anyone can be proud of. But in Pofalla’s case it illustrates that when you live in a street full of glass houses everybody should think twice about what they throw and who they throw it at.
This is not a lesson confined to Germany. It has become a Europe-wide habit to refer to Muslims in particular and migrants in general as though they are barbarians who must either be civilised or banished, before they pollute the egalitarian societies in which they were either born or now live. Lacking all sense of humility, self-awareness and historical literacy, Europe’s political class acts as though these communities not only manifest homophobia, sexism, antisemitism, political violence and social unrest, but also as though they invented them and introduced them to an otherwise utopian continent.
Take France. Following the recent riots there, Jacques Myard, a nationalist deputy, explained the disturbances thus. “The problem is not economic. The reality is not economic. The reality is that an anti-French ethno-cultural bias from a foreign society has taken root on French soil and it is feeding on basic anti-French racism even if the rioters have French nationality.”
The French may need to import many things – from trashy popular films to fast food – but the one thing they have long produced themselves is a culture of riotous assembly. I have seen farmers hurl livestock at police, and ducked as students converted street furniture into missiles. There is nothing foreign about rioting in France.
In Britain, the emergence of “home-grown bombers” is mentioned as though this is a new development, when in fact we have been growing our own bombers for years. We have a whole evening dedicated to burning one – it’s called Guy Fawkes night.
Then there was the late gay Dutch anti-immigration activist, Pim Fortuyn. “I have gay friends who have been beaten up by young Moroccans in Rotterdam,” he said. “In Rotterdam we have third-generation Moroccans who still don’t speak Dutch, oppress women and won’t live by our values.” There was, it seems, no gay-bashing or sexism in Rotterdam before the Moroccans came.
One need not be in denial about the existence of prejudice in migrant and Muslim communities to grasp how pernicious it is to regard those views as exclusive to those communities or to be the result of their cultures. Nor need we be squeamish about challenging prejudice, regardless of where it comes from. The notion that bigotry in Muslim and migrant communities presents a multicultural conundrum is just one more straw man among many. You enforce the law, without fear or favour. You promote equality to all and for all. There is no conflict between this and racial equality – it is a prerequisite for it. If an imam doesn’t like women walking past his mosque in a bikini, that’s too bad for him. If an MP doesn’t like women walking into his surgery in a niqab, that’s too bad for him, too. Both have the right to say what they think – provided it doesn’t promote violence – but women have the right to wear what they like.
Nor should we be in denial about the idea that certain prejudices may be more prevalent in certain communities. The issue is what we make of that and whether we are prepared to apply those conclusions with equal rigour across the board. The prevalence of child sex abuse in the Catholic church was not, primarily, about Catholicism but single men having exclusive authority over and access to young children and taking advantage of it. No one who wants to be taken seriously has tried to hold each Catholic collectively responsible for these abuses or claim Catholics are inherently predisposed to child abuse, or that the abuse was essentially religious. Even as these scandals have run parallel with the war on terror, no one is claiming that Catholicism represents a threat to our civilisation.
On February 15 last year, the European commission president, José Manuel Barroso, said Europe had to stand up for its core values and express its solidarity with the Danish people after widespread unrest over the cartoons of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper. “If not, we are accepting fear in our society,” he said. “I understand that it offended many people in the Muslim world, but is it better to have a system where some excesses are allowed or be in some countries where they don’t even have the right to say this?”
That same day, in the Commons, the government voted to expand counterterrorism laws by making “glorification” of terrorism a criminal offence. Speaking after the vote, Tony Blair said the new law “will allow us to deal with those people and say: look, we have free speech in this country, but don’t abuse it”.
Herein lies the problem with Enlightenment values, as they have been promoted in recent years. The values are fine. But those who champion them most fervently also do so most selectively. They embrace Muslim women campaigning against sexism, but ignore those fighting racism, Islamophobia or war. They attack Muslim fundamentalist homophobes on housing estates, but align themselves with Christian fundamentalist homophobes in the White House. They demand secularism and assimilation, but view every action by Muslims and immigrants as essentially foreign or religious. In short, they see their own attributes and others’ flaws through a magnifying glass. No wonder their vision of the world is so distorted.