Monday

26th Jul 2021

Column

Muslims, Ramadan, and myths facing 'European civilisation'

Brace yourselves. The purity of European civilisation is going to be tested over the next four weeks by a full-frontal display of 'otherness' by Europe's increasingly feisty and self-confident Muslims.

Yes, it is Ramadan again and observing European Muslims, along with others who practice Islam across the world, have embarked on a month-long journey of abstinence, fasting and prayer.

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  • 'The EU Commission memo on building a Union of Equality has not yet dropped into the inboxes of national politicians'

It is a brazen challenge to the "European Way of Life" and it takes place every year within white, Christian, Europe and - believe it or not - even in the hallowed walls of France de la Laicite.

During the day, European Muslims put in the required time at work as doctors and nurses and other "essential workers" as well as scientists, business leaders, artists, sports stars and others.

It's all nice and European.

Once the sun sets, in the safety of their homes and in mosques, these 'ordinary' people morph into religious fanatics, Islamic zealots, radicals and 'separatists', 'Islamo-Gauchistes' and Shariah-proselytisers. It is the Great Replacement in action.

For more information, ask Hungary's Viktor Orbán, Dutch politician Geert Wilders and other far-right Islamophobes, including France's Marine Le Pen, but also French interior minister Gerard Darmanin and Frederique Vidal, his colleague responsible for higher education.

Do I sense a degree of irritation, dear reader? Am I generalising, simplifying and stereotyping European perceptions of Muslims and Islam?

Blaming an entire community, nay the entire population of a continent, for the evil thoughts, intentions and actions of a racist minority is extremely irresponsible.

Not all Europeans are prejudiced Muslim-haters. Most are good people and many not only believe in an inclusive Europe but are also trying to help build one.

Take the European Commission which has an ambitious Anti-Racism Action Plan, just organised an online summit denouncing bigotry and xenophobia and is planning another conference to celebrate diversity and inclusion.

The commission memo on building a Union of Equality has not yet dropped into the inboxes of national politicians, however.

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who is fighting a battle against the all-pervasive but still undefined menace posed by "political Islam" following the terrorist attack by an ISIS sympathiser in Vienna last November, certainly hasn't received it.

Neither has French Muslims' new best friend Darmanin who closed down the anti-Islam watchdog Collectif Contre l'Islamophobie last November and is now asking the EU Commission to stop paying a €60,000 grant to another civil society organisation, Alliance Citoyenne, because it campaigned to allow burkini-clad Muslim women into the municipal swimming pool in Grenoble.

EU anti-racist pronouncements also mean little to French senators who want to ban French Muslim women under-18 from wearing subversive headscarves or to those hurling racist abuse and death threats at Tareq Alaows, a Syrian refugee, who has now abandoned plans to campaign for a seat in the German parliament.

Disconnect

The disconnect between Brussels' ambitions and the racist reality, including unrelenting police violence, facing European Muslims is alarming.

Anxious hand-wringing over the place of Islam in Europe and claims that European Muslims are foot soldiers in an ongoing existential confrontation between Europe and Islam is a familiar trope.

What has changed is the shrillness of the accusations and adoption of the populists' discourse by mainstream European politicians.

What is also new is that European Muslims are no meek pushovers. Eloquently and more and more frequently, despite real-life and online threats, gutsy European Muslims are pushing back.

They are on the winning side. European politicians and 'intellectuals' may moan about 'woke' American ideas tearing apart the old continent but the #BlackLivesMatter movement is here to stay.

Also, despite populist inroads, EU democracies are resilient, European judges are independent and human rights defenders are strong and active. They too are not going anywhere anytime soon.

That is not always the case in other parts of the world. Effective monitoring and reporting of discrimination against Muslims is weak or non-existent in many countries.

Sometimes states themselves can be the principal perpetrators of discrimination.

China's "re-education" of the Uighur community is one glaring example of state-sanctioned policies targeting Muslims. In democratic India, public hostility is driving some Muslims to try and merge with their surroundings, becoming as invisible as possible.

In fact as the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, warned the Human Rights Council last month, institutional suspicion of Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim has escalated to "epidemic proportions" worldwide.

Shaheed's report to the council warned that widespread negative representations of Islam, fear of Muslims generally and security and counterterrorism policies were perpetuating, validating and normalising discrimination, hostility and violence towards Muslim individuals and communities.

The truth is even darker. Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Pakistan's Imran Khan as well as many Arab rulers and their counterparts in Iran are quick to slam Islamophobia in Europe. But their own record on dealing with fellow Muslims who demand better human rights protection is dismal.

The EU's efforts to denounce human rights violations and stand up for activists around the world are important and commendable.

Europe's voice would be stronger and more credible, however, if its own Muslim citizens were treated with more dignity and respect.

A start should be made now during Ramadan 2021.

Author bio

Shada Islam is an independent EU analyst and commentator who runs her own strategy and advisory company New Horizons Project.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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