XENOPHOBIA AND INTEGRATION: FEAR, NEAR AND FAR - PART I: LESSONS FROM ISLAM IN EUROPE

Josh Hovsha | Mar 04, 2015
Part One of an investigation into the challenge of xenophobia and integration within liberal democracy. This study focuses upon challenges arising through Islamic immigration in Western Europe. Issues highlighted include: the rise of the European Right, French Secularism and the Charlie Hebdo Attacks.
“If I am I, because you are you; 
and you are you, because I am I; 
then I am not I, and you are not you” 
Menachem Mendel of Kotzk

Introduction

Embers linger in Soweto, tears dry over still-shocked faces in France, even as Denmark comes to grips with the fresh wounds of its own attacks. It would seem that everywhere we turn the ‘other’ is both feared and fearful.  What is more, in the aftermath of our eventful State of the Nation Address, we too are left to ponder the full significance of President Zuma’s announcement of a policy aimed against foreign ownership of agricultural land in South Africa.

An investigation into fear or successful integration of the ‘other’ within the South African context may benefit greatly through understanding comparative challenges in the world today. In this regard, few cases provide an example of an alien ‘other’ with the potential to challenge historical national identity more than that of Islamic immigration in Western Europe today.
 

The Islamic Popuation of Western Europe

Western Europe’s Muslim population is relatively new and can predominantly be traced to labour migration in the 1950s and 1960s within the context of post-WWII reconstruction funded by the Marshall Plan. In particular, Turkey was the primary country of origin for these new immigrants, in addition to movement from former colonies to France and the UK. This wave was dominated by single-male labourers arriving in new lands in a guest worker capacity, consistent with European migration trends at the time.[1] 
 
Subsequent waves have been built upon family reunification (1970s) as well as asylum seeking starting in the wake of 1979’s Iranian Revolution. Migration, coupled with births, has seen a significant growth in Western Europe’s Islamic population. In 1990 fewer than 4 million Muslims lived in Western Europe, two decades later that number had grown threefold to 11.3 million.[2] Germany and France hold the two largest Muslim populations of all EU member states with 4.8 million and 4.7 million respectively.[3] On the whole the Islamic population of Europe is growing steadily. It is a younger population than that of Europe as a whole with a median age of 32 versus 40 for Europeans in general.[4]
 
It is noteworthy that this population is not homogenous.  It differs by country, city and even within the same community. Islam is a rich faith, built over centuries in diverse locations and unique circumstances. Its practitioners can no more be labelled as one monolithic group than Africa can be defined by the history of a single people.
 

Hostility to Muslim Immigrants

Initial hostility towards Muslim immigrants was expressed within the confines of larger unease at the wave of foreigners now found within European states. The comments of the Swiss novelist Max Frisch are particularly poignant as he notes that Europeans were alarmed to learn that they had “called for guest-workers, and human beings came instead.”[5]
 
However the rise of explicitly Islamic regimes in the Middle East and North Africa following the Iranian Revolution of 1979 brought a new awareness of the role of religion in global politics. Consequently, the discourse of Europe moved from one of culture and race to one of religion focused on Islam. This has been further morphed into a narrative of mistrust, collision and conflict in a post-9/11 world order.[6] 
 

The Rise of the Extremes

The rise of radical Islam has become a defining feature of our still-young century. Its most striking attacks are engrained in our collective cultural discourse from 9/11, Bali and the London Underground to the fresh wounds of Charlie Hebdo. The consequences are familiar.  The War on Terror started with the war in Afghanistan, following an ultimatum given by President Bush on 20 September 2001 to the Taliban leadership to turn over the heads of Al Qaeda operating in Afghanistan.[7] This was followed by the US-led invasion of Iraq on 18 March 2003. The complications of this conflict manifest themselves in ever-more complex ways as the grand hopes for the Arab Spring of 2011 have been drowned by the ongoing civil war in Syria, instability in post-Gaddafi Libya and within Egypt’s staggered journey to and from democratic rule. Moreover, the emergence of ISIS represents both a new radical representation of the ideals being fought for and against, and a reminder of the perils of regime change. 
 
At the same time, Europe is seeing the return of a more familiar threat in the form of the rise of the radical right. The most striking manifestation of this trend was felt on 22 July 2011 as right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik took the lives of 77 in Norway. Since then much has been made of the rise of the European politically radical right. In particular, the 2014 European Parliamentary elections were hailed as an “earthquake” (BCC, CNN) and “sweep” (Al Jazeera) as radical right-wing parties showed unprecedented gains. 
 
Yet more nuance is required in deciphering these results.  Dutch Political Scientist Cass Mudde has noted that only 10 of 28 European member states elected far right parties. Major gains were limited to France where the right wing National Front (FN) jumped from obscurity with 3 seats in 2009 to claim 25 per cent of the vote and 24 of France’s 74 seats in 2014. To contextualise this result radical right parties gained a net 15 seats in the elections, taking their total to 54. Thus, the French result may be seen as the chief force responsible for the reported “earthquake”, in dramatic contrast the UK, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria voted out all of their far right representatives.[8]
 
This new radical right represents a significant break with the past in terms of its goals. Writing for Dissentin 2011, Mudde explains “the populist radical Right is not anti-democratic in the formal sense; it embraces popular sovereignty and majority rule. It is, however, anti-liberal democratic; it rejects both cultural pluralism and minority rights.”[9] The new far right does not seek to overthrow democracy, instead it wishes to weaken the checks on majoritarian rule. Defenders of liberal democratic values should nevertheless be wary, understanding that democracies are defined not only by their ability to carry out the will of the people, but by also their ability to defend the rights and dignity of all in the process.
 

Accounting for the Rise of the Radical 

How may we account for the re-emergence of the far right in a region where the dark shadow of its predecessor still lingers in memory? Many would tie it to the financial crisis in the Eurozone and resultant austerity measures. However, Mudde disputes the link between economic crisis and the rise of the right, noting that Greece was the only “bailed out” country to return far right representatives in the 2014 European election. The far right in Western-Europe has been growing since the 1980s, Mudde notes that “Not only did the parties emerge in a period of relative affluence, but they tended to perform best in the richer countries (e.g. Denmark, Switzerland) and regions (e.g. Flanders, Northern Italy).”
 
Instead, it is asserted that the movement is best understood as a “post-materialist phenomona” centred upon both social and cultural issues and tied to identity politics. It is also tied to the crisis in the European project.  The far right can mobilize around the EU’s perceived threat to nationalist values and identity. In Mudde’s words, parties of the far right are able to play to “nativist stereotypes, they argue that elitist and wasteful Eurocrats force ‘us’ to pay money to the corrupt and lazy ‘them.’ ” As such, the precipitating crisis is not one of economy, but rather identity.
 

Charlie Hebdo and French Secularism

Both the European Parliamentary results as well as the Charlie Hebdo attacks draw our attention to the intricacies of the French experience. France is wed to a deep doctrine of separation of Church and State, laïcité, a proud remnant of the French Revolution institutionalised in the 1905 Law on the Separation of the Churches and State. It is this principle which served as the basis for  moves in 2004 to ban religious symbols in public schools, later expanded to the 2011 ban on face-coverings in public spaces. Among other items of dress this latter law targeted the traditional Niqāb and particular variations of the Burqa. The ban enjoyed considerable public backing[10] and championed by then-president Nicolas Sarkozy who publicly stated that Islamic face coverings were a sign of female debasement and “not welcome” in France.[11] In reality, the law is said to effect between 300 and 2,000 women nationally, yet it has given legal weight to the stigma against an already isolated minority.[12]
 
If state secularism has entrenched the perception of Islam as foreign, this has been reinforced further through the acts of Muslim terror groups. The attacks on Charlie Hebdo resonate not only in the context of an assault on the West in general, but against a proud history of French secularism complete with a tradition of political and religious satire.
 
Yet there is another side to state relations to Muslims in France in the form of. Jonathan Laurence, Professor of Political Science at Boston University, identifies two key periods in French state relations to Islam.[13] The first from 1974 to 1989 is marked by both tolerance and minimal accommodation of Muslim immigrants. At this stage sponsorship of Islamic institutions through foreign governments was encouraged by the French government who felt that Muslim states had a better understanding of how to respond to and support the needs of their diaspora populations. However, a series of crises in the 1980s and early 1990s including debates around the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the rise of Algerian Islamism and ultimately the lead up to the first Gulf War revealed the need for representative advice on the views of French Muslims.  A second period thus ensued from 1990, paralleled throughout Western Europe, whereby the state attempted to incorporate religious NGOs, Islamic Mosques, and other Muslim notables into the framework of a newly created Islam Council. The problems facing these councils abound, with the CPFM of France accused of lacking any legitimacy as a representative voice of France’s muslim population. In truth, such issues are not limited to the French case alone, yet the formation of a centre of dialogue stands out as an opportunity to change the nature of a narrative of collision. Albeit an opportunity that is presently being missed. 
 
In a speech to parliament on January 13th, just days after the events that shocked Paris and the world, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared that France was now at “at war…not against a religion” but “against terrorism, jihadism and radical Islamism.”[14] These words received a standing ovation, yet the challenge in opposing extremism while embracing an already isolated Islamic minority is only just beginning. 
 
The words of Mendel of Kotzk quoted above come to mind. When self-conception is challenged, the easiest response is to reaffirm ourselves differentially in relation to the ‘other’. But any identity so construed is hollow at its core- I am I, only so-far as you are you. The ‘other’ is a useful outlet for frustration, but a poor remedy for the true systemic challenges at play - be they large-scale financial instability and threats to presupposed identity in Europe, or deep-rooted inequality in our own context.
 
In relation to Europe, many speak in terms made famous by Samuel Huntington of a “clash of civilisations” between the Islamic world and the West. However it may be that the most complex challenges for this meeting of civilisations are to be found in addressing the challenges to national identity at home. The true threat may yet be found in the familiar streets of Paris and Berlin and not in the ancient trade routes of Damascus and Baghdad.
 
Joshua Hovsha - Researcher
johsua@hsf.org.za
 
NOTES

[1] Laurence, J., 2011.  The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims: The State's Role in Minority Integration. Princeton University Press, NJ. 7-9.
[2] Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. 2011. The Future of the Global Muslim Population. January 7. Washington, DC: Pew Research Centre.
[3] Pew Research Centre. 2015. “5 facts about the Muslim population in Europe.” http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/01/15/5-facts-about-the-muslim-population-in-europe/. Accessed: 2015.02.20
[4] Pew Research Centre, 2015.
[5] Quoted in Laurence, 2011: 9.
[6] Peach, C., 2007. “A Brief Overview of Demographic Trends and Socioeconomic Integration, with Particular Reference to Britain.” in: J. Smith (ed), Muslim Integration: Challenging Conventional Wisdom in Europe and the United States.The Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington D.C. 7-8.
[7] CNN. 2001. Transcript of President Bush’s Address. http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/09/20/gen.bush.transcript/  Accessed: 2015.02.25
[8] Mudde, C., 2014. “The far right in the 2014 European elections: Of earthquakes, cartels and designer fascists.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/05/30/the-far-right-in-the-2014-european-elections-of-earthquakes-cartels-and-designer-fascists/. Accessed: 2015.02.20
[9] Mudde, C., 2011. “Who’s Afraid of the European Radical Right?” Dissent, Fall 2011.
[10]  As much as 82% of the population according to the 2011 Pew Global Attitudes Project. quoted in Benton, M. and Nielson., A., 2013. “Integrating Europe’s Muslim Minorities: Public Anxieties, Policy Responses.” The Online Journal of the Migration Policy Institute. available online: http://migrationpolicy.org/article/integrating-europes-muslim-minorities-public-anxieties-policy-responses 
[11] The Guardian, 2009. “Nicolas Sarkozy says Islamic veils are not welcome in France” http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jun/22/islamic-veils-sarkozy-speech-france. Accessed: 2015.02.23
[12] Quoted in Benton and Nielson, 2013
[13] Laurence, J., 2005. “From the Elysee Salon to the Table of the Republic: State Islam Relations and the Integration of Muslims in France.” French Politics, Culture & Society, Vol. 23 (1). 
[14]  Quoted in the Economist, 2015. After the atrocities. http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21639540-attacks-charlie-hebdo-and-kosher-supermarket-brought-french-together-unity Accessed: 2015.02.23