Friday, May 07, 2010

The Muslims are coming!

During a visit to the European Union headquarters a couple of years back, one was pleasantly surprised to see all those restaurants offering “halal” food and elderly Arab and Turkish gentlemen enjoying their cuppa of heady Turkish coffee and even an occasional shisha by the roadside cafe.

This is the heart of Europe, the seat of European Parliament and perhaps the capital of coming United States of Europe. With Arabs and Muslims living and working in this quintessentially European city, Brussels increasingly looks like Beirut, Istanbul or any other great city of the Middle East.

With its rich multicultural society and growing Arab and Muslim population — most of them arrived in the 1950’s and 60’s to work in its mines — Brussels is perhaps one of the finest examples of European multiculturalism and tolerance for diversity.

And it is not just Brussels. Scenes like these are increasingly familiar all across Europe — from London to Paris and from Berlin to Copenhagen to Amsterdam. Lately, things are changing though and changing fast. Belgian lawmakers recently voted to ban the Islamic veil even as their counterparts in neighboring France and Italy are working on their own measures to “tackle Islam.”

Sarkozy’s France already has a ban on the scarf schools in place and is now threatening to detain and punish those who “make women” wear hijab. Some months ago, Switzerland, the Alpine paradise that Hemingway chose as the backdrop of his achingly beautiful love story, A Farewell to Arms, stunned the world by imposing a blanket ban on minarets that some groups vilified as “missiles.” What is going on? Whatever is happening to the continent that swears by human rights, religious freedom and an individual’s right to do his/her own thing and live as he or she pleases?

Three years ago when those cheap caricatures appeared in Denmark, we persuaded ourselves this is just a crazy cartoonist taking his creative license too far.  We told ourselves this is not how the rest of liberal and all-embracing multicultural Europe thinks and conducts itself. But there are growing signs that it’s not just a tiny, lunatic fringe that is obsessing over the coming threat of Eurabia.
The hypocrisy of this whole veil debate is breathtaking. While the highbrow pundits of the establishment and media shrug off the stark nudity on the streets and sex on the beach in the name of art and individual freedom, a woman is condemned as a “clear and present danger” to society if she decides to cover her head or face.
Some years ago, Australian women’s soccer team, the Matildas, created their own imaginative calendar that left nothing to the imagination selling it like hot cakes for $20 each. It was of course taken in “true sporting spirit” by the magnanimous Aussies and rest of the world.

Every now and then, some of Europe’s most celebrated photographers and artists take time off to shoot and paint crowds of men and women in their birthday suit all in the name of some social cause or the other. All across the continent you can buy and sell sex like candy — across the counter without raising any sensitive eyebrows.

This is why one finds these growing European restrictions and “dress code” for Muslim women a little hard to digest and reeking of duplicity. But more than cultural imperialism — which is what this is — I believe this phenomenon has more to do with the growing Islamophobia in the West and bigotry of Eurabia mongers, as Pankaj Mishra called them in an incisive essay in the Guardian last year.

But no matter what wonks like Mark Steyn, Christopher Caldwell and Bruce Bawer, whose new book Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom has been recommended by the New York Times as the essential “wake-up call” for the West, might like to do with Europe’s 53 million Muslims, or those of the United States, they aren’t going to go away anytime soon.
In fact, in years to come they could only grow in numbers coming as they do in droves from around the world from the impoverished parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Like them or hate them, Europe has to learn to live with its Muslims. Ditto for Muslims who must present the real, humane face of their faith before the world.
However European leaders wish, they cannot wish their immigrants and new arrivals away. Especially when the aging continent with its dwindling population badly needs new blood, new skills and ideas.

In fact, Europe needs and is attracting young bodies with young minds from everywhere to renew and rejuvenate itself. Else the continent that has dominated the world for the past five or six centuries faces a bleak and uncertain future. Besides, there’s some sort of poetic justice or delicious irony of history, if you will, in all of this.

Most of those invading or coming to invade Europe, transforming its profile forever, are from the lands and countries that had been colonized, plundered and brutalized by colonial powers till the last century. Clearly, the empire’s chickens have come home to roost. Europe’s past is catching up with its present and future.  

From Aijaz Zaka Syed's column in Arab News
To read the full article click here.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Dubai-based journalist and commentator. Write to him at

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