Young protestors hold placards during the demonstration against the Quran burning in Sweden, London, U.K., Jan. 28, 2023. (Getty Images Photo)

Anti-Islam sentiment: Europe shooting itself in the foot

The recent Quran burning has shown that European governments are sensitive about crimes committed against one religion, but not against another

After the Swedish government allowed Rasmus Paludan, an ultranationalist, far-right extremist, and racist politician, to burn a copy of the Quran, the holy book of Islam, in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, world public opinion began to discuss the rise of anti-Islamism in the West, Europe in particular.

Since committing hate crimes against Muslims living in Western countries is part of daily life, it is evident that Europeans did not get the lesson from their history since they have been repeating similar crimes that they committed against the Jews during the first half of the 20th century against Muslims. They seem to have forgotten the genocide crime committed against Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s. If it were about liberal democracy and the principle of freedom of expression, the same government that allowed a racist to burn the Quran would allow the same hate crime to be committed against the Torah, the holy book of Jews.

In other words, the latest event has shown that European governments are sensitive about crimes committed against one religion but not against another. Let’s not forget that hate crime is a hate crime, whether it is committed against Muslims or Jews.

This increasing anti-Islam sentiment will lead to further otherization and demonization of Muslims, since Islam and Muslims have been considered scapegoats by the Europeans, especially for the last two decades. In other words, European governments have been paving the way for the spread of anti-Islam throughout Europe. I am afraid the current policies of European governments will continue to already existent anti-Islam and anti-Muslim sentiments in Europe, which may lead to mass killings on the continent.

Any reasonable observer, academician or politician can easily see that all these anti-Muslim policies are counterproductive for European countries. There are millions of Muslims living throughout the European continent. Today more than 5% of Europe’s population is Muslim. It is generally claimed that the number of Muslims living in Europe has reached 70 million. Furthermore, not all Muslims living in Europe are illegal migrants, and they are not homogeneous.

Muslims in Europe

There are at least four types of Muslims living in Europe. The first group is the European Muslims who historically live in the continent, such as Albanians, Bosnians and Turks. Besides Türkiye, there are three traditionally Muslim-majority states in the European continent, namely Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Besides, some European countries host significant Muslim minorities. For instance, more than 15 million Muslims live in the European part of Russia. Similarly, Bulgaria, Greece and North Macedonia have significant Muslim minorities.

The second group of European Muslims is the converted Muslims, who have changed their belief system to Islam. These are original white-skinned and blue-eyed Europeans. Considering the continuous spread of Islam in the continent, the number of converted European Muslims will grow further.

The third group of Muslims are legal migrants, mainly invited by European governments, especially after the destructive World War II. European countries such as Germany have requested Muslims, i.e., from Türkiye, to work in different sectors of the economy. Most of these legal migrants were naturalized by the European governments over time. Many of them, nowadays, have been actively involved in the domestic politics of the respective European states as legislators. While many Muslim politicians are elected to local and national parliaments, some are elected to the European Parliament.

The last and fourth group of European Muslims, are illegal migrants from Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Muslim countries. Muslims have been leaving their home countries for different reasons, the most important of which is state failure and related political insecurity. One of the reasons why Muslims have been leaving their homes and countries for Europe is the interventionist policies of European governments. This point was clearly emphasized by the current Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni when she criticized French President Emanuel Macron for his country’s unilateralist and interventionist policies against the African states. Meloni has criticized France for intervening in the domestic politics of African states and causing immigration to European countries, Italy being one of the first destinations.

Considering these facts, European governments have no right to otherize Islam and Muslims, since they are already part of Europe. Promoting anti-Islamism and anti-Muslim sentiments is a counterproductive policy, that will damage the European countries’ political stability and social harmony. Second, European governments should stop encouraging their populations to attack Muslims and the symbols of Islam. Muslims are already victims of violence throughout Europe. We witness violent attacks against mosques and Muslims throughout the continent daily. Therefore, the heinous attack in Stockholm is not an exception but the last circle of a continuous series.

At this point, reasonable Europeans, who believe in the principle of peaceful coexistence, are responsible for warning their governments to abandon their anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim policies. Reasonable and responsible European politicians should take responsibility for reversing this dangerous process. European governments should abandon the policy of pouring gasoline on the fire for short-term political interests.

[Daily Sabah, February 01 2023]

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