By Osama al Sharif
No sooner had news of the terrorist blast that rocked the heart of the Norwegian capital Oslo and the carnage that took place on a nearby paradise island resort where a youth camp was being held reached media outlets than Western analysts and experts were quick to point the finger to Al-Qaeda and Muslim jihadists. It was a shameless and irresponsible act by pundits who have an enormous effect on public opinion.
Few hours later the truth emerged: The perpetrator was a white Norwegian fanatic, a Christian, who for years has been planning these attacks which claimed the innocent lives of more than 90 people. Anders Behring Breivik felt no remorse and admitted to the crimes adding that he wanted to spark a revolution against multiculturalism in his country, specifically against Muslim immigrants and the spread of Islam in Europe.
The twin attacks raise a number of key issues which will continue to overshadow public debate in most European countries and elsewhere. The link between terrorism and Islam goes beyond the foolish reaction of some in the Western media. It has become inherent in many Western societies where Islamophobia is on the rise, especially after the 9/11 attacks in New York and the 7/7 bombings in London. Similar terrorist attacks in Madrid in March 2004 were also blamed, although no direct link was established, to Al-Qaeda. As a result it became acceptable to associate Muslims with terror resulting in abhorrent practices such as racial profiling in the US and others.
The Norway mayhem and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, among others, prove that radicalism and fanaticism have no religion and should never be associated with race, ethnicity or creed. In this globalized world such association can only invite racism, hatred and violence. The tragic case of Dr. Marwa Sherbini, 32 years old pregnant woman who was stabbed 18 times and bled to death in a Dresden court room by a German fantasist in 2009 comes to mind.
The media and politicians have colluded to incite hatred against Muslims and Islam. In the US a Florida pastor who planned a public burning of a copy of the Qur’an sparked deadly protests across the Muslim world. And in Holland, MP Geert Wilders’ tirade against Islam has galvanized public opinion and his rising popularity is a harbinger of a dangerously growing rift within the multicultural Dutch society.
Aside from the role of the media and the incitement of right-wing politicians, bigger issues are at stake. Few months ago the leaders of Germany, France and Britain each declared the failure of multiculturalism in their respective countries. The complex issues of assimilation and why Muslim immigrants have resisted it, the spread of radical Islam in Europe, the veil, immigration, building mosques and others have gnawed at European public opinion for years.
The case of the Danish cartoons and its relation to freedom of expression in secular societies underline the fact that Europe, with a growing number of Muslims — estimated to be around 60 million or 7.5 percent of the total population — is growing anxious over a myth that in 20 or 30 years Muslims will take over. Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist, believed that Muslims will become a majority in Europe and a racial war was imminent. His fight, he said, was against Muslim immigration, multiculturalism, and individuals and parties who tolerate immigrants, who he characterized as “Marxists” or “multiculturalists.”
Breivik and the right-wing parties and individuals he speaks on their behalf are exaggerating the presence of Muslims in Europe. Many studies refute the belief that Muslims will become a majority in Europe in the near future. In the United Kingdom they make up 2.8 percent of the population, in Spain 2.3 percent, France 9.6 percent, Germany 3.6 percent and the Netherlands 5.8 percent. The failure of multiculturalism in Europe, if indeed it has failed, is refuted by the amazing success story of Canada. Integration should not be viewed from social and cultural perspectives alone, but economic and political as well.
In the Parisian suburbs most North African immigrants suffer from unemployment, poverty, isolation and live in modern-day ghettos. Second and third generation Muslim immigrants are yet to integrate and have their share of the pie. In 2005 they rioted. Similar conditions are found in other European countries such as Belgium and again the question of failure is raised.
Europe will grapple with the issue of xenophobia and other phobias for many years to come. As public opinion becomes more extreme and economic conditions worsen for many European countries new laws curtailing immigration will be adopted. But far reaching consequences could also be expected. The blue-eyed, blond haired Oslo bomber represents much more than a phenomenon. Right-wing parties will grow in influence in the near future and that threatens not only the social and demographic makeup of European countries but also their political nature as democracies and egalitarian societies.
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.
Source: Arab News