The next holocaust?

Ziauddin Sardar for once has an article worth reading in this week’s New Statesman, entitled The Next Holocuast. It’s on the site’s front page, and can be read once, but is on a “read once, then pay” basis, so don’t go anywhere else as it will do this even if you return to it with the “back” button. Sardar and his photographer colleague Mike Turner travelled in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France and interviewed various people: local Turkish women, a German insurance broker with his Polish girlfriend in a bar in Dortmund, an economics professor in the same city, a cab driver and the shisha and backgammon set in Eindhoven, Muslim women and an armed police officer in Antwerp, and a fashion designer and a halal butcher in Roubaix. What he found was a pattern of discrimination and alienated communities in all four countries. (Mere Islam has answers to some of Zia’s article.)

In Germany, he interviews the insurance broker and his Polish girlfriend who come out with a list of complaints against the Turkish community. The European immigrant communities are “well integrated”; the Turks aren’t: they “don’t integrate”, “they are conservative, their women cover their heads” and the Qur’an supposedly “tells them to murder Christians”. He has, however, never met a Turk, but he of course has an excuse: they stick to themselves and don’t go to the non-Muslims’ pubs. The local Turkish women, some of whom (as with Pakistanis in this country) cover their heads and some of whom don’t, bear no apparent resemblance to those described, and say they have no idea why the Germans hate them so much. He does not find the sentiment reciprocated, but the teenagers he interviews say they experience racism everywhere, including from school teachers.

Sardar gives a history of German nationhood, a relatively recent phenomenon given that the country was cobbled together from the petty principalities which emerged after the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire. The country “came late to nationalism and colonialism, and caught a bad case of both”, scrambling “briefly and brutally” in the 1880s for colonies (which it lost after World War I); the country was also heavily involved in the Crusades, a factor which weighs heavily on the country to this day:

The Germans embraced the Crusades with great vigour: the first, infamously, commenced at home with pogroms against the Jews. The crusading motif is as important to the German self-image as it ever was; the hatred of Turks I heard was often expressed in crusading language - even if couched in liberal terms.
Wolfram Richter, the economics professor in Dortmund, fears that the anti-Turkish feeling boils down to “old-fashioned racism” and that what happened to Jews in the past could happen to Muslims in the future. I can confirm that anti-Turkish feeling exists in Germany even among “liberal” Germans, as I stayed with a German family in the early 1990s, and when I showed interest in buying a postcard to send home to my family which had several flags including a Turkish one, my friend (who was a SDP supporter) told me I couldn’t buy that one as it had a Turkish flag on it. The Turks, he said, were the Germans’ Pakistanis.

In Eindhoven, Sardar met a female taxi driver who, despite having a Moroccan boyfriend, called the local Moroccans “mostly criminals” and accused them of ruining her country. Those he met at the local shisha bar (next to the official red light district) were old men playing the usual games, who claimed that the Dutch treated them as if they were separate, and without respect or dignity, so they ended up being separate. He meets an IT consultant of Moroccan origin who complains of blatant job discrimination; interviewers ask him what kind of Muslim he is and whether he prays or goes to the mosque; he accused the Dutch of treating the Muslims as “colonial subjects” and assuming that they are all terrorists. It’s notable that the “liberalism” for which the country is so famous does not extend to Muslims, but then it shouldn’t be surprising as this liberalism is all about euthanasia, drugs and prostitution. The country is notorious as a place people go for these things, and among the most bigoted against Muslims are the most morally corrupt people in the country. Of course, they don’t want Muslims spoiling their party.

The colonial theme is continued in the discussion of the situation in Belgium, where Muslims are not considered Belgian even in the third generation and where they report endemic racism, being treated like “colonial subjects”, and being afraid to speak freely. Belgium, of course, had a notoriously brutal colonial record in the Congo, treating the place as a big labour camp. While the term “heart of darkness” has been used to describe Congo/Zaire since it came under native rule, it was used by Joseph Conrad to describe the Belgian-ruled Congo. A police officer in Antwerp calls integration “a one-way street” and rejects accommodation. “We are not a problem. Islam is the problem. Anything is possible where Islam is concerned.” He expects a riot.

Belgium has a constitution which allots self-rule to the different white communities who could not live together, but of course makes no such allowance for immigrant communities. Holland has its much-vaunted liberalism for its own and all the world’s scoundrels, but not for religious immigrants and their descendents. Similarly, France parrots its “liberté, egalité, fraternité” slogan, but in its colonial history never treated its own colonial subjects as equals. The state ideology today dictates that all citizens are “French” and refuses to acknowledge difference, but in reality racism flourishes. Even the physical layout of the cities resembles the colonial pattern: in north Africa, the natives lived in the old cities while the colonisers built their own cities outside them; today in France, the natives live in the old towns and cities while the immigrants are shoved into “suburbs” on the fringes of the towns.

The conclusion I draw from this article is that Europe cannot accommodate any group with a remarkably different lifestyle from the majority. It proved this with its treatment of Jews over the centuries, only really resolved (in western Europe at least) when most of them were massacred, a large number of the remainder fled (perhaps in response to massacres in Poland, perhaps in response to the encroaching Red army), a substantial number had assimilated and had shed those aspects of their religion which necessitated separateness, and the recognition of what anti-Semitism had brought about protected the rest. But for most of history, Europe found one excuse after another to subjugate Jews. They were different, they were disloyal, they regard Palestine as their home and not Europe; there were also the religious reasons. Europe also has a history of inter-communal religious tension, particularly between Catholics and Protestants. And Gypsies are treated as second-class citizens in central Europe, Slovakia and Hungary being well-known examples.

Today, mainland Europe finds similar excuses to deny Muslims the same rights other citizens have. It’s more subtle now, of course; they may not have an officially separate status and be required to be in their ghetto by sundown, but laws exist explicitly banning religious dress in public buildings, with the effect of barring religious Muslim women. It’s particularly cruel that this is often done in the name of feminism, sometimes with the excuse that it “protects” girls from being forced to wear something they don’t want to by their families, but sometimes explicitly because people don’t like what it represents. (Most schools on the continent don’t have uniforms; the issue of parental pressure to wear a headscarf really cuts no ice in a country where thousands of children are expected to wear a uniform they don’t particularly want to wear every day.) The effect, and in some cases the intention, is to make the life of an observant Muslim as difficult as possible. The fact is that the general population can wear pretty much what they like; the normal dress of one community is barred.

It is not just Muslims who are affected, of course. France has indeed assimilated immigrants from all European Christian backgrounds; this route is not open to black Christians from the French Carribean. There have been no pogroms so far, but police harrassment, particularly of young men, is well-known; it is also known of in this country (I heard two calls to the BBC London phone-in this morning by black women who said they had been pulled over by police who came over all apologetic when they realised that they were women!). Sardar notes that the bigotry is just as pronounced among so-called liberals, including those who are relaxed about mixed-race relationships. From my reading of blogs in English, I would suggest that most of this bigotry is these days advanced in the name of liberalism; self-styled “muscular liberals” with both blogs and regular newspaper columns seek to push this country in the same direction. They demand a total separation of religion and state, which in practice means an end to all allowances for Muslims. The reason, of course, is that Muslims are not liberals themselves. Tolerance is not to be extended to intolerance, which is routinely conflated with disapproval.

As for the idea of this leading to another holocaust, I find this both alarmist but also somewhat naive. The Holocaust of the 1940s was a unique event in history; genocides took place before and have done since, but mass murder on that scale was unprecedented. It was not an explosion of mass hatred, but the action of a determined central group in a dictatorial state which they set up in particular political and economic circumstances, and not all those involved knew exactly what was going on. The Hindu extremists in India may have more manpower than the Nazis did, and have been responsible for anti-Muslim riots and pogroms which have led to much loss of life, but they do not have control over a totalitarian state. The point that Europe seems to be blindly repeating its old mistakes is a valid one; it’s too easy to assume that it might lead to a re-run of the Holocaust. If a comparable event takes place, it is more likely to be an altogether new atrocity, perpetrated by people who would be horrified at the thought of taking people to be gassed at Auschwitz.

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