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Europe’s New Jews
They inhabit self-imposed ghettos, ridiculed and, worse, perennial targets of far-right thugs and populist politicians of all persuasions. They are mostly limited to menial jobs. They are accused of spreading crime, terrorism and disease, backwardness and violence, refusing to adapt.
Their religion, atavistic and rigid, insists on ritual slaughter and male circumcision. They rarely meet socially or in marriage. Most of them – although born in European countries – do not have the right to vote. With brown skin and a distinct foreign accent, they are subject to police profiling and harassment and all forms of racial discrimination.
They are the new Jews of Europe – its Muslim minorities.
Muslims – particularly Arab youth from North Africa – are indeed disproportionately represented in crime, including hate crime, mainly against Jews. Exclusively Muslim al-Qaeda cells have been found in many Western European countries. But it can be safely attributed to the ubiquitous and severe long-term unemployment and impediments to upward mobility, both social and economic, largely due to latent or overt racism.
Moreover, the stereotype is false. The incidence of higher education and skills is higher among Muslim immigrants than in the general population – a phenomenon known as the “brain drain”. Europe attracts the best and the brightest – students, scholars, scientists, engineers and intellectuals – from their impoverished, politically dysfunctional and backward homelands.
The Economist explores the landscape of friction and withdrawal:
“Indifference to Islam turned first to contempt, then to suspicion, and more recently to hostility… (because of images of) oil sheikhs, Palestinian terrorists, Iranian ayatollahs, mass immigration, and then the 9/11 attacks, which were carried out if not planned by Western Muslims supporting a odious regime in Afghanistan.” … Muslims come from poor villages; Most are poorly educated, many are brown. They often face xenophobia and discrimination, sometimes made worse by racists. Politicians. They speak the language of the general public either poorly or not at all, so it is difficult to get a job. Their children struggle in school. They congregate in slums, often in state-provided housing… withdraw into their own world, (create) a self-sufficient, self-contained community.”
This self-imposed segregation has many dimensions. Clan behavior has been going on for decades. Marriages are still arranged—reluctant brides and grooms are brought in from their homelands to marry immigrants from the same region or village. A “parallel society”, in the words of a British government report after the Oldham riots two years ago, extends to cultural habits, religious practices and social norms.
Assimilation and integration have many enemies.
Remittances from abroad are a significant part of the gross national product and budget revenues of countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan. Hence their fierce efforts to preserve a single national and cultural identity of immigrants. DITIB is the Turkish government’s office for religious affairs. This prevents the assimilation or social integration of Turks in Germany. Turkish businesses – newspapers, satellite television, food, clothing, travel agents, publishers – thrive on ghettoization.
There is a tacit convergence of interests between national governments, exporters and Islamic organizations. All three want Turks to stay in Germany as Turkish as possible. The more nostalgic and homebound the emigrant is—the larger and more frequent his remittances, the higher his consumption of Turkish goods and services, and the more inclined he is to turn to religion as a determinant of his besieged and fragmented identity.
The number of Muslims is not insignificant. Two European countries have a Muslim majority – Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania. The rest – both in Old Europe and its post-communist East – hold sizable and growing Islamic minorities. Waves of immigration and birthrates are three times higher than the native population, increasing their share of the population in almost every European country – from Russia to Macedonia and Bulgaria to Britain. Every seventh Russian is Muslim – more than 20 million people.
According to the March-April issue of Foreign Policy, the non-Muslim portion of Europe will shrink by 3.5 percent by 2015, while the Muslim population is expected to double. There are 3 million Turks in Germany and another 12 million Muslims – Algerians, Moroccans, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Egyptians, Senegalese, Malians or Tunisians – in the rest of the EU.
That’s two and a half times the number of Muslims in the United States. Even assuming—wrongly—that they all occupy the lowest decile of income, their combined annual purchasing power would be $150 billion. In addition, recent retroactive changes to German law have naturalized more than a million immigrants and automatically granted its preferred citizenship to the 160,000 Muslims born in Germany each year.
In France, 2-3 million Muslims – half of their number – have the right to vote. Another million – one in two – voted in Britain. These numbers count for elections and are not offset by the combined efforts of a powerful Jewish lobby – there are barely a million Jews in Western Europe.
Muslims are becoming well-behaved voters. They may have decided, for example, the recent elections in Germany. Recognizing their growing centrality, France created—though without rigging the vote—the French Council of the Islamic Faith, the equivalent of Napoleon’s Jewish Consistory. Two members of the French cabinet are Muslims. Britain has a Muslim Council.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, are now holding back as they greet the capital’s million Muslims on the Feast of Sacrifice. They also actively seek the votes of industrial Volga nationalist and elite Muslims – mainly Tatars, Bashkirs and Chuvash. Even the impoverished, much-hated, and powerless Muslims of the North Caucasus—the Chechens, Circassians, and Dagestanis—benefited from this newfound awareness of their electoral power.
Although divided by their common faith—Shiites versus Sunnis versus Wahhabis and so on—Muslims in Europe are united in support of the Palestinian cause and against the war in Iraq. This – and post-colonial guilt, particularly pronounced in France and Britain – goes a long way to explaining Germany’s rediscovered pacifist backbone and France’s anti-Israel (not to say anti-Semitic) bent.
Moreover, Muslims have been playing an important economic role on the continent since the early 1960s. Europe’s post-war miracle was founded on these cheap, plentiful and frequently replenished gastarbeiter – “guest workers”. Objective studies have consistently shown that immigrants contribute more to their host economies—as consumers, investors, and workers—than they ever get back in social services and public goods. This is particularly true in Europe, where an aging population of early retirees relies on a steady flow of pension contributions from younger workers, including many immigrants.
Businesses are paying attention to this emerging market. British financial intermediaries – such as West Bromwich Building Society – have recently introduced ‘Islamic’ (interest-free) mortgages. According to market research firm Datamonitor, gross receipts in the UK alone could reach $7 billion in 2006 – up from $60 million today. The Bank of England is preparing regulations to meet pent-up demand.
Yet their integration, however hesitant and gradual, leaves Muslims in Europe vulnerable to the kind of treatment that Old Continent Jews meted out before the Holocaust. The growing presence of Muslims in stagnant labor markets in recessionary economies inevitably led to a backlash, often encapsulated in Samuel Huntington’s 1993 essay in Foreign Relations, “The Clash of Civilizations.”
Even tolerant Italy was affected. Last year, the archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, considered Islam incompatible with Italian culture. The country’s prime minister said during a visit to Berlin two years ago that Islam is essentially an inferior civilization.
Oriana Fallacci, a prominent journalist, last year published a crass and meaningless rant titled “Rage and Pride” in which she accused Muslims of “breeding like rats”, everywhere “kicking and snarling” (sic!) and supporting Osama. Bin Laden regardless.
Young Muslims have reacted – by refusing further radicalization and assimilation – both to escalating anti-Islamic rhetoric in Europe and to Islamic “triumphs” elsewhere, such as the revolution in Iran in 1979. Preachers trained in the most militant Islamist climates were taught. In Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Iran, praying in mosques funded by shadowy Islamic charities – these young men are subject to recruits from all fanatical groups.
The United Kingdom has experienced its worst race riots in half a century in the past two years. France is being terrorized by an unprecedented crime wave emanating from the banlieues – rundown, predominantly Muslim tenements in the suburbs. 9/11 only accelerated the inevitable conflict between alienated minorities and hostile authorities across the continent. Recent changes in European – especially British – legislation openly reflect and target Muslims.
This is a remarkable turnaround. Europe supported the Muslim Bosnian cause against the Serbs, Islamic Chechnya against Russia, the Palestinians against Israel, and the Muslim Albanian rebels against the Serbs and Macedonians. Nor was this constant pro-Islamic orientation new.
The British Commission for Racial Equality, which mainly serves the needs of Muslims, was established 37 years ago. His foreign ministry never wavered from its pro-Arab bias. Germany established the Central Council of Muslims. Both anti-Americanism and a more veteran anti-Israel streak contributed to Europe’s sympathy for Muslim refugees and “freedom fighters” in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
9/11 put paid to that friendship. The danger is that the newly emerging brand of “Euro-Islam” could be destroyed by this widespread and sudden mistrust. Time Magazine described the mix as “a traditional Koran-based religion, with prohibitions on alcohol and usurious loans, now indelibly imprinted with Western values of tolerance, democracy and civil liberties.”
Such “enlightened” Muslims can be an invaluable bridge between Europe and Russia, the Middle East, Asia, including China, and other places with massive Muslim majorities or minorities. Because most of the world’s conflicts today involve Islamist militants, global peace and a functioning “New Order” critically depend on the goodwill and communication skills of Muslims.
Such a benign amalgam is the only realistic hope for reconciliation. Europe is aging and stagnating and can only be revived by welcoming young, dynamic, driven immigrants, most of whom are inevitably Muslim. Coexistence is possible and a clash of civilizations is not inevitable if Huntington’s dystopian vision does not become the main policy document of the West.
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