Pankaj Mishra on Islamophobia and integration

A culture of fear — from Saturday’s Guardian

Pankaj Mishra had a lengthy article published on the rise of Islamophobia across Europe in Saturday’s Guardian which covers the gamut of issues raised by Islamophobia from demographic scaremongering through debate on the hijab that left out the women who wear it to the resilience of the anti-Turkish sentiment in the EU. One interesting point which hasn’t been well-made elsewhere, however, concerns the value of Muslim integration. We’d all be accepted if we just became more like the natives, right? Jewish experience shows otherwise:

Voltaire burnished his credentials as a defender of reason and civility with attacks on “ignorant” and “barbarous” Jews who, as slaves to their scripture, were, “all of them, born with raging fanaticism in their hearts”. (The Nazis put together a sizeable anthology of Voltaire’s rants against Jews.) Accused of mistreating their women and proliferating with devious rapidity, and goaded to abandon their religious and cultural baggage, many Jews in the 19th century paid an even higher cost of “integration” than that confronting Muslims today in France.

As it turned out, those Jews who suppressed the Torah and Talmud and underwent drastic embourgeoisement became even more vulnerable to malign prejudice in post-Enlightenment Europe’s secular nation-states. The persecution of Alfred Dreyfus in France convinced Theodore Herzl, the creator of modern Zionism, that “the Jew who tries to adapt himself to his environment, to speak its languages, to think its thoughts” would remain a potentially treacherous “alien” in the secular west. Reporting in the 1920s on Jewish communities exposed to a particularly vicious recrudescence of antisemitism, the novelist Joseph Roth denounced assimilation as a dangerous illusion, blaming its failure on the “habitual bias that governs the actions, decisions, and opinions of the average western European”.

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