Reflection on the report of bigotry in Europe

Dr. Habib Siddiqui

Posted Sep 23, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Reflection on the report of bigotry in Europe

By Dr. Habib Siddiqui

I am not surprised to read the findings of the investigative report of Doudou Diene, special rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.[1] The report documented alarming rise in intolerance, and in particular Islamophobia, in European countries. It also accused Switzerland’s most popular party, the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP/UDC), of inciting hatred.

On September 14, 2007 in a speech and report to the UN Human Rights Council, whose 47 member states were holding a debate on religious defamation, Doudou Diene said, “In the current context, Islamophobia constitutes the most serious form of religious defamation.” He said that more and more political leaders and influential media and intellectuals were “equating Islam with violence and terrorism,” and some were seeking to “silence religious practices by banning the construction of mosques”. For example, the Swiss SVP/UDC has launched a referendum to ban construction of minarets in the Alpine country, home to 350,000 Muslims. A similar move is underway in Cologne, Germany.

According to the UN envoy, worldwide, an increasing number of traditional democratic parties were “resorting to the language of fear and exclusion, scapegoating and targeting ethnic or religious minorities in general, and immigrants and refugees in particular”. He said, “Political parties with open anti-Islamic platforms have joined governmental coalitions in several countries and started to put in place their political agendas.” He also said that in Europe, Muslims faced growing difficulties to establish places of worship and carry out their religious practices such as dietary regimens and burials. He said, “In sum, Islamophobia is in the process of permeating all facets of social life.”

The following Monday, September 17, Commissioner Louise Arbour echoed the sentiment: “I have no reason not to share his (Diene’s) concerns.” Europeans “are shocked at times when it is pointed out that bigotry, prejudice and stereotyping is still sometimes very present in their attitude to others,” she said. Diene’s work, she declared, highlighted “a challenge for Western countries that needs to be addressed.”

These alarming charges were promptly dismissed by Roy Brown, past president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). He said that Arbour was “just plain wrong.” Such a statement from a closet-bigot does not surprise me either.

As I have repeatedly pointed out bigotry is so much part of the white European ethos that many are not sure that it exists. It is like the hair in the armpit that requires shaving every few days.

Europeans feign ignorance or are surprised when this innate ugly side is pointed out. After all, like the hair in the armpit it is often hidden, unless the individual chooses to expose it. So, when push comes to shove, this ugly side of western humanism always comes out with all its devastating results - something that we have seen over and over again. So outside the internal religious wars that devastated Europe for centuries, there were the old Europe’s Spanish Inquisition, Russian Pogroms, Greek massacres, and not-so-old Europe’s Nazi German Holocaust, Italian Fascism, Serbian-Yugoslavian Genocide in the Balkans - aided and condoned by vast majority of Christian West against the tiny Muslim community there, and the on-going hatred, racism and xenophobia in the last two decades in the rest of Europe - France, Germany, Holland, Denmark, UK, Italy, Russia, etc., etc.

I am sure many such 21st century incidents of hatred, racism and xenophobia would have been less hideous in Europe if the targeted minorities, the immigrant community, were all Christians. Europe, unlike more progressive and diverse continents of Asia and Africa, is still not comfortable with the idea of multi-culture. She continues to find scapegoats. Yesterday they were the Jews and gypsies, and today the Muslims. She continues to invent justification for her criminal behaviors, as can be seen from Brown’s statement: “The little regrettable hostility that does exist among indigenous Europeans has not arisen in a vacuum, but as a reaction to Islamic extremism – demonization of Jews, infidels and homosexuals and contempt for Western culture.”

It does not require much intelligence to refute such untenable claims. After all, one can argue with stronger evidence proving that 9/11 did not happen in a vacuum and was a blowback phenomenon to western culpability in the Muslim world. The so-called demonization of yahud, mushriq and qawm-e-Lut in the Qur’an is no worse than those that can be found in the Bible. As to the criminal justification for hostility against European Muslims for their so-called ‘contempt’ for ‘western’ culture, a parallel can be seen in the statement of the leaders of the qawm-e-Lut who said: “Turn them out of your township. They are folk forsooth, who keep pure.”[2]

One should be reminded that Islamic society has always been pluralistic and unusually tolerant of various social and religious denominations. Islam valued diversity as a sign of God’s mercy and a portent for men of knowledge. (Qur’an 30:22) Thus, there was never anything like the Inquisition, Pogroms or the fires of Smithfield in the Muslim world. It was because of Islamic ethos that in vast territories of Asia and Europe where once Muslims ruled, they remained a minority, and the majority non-Muslims survived and progressed—something that was unthinkable back then with conquerors most often imposing their faith upon the conquered tribes and nations. Islam safeguarded non-Muslims, protecting the weak from the powerful. Thus a number of small Christian sects, regarded as heretical by the larger sects, who would inevitably have been exterminated if left to the mercies of the larger sects whose power prevailed in Christendom, were protected and preserved by the power of Islam. Even to this very day, there are groups like the Mountain Jews, Yazidis and Sabaeans (Sabians) that are surviving with their culture and religion intact.

As to the Jewish question, suffice it to say that had it not been for the protection and tutelage provided by Muslim rulers, Jews could not have survived in the medieval world. It was all too natural for European Jewry to find refuge among Muslims in North Africa, Iran and the Ottoman Empire when Christian Europe was resorting to extermination campaign against them. It is important here to emphasize further that this protection of Jewish life did not end with the collapse of the Islamic Caliphate in the early 20th century, but continued for decades even after the infamous Balfour Declaration that robbed the generous hosts of their land leading to animosity between them and the guests. Tens of thousands of European Jews, fleeing Nazi Germany, found safe haven amongst Muslims in Iran and other heavily populated Muslim countries.

No one should be oblivious here of the fact that it was Europe that presented our world with all those monstrous ideologies that killed millions of peoples. Rather than stopping such ideologies, she created the ground for their germination and harvest. Rather than settling these Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Europe, finding and securing a safe haven there, she deported them outside, thereby, creating the present-day Palestinian crisis that plagues our world, and will continue to do so until it is solved equitably and justly.
As the UNHCHR report suggested rather than finding scapegoats for its bigotry against minorities, Europe ought to take serious measures to defeat this beast once and for all. With a globalizing economy where borders are viewed more as a nuisance and obstacle to human prosperity, Europe has to come to grips with multi-culture and diversity of its workforce. She cannot continue to like the Bangladeshi curry served in a European restaurant while hates the very cook who prepares it.


[2] Qur’an 7:82