By Johnny Kallay*
“ If the mountain won’t go to Mohammed, Mohammed will go to the mountain.”
This saying is exactly right by stating that one should not wait upon another for something to happen running the risk that nothing will really happen, so if a person really wants to be on the mountain he/she should go to it .
The recent terrorist attacks in France strengthen the discussion around the robust immigration and the integration or little integration of Muslims into the European society. Currently it is already common in countries like France, the United Kingdom and Germany, popular demonstrations against the Islamization of Europe boosted after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris which is explained by the fact that people are still under the influence of emotions, anger and shock, dangerously fostering feelings of rejection and distrust towards Islam that has a rigid culture in terms of authority and punishment, individuals need more limitations and severe consequences in order to feel the need to adapt to the society where they live. The growing perception among some Europeans that a regular Muslim immigration may be destroying the secular European liberal values is an issue that stands out and may represent a threat to the their culture or possibly to the Christian beliefs of the old continent. Statements made by some radical Muslims that Islam will become the main religion in some European countries and that Sharia, the holy laws of Islam, will override democracy, is feeding the fear of the diverse and the unknown also motivated by the associations with violence and death that radicals on both sides make of this religion.
Demonstrations against Islamization help to break the taboo of discussing the high costs that the flow of Muslim immigration is causing in that society. According to the British journalist Ed West immigration did not benefit the economy of his country at all, but put a strain on services, damaged the social tissue and made England a more violent, unequal and unhappy country, even threatening the democracy itself. In Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands, voters are turning to the parties that openly oppose mass immigration, they are ordinary people who have regular jobs, travel abroad and have friends of all races and creeds, but do not want to be a minority in their own country.
Currently about 6% of the European population is Muslim and we must realize that many of them hold French, German, Dane or other European citizenship, with rights, freedom and duties, but with thoughts disconnected from the western culture and principles. They live in ghettos as Europeans do not see them as Europeans, they are perceived through the perspective of multiculturalism that naturally fragments society and encourages separatism, stimulating people with the same cultural foundations to stay together in their comfort zones, not to mention that the immigrant arrives in Europe not to be an European but to make money and possibly have a better life. This all leads us back to the initial thought of this text, the dilemma between the mountain and Mohammed, Europeans naturally separate themselves from Muslims due to cultural differences while Muslims are reluctant to merge into the Western culture, consequently Mohammad is not going to the mountain and the mountain is not going to Mohammed neither. And the social drama is established.
The terrorist attacks at the beginning of 2015 in France determined a war against radical Islam, but how to fight something that is not visible or stamped and is full of unpredictable and unusual components? How to distinguish the good from the bad? Generalize by preaching that the whole Islamic community is potentially criminal is simply a mistake. Thinking about Islamic terrorism as a single cohesive opponent is dangerous and shortsighted. Different groups have different origins and goals, even the Muslim diaspora in the West was originated from different countries and cultures. Many French Muslims, for example, have roots in North Africa and carry with them the marks and the consequences of colonization and independence, while others are offended by the banning of the use of burka in public places, while none of these implications apply to Britain for instance. Thinking of Muslims as a homogeneous group is even more reckless no matter how much some right-wing party leaders manipulate opinions for that. Most of them are not extremist or support violence.
In this scenario it is extremely important to separate culture from religion, as there are many Muslims who do not attend mosques and totally ignore what is written in the Koran. The convergence would be the strong influence on the cultural level, an example of this is how the Muslim culture accepts and incorporates the feeling of anger, aggression and revenge in the name of honor, proving the antagonism with some Western culture values. The Muslim culture is so strong that ultimately makes its members almost unable to adapt to other values.
According to the Danish psychologist Nicolai Sennels the Muslim and the Western cultures are fundamentally very different and Muslims would need to make major changes in their identity and in their values to reach the point of accepting the values of the Western societies. Changing the basic structures of their own personality is an extremely demanding psychological and emotional process. Apparently, few Muslims feel motivated to go through that door, explains the psychologist.
Given the obstacles for the Muslim integration in the European society, how can it be said that Europe is actually experiencing an Islamization if both cultures do not merge, do not integrate? Would the Western culture be weak enough to be swallowed up by a proud Muslim culture? And yet the reality could be quite distorted by perceptions. An Ipsos-Mori survey in 2014 found that the French believe that 31% of his compatriots are Muslims, but the actual number is around 8%, the same occurs in other countries such as Germany where the perception of the size of the Muslim population is 19%, whereas in reality is only 6%, in Belgium the actual percentage of Muslims is 6% and the perception hits the mark of 29%. The same phenomenon happens in Spain (16% for perception and 2% for real), Italy (20% for perception and 4% for real) and the UK (21% for perception and 5% for real). Such perceptions are dangerous because show that the European public overestimates the proportion of its Muslim population and thus encourages (1) xenophobia, (2) the occurrence of demonstrations against a possible Islamization, (3) the belief that immigration and asylum concessions processes consume large amounts of money derived from investments in other areas, (4) the feeling that a more homogeneous society has fewer problems and (5) that the situation of poverty among the Muslim community generates violence and insecurity, while in fact poverty is not a cause but a consequence of the low priority they give to education along with their lack of motivation to plan a career. It is also important to note that the Muslim minorities are not 100% radicals, on the contrary, they are most respectable kind citizens and workers, although there seems to be a hint of unwillingness to merge into the European society which generates a tendency for a “parallel society “.
Anyway, demystifying the reasons Europeans consider Islam a threat is a task as complex as having Muslims overthrowing the barriers for their integration, and will be possible only with the help of the Muslims themselves, separating the good from the bad in a not easy process that requires efforts from both sides aiming at recovering the trust deeply shaken by Islamic terrorism. The Islamization of Europe would not occur unilaterally and simply by the strength of the Muslim culture and religion, the fearful Europeans need to be confident about the capacity of the power of its democratic values to overcome the fear of the unknown. Both sides should realize that any fear is only overcome through common integrated efforts, not through segregation. The mountain will not move and therefore Europeans and Muslims will have to play the role of Mohammad in the saying above, going to the mountain together and thus prove that integration is possible as long as it is based on respecting the differences, minimizing the divergences and praising a harmonious coexistence. But beforehand it is necessary institutionalized public policies and good political will. Where there is a will there is a way.
* Johnny Kallay has a bachelor’s degree in Social Communication from ESPM – School of Advertising and Marketing – São Paulo. He is also postgraduated in International Relations from FGV – Getulio Vargas Foundation – São Paulo. Areas of interest: geopolitics, global security, energy and global economic development.