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Fighting the good fight against the forces of chaos, one day at a time.
21st Century Anti-Muslim Ideology vs. 20th Century Anti-Jewish Ideology 
24th-Jul-2011 03:51 pm
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” -- George Santayana

I’m writing this the day after right-wing nationalist and anti-Muslim extremist Anders Behring Breivik (hereafter ABB) killed 7 of his fellow Norwegians with a fertilizer bomb parked in front of a government building, and then topped that atrocity by slaughtering 85 innocent youths at a left-wing summer camp. The Washington Times ran an exclusive article based on Facebook messages their source recently exchanged with ABB. His rhetoric reminded me uncomfortably in places of anti-Semitic rhetoric from the pre-WWII era, as did many historical parallels of the two situations.

“I’m from Oslo btw which [has] about 20% Muslims now. The Muslim ‘ghettofication process’ on the east side of my city is pretty radical. Most of these Muslims are religiously conservative non-educated individuals from NW Pakistan and Somalia which makes it even more challenging. The only positive aspect I guess is that they live in their own enclave (parallel society) with little to no interaction with Norwegian society.”

From the Wikipedia article “Ghetto”:

History: The term became more widely used for ghettos in occupied Europe in 1939-1944, when the Germans reused historic ghettos to confine Jews prior to their transportation to concentration and death camps during the holocaust.
The definition of "ghetto" still has a similar meaning, but the broader range of social situations, such as any poverty-stricken urban area.
A ghetto is formed in four distinct ways:

* As ports of illegal entry for racial minorities, and immigrant racial minorities.
* When the majority uses compulsion (typically violence, hostility, or legal barriers) to force minorities into particular areas.
* When economic conditions make it too difficult for minority members to live in non-minority areas.
* When the minority actively chooses to segregate itself physically and socially from the majority.

In the case of the historical Jewish ghettos in the second millenium A.D., Jews were forced to live in these areas because “Jews were viewed as foreigners due to their non-Christian beliefs in a Renaissance Christian environment. As a result, Jews were placed under strict regulations throughout many European cities.” (From Wikipedia “Jewish ghettos in Europe”.)

In the case of early 21st century Western Europe, most Muslims are either descendants of guest workers who arrived in the 1960s-70s (from countries such as Turkey and Pakistan), refugees and asylum seekers from countries fraught with oppression and violence (e.g. Iraq, Iran, Palestinian Israel, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, etc.), or people who come via family reunion to those in the other two groups. Many are poor and/or unemployed, and as a result live in state-sponsored housing, which creates a ghetto-like atmosphere in these particular locations.

Alarmists fear an “Islamicization” of Europe: Don Melvin writes that, excluding Russia, Europe's Muslim population will double by 2020. He also says that almost 85% of Europe's total population growth in 2005 was due to immigration in general. Omer Taspinar predicts that the Muslim population of Europe will nearly double by 2015, while the non-Muslim will shrink by 3.5%, due to the higher Muslim birth rate. Esther Pan predicts that, by 2050, one in five Europeans are likely to be Muslim. Professor Philip Jenkins of Penn State University estimates that by 2100, Muslims will compose about 25% of Europe's population. But Jenkins admits this figure does not take account of the large birthrates amongst Europe's immigrant Christians. Other analysts are skeptical about the given forecast and the accuracy of the claimed Muslim population growth, since there has been a sharp decrease in Muslim fertility rates. A Pew Forum study, published in January 2011, forecast an increase of Muslims in European population from 6% in 2010 to 8% in 2030. (From Wikipedia “Islam in Europe”.)

However, a religious belief need not be a hindrance to participation in a secular, democratic society; those who claim Muslims are incapable of doing so simply continue to disenfranchise the Muslims in their midst and promote Muslim extremism. In the underlined passage above, which is my emphasis, I make a second point: women who are educated, equal participants in a society with free access to birth control overwhelmingly choose to limit their fertility. The best way to insure the future of a secular Europe is to insure that Muslim women in Europe have access to education, to healthcare, and above all, to the job market. Have you employed a Muslimah lately? No? Why not? Are you freaked out by the niqab? The veil is a red herring. If you’re discussing the subjugation of women perpetrated in the name of Islam and bring up the niqab, I reserve the right not to take you seriously. Bring up honor killing, forced marriage, or female genital mutilation, and then I’ll believe you’re not just engaging in a knee-jerk, bigoted reaction to Otherness. Aid in integrating, support, and listen to Muslimahs in Europe, and then you’ll actually be doing some good.

On the second page of the Wikipedia article “Jewish ghettos in Europe”, there is a colored map showing the percentages of Jews by country in 1881; only in Poland and one part of Russia did it top 20%. In Germany and Austria, it was well under 10%. I wonder what the modern percentages might look like if six million Jews hadn’t been slaughtered in the 1930s and 40s; if so many of the survivors hadn’t gotten the “not welcome here!” message loud and clear and emigrated to Israel and the US? Would anti-Jewish activists be decrying the Semitification of Europe? Would Jewish extremists be lobbying for the right to apply the death penalty to a severe violator of Shabbat law? Would the raging media debate in France be over whether Orthodox boys should be allowed to bear payot and wear tefillin and tzitzit in French public schools? I truly wish we’d had the chance to find out.

Every time I hear these anti-Muslim bigots getting their hate on (and until I laid down the law with my brother-in-law, I used to hear it at every damn family dinner), I hear echoes of Germany in the 1930s. I wait in horrid anticipation for the day when some particularly clumsy or historically-ignorant bigot starts discussing “solutions” to the “Muslim problem”. I fear for the day I read about firebombings by right-wing radicals in Gellerup Park, Ishøj, or Romsås. I foresee terrible futures in which Muslims are rounded up “for their own protection”, never to be seen again. I think about my uncle Freddy, who was on the second Jeep who rolled through the gates when they liberated Dachau, whose sergeant shot the last standing tower guard, and how it took him forty years to talk about the horrors he’d seen. I wonder what young relative of mine would have to have nightmares about seeing skeletally-thin Muslim women and children, or have to live with himself for having been that tower guard. The modern right-wingers swear such things would never happen again in a post-Holocaust Europe, but they already happened at Srebrenica, and yesterday was, I’m certain, nothing more than ABB’s personal version of taking out the “communists” (see “Non-Jewish Victims” on Wikipedia “The Holocaust”; scroll past Slavs, Serbs, Poles, Soviet POWs, Romani, Persons of Color, Disabled and Mentally Ill, and Homosexuals until you get to “The Political Left”).

While Islamic fundamentalists have certainly made bigger headlines with their violent acts, violent fundamentalist Jews are by no means unknown either; the key difference is that no one seems to conflate everyday, ordinary, law-abiding Jews with the acts of their radical counterparts, at least not and be taken seriously by Western society at large. As an American, the only reason I can come up with off the top of my head is this: most urban Americans KNOW at least two or three Jews personally, and like them (and if we know some we don’t like, we don’t paint all other Jews with the same brush). We have favorite Jewish actors and comedians. We have, as it were, a humanized, personal definition in answer to the question “Who is a Jew?” Jewish society has existed side-by-side with Western society, unfortunately much to their detriment sometimes, for centuries. It’s no longer societally acceptable to be anti-Jewish, although it can make it difficult to have rational discussions about the injustices in Palestine without people accusing you of anti-Semitism (to which I usually reply, “I’m not anti-Jewish, I’m anti-Zionist, and wish we had resettled the displaced Jews to Florida after WWII”). With the exception of the Ottoman incursions in southeastern Europe and the Moorish occupation of Spain, whose historical descendants are largely few and far between in Western Europe, Muslims are relative newcomers. We can’t all point to a Muslim we know and like (I can point to at least three or four, but I have had the benefit of taking first Danish- and then German-for-foreigners classes). We can’t all point to a Muslim actor or comedian we admire (although I personally think Aasif Mandvi is a hoot). We don’t all have a humanized, personal definition to the question “Who is a Muslim?” The right-wing nationalist would reply “I don’t want to know any; they’re all terrorists”, the apathetic person “it’s not my fault I don’t know any”; to which I would answer, “they’re NOT all terrorists, and it IS your fault you don’t know any, because you haven’t bothered to go out an meet them halfway”.

That ABB refers to Muslim immigrants’ living in a parallel society as a “positive” simply highlights the fact that he is a bigot: he personally wants nothing to do with these Other People in his society. In my time living in Denmark in the midst of the raging “integration” debate, I have reached one overwhelming conclusion: Integration is a two-way street. True integration of societal minorities will never occur so long as the societal majority continues to fear them, takes no personal action to befriend them, or refuses to employ them. Every Norwegian like my friend KJ (a schoolteacher who is employed at an elementary school where ethnic Norwegians are a minority) who gets to know the Other as individuals, who values them as people, who educates and helps them, brings Norway one step closer to peaceful co-existence with a new kind of Norwegian: one who, despite coming from a different background than ethnic Norwegians, values the cultural and societal values of Norway. Every Norwegian who thinks like ABB, even if they would not go so far as violence, perpetuates a Norway in which the minority will feel unwelcome, persecuted, and hated, and therefore will never participate in Norwegian society as a valued equal, turning instead to extremists who will make them feel valued and empowered. Were I a Norwegian, I know exactly which kind I’d want to be.

As an American, I know exactly which kind I am: the one who sees as sacred the words carved on the base of the Statue of Liberty -- “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” I will never be anti-immigrant, for I am an immigrant who is the daughter of a grandchild and great-grandchild of immigrants. “But it’s different with the Muslims!” No, it’s not. “But it’s different with the Mexicans!” No, it’s not. Europeans had no right to conquer North America in the first place; as the descendants of those Europeans, it is our sacred duty to make place for the next wave of Other, to teach them English, and to show them what it truly means to be an American, so that they, in turn, will teach their children.

If Norwegians do not open their arms to the Other among them, teach them Norwegian -- and not just by sending them to language school, but by actually talking to them, and listening to them despite their heavy accents and their imperfect grasp of the language -- and teach them what it means to be Norwegian, so that they in turn will teach it to their children, then they perpetuate the ghettoization and radicalization of the Other, and create exactly what they fear. Substitute Danish in that sentence, or German, or French. Substitute your nationality, and ask yourself: Am I doing my part to meet the challenge of my time, or am I succumbing to fear of the Other, wallowing in hate-filled rhetoric, and paving the way to the “burning” that ABB foretold in his manifesto? If you can’t answer yes to the first question, then take up this challenge: Go out into the parts of your city you don’t usually frequent, and meet the Other head on. Buy him or her a cup of coffee. Listen. Ask questions, but mostly just listen. See the Other as a Person, not just a nameless, faceless Other. Try to put yourself in their shoes, understand where they came from, and why they’re in your country. Try to imagine how their presence in your country could be a positive, rather than something to be feared.

Let me make one thing clear in summary: I am not an apologist for Islam, nor for any religion. As a woman, I abhor the persecution of women that is carried out in the name of Islam, just as I abhor the historical and ongoing persecution of women that is carried out in the name of fundamentalist Christianity. However, I’ve also done enough reading to realize that, in terms of sheer doctrinal points, Islam is no better or worse in its treatment of women than Judaism or Christianity, and its evils are largely a function of the cultures in which it arose. Every societal evil that has been justified using a religion has also had arguments made against it from within the frameworks of the same religion: slavery, subjugation of women, war. Progress to creating a better society, in which all persons are guaranteed their basic human rights, and in which all have access to a decent standard of living, is in turn helped and hindered by religions of all stripes. Ultimately, it is a secular struggle, one which must find partnerships not only across all religions, but also with non-religious people like me. Time wasted on struggles between religions and cultures is time wasted in which differences could be set aside, common ground could be found, and wrongs could be righted.
26th-Jul-2011 01:04 am (UTC)
It's interesting that you say that persecution of women happens in Islam. that's not true. That's only fundamentalist Islam, just like fundamentalist christianity. Since when is it an essential belief of islam to denounce women? "I'm not an appoligist for islam" Why aren't you? Would that be such a bad thing? I know you're trying to help but it comes off as still dishing out the same stereotypes that everyone else has. I feel like people need to look at these things from the perspective of the part of the world that these things happen in. The climate in many muslim-majority countries has changed drastically since sept-11 and many countries that were once muslim and pretty liberal are now very strict and women are afraid to go out alone. I think comparing Jews to Muslims is a poor analogy. The political climate is completely different. There's just so many differences....

And what does comparing help anyway? Why not focus our energies on just accepting each other and comforting those that died in the attacks? I think that the best way to conquer negative ideas and hate is actually to ignore it completely and not give those people any attention. It doesn't matter what his "reason" was...the whole thing is wrong. Instead of talking about how horrible the media covered the attacks and all the crap Breivik spurred out...I talk about how much I love Norway, how it's a shame so many people were lost, and how great it is that we are all sticking together.
1st-Aug-2011 05:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this.
2nd-Aug-2011 07:57 am (UTC)
Your commentary rocks. I am just saddened and confused by what happened in Norway. It seems like people are getting crazier and crazier.
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