Current Events: Islam, Europe, and Nationalism

Posted: January 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

Europe Rediscovers Nationalism


In his latest novel, French writer Michel Houellebecq presents a controversial situation: The year is 2022, and France has become an Islamicized country where universities have to teach the Koran, women have to wear the veil and polygamy is legal. The book, which created a stir in France, went on sale Jan. 7. That day, a group of terrorists killed 12 people at the headquarters of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Also on Jan. 7, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met British Prime Minister David Cameron in London. Although the formal reason for the meeting was to discuss the upcoming G-7 summit, the two leaders also discussed Cameron’s proposals to limit migration in Europe. Finally, a much less publicized event took place in Germany that day: A group of politicians from the Euroskeptic Alternative for Germany party met with members of Pegida, the anti-Islam protest group that has staged large protests in Dresden and minor protests in other German cities.

The date of these four episodes is only a coincidence, but the issues involved are not. A growing number of Europeans believe that people from other cultures are threatening their national identities and livelihoods. The emergence of Germany’s Pegida movement, which opposes the “Islamization” of Germany, the terrorist attack in Paris and the recent attacks against mosques in Sweden put the focus on Muslims. But the Europeans’ fear and mistrust of “foreigners” is a much broader phenomenon that goes beyond the issue of Islam-related violence. What is actually happening is that Europe is rediscovering nationalism.

The Limits of European Integration

Europe traditionally has been a cradle for nationalism. From the romantic nationalism of the 19th century to the totalitarianism of the 20th century, Europeans have long defined themselves by a strong sentiment of national belonging, often linked to language, ethnicity and religion, and distrust of foreigners. The love for the place you were born, the trust of the people who surround you, and the fear of what strangers could do to you and your community is a basic human feeling. But in Europe, nationalism is particularly notable for the sheer scale of death and destruction it historically has brought to the Continent.

Conscious of the dangers of nationalism, after World War II Europeans sought to weaken the nation-state and progressively replace it with the European Union, a grouping of supranational institutions that, over time, were meant to create a supranational European identity. The idea worked for some time, especially at the economic level, where institutions quickly achieved integration. But over the past few years, several changes in Europe have exposed the limits of the project.

The first is the economic crisis. To a large extent, prosperity was the glue holding the European Union together. During good times, when most people have a job and children are convinced that they will have a better life than their parents, the idea of giving up national sovereignty to supranational institutions is easier to accept. But prosperity is no longer a certainty, and many in Europe are beginning to have second thoughts about the benefits of the European project. The economic decline is also leading to a crisis of representation; a growing number of citizens no longer feel represented by mainstream political parties, unions and other traditional institutions.

The second element is immigration. The economic crisis is affecting the Continent unevenly; countries in northern Europe generally are faring better than those in the south. In addition, the European Union’s enlargement in the mid 2000s opened the door for immigration from countries in the former Communist bloc. As a result, countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are dealing with immigration from southern and eastern EU countries.

Moreover, Europe’s economic crisis coincides with a deepening of the chronic instability in the Middle East and the Levant. This instability has led to a refugee crisis in Europe as hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers arrive in Europe every year, most of whom are Muslims.

In times of economic hardship, people tend to look for simple answers to complex problems, and “foreigners” are usually the easiest target. It is not a coincidence that the Pegida protests emerged in Saxony — one of the German states with the lowest rates of immigration but with some of the highest rates of unemployment. Ethnically and linguistically cohesive areas tend to be less tolerant of people with a different cultural background.

The third issue is integration. Most European governments operate under the idea that immigration could help the European Union mitigate the effects of their shrinking, aging populations. But many countries struggle to fully integrate the newly arrived. Encountering obstacles such as rigid citizenship laws and pervasive cultural barriers, many foreigners find it hard to feel at home in their new countries of residence. In some cases, this situation continues for generations.

Youth unemployment, lack of opportunities and social discrimination were some of the triggers of the French riots of 2005. A decade later, nothing much has changed in France in terms of integration, while the economic crisis has compounded some of the country’s structural problems, and Islamist groups such as the Islamic State are successfully using social networks to attract Western European youth.

European nationals returning home after receiving training in the Middle East perpetrated many of the recent terrorist attacks in Europe. Since the outbreak of civil war in Syria, more than 550 Islamists reportedly have left Germany to travel to the region. Slightly more than half of them held German citizenship. French media recently reported that some 400 French nationals are fighting in Syria. There is a vicious cycle of young men and women who feel disenfranchised and discriminated against turning to violence — which only fuels anti-immigration and anti-Islam rhetoric.

Political Systems Under Duress

Western European governments are under considerable stress. They have to deal with immigration from less-developed EU nations while trying to assimilate the asylum seekers that arrive from the Mediterranean. Simultaneously, they face the emergence of anti-immigration parties (from the National Front in France to the U.K. Independence Party in the United Kingdom) and recurring terrorist attacks by nationals who received training in the Middle East. Many Western European countries have to deal with these problems alongside stagnating economies and pervasively high unemployment. The combination of economic malaise and resistance to immigration is seriously challenging the cohesion of the European Union.

National and regional governments are questioning the Schengen agreement, which eliminates border controls among most EU member states. In recent months, a debate erupted when the government of the German state of Bavaria accused the Italian government of allowing asylum seekers (who, according to EU norms, should have remained in Italy) to leave the country and request asylum somewhere else in the bloc. Rome demanded more solidarity among EU members in the reception of refugees. From Bavaria’s point of view, the Schengen agreement should be suspended. From Italy’s point of view, the European Union cannot force its coastal nations to bear the sole responsibility of housing the asylum seekers.

The Schengen pact also faces criticism from groups arguing that insufficient internal border controls makes it easier for terrorists to move within the European Union after they enter the bloc. Moreover, some countries have been accused of applying weaker border controls than others. In recent months EU members have discussed ways to improve information sharing across the Continent, but regardless of better cooperation in this area, it is impossible to follow every single potential threat.

Even outside the Schengen agreement, the principle of the free movement of people — one of the founding pillars of the European Union — is under question. Partly because of pressure from the U.K. Independence Party and partly because of its own ideology, the British government flirted with the idea of introducing “emergency brakes” on EU immigration. Germany quickly dismissed the idea, and London eventually abandoned it. But the fact that a moderate government in a core EU country is making these proposals reflects the extent to which the debate over migration in the European Union is no longer at the ideological fringes of the political spectrum.

After decades of post-war supranationalism, the Europeans are once again discussing their national identities. The French tried to start a discussion in 2009, when then-President Nicolas Sarkozy launched a public debate on “what it means to be French” — an exercise that degenerated quickly into a discussion of the role of Muslims in the country. The Pegida protests led to similar debates in Germany, a country that for historical reasons feels extremely uncomfortable with the topic but also considers generational change to be breaking old taboos. Pegida-inspired demonstrations will take place in Austria in February, potentially leading to controversy there as well. These debates will not go away in Europe and will force the Europeans to deal with difficult questions that have remained dormant for decades.

At the core of these problems is growing resistance to globalization, understood as the free movement of goods, services and, most important, people. From the Italian shoemaker who cannot compete with cheap Chinese imports to the British factory worker who believes that Polish immigrants are threatening his job, many Europeans believe globalization is a menace to their way of life. The fact that the European Union was built on many of the principles of globalization explains why the bloc is becoming increasingly fragmented and why the promise of a “United States of Europe” probably will never be achieved.

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  1. Faisal.D says:

    This “Je Suis Charlie” has been going around on the media for around a week, and honestly after reading into this situation I personally think that why is the magazine allowed to talk about Christianity and Islam but when they tried posting about Zionism Netanyahu made a big problem about it and they where not allowed anymore to publish about Zionism

    • Aziz Sbeih says:

      Well, Natanyahu’s reaction sure seems a suspicious one. He has used the Charlie Hebdo attacks to justify his attacks on ‘militant Islam’, and he classifies Hamas as a ‘militant Islamist group’ who would commit the same aggression against the freedom and democracy of the Israelis. He has used this event to rally support for his attacks on Hamas, and therefore automatically Palestinians, as well as rally support for his plea to Europeans to stop supporting the Palestinian statehood. The way he manipulated the Charlie Hebdo attacks for the favor of Israel is both hypocritical and suspicious.

  2. Faisal.D says:

    The Other big problem about this subject is that the first time they published about the prophet was 3 years ago and people stayed quite and the second time before 2 weeks 12 people where killed but on Wednesday morning the magazine “Je suis Charlie” published another cartoon of the prophet but this time 3 million copies where printed in 4 different languages one of them was Arabic so my question what will happen now ?

  3. Daniel Leal says:

    The issue I see is one of race. The article seems to be proposing that the E.U. has in sorts failed. I do not believe that is necessarily the case, the E.U. itself has passed legislation that has helped and hurt some European countries. The real problem has been the decisions of individual governments that through E.U. regulation have affected other countries, such is the case between the German state Bavaria and Italy.

    In order for the E.U. to function all states involved must give up their sovereignty fully, something that is possible but does not even fully happened in the U.S. where the struggle between the State governments and Federal government is constant. The reason why Europe got into the debt mess with Greece was because there was not financial institution that called the shots over the particular individual governments of Europe. However once Greece defaulted, all E.U. countries had to help her out because a weakening of one E.U. member weakens the stability of the whole union. I believe the problem lies in seeing the E.U. as a reward/benefit organization as does Britain. The case of Britain is the example of the E.U. has not worked. Britain join the E.U. to have the lower tariffs and other benefits but rejected the Euro and the Schengen, it wanted to reap the rewards without the sacrifice. Ultimately what threatens the E.U. is not so much immigration, that is a scapegoat, rather the independent national desires that each nation places above the union of Europe as a whole. If a powerful union is forged, then issues like immigration may be tackled with legislation that is strongly backed and thoroughly implemented.

    • You say if a powerful union is forged, issues like immigration will be tackled through well implemented legislation. I don’t think I see your points completely here. First of all, how will being a ‘powerful union’ help the immigration problem? The US is considered a ‘powerful’ union of its 50 states, compared to the EU where the governments act pretty much as individual nations, but the immigration problem is still very much ongoing and even escalating. Even as a unified nation, the US is having troubles not only in implementing its legislation, but in making one to deal with such issues.
      Secondly, as the article above mentions, the problems in Europe right now principally stem from its economic crisis. Considering the problem of Greece you mentioned, why will the European nations now want to strengthen their ties in this time of economic hardship, in which they are busy dealing with their own problems.

      As you said, the article seems to be telling us the idea of EU is now failing under the rising nationalism of the European countries during the times of economic, political and social crises, which you disagree with. I am not taking any sides here, and I am just concerned how this nationalizing trend in Europe will end up affecting the millions of immigrants living in Europe right now.

      • Aziz Sbeih says:

        I think what Daniel means is that if a powerful union is achieved, the prospect of a better Europe isn’t as far fetched as it seems. For example, if all European states become more willing to forgo their powers, legislation laws will be passed more easily and efficiently, that is because a higher body which incorporates members of the European parliament is the only body who makes decisions, instead of having individual governments that make decisions with no regard to their neighboring European countries. Moreover, if all European countries create a mutual stance on many political, social, and economic problems, this will inevitably instill the ‘supranationalist sense’ in Europeans, thus embracing the EU as a legitimate body that represents them. Think for example, of a mutual foreign policy, whereby all European states act as one hand in regards to political matters, this will predictably instill that sense of allegiance among Europeans to this higher body. If all of Europe participated with the attack on ISIS, instead of the only major contributes like the UK, France, and Italy, than the fear of the ‘other’ will be enhanced among Europeans which will help cement this ‘supranationalist sense’ even further. That is only in terms of a unified foreign policy, think of what a unified monetary and economic system might do, whereby countries like the UK adopt the Euro and abandon their stubborn attitude to keep the pound to maintain their British identity. This will all lead to the eradication of those growing nationalist movements, ending therefore, at the very least, the civil protests calling for separate European states. Furthermore, If there was a true unity, than other European states would’ve taken in the unemployed citizens of other states and accommodated them, because as you know Europe still lacks a workforce in many of its field; the reason why they have somewhat lenient immigration laws in the first place. The true unity of the EU will result in unimaginable changes on all aspects of European life, which will improve daily life ten folds of what it is right now under the current broken EU.

    • Aziz Sbeih says:

      Although I agree with you that in order for the European Union to work all European countries need to forgo much of their sovereignty, like the UK adopting the Euro as their currency instead of the pound, or creating a mutual European foreign policy, some issues need to be left to those individual European governments, like immigration laws for example. The Eastern European states are much weaker than the rest of their European counterparts, and the sovereignty of their states is degraded in the sense that the state cannot impose its authority on its citizens due to their inability monitor their borders and maintain security in their countries. As a result, extremists use this as an advantage to get in and out of Europe. Why is ISIS a major threat to the world? Well, it goes back to their tremendous ability to easily acquire European youth to fight for their cause, and this is exceptionally dangerous because they sneak them out of the Eastern or Southern European borders, and they can sneak them back in from the same places to conduct terrorist attacks, and security forces won’t be suspicious of them due to their European nationality. Thus, borders must be closed between European states to prevent smugglers and murders from moving freely around Europe using weak entry points as a way to roam the continent. This, however, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t give up their rights to the EU, because I do agree with you that countries like the UK only want to reap the benefits of this organization, but not help them in their tough affairs, like Greece’s previously deteriorated economy. Moreover, as you said, if a stronger union is forged whereby all European states have the same stance towards multiple political, economic, and social issues, like creating a unified European policy, this will in return instill a ‘supranationalist’ sense in all Europeans, and help eradicate the growing European nationalist movements that have mostly caused destruction and havoc to Europe as with WWI and WWII.

    • Xu Zhaoying says:

      I agree that the existence of a union is for the convenience of regulating and managing Europe as a whole but…for all states involved must give up their sovereignty fully? This is exactly the problem we’re trying to solve here. Countries in EU seeks for mutual benefit but do not have the same motivation to work as a whole when the hardship is unevenly distributed throughout the continent. Forcing the countries to give up their sovereignty would simply sharpen the nationalist mood, just the same as when Britain tried to usurp a part of Egypt’s sovereignty. Even if union and mutual management is the only solution to immigration and economic issues, it cannot be achieved by making EU, as you’ve suggested, one single state of the continent.

  4. Zaid Khalaf says:

    “Je suis Charlie” has been spreading all around the internet and televisions, and i thought that it was completely wrong what this newspaper did, but from their point of view they did nothing wrong and its just freedom of speech.this seems as a problem of race and not anything else.

  5. farah sinokrot says:

    “Ju suis Charlie” was over exaggerated in the media to a point that #killallmuslim was a trending hashtag. i agree that they shouldn’t have killed people for what they published and In my opinion the freedom of speech argument is a valid argument against why they published the cartoons. however, this subject is not a Muslim Verses christian or verses freedom, this is a matter of beliefs and there should be laws to restrict what is published.

  6. salehqadi says:

    I think that the ‘freedom of speech’ thing is kind of ironic. When it’s something for Islam and Christians, it is considered freedom of speech, but when it’s something about Judaism and Jews, it is a big deal. I don’t think many of you have heard the name ‘Sine’ but that is the name of a cartoonist who used to work for Charlie but was fired because he refused to apologize for creating a caricature about Judaism. I totally agree that the reaction of the Muslims who killed the 12 people was completely wrong, but I think we have to get rid of the double standards thing so we would believe their lie of freedom of speech that they use to justify their actions…

    • Aziz Sbeih says:

      Even if double standards of freedom of speech are removed, why is ridiculing religion and insulting other people’s revered beliefs considered freedom of speech anyway? Freedom of speech should be used to ridicule the state to enhance and reform its laws and to express different perspectives for political, economic, and social issue, not to degrade people’s belief just for the sake of it. Freedom of speech is a blessing, no one denies that, the Arab Spring yearns to mirror the freedom of speech that exists in the West, whereby people can express their different perspective freely without fearing the oppression of the state, however, freedom of speech becomes a damned curse once it used to abuse other people and beliefs without any legal repercussions to stop it. The West should redefine ‘freedom of speech’ again, because under the current circumstances, the term is being exploited to ridicule people’s religions for absolutely no reason at all, and the victims have no method of legally stopping the aggressors.

  7. Lilia Smyth says:

    So, back on the subject of European nationalism, I think immigration is something that is often used as a scapegoat, but from a European perspective immigration is more than that. As we know, the easiest way to unite people is through xenophobia, which is at the root of the development of European nationalism (ie: Get out, Napoleon, we’re not like the French! We’re our own nation!) and is now seen today with all the buzz surrounding immigration – the integration of foreigners causes people to question what it is that makes you a part of your nation – something that in Europe has always been defined a common language, ethnicity, and culture. With mass immigration, suddenly there are people living amongst you who share none of these characteristics, yet are still as much a member of your nation as you are. The anti-immigration fervor comes from the struggle for people to now understand their national identity, if the people and the characteristics they once defined themselves against they cannot anymore. Of course, this doesn’t justify xenophobia and Islamophobia, it just explains it.

  8. This reminds me a bit of Fox News’ ‘expert’ referring to Birmingham as a “totally Muslim no-go zone,” which received quite a bit of ridicule and criticism soon after. Now, I don’t really know much about the situation in Germany and France in terms of assimilation, but I feel like there might be some degree of over-exaggeration, a sense of distrust, as the article puts it, towards foreigners. Of course, the recent terrorists attacks harbor quite a bit of that distrust, especially considering the media coverage. Another issue I had with this is that Islam has become treated as a race, which I find really frustrated. Sure, you can convert to Buddhism, Hinduism, heck, even Jedi, but Islam seems to make you an outsider. I mean, it’s not like I’ve just made this discovery; this is something that’s been bugging me for years, but that’s another thing that people need to realize: nationalism, being a patriotic Frenchman doesn’t mean you can’t be Muslim. Why is it that freedom of religion doesn’t have as much gravity as freedom of speech?

    • Nevean Dekaidek says:

      Freedom of speech, I believe, could be seen to be one of the only belief that unifies everyone. The truth at the end of the day is that people can never seem to be able to agree on the concept of freedom of religion, which is a hypocritical way of thinking, but true. Where as they should be interrelated they are not, which is a sad truth, that I doubt people will ever learn to understand.

    • I am with you in your lamentation of the fact that Islam is often seen as a race, and that this ‘nationalistic’ trend in Europe is affecting religion for some reason. I don’t think this is limited to just this case with this religion at this time, though. For example, Jews were almost exterminated in Holocaust as an inferior group of people (as a race); the Arab nationalism was very much augmented using Islam as a unifying factor in this region. I also often wonder what makes people regard one religion or another as a specific ‘race’ (although Islam is not race-specific as Jews are), while for instance, Buddhism is not… sorry for the rambling

      • I mean, there are a bunch of reasons as to why religions and races might be lumped together. One reason could be that whole idea of creating an other, and so people are put into the same box, making ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim’ synonymous to some. It also could be because Islam is concentrated in the East, which could lead lead to the ‘putting-into-the-same-box’ reason. It could also be because of the time when the Ottomans or the Caliphs ruled and the empire was an Islamic empire, so I guess that could have made Muslims a nation, lumping them into one box again. I honestly don’t know, these are just some speculations. I apologize for my own rambling

      • I guess you could say that Islam is especially linked to a race/nation/region because Islam is often more political than other religions, which allowed those Caliphates and Islamic empires to exist. But at the same time, there have been other religious empires like the Holy Roman Empire, and Buddhist empires… but Christianity and Buddhism are not as linked to a particular group of people as Islam is. Could the main reason be media? I would like to believe not…

  9. Rashed Abdulhak says:

    I just came back from Germany after winter break and I personally did not feel any resentment towards me being an Arab or a Muslim by others. Heck, I saw so many women in hijabs I almost felt I was in an open minded Arab country. The very fact that Germany is not scared by keeping its borders open even though it is a huge country, is enough said. This Charlie incident is overstated, probably created by Israel, (YES I SAID IT) and is just another way to create a common cause to raise nationalism by political leaders wanting more publicity.

  10. Jude Hadadeen says:

    I once read that a pregnant Muslim lady was attacked by Islamophobic men in Paris. They tried to take her hijab off and started to beat her up. When she told the two men that she was pregnant, she was kicked harder in her stomach and the baby was killed. Her only ‘fault’ was that she was a Muslim. None of the big news channels or websites talked about this incident. If the same exact thing happened to a non-Muslim woman by Muslims, the world would still be talking about the attack and the murder to this day…

    • Nevean Dekaidek says:

      And the sad truth is that incident had occurred because of the way she dressed, which they had linked directly to Islam. It’s highly unlikely that the same thing would have happened if she were dressed in a western manner, approaching her because she was wearing a hijab they tied it to Islam and had beaten her up. If she had not been wearing the hijab they probably wouldn’t have touched her and that does not make any sense, but because she had been wearing a hijab, attacking her had seemed somewhat justifiable to the media. The media should not have the right to manipulate what is being covered, in order to satisfy what the viewers want to/care to hear, but realistically it will continue to happen, and that i believe is where the right of freedom of religion is crossed, and in this situation alike many other situations doing with Islam, have the media to thank for that. The way the media has portrayed Islam in a heinous manner has affected the way the viewers have come to portray Islam as well, which causes these Islamophobic acts.

    • Lilia Smyth says:

      This is from the New York Times just about a year ago. They mention the attack, lumping it together with a racially-motivated attack from around the same time. And the article (If you can call it that) is rather miniscule…So this basically proves your point about the woman’s lack of coverage in the media, and also shows the association with Islam and race in the media that Ahmed brought up. We’re consuming media constantly, and it’s influence can be extremely powerful (remember when we talked about jihad?) especially when it ignores incidents or manipulates facts of a situation in order focus on the narrative that sells. That means having control over people’s opinions and views, and that control is used to keep up a consistent story. Racism and Stereotyping in media coverage, especially about violence, is extremely prevalent and very frustrating; just check out #iftheygunnedmedown. This photo of the Aurora movie theatre shooter sums the narrative up:
      “If I were Arab, the shooting would be terrorism. If I were black, I’d be a thug. But I’m white, so it’s Mental Illness.”

  11. I personally don’t think the “xenophobic” actions in Europe are done out of their rise in nationalism. Rather, I think it’s because of the way Muslims are exploited by the media, resulting in mere ignorance of the people. Whatever Parisians decided to kick a pregnant Muslim lady in the stomach repeatedly for the sole fact that she was a Muslim is not what I call nationalism, but instead a twisted version of revenge on Muslims for all that they’ve “done” according to biased news.

    Unfortunately, I’m starting to think that extreme nationalism could easily be a gateway to ignorance in that people tend to become too caught up in what they’re standing for that they’re blinded to the truths of other nationalities. And once one is too blinded to the other, they begin to fear them; blocking them out completely. Could that be what’s happening? Just a thought.

  12. Zaid Khalaf says:

    If all of Europe joined with the attack on ISIS, instead of the big countries like the UK, France then the fear of the other will be a major point of strength among Europeans which will help strengthen this point even more.

  13. Leylandin Kurdi says:

    I will consider France as an example of a country that is suffering from a high number of immigrants, specifically North African Arabs. At the end of the 19th century, immigrants were brought to Europe because of the process of industrialization in conjunction with the fall in the birth rate which had resulted in a labor shortage. Also, the article itself says that that immigration to Europe was encouraged because they had a “shrinking and aging” society. Now, the French government is worried about the large number of immigrants they have and that they need to find a solution. The thing that bothers me is that France colonized Algeria for 132 years, changed the entire economic, educational, and even cultural system of the country. Algerian Migration to France in the interwar period was linked with social, economic and political conditions both in France and in Algeria, and some people did not have a choice, but to move there. I have a relative who was actually forced to move from Algeria to France, before Algeria became independent. This relative now has daughters and sons, who were born in France and I believe that they should be considered French like any other French citizens, no matter where they originally come from. Some Arabs have been in France for more that 80 years and started their lives there, but are still referred to as outsiders, or immigrants from the French society. Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians and Arabs in general are facing so much racism in France, like that hijabi woman for example. I have actually experienced racism in France where a shopkeeper did not want me to buy from his shop just because I am Arab, and I certainly don’t think that some terrorists who committed a crime should be a reason for islamophobia and racism against Arabs in Europe.

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