September 3, 2015 FM

Europe’s current crisis reflects its own anxieties about Muslims


A footnote to Europe’s ongoing crisis is the rising use of anti-Muslim rhetoric. Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, defended the erecting of a razor-wire fence on its southern border through the language of cultural and religious difference.

Orbán stated that “most of them are not Christians, but Muslims,” and that “Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity. Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian?”

Antal Rogan, the parliament caucus leader of Orbán’s Fidesz party, said on Tuesday that “the very existence of Christian Europe” was at stake.

Rogan also told the pro-government newspaper Magyar Idok “Would we like our grandchildren to grow up in a United European Caliphate? My answer to that is no”.

Ivan Metik, a spokesperson for Slovakia’s interior ministry spokesman said last month: “We want to help Europe with the migration issue. We could take 800 Muslims but we don’t have any mosques in Slovakia so how can Muslims be integrated if they are not going to like it here?

In July, Slovakia’s prime minister, Robert Fico, argued that Christians would cause less tension. He added that terrorists might attempt to mingle among Muslim refugees.

Slovakia’s Muslim population totals just 0.2 per cent in a country that is two-thirds Roman Catholic. Immigration remains a priority for many ordinary Slovaks. With that in mind, cultural anxieties are easier to manipulate. Hence why an ‘anti-Islamisation’ rally in Bratislava attracted thousands in July.

In the Czech Republic, a petition against Muslim migrants received 145,000 signatures. Milos Zeman, the Czech president, made a cultural argument against taking refugees fleeing Libya.

Refugees from a completely different cultural background would not be in a good position in the Czech Repulic,” he was quoted as saying by a spokesperson.

Those considered ‘culturally closer’ Eastern European Slavs and Christians from Syria.

The decision by Czech police to write numbers of the hands of mainly Syrian refugees drew comparisons to Nazi Germany.

Poland agreed to accept 50 Christian families fleeing the Syrian civil war. But it outsourced that initiative to a private firm called Estera.

Miriam Shahed, who heads Estera, told the FT that ‘non-Christian’ refugees threaten Poland. She insisted that ISIS would not murder other Muslims because they ‘share’ identical beliefs. Shahed claimed that Islam represented a ‘totalitarian system’ and many Muslims are ‘criminals’.

This past April, Ukip leader Nigel Farage told BBC Breakfast “[If] we have to give some Christians refugee status given that with Iraq and Libya there’s almost nowhere for them to go then fine but Europe can’t send the message that everyone who comes will be accepted“. A position he took in 2013.

In light of Aylan Kurdi’s death, alongside members of his family, Farage sought to shift the debate by tweeting: “We must also establish who is a genuine refugee and to make sure they are not an extremist from Isis or other jihadi institutions”.

To mythologise Europe’s Christian identity and Muslim refugees as terrorists helps the extreme right (and others) demonise religious minorities. Europe’s own legacies and traditions of antisemitism and anti-Muslim feelings continue to ebb and flow. Both incorporate ‘biological’ and ‘cultural’ forms of racism. This racist tradition constructed both religious minorities as ‘foreign intruders’ in societies. Anxieties around cultural and religious difference fed the paranoia of societal change through demographics. A paranoia compounded through the nefarious and paradoxical antisemitic trope of disproportionate Jewish influence.

The specific cultural and religious anxieties tied to Muslim identity fed the conspiracy of ‘Islamisation’. A key component of this belief is ‘Dhimmitude’ a term coined by ‘pseudo-scholar’ Bat Ye’or. Ye’or contends that non-Muslims treaty for protection in ‘Muslim conquered’ lands. A notion that feeds a false narrative that Muslims receive legal and political favours in secular contexts. On the fringes, the far-right hint at a civil war that will bring ‘Islamisation’ through violence.

Anti-Muslim prejudice is also understood in the specific cultural and linguistic spaces of some European nations. In French it translates as Islamophobie, in Spanish the term translates to Islamofobia, or Islamofobi in a Scandinavian context. But how these prejudice experienced by Muslims in these countries translates from specific cultural vernaculars are not just linguistic points of difference. But link the political and social cultures of the countries in question.

The religions of Islam and Christianity are not predisposed towards prolonged conflict. Yet hostility stems from moments in history. Interested parties (and individuals) distort these events to push anti-Muslim narratives.

Not even the Crusades triggered all-out conflict between the two faiths. But often this controversial moment in history becomes a propaganda tool for extremists on both sides. Take for example the far-right appropriation of Knights Templar imagery.

Racialisation allows individuals to see Muslims as foreign bodies and non-white (even white converts are labelled p*kis and race traitors). Dehumanisation allows individuals to disassemble Muslim identity and reassemble the Muslim body in subhuman terms. In far-right circles, the terms ‘Mudscum,’ ‘Musrat/Muzrat/Muzzrat/Muzzie,’ and ‘MuSlime’ pop up in their echo chambers. Though the term ‘Mussie’ holds positive connotations in Australia.

In a broader sense, dehumisation helped Nazi Germany label Jews as the literal embodiment of vermin and disease; Hutu génocidaires labelled Tutsis as cockroaches; dehumanisation aided black enslavement in colonial times.

Outside of Europe, the Irish refugees of the Potato Famines of 1845 to 1846, and 1846 to 1847 experienced dehumisation upon entry to Canada. The elites of Toronto deemed the Irish uncivilised due to their religion, language and physical traits. In reality, this physical appearance owed to a minority of West Country Irish peasants, it fuelled the corrosive stereotypes of Irish identity. In short, to not be Protestant in this era of Toronto’s history created suspicion.

In spite of the true realities that underpin this crisis, kernels of hope do appear; but the rhetoric does echo a darker period of Europe’s history; and will not change soon.

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