By Hussein Shobokshi
Mar 28, 2016
Racism has existed in all countries ever since the invention of the scapegoat. There will probably always be racists. The solution is not to paw through the minds of every citizen, searching for the least little ember of racism, but to prevent racists from putting their nauseating ideas into words, from claiming their right to be racists, and to express their hatred.
You don’t often see the words “Trump is right” on protest banners in Britain, whose Parliament recently debated banning the Republican front-runner from entering the country. Another popular banner reads, “Protect our children” and also another, “Nazism=Islamism.” About 200 demonstrators trudging down the road are supporters of PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West), a far-right German group. Now PEGIDA and its affiliates want to build a street movement that extends beyond the national boundaries that tend to constrain European far-right groups.
Islamophobia is a “symptom of the disintegration of human values”, according to former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg, values such as non-discrimination, tolerance, freedom of thought, justice, solidarity and equality. These values are supposed to be inherent to European societies; they are values upon which the European Union and the Council of Europe were built.
In recent years Islamophobia has been fuelled by public anxiety over immigration and the integration of Muslim minorities into majority cultures in Europe. These tensions have been exacerbated by the aftermath of the economic crash of 2007 and the rise of populist nationalist politicians. They have also been aggravated by high-profile terrorist attacks carried out by Muslim extremists.
In a climate of rapidly expanding diversity in Europe, Muslim minorities have been portrayed as non-belonging and wanting to separate themselves from the rest of the society. Government policies have failed to ensure equal rights for all, forcing significant sections of Muslim minorities to face unemployment, poverty, and limited civic and political participation, all of which aggravates discrimination.
Europe is going through its worst economic recession since the 1930s. Minorities often serve as scapegoats in times of economic and political crisis.
Social discrimination, while the subject of much less debate than religious discrimination because it is manifested more insidiously and discreetly, is nevertheless far more predominant in France. Managers choose their future employees less on the basis of their religion, true or supposed, than, for instance, on their place of residence. Between the Mouloud, who lives in upscale Neuilly-sur-Seine, and the Mouloud, who lives in the down-at-heel banlieue of Argenteuil, which of the two, assuming they are of equal competence, is more likely to get the job? Yet who ever talks about this kind of discrimination? People are massively discriminated against based on their social class, but since a large proportion of the poor, whom no one wants hanging around their place of work, their neighbourhood, or their building, is made up of people of foreign descent and, among these, a great many of Muslim origin, the Islamic activist will claim that the problem is Islamophobia.
One quiet protest does not make a revolution, or even a Trump-sized political movement. But PEGIDA hopes that new wave of anti-Islam dissent will swing the political conversation its way and attract the moderate supporters that a traditional far-right group could never hope to gain. It plans to return to the Birmingham location on a monthly basis, starting April this year.
Already in 2016, Denmark’s Parliament has approved proposals to confiscate refugees’ valuables to pay for their stay, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to make it easier to deport asylum-seekers who commit crimes.
Groups like the PEGIDA are still on the fringes but their voices will likely get only louder.