By Shada Islam
It’s been a good election. We have done the maths, looked at the composition of the new European Parliament and congratulated ourselves on managing to ‘contain’ the Far Right.
Indeed, Far Right populists haven’t swept into the Parliament in the massive numbers that many had predicted. And certainly, their representatives in the EU assembly are a motley bunch, divided and querulous, with diverging loyalties. More squabbling and back-stabbing lie ahead.
But beware of complacency. As attention turns to the power play involved in assigning top EU jobs, it’s easy to shrug off the Far Right’s expanded influence. ‘Peak populism’ headlines are just as misleading as media predictions of a ‘populist wave’ sweeping across Europe.
The truth lies somewhere in between. Aided and abetted by social media, foreign friends and simplistic solutions for real problems, Europe’s Far Right is now part of the political landscape, its rhetoric too-often normalised and mainstreamed into everyday political discourse.
As they decide on Europe’s new bosses, European leaders and politicians must choose women and men who can stand up to their extremist counterparts.
It won’t be easy. When it suits them, Europe’s air-brushed Far Right politicians can soft pedal on their anti-Semitic diatribes, shrug off accusations of racism and pay lip service to gender equality. But they are united in their Islamophobia.
Therein lies the problem. Europe’s mainstream politicians can wax lyrical about climate change and the importance of European democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Hopefully, most can stand up to the Far Right’s anti-women agenda and fight for the dignity of the LGTBIQ community. As evidenced by many in the EPP, however, their stance on Islam, Muslims and Muslim migrants is much shakier.
So, given their own ambivalent feelings about Islam and Muslims, will Europe’s new leadership - including the presidents of the EU Council and the European Commission and their respective teams, as well as parliamentarians - be able stand up for their Muslim citizens? Since many may fail the test, here are some pointers to help them out.
First, take a walk on the wild side. If you are a male and pale politician - and used to all the privileges that come with it - sneak a look outside your ‘Brussels So White’ corridors. Notice the incredible diversity of the population outside. Then think of this: many of these people are European – they are also Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and some don’t have a religion. There is no one, over-arching ‘True European’. This colourful spectacle is what it really means when you talk about ‘Unity in Diversity’.
Also, if you are pale and female – and rightfully engaged in a struggle to get more women in top jobs - stop obsessing about whether women in headscarves are submissive and repressed; talk to them, read their books and then make sure that your combat is about equal opportunities for ALL women.
Second, stop talking about Islam and Muslims as foreign and alien. There’s no place for details here but believe the experts when they say both Islam and Muslims have been part of Europe’s history, culture and society for centuries. They know what they’re talking about. Matteo Salvini and Viktor Orban do not.
So don’t turn to Saudi Arabia, Iran or Egypt (or other Muslim majority countries) for ‘advice’ on Islam and how to ‘integrate’ your Muslim citizens. These countries don’t have a clue on the rights, obligations, priorities and concerns of European Muslims. Representatives of Muslim states don’t pay taxes in Europe – they are just visitors. Many European Muslims have escaped from just these very countries to find shelter here. They don’t need advice from foreign powers.
Third, don’t constantly talk about Muslims, extremism, radicalisation and terrorism in the same breath. There are extremists and criminals inside every community and every religion. Muslims are killed by their extremist ‘brothers’ every day, everywhere. So-called ‘Jihadi’ terrorists have wreaked havoc in Europe and across the world. So have Far Right terrorists.
Fourth, it’s time for everyone to move beyond the narrative of victimisation. Most Muslims are fed up of it – and of politicians who treat them as disempowered and helpless. Look around: Muslims in Europe are politicians and mayors, business leaders, entrepreneurs, actors, journalists, academics, athletes, beauty queens and rock stars.
They come in all shapes and sizes, different sexual preferences, many colours and races. And there should be more of them – many more – in European institutions.
Finally, with European Muslims joining Eid-al-Fitr celebrations this week to mark the end of Ramadan, send a pushback message to the Far Right hate-mongers by saying quite simply: “Eid Mubarak”. And then – together - work out a way of building a really inclusive Europe.
*First published in friendsofeurope.org