Intolerance and hatred of the ‘other’ is part of the DNA of Europe but such racism and xenophobia could lead to the disintegration of Europe itself.
The ruling by the European Union Court of Justice (EUCJ) that “internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination” is outright Islamophobic, but not surprising at all. Therefore, let us look at some reasons, repercussions and potential reactions to the rising tide of Islamophobia in Europe, which is likely to increase in the near future.
The contemporary roots of Islamophobia lie in the systematic and institutionalized demonization of Muslims by the corporate media in the post-9/11 world. There are, however, historical and philosophical roots of Islamophobia as well in Europe.
Since the so-called Enlightenment period, the European elites decided to define materialistic progress as the benchmark of happiness and success. In parallel to this, due to Europe’s terrible experience with the Church, all religions were equated with the harsh European historical experience of religion.
Since Muslims are the only people in the world today that still adhere to the teachings of their faith, this naturally creates a challenge to Europe’s purely materialistic worldview resulting in friction. This tension could have been properly handled through academic discourse, art, literature, conferences, etc., if it was not coupled with the ongoing European neo-colonial project in the Muslim world and at times, ill-thought out reaction of some Muslims.
Also, Europe has a very strong historical precedence to blame the “other” for its dismal economic performance. In the 1930s, Jews were the scapegoats; later it was the communists and now it is Islam and Muslims. This derives from the mentality that if Europe, the cradle and role model of progress, is not doing well it is because someone else is hindering this natural order.
The so-called doing well idea means having more income. This simplistic concept sold to the Europeans through the mass media and the entertainment industry is now deeply ingrained in the mind of an average European. It can be challenged and exposed as shallow through appealing to Europe’s spiritual and humanistic ideals and by reminding the Europeans that this outlook on life caused two world wars.
The practical repercussions from the EUCJ’s ruling for Muslims living in the EU will be very harsh. Employers essentially got a green light to fire Muslim employees at will, as long as they put a legal sugarcoating on the decision. Muslims on mainland Europe will be affected more severely. Since English is an international language, most Muslims who migrated to Britain spoke some English and thus were able to progress further than Muslims on mainland Europe and often became self-employed. Nevertheless, in 2016 the Independent reported citing Women and Equalities Committee report that “while the average unemployment figure for the country is 5.4%, the figure rises to 12.8% among Muslims.”
Euro-Islam.info, a network of researchers and scholars who conduct comparative research on Islam and Muslims in Europe, reported: “unemployment rates are consistently twice as high for non-Germans, with Turkish nationals appearing to be in the worst situation.”
Muslims in France will most probably be affected in the worst manner, as French government officials are notorious for their Islamophobia.
The rise of unemployment among Muslims will increase tensions, re-enforce ghettoization and thus feed the rise of the rightwing. This will destabilize Europe and worsen its already declining economy. The European rightwing has historically thrived on bloodshed and conflict; therefore, they do not see destabilization as a problem, but as a political opportunity.
Diplomatic reciprocity could be one of the reactions to EUCJ’s semi-legalization of Islamophobia, but is unlikely to happen as most Muslim countries are ruled by elites whose reign is linked to their allegiance to NATO powers. Nevertheless, some Muslim government officials might want to please their constituency at home and increase visa fees or impose a compulsory hijab on European citizens working in or visiting their countries.
This is more likely to happen at the regional level. For instance, a local politician might decide to boost his/her credibility in national politics and make the wearing of hijab mandatory for European citizens living and working in their province. Observing national politics, Turkey under the AKP, some regions in Indonesia and Malaysia could take this route. Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan in particular displays such tendencies. One day he is pro-Israel, another day anti-Israel, one year a strategic partner of Iran, the next, a sectarian bigot.
A parallel response would be to promote the successful Canadian model among European citizens and activists, highlighting Canada’s federal mode of governance, along with the Canadian society’s strong adherence to the principle of agreeing to disagree, which has created relatively well-integrated immigrant communities. For this to happen the current Canadian government has to participate in this effort. In order to do so successfully, Ottawa would have to implement progressive economic reforms which would redistribute wealth to the less fortunate. The Canadian right-wing feels emboldened by the election of Donald Trump and will increase the heat on the current government even if it takes minor symbolic steps against Islamophobia. This was the case against M-103 anti-Islamophobia motion in parliament presented by MP Iqra Khalid. As the US is becoming more and more isolated under its amateur and unpredictable president, Canada can step in and redefine the Western image. The million-dollar question is: will Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prove up to the task?
Tough times are looming on the horizon for European Muslims, where Donald Trump would be considered a center-right figure in comparison to many mainstream European politicians whose rhetoric and policies outdo the clownish US president. Whatever happens, one thing Muslims of Europe cannot afford to do and that is to withdraw from public policy debate and socio-political activism. This would only embolden European racists and Zionists.
It is important to make it clear to the Europeans that the rising tide of Islamophobia will destabilize their own societies and create a vicious cycle of conflict that ultimately will damage Europe itself. Muslims should also strive to maintain the EU in some shape or form. Dissolution of the EU will plunge Europe back into the days of violent nationalism. Taking Europe’s history into account, nationalism will likely cause the disintegration of the continent itself.