ROBERTO SAVIO | 8 MAY, 2016
ROME: When the blasphemous anti Islam cartoons published in 2006 by a Danish newspaper left 205 people dead, the then Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Ekmeleddin Mehmet Ihsaoglu, went to see Javier Solana who was responsible for foreign affairs of the European Union. The position of the EU was that there was no islamophobia at all, and this was an isolated incident. Since then, this has been more or less the position of the European institutions.
But now this is denial of the reality. For three years mass manifestations in Germany, especially in Dresden, (led by a man with a criminal past,) happened every week, under the banner of Pegida, (Patriotic Europeans against the islamization of Europe). Breivik’s slaughter of 77 people in Oslo in 2011, was condemned as an act of a lonely lunatic. It is now known and accepted that there are more than 20 acts of islamophobia daily in Germany alone.
And the congress of the AfD (Alternative for Germany), the xenophobic and nationalist party which in just two years went on to be represented in eight states of the Federal Republic, got some space in the media.
The Congress of AfD held on the 30th of April, just after the March German elections, saw AfD come out as probably the third largest party. Weeks before the Congress of AfD, the Austrian xenophobe Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), came first in the Presidential election. That was after the right wing party Slovak National Party (SNS) was able to get in the government, and that in Poland the rightist Law and Justice (PiS), was able to take over the government. Amidst general indifference, uninterrupted string of victories of the extreme right-wing in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria Hungary, Italy and Greece, has being going on in the last years.
The congress of AfD was infused, on the contrary, with the awareness that the tide of xenophobia, nationalism and populism is taking over Europe. And the language of the Congress was unthinkable a few years ago. One of the resolutions was that Islam is irreconcilable with Europe, and therefore all Muslims will be expelled from Germany. The fact that 87% of them have lived there for more than 15 years, and therefore they are clearly German citizens perfectly integrated in society, and protected by the constitution of their citizen’s right, any solution would have to be by changing the constitution. And when at the press conference, a journalist asked how the sudden expulsion from the labour market of millions of people would be solved, the answer was: Hitler did that with six million Jews, who were much more powerful and integrated, and nothing happened.
Now, let us recall that Hitler declared the Jews were incompatible with Europe, stripped them of their citizenship, so to deport them to concentration camps (AfD would benignly just expel them). Does not the AdF proposal ring something dejà vue?
Islamophoby was the subject of a successful Conference organized by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, together with the Pakistani Mission to the UN, just a day before the AdF Congress. Speakers of remarkable importance like Idriss Jazairy of Algeria, Ekmeleddin Mehmet Ihsaoglu from Turkey, and Tehmina Janjua from Pakistan took the floor. And the Conference, with wide participation of many countries, took on the usual debate on religion. Several examples were held up to show that the Koran does not preach violence, and that ISIS is just a deviation from the real Islam. And it is a fact that all the Muslim panellists, some Sufi, some Sunni, would have been considered apostates by ISIS and swiftly executed. No Wahabite or Salafist( the puritan version of Islam) was present.
But it is quite evident that Islamaphobia has nothing to do with religion. In fact, both in the Koran and the evangels, there are many common points. And the wars of religions have rarely been a matter of citizens. Kings and Sheikhs have always originated them. The war of the Thirty Years 1618-1648), which destroyed Europe much more than ISIS could ever do, leaving 20% of the population dead, was initiated by Emperor Ferdinand of Bohemia. Protestants and Catholics were living peacefully side-by-side, as did Jews, Muslims and Christians in Spain, until Isabel and Fernando decided to expel the Jews and the Muslims. And when religious leaders, like Girolamo Savonarola in Florence (a Wahabist Christian), amassed followers, the Pope in this case, and kings or princes in other cases, swiftly intervened to execute him.
It is high time that we recognize that Islam has been caught in a Western Internal crisis. And Islam itself is also in the middle of an internal crisis, not so well known outside. There are several schools of Islam, beside the main division between Sunni and Shite. But the fights within Islam have been always generated by kings, Imams and Ayatollahs, using religion as the tool for their power. One of the arguments against Islam is that Christians are leaving the Arab world, because of Muslim fanaticism. Yet nobody pauses to think why Christians have been living there for generations and generations, until today…. Who will win this internal fight is not clear, but it will certainly not be ISIS, or even Wahabism, in spite of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by Saudi Arabia in creating mosques with radical Imams all over the world. Islam will remain a religion with different schools that will learn to coexist. How long it will take, it cannot be predicted.
But let us go back to what is happening now, today. The West is in serious internal crisis, which is a crisis of democracy: is it a crisis of economic and social order, and the inability of the political system to deal with it? We should recognize that until the economic crisis of 2008, started in the US with the derivative bubble, and then in Europe with the sovereign debt bubble, the system created after the Second World War was still standing.
Many historians claim that the turns of history have been created by greed and fear. Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, we entered a period of uncontrolled capitalism, where greed is considered a positive fuel for growth. Twenty years on, greed has resulted in a return to social inequality, accompanied by the birth of industrial revolution. The figures are clear and well known. Let us just remind ourselves that 200 people have the equivalent wealth of 2.2 billion of the world’s population. Middle class has been shrinking: according to the World Bank, it is now 3% less in Europe, and 7% less in the United States. In Brazil, where 40 million people of poor people went up to be middle class, millions are now taking to the streets because they fear slipping back into poverty.
And fear is adding to greed. Is fear, which is fuelling the ascent of Donald Trump in the US (and Bertie Sanders), and everywhere people fear losing the world they knew and in which they felt comfortable and secure. The call of the right wing has been for a better yesterday: let us go back to a pure and ordered Europe, let us get rid of the bureaucrats from Brussels who want to run our lives. Nationalism and populism are back. Let us get rid of the Euro; let us go back to our monetary sovereignty, and let us expel all foreigners who are destroying the world we knew. The present political system is corrupt and does not respond to the need of citizens. It has become a self-sustained caste. Let us get rid of the traditional parties, which are a tool of the financial and economic interests.
In that framework, nationalism and populism find it very convenient to add xenophobia, which has become Islamaphobia. It is not coincidental that the University of Tel Aviv reports that anti-Semite incidents are the lowest in ten years. Not by chance it started in France, with the largest Muslim community of Europe. And then two phenomena came in to help the use of Islamophobia as a political tool. One was the creation of ISIS in 2014, with is attentates in Europe which added to the general fear. And at the same time, the crisis of refugees, who are coming in as part of an unprecedented mass invasion of Europe. And Islamophobia , together with nationalism and populism, has immensely helped the tide of the right wing.
But to hold ISIS and the refugees fully responsible for the tide, is a superficial reading. Let us not forget that the anti European government of Hungary was elected in 2010, when ISIS and the refugees did not exist. Before 2014, populism and nationalism, in fear and greed, have been responsible for the growing tide. And the government of Poland, in a country where European Union did pour subsidies as in nowhere else, went to Law a nd Justice party in 2015, under the banner: let us insulate from what is happening in Europe. And the Brexit, the British referendum on Europe, was caused by Ukip, the UK Independence Party, which was above all an antieuropean nationalist party, which had little islamophobia.So much that the mayor of London is now a islamist.
Now, of course, we are all fixated on Islam, which has become the easy scapegoat, because of ISIS and the refugee crisis. The fact that many of the refugees come from wars that we started, is now totally forgotten. But to focus on the future, and how to have a serious immigration policy, is no longer politically possible. After the smashing success of FPO in Austria, the Socialist-Christian democrat government coalition declared that they will not leave the banner of national integrity in the hands of the right wing and they are going as far as erecting a border with Italy.
Yet, it is a fact that the Europe of the past cannot come back. Europe had 24% of the world population in 1800, and will be just 4% at the end of this century. When England obliged China to accept its export of opium in 1839, it had a population of 19 million people, against a population of China of 354 million. Today UK has a white population of 41.5 million people, and China 1.6 billion people. Europe will lose 50 million people in three decades. The pension system will collapse, without replacement. Can we have 50 million Christian immigrants? And why we had 20 millions Muslim living in Europe without anybody noticing, until a few years ago? Without an immigration policy, how to ignore that the total number of people living outside their country of birth are now 240 million, and they would constitute the fifth largest country of the world? How to choose and admit only those that are needed or useful ?
We are forgetting all this, to the point that Europe is abandoning the Charter of Human Rights, the European constitution and its proclaimed identity, to deal with an unsavoury president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and reach a deal where it exchanges 1 million Syrians for 6 billion dollars, and open doors to 70 million Turks.
The West is playing an ISIS game. To create a war of religions is the dream. To oblige Muslims living in Europe and the US to make a choice: or become apostate by siding with the West in spite of its rejection, or to join the fight for the rebirth of Islam and the war against the crusaders. This is their strategy. And the rising tide of nationalism, populism and now Islamophobia, which has paralyzed the traditional political system, is not only the decline of democracy. It is also a path to insecurity, and the return to the strong men of the past.
(Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.)