EUROPEAN MUSLIMS BRACE FOR THE WORST

The morning after. More shootings. Mourning. Recriminations. And cartoons.

Across Europe, and the world, cartoonists drew in outrage at the attacks at a French newspaper that left 12 dead Wednesday. Some were genius – a common theme had pens vs. machine guns. Others were crass.

On the cover of Titanic, the German equivalent to Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine depicted four different sized phalluses, each labelled underneath with the world’s major religions: Christianity (the biggest one) was next to a smaller Buddism, Judaism and, of course, Islam. The image was captioned, “Comparing religions.” The subtext was obvious – “mine is bigger than yours.”

This is why Europe’s Muslims feel under siege, some say.

“Why do they feel it is necessary to draw a cartoon that depicts Muslims rather than just the extremist nuts,” one young French Muslim about the attack and the reaction afterward, told us.

“It’s like we don’t feel anything about what happened – I am French, too, and I feel sick over it,” he added. “Even a Muslim died in the attacks – even we aren’t safe from these attacks. Yet somehow, this attack is blamed on all of us, because of our faith.”

Since 9/11, anti-Muslim sentiment has been on the rise, say analysts such as Johannes Kiess, a sociologist and researcher at the University of Leipzig. This has reached almost feverish proportions since Islamic State carved out huge swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014, and thousands of Europeans traveled there to help them do it. For months, European leaders have been contemplating measures to prevent those jihadists from returning home to cause mayhem, or going there in the first place. At the same time, Europe has experienced a record high immigration rate from the Muslim world due to the turmoil in Syria, Libya and elsewhere.

That has caused the discussion in the public area to focus on the Muslim communities in Europe, from which many of these jihadis originated. Tensions have run high at times in the past six months, and include violent riots in Paris and Cologne.

And then there are the protests. What was once the province of rightwing leaders like France’s National Front Leader Marie Le Pen in France and the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) in Germany, anti-immigrant sentiment has morphed into “anti-Islamicization of Europe” protests, and gone mainstream in a movement called the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West, or Pegida. For weeks, thousands have been hitting the streets in Germany to stop what they worry is a development that will lead to Sharia law, and erode the freedoms enjoyed in the West, especially for women.

The attack in Paris is expected to lead to the biggest demonstrations yet in Germany, on Monday.Unknown

One Pegida supporter told us: “The brutal attacks in Paris show that we are in urgent need of a fresh and free European-wide general debate about freedom of speech, and Islam.”

In fact, the group was quick to capitalize on the shooting of top editors and humorists at the famous satirical magazine – known for its mocking of everyone from presidents to popes and prophet.

“Today in France, the Islamists, that Pegida has warned you about for 12 weeks, have shown that they are not capable of democracy and see violence and death and a solution!” the group wrote in a post to their Facebook page Wednesday. “Our politicians want us to believe the opposite. Does this kind of tragedy have to happen in Germany?”

This is exactly the attitude European Muslim say they fear.

Although Muslim communities were quick to condemn the attacks, they warned over what they knew would come next.

“In a global political context, the tensions fueled by the delusions of terrorist groups provides a false picture of Islam,” the French Council of the Muslim Faith said. “We call on all who are attached to the values of the (French) Republic and democracy to avoid doing anything that will fan the flames (of hatred).”

France has the largest Muslim community in Western Europe, 5 to 10 percent of a population of about 66 million. French Muslims say that their community has been stigmatized for years. The situation is similar in Germany, and such sentiments are common in Belgium, Spain and Scandinavia.

And now those communities are even more fearful.

“I believe that the attacks today will only grow the racism against Muslims,” Abdallah Zekri, president of the National Observatory Against Islamophobia in Paris told us. “I hear many politicians saying that this is an Islamist terrorist attack and not just a terrorist attack.”

Analysts say European mainstream communities need to be careful about how they react to the attack. Instead, they should look toward increased inclusiveness, as a way to bridge the rift and also prevent the alienation that causes certain elements from reaching out to extremist groups in the first place.

European Muslim communities have a difficult time with integration, partly because of widespread discrimination against them in jobs, education, housing and partly because of a mainstream identity that doesn’t recognize them as French, or German or Belgium – also officially: Many children of immigrants who came to Germany five decades ago still don’t have a German passport (In many European countries, nationality is often still defined by bloodline).

The laws on nationality have been changing, slowly, over the past decade. That’s because European societies have been slow to internalize that they are now immigration societies even as they have realized they have to do something to integrate millions of foreigners that aren’t going home.

But on the street, that attitude is going to still take time, most say.

A prominent German lawmaker of Turkish heritage, a Muslim, told me that when he stands in parliament and speaks about the issues of the day, he gets letters asking him what business is it of his.

“I wouldn’t be getting those letters or that question if my name were ‘Hans’ and I had blue eyes and blond hair,” he told me. “It’s even funnier when I speak my native language, German, and people tell me, marveling, ‘wow, you speak such good German as a foreigner’.”

In the wake of the attack in Paris, and the tone of the national discussions to come, many just expect that same attitude, and are bracing for worse.

 

 

jabeen-bhatti*Jabeen Bhatti has worked as a print journalist in the US and abroad for almost two decades, writing for The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Times, The Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg and other publications. Originally from the Washington, DC area, Jabeen has lived in Poland, Denmark and South Korea, before moving to Berlin in 2003. In the US, she covered local and national news, and a variety of beats; overseas, she has covered spot news, and written news analysis and features on politics, society, arts, law and business, as well as covered energy/environment issues and intellectual property/data protection law. She has reported from Europe, the Middle East, South and Central Asia and North Africa. Jabeen holds a master’s degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York. She was a Fulbright scholar in 2006. She founded Associated Reporters Abroad (ARA Network) in 2008 and currently serves as its managing editor, where she works with more than 100 reporters around the globe.

You can follow Jabeen on Twitter @ARA_Network

 

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