It seems that the targeting of Muslims and Islam has become
a kind of national theater in France. Unlike theater, however, the disturbing
trend can, and will turn ugly -- in fact to a degree it already has -- if the
French government doesn�t get a grip on reality. The world, including France,
is a complex, multifaceted and fascinatingly diverse place; it cannot be
co-opted to fit national specificities determined by a group of irritable far
right racists with a distorted interpretation of themselves and others.
Unfortunately, France is not alone; it merely highlights the
most obvious manifestation of growing anti-Muslim sentiments throughout Europe.
Unearthing the reasons behind the disturbing phenomena is hardly an easy task,
for it arguably requires a greater examination of the political, economic and
social woes of European states than it does of the �shortcomings� of Islam.
Islam is a great religion in many respects; it has endured
for over 1,400 years. Its membership is never confined by skin color, culture,
political ideology or geographic boundaries. Its views of antiquity, on
equality, women rights and peace are considered progressive even by today�s
The detractors of Islam fail to see all this. If Islam is
dissected politically or �academically,� the investigation is done for the sake
of destroying its repute, and discrediting or humiliating its followers.
The Swiss People�s Party (SVP) may claim that their
commitment is to keep Switzerland secular, devoid of symbols of oppression (as
in a mosque�s minaret), but this only sounds like incoherent blabber and
reflects nothing but a growing tendency towards racism, intolerance and
ethnocentrism. These trends are glaring violations of the liberal philosophies
associated with European countries, which guarantee individual and collective
rights, including those of self-expression and freedom of speech.
the phenomenon is protracted and more dangerous. Considering that France is the
home of 5 million French Muslims, right-wing tendencies threaten future discord
in the country.
The Washington Post reported on December 19 that Bilal
Mosque, in the tranquil French town of Castres, was desecrated by unknown
assailants. �Two pig�s ears and a poster of the French flag stapled to the
door; a pig�s snout dangled from the doorknob. �White power� and �Sieg heil�
were spray-painted on one side . . . and �France for the French� on the other.�
Here, one must recall the alarming words of Britain�s first
Muslim minister, Shahid Malik. Himself a victim of hate crimes, Malik lamented
a year and a half ago that many Muslims feel targeted like the �Jews of Europe,�
and that many British Muslims feel like �aliens in their own country.�
While many Muslims share the same feeling of nationalism and
patriotism in their homelands in Europe, right-wing racists -- who are
unfortunately becoming a dominant force in shaping public views in various
European states -- insist on a very narrow definition of what makes a person
French, British, German or Swiss.
There is indeed an identity crisis that is real and
frightening. And it�s one that is not engulfing Europe alone, but also affects
and in some instances has devastated many cultures all over the world. While it
is a byproduct of misguided and unchecked globalization, in the case of Europe
itself the issue is very national and very personal. The European Union, which
started as a purely economic body has morphed into a political and
pan-nationalist organization that is attempting, by accident or design, to
define a united Europe and a prototypical European. This has raised fears of
the loss of national identities or whatever remains of it. Expectedly, it is
the politically underrepresented, socially marginalized and economically
disadvantaged groups that often pay the price of this sort of national
Targeting Muslims is a common denominator that now unifies a
great proportion of European political elites and media. The reasons are
numerous and obvious. Some European countries are at war (which they have
chosen) in various Muslim countries; desperate and failed politicians are in
need for constant distractions from their own failures and mishaps; associating
Islam with terrorism is more than an acceptable intellectual diatribe, a topic
of discussion that has occupied more radio and television airtime than any
other; also, pushing Muslims around seems to have few political repercussions, unlike
the subjugation of targeting of other groups with political or economic clout.
But is their more to this? A 2007-08 Gallup poll asked the
following question: does religion occupy an important place in your life? The
vast majority in Western European countries answered with a resounding �no.�
Only 9 percent of Turkish citizens -- a country with a Muslim majority -- shared
the popular view. Most European Muslims strongly identify with their religion,
which has preserved their sense of community, and helped maintain a degree of
cultural cohesion and a semblance of collective identity at a time when many in
Europe are losing theirs. Muslims must not be blamed for this loss, and nor
should they be punished, derided or targeted for daring to hold onto their
Returning again to France, what is most alarming about the
anti-Muslim measures is that they are largely led by the government itself,
rather than a fanatical group of disenchanted ideologues. Eric Besson, the
country�s immigration minister, stated on December 16 that Muslim veils will be
grounds of denying citizenships and long-term residence. Besson was only
echoing the disquieting policies of conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy who
has started a �national identity campaign� for ensuring an exclusive identity
of France -- one that is occupied with the targeting of immigrants,
Sarkozy, Besson, and Europe�s right-wing and far right
politicians must understand the possible ramifications if they continue to
press with their reckless and alienating policies.
Radicalization is an unavoidable offshoot of group
alienation, which is sadly being used to further fuel the anti-immigrant fervor
throughout the continent. It is a vicious cycle, the blame for which lies
squarely with the savvy politicians and their obvious agendas. As for those who
insist on blaming Islam for Europe�s woes, they should really find another
pastime; the self-indulgent game is too hazardous and must stop.
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an
internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com.
His latest book is �My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza�s Untold Story�
(Pluto Press, London), now available on Amazon.com.