Monday, February 13, 2006

Islam And Europe

Every two-bit pundit has rubbed his chin on this one, so why not yours truly. I never thought I'd see the day fuzzy, progressive countries like Denmark and Norway would be targeted by angry mobs. But the TV images don't lie. Pissed off crowds have set on their embassies in Beirut and Damascus and demos have erupted everywhere else across the Muslim world and in major European cities as well, Paris, London, and Berlin. All over images like the one pictured here, in this cartoon chaos. It would be easy to jump on the bandwagon, expressing outrage over how many of these protests have turned really ugly, with the torching of embassies in Syria and Lebanon, in particular. The violence is a tactical no-no, turning away anyone maybe willing to listen to their argument that the Danish paper that started this mess exhibited religious intolerance, fanned the flames of hatred, ecetera... all by the way legitimate points, especially, as the Guardian has pointed out, the same obscure Danish rag balked at printing some risque Jesus drawings out of fear of offending Christians. It's a shame, the focus now has shifted to the violent response, and not to the cause of it, at least in the vaunted "West," just further ripping the gulf further apart between what are, I have to admit, two very different worlds, but I won't get sucked into the "Clash of Culture" trap. Here in Europe, there's been a backlash against "multiculturalism," sparked I guess, if you can peg such things, to the killing in Holland of director Theo Van Gogh. A Muslim, Mohammed Bouyeri, who is now serving a life sentence, shot and stabbed Van Gogh as he cycled through Amsterdam in 2004. He claimed he acted out of religious conviction. Now that happened in hip Holland, best known for its red light districts and hash brownies in Amsterdam, all underscoring its liberal image. The Van Gogh murder prompted lots of Dutch to question their liberal live-and-let-be policies to immigrants under which there wasn't even a requirement to learn the Dutch language. That debate also comes with much of Holland's generous welfare safety net being chipped away at by its right-wing government. When people are either out of work or fear losing their jobs, they tend to take a less charitable view of those worse off. Then this November France was racked by the worst urban violence since the student-worker riots of 1968. In three weeks of rioting, about 9,000 vehicles were torched, hundreds of schools and public buildings attacked, and more than 3,000 people arrested. Many of those doing the damage were offspring of emigrants from North Africa and the Middle East, a remnant of France's colonial past. Some progressives pointed to France's failure to integrate them, highlighting that country's shameful racism. But the unrest furthered the divide between blacks and whites, Christians and Muslims across the continent. Television images of youths setting fire to cars, trash bins, shops, buses, did little to soften up French or other European peoples to the plight of the migrant poor. In Denmark, the government of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has courted the right in his country, creating a less tolerant, anti-Muslim atmosphere there. The Europeans aren't the only ones seeing objectionable images on their television screens. Muslims routinely see or hear or read stories of Muslims being tortured or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan where the Americans have reputation for shooting first and asking questions later. Lest we forget, Abu Ghraid and Guantanamo and those images of torture. In the latest affront, a British tabloid, the News of the World, got their hands on a very nasty video, depicting what looks like British soldiers having a good ol' time beaten up Iraqi boys. Elsewhere, Palestinians are still routinely humiliated by the Israelis without much objection from Europe, let alone the U.S. These injustices goes largely unnoticed in the West, not in the Muslim world. While the anger is real, that doesn't mean others aren't exploiting it for their own purposes. It's no coincidence that Iran and Syria-- currently on the U.S. blacklist and possibly on deck for military action -- have witnessed some of the more violent protests. Stirring up anti-Western sentiment can give them a little breathing room and shore up their own sagging support. Sadly, when more reasoned and calm voices are needed, it is the shrill that are being heard right now.

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