SHAFAQNA – A backlash against Muslim citizens of European countries in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack such as the one Paris suffered last week is not unusual, particularly when the perpetrators happen to be Muslims, but worse, when they commit crime in the name of their faith, and much worse when the planners of the crime, in this case Daesh, are known to have an unprecedented appetite for blood, barbarity, savagery, subjugation, torture of innocent victims and aggression, crimes routinely committed as religious duty in the name of the noble faith of Islam.
And yet, anti-Muslim sentiment tends to normally calm down with the passing of time, depending obviously on the severity of the circumstances that led to the eruption of an otherwise dormant Islamophobia.
This, however, is only a small facet of a larger and a much more complex relationship between Muslim migrant communities and their European hosts that has been building up for decades.
Before turning into a security burden, Muslim communities in many European countries were blamed, often unfairly, for their unwillingness to integrate into the societies they had chosen to be part of, opting instead to remain isolated in ghetto-like formations.
The sad reality, however, is that Islamophobia preceded recent developments and is deeply rooted in some societies.
For example, a few years ago, I was part of a small team looking into the problem of Muslim communities in Germany.
Many Muslim community leaders complained that their sincere efforts to integrate and be part of German society were often obstructed.
Recent developments, indeed developing for some time, have been exposing Muslim presence, if not really Muslim threat, more than anything else as a major concern due to the rise of Islamic radicalisation and the subsequent surge of terror organisations linking themselves to Islam, formerly Al Qaeda and now Daesh and others.
Without one single exception, Muslim states, as well as religious Muslim leaders, have constantly been condemning terror, rejecting the utilisation of their faith for actions that violate its cardinal values, clearly affirming that Islamic teachings and texts emphasise that human relations should be based on mutual respect, acceptability, peace, tolerance, love, understanding, compassion, human dignity, value of life, help and caring, with no room for discrimination.
And yet, the perception that Islam condones violence and therefore Muslim presence within any community could always be viewed as a potential threat remains powerful and influential.
Ultra nationalist parties are gaining power and popularity in some European countries, including in France.
The latest terrorist attacks targeting European capitals and the large number of casualties caused as a result will no doubt embolden rightist conservative tendencies against foreigners, but particularly, though not exclusively, against French Muslims, for obvious reasons. Muslim presence in Europe dates back to the eighth century and has been steadily growing, as movement of people across continental borders is a regular feature of human activity.
With accelerating globalisation, an inevitability that no amount of exclusionism can obstruct, the trend is for more openness, continued cultural interaction, population mix, diversity, social harmony and togetherness, than for separation and estrangement.
According to figures, Islam is the second largest religion in Europe after Christianity, with no less than 45 million Muslims living in Europe (6 per cent of the entire population), half of which is in the European Union (3.8 per cent).
Larger numbers exist in France and Germany, 5 million Muslims in each; 3 million in the UK, 2.5 million in Italy and 1.5 million in both the Netherlands and Bulgaria.
How can anyone imagine that in this time and age, any country could clear itself of its foreign communities, let alone those who were born there, who were brought up as part of their host countries’ tradition, language and culture?
This simply is impossible and therefore any attention, as well as any effort, addressing host countries’ concerns about dangerous ideologies and extremist tendencies within immigrant communities should be focused on how to separate the bad few who betrayed the trust from the larger orderly majority.
While it is the right, indeed the duty, of every country to protect its population, including immigrant communities of course, from any danger by demanding full compliance with the rule of law and respect for the concerned countries’ tradition and interests from every citizen and every resident living on their soil, it is also the right of every citizen or resident to be treated with full respect, with full equality, and to be entitled to live his life normally and peacefully, away from harassment and bullying until legally proven guilty.
It is bizarre to implicate Islam and view all Muslims as suspects or as potential terrorists every time a heinous atrocity is committed by a follower of the Muslim faith, or when such a crime is claimed to be executed in the name of Islam.
Worse is when such Islamophobic bias turns into active hostility against Muslim individuals, mosques, property and institutions.
Not only do such hostile and totally counterproductive actions cause major harm to the very citizens the state is supposed to protect, they also undermine the social fabric of the entire society by deepening the internal wounds, spreading fear and mistrust, and creating wider rifts within the same society.
Moreover, it is clear that an instant backlash against Muslim communities after every crime is what the terrorists’ strategy hopes to achieve: destroy Muslim citizens’ relations with their host countries by making their lives there unbearable, so that they are forced to perform “hijra” (mass migration) back to the “Daesh-land” and offer the terrorist organisations additional recruits for more terror. Coming at a time when Europe is struggling to deal with the very delicate problem of refugees’ exodus to the continent from the many war-torn countries, mostly Arab, the current crisis added further aggravation to an already inflamed climate.
The implication of one single Syrian refugee whose passport was allegedly found intact at the crime scene paved the way for considering the entire refugee body suspect and dealing with it accordingly, the same kind of sweeping generalisation applied to Muslims.
It is not unlikely that some bad people could hide among the crowds of refugee with evil intent. But that should never justify punishing all those hundreds of thousands of suffering people who are forced out of their homes to escape the woes of wars that those who shun them now were responsible for creating.
If the backlash against Muslims anywhere is not restrained, it will eventually spread the conflict to new horizons.
The world today is for bringing peoples and nations closer, not for separation. We should learn how to live peacefully together rather than build psychological barriers.
By Hasan Abu Nimah – The views expressed here are the author’s own.