Ahmed Aboutaleb, Ahmed Davutoglu, Bahrain, Charlie Hebdo, Egypt, Europe, European Muslims, European Union, Extremism, Islam, multicultural, Muslims in Europe, Netherlands, Paris, Raef Badawi, Rotterdam, Sameh Shoukry, Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, Terrorism, Turkey
It must be said loud and clear and repeatedly: governments in Islamic countries must stop meddling in the lives of European Muslims.
Many of the 20 million or so Muslims in the European Union may still hold passports of their countries of birth, in addition to their European nationalities. They may also have families in their countries of origin, harbour fond memories of lives (or their parents’ lives) there and retain a link to these nations.
But make no mistake: the concerns, priorities, needs — and values — of European Muslims are very different from those living elsewhere, not just in Muslim-majority countries but also in North America.
There is an exception to this: radicalised Muslims across the globe are being financed, trained, incited and equipped by Wahabi/Salafi extremist groups with their origins in Saudi Arabia and a few other Middle East nations.
Wahabi tentacles reach deep into many European Muslim and American Muslim communities just as they do across the world, including Pakistan. And the results are the same: radicalisation, extremism and — in some cases — terrorism in the name of ‘jihad’.
But the majority of European Muslims — especially those born and bred in Europe or those who have made Europe their permanent home — have long stopped obsessing about what happens in Turkey, Algeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Egypt. They care, certainly, for these and other countries and can even help on both the political and economic fronts. But their lives and future are here in Europe. Quite simply: they are European.
And just like other Europeans, their focus is on jobs, education, housing and security. Yes, European Muslims sometimes face discrimination and racism — and certainly there is a rise in anti-Islam feeling in the wake of the Paris tragedy. The rise of the toxic Far Right is a cause for concern and anxiety.
But no, mostly, Muslims in Europe don’t want to go ‘back home’. Europe is their home.
They certainly don’t need the ‘support’ and ‘sympathy’ of non-European Muslim leaders and governments who know nothing of Europe and whose comments — possibly well-meant — can make things worse.
Take the justifiable and widespread derision at the presence of leaders from many Muslim countries at the demonstration in Paris last week in favour of freedom of expression and against terrorism, following the murder of 12 people, including two Muslims, at the Charlie Hebdo magazine.
Yes, it was hypocritical and ironic, even amusing. Many of the male leaders (I did not see any Muslim female leaders) who walked solemnly in Paris are not well-known for their defence of human rights, freedom of expression and commitment to diversity. They engage in torture, repression and worse. Many support extremist groups. They clamp down hard on dissent.
Some of these leaders deserve special mention. In Brussels this week, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu made a strong and very valid call for an “inclusive European identity”, arguing passionately that Turks and Muslims in Europe should not be the target of discrimination. Just as he had marched in Paris, non-Muslim European leaders should show the same solidarity when mosques are burned, he argued.
Quite true. If only Turkey did not have one of the largest number of journalists in prison, had not arrested some of the country’s top journalists working for the Zaman newspaper and did not have more than 70 Turkish journalists currently being investigated for referring to the corruption allegations against close associates of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa marched in Paris, seemingly oblivious to the fact that 12 Bahraini journalists are currently detained in Bahrain, the youngest only 15.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to France had the gall to be in the demonstration while his government has publicly flogged blogger Raef Badawi for ‘insulting Islam’ and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. And there are more floggings to come, up to 1,000 lashes.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was also there although his government has jailed three Al-Jazeera journalists. The blacklist also included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
It’s not just their presence at these marches that irks, it’s also their comments on European Muslims’ lives. Yes, many of the European Muslim community were offended and disturbed by the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. But many were not. And those who do object make their feelings known through court cases, articles and discussions.
And if they really don’t like it in Europe, Ahmed Aboutaleb, the Muslim mayor of Rotterdam, recently argued that they can leave.
“It’s incomprehensible that you can be against freedom like that. But if you don’t like that freedom, pack your bags and leave,” Aboutaleb said to the Huffington Post, adding: “If you can’t find your place in the Netherlands, in the way we want to build a society together, leave.”
Originally from Morocco and the son of an imam, Aboutaleb moved to the Netherlands in 1976 when he was 15 years old. Since becoming mayor of Rotterdam in 2009, he has broken new ground for minorities and Muslims across Europe.
Europe has many examples of well-integrated, tax-paying, peaceful and successful European Muslims. There are Muslim politicians, business leaders, artists, doctors and lawyers. They may sometimes face prejudice — young European Muslims in France but also elsewhere are disenfranchised and angry. But mostly Muslims make a positive contribution to Europe’s diverse societies.
If they are honest, many admit that they are better off here in Europe than in Mirpurkhas or Anatolia.
Muslims need to strike a seminal “win-win” big bargain with the countries they call home. They should leave no doubt about their allegiance and loyalty to Europe, their commitment to universal values of tolerance, democracy and human rights.
In exchange, they must be recognised and celebrated as fully fledged, active and constructive European citizens. Those who commit terrorist attacks should not be labelled ‘Muslims’ — they are murderers and criminals and should be tried as such.
There is no room in such a social contract for meddling by non-Europeans, however well-intentioned. Despite the toxic Far-Right messages, the unfortunate media hype and the anger in the wake of the Paris attacks, Europe is a multi-cultural and diverse continent — even if sometimes, Europeans forget it.