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The Anti-Islamic Culture War of EU Populist Leaders: Déjà Vu?

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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“Multiculturalism is a charade”–Angela Merkel

Across Europe, populist leaders of various right-wing parties are pointing a finger of blame at Islam for threatening domestic cultures and security even as critics decry such statements as a serious threat to freedom of religion and minority rights. That this phenomenon is having an effect on the general population of EU member countries can be ascertained by simply taking a look at the above poll.

Let’s take a look at the statements made by some of those extremists in nine countries of the EU (Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, the Check Republic, Slovakia, Italy, France, Poland, Hungary. I have eliminated the UK since it no longer is a member of the union, but there too there has been, and continues to be, plenty of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric. In any case, anti-Islamic sentiments are not exclusive to those nine countries; they are present in varying degrees in most of the 26 EU countries, not excluding northern Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Sweden, Finland, long considered a bastion of liberal thinking.

In Germany we have Alexander Gauland, deputy chairman of the Alternative for Germany party who has said this about Islam: “Islam is not a religion like Catholic or Protestant Christianity, but a faith linked intellectually with a takeover of the state. Therefore, the Islamization of Germany is a danger.”

In the Netherlands we have Geert Wilders, founder and leader of the Party for Freedom who said this: “Recently thousands of Arab men sexually attacked, humiliated and raped hundreds of women. All women are fair game. I call the perpetrators ‘testosterone bombs.’ We have seen what they are capable of. It’s sexual terrorism. A sexual jihad. And it is happening all over Europe.”

In Slovakia Prime Minister Robert Fico said this: ““Islam has no place in Slovakia.”

In Austria, former Freedom Party presidential candidate Norbert Hofer said this: ““We must stop this invasion of Muslims.”

In Austria, Johann Gudenus, vice mayor of Vienna, said this: “The new fascism in Europe is Islamism.””

In France, Marine Le Pen, head of the National Front party said this: “We have to oppose all demands that aim to shatter secularism — demands for different clothes, demands for special food, demands for prayer rooms. Demands that create special rules that would allow Muslims to behave differently.”

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said this: “Islam was never part of Europe. It’s the rule book of another world.”

In Poland, former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said this: “There are already signs of the emergence of very dangerous diseases which haven’t been seen in Europe for a long time: cholera on Greek islands; dysentery in Vienna; various types of parasites, protozoans, which aren’t dangerous in the organisms of these people but which could be dangerous here.”

In Italy, Matteo Salvini, federal secretary of the Northern League party, when asked to opine on the election of a the first Moslem major of London, said this: “For me it is a worrying sign. … I think of London itself, where there are already some abusive courts applying Islamic law.”

The above statements speak for themselves and need no comments. But they do need some historical interpretation. Without an historical context they will surely be misinterpreted. Many of their proponents are in fact counting on such a misinterpretation. One of them is that of blaming the present turmoil on the refugees seeking asylum, when in fact they are the victims of a vicious war in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, often enough stirred up by the former colonial powers who drew misguided nationalistic borders ensuring ethnic strife, and are now parading as saviors and harbinger of democracy and freedom.

The above quote by Angela Merkel is indicative. She is decrying there the lip service given to multiculturalism, all but violated in practice. It is an ironic statement. But there are more cynical approaches and those are not necessarily from fascist-leaning extremists, but also by those who are part of the established political order. For example, in the aftermath of the devastating attack in Nice, Poland’s interior minister, Mariusz Blaszczak, (a member of Law and Justice Party) told reporters that the blame lay with the embrace of multiculturalism. “Have we not learned lessons from previous attacks in Paris and Brussels? This is a consequence of the policy of multicultural politics, and political correctness.”

There is little doubt that France has embraced multiculturalism and diversity better than Poland. The French like to portray themselves as largely tolerant and indifferent to ethnic and racial diversity. They also feel that they have a more positive view of Muslims than much of the rest of Europe. It has in fact one of the largest Muslim population in Europe (probably 10% of its total population). This tolerance may also be partially true for England and Germany, but it may not be the case in Hungary, Poland, Italy or Greece, as the above statistics bear out. In any case, it is all relative to what is being compared. To have one eye is better than being blind but it is not an optimal situation.

France’s relationship with its Muslim minority is a complicated one and it has to do with secularism vis a vis religion, as I, for one, have repeatedly argued in the pages of this magazine. Despite the ideals of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution regarding equality, freedom and brotherhood (noble sounding principles in the abstract), research reveals that Muslims face discrimination in the French job market and Muslims, similar to the Blacks in the US, make up a disproportionately large percentage of its prison population. France has passed laws prohibiting the wearing of full-face veils, which Muslims interpret as religious discrimination against them.

What seems to be at work is the normative level of French identity which is not based on its Christian heritage, largely ignored and even debunked as retrograde and “medieval”, but on a guarantee of diversity and neutrality based on a secular citizenship. To be sure, religion is tolerated and even protected but it is to remain a private affair with no voice in the public square. This might have worked if it were wholly voluntary, but many Muslims feels that it is imposed on them as a political ideology. They perceive France’s secularism as a schizophrenic attitude: it wants to foment ideals of liberty, tolerance and solidarity, but it also wants to impose secular norms on its minorities in the name of modernity and progress.

The situation in Germany, the other EU country with a large Muslim population does not fare any better. Once a libertarian force opposed to the euro and Greek bailouts, the fast-growing Alternative for Germany party has now squarely joined the anti-Islam ranks. In recent weeks this party has unveiled a scathing denunciation warning against “the expansion and presence of a growing number of Muslims” on German soil. Its rationale, if indeed there is one, is that it wants to protect women’s rights, national security and German culture. The party is fast growing and is now supported by almost 1 in 6 voters. It is is calling for a ban on headscarves at schools and universities and is preparing to release an anti-Islam “manifesto” based on “scientific research.” Echoes of Hitler’s “scientific” racial laws? In the formerly communist east meanwhile, the party has gone even further, startling local Muslims by launching an effort to stop the construction of Erfurt’s first mosque. Many of these Germans who wish to protect German culture, don’t usually bother worshipping on Sunday; they may identify as Christians in mane, but their religion seems to be soccer games on Sunday; some 75% of Erfurt’s 200,000 residents declare themselves as non-religious, but then they wish to prevent the construction of mosques because they do not fit well with ancient traditional Christian churches. Here again, cultural schizophrenia seems to be at work. It may indeed have to do with religion reduced to nothing but cultural embellishment, to mere “patriotism,” a religion bereft of its transcendent symbolism and mystical vocation.

There are even more ominous signs harking back to the Germany of the 30s and its treatment of the Jews. At least two German universities have closed Muslim prayer rooms, arguing that places of higher education should be secular and that Islam should not receive “special treatment.” They are encouraging Muslims who want to pray to use generic “rooms of silence” designed for all students. In Germany, as in other parts of Europe, there has also been a recent spate of attacks on mosques, including attempted arsons and vandalism. It may be worth remembering that the crematoriums for the concentration camps were built in Erfurt; that the Buchenwald was here. Here the majority, meted out terror and injustice on a minority, their fellow Jewish citizens. The question arises: will Germany allow this outrage to happen again?

Also alarming on a global scale is the rising opposition to Moslems, which has overtones of racial and religious persecution, as a campaign issue in the US (where Trump wants to prevent all Muslims from entering the country), in France, Austria, the Netherlands, Poland and other nations of the EU. Just to give a few examples of what have become fierce campaign issues: In France, acts of violence against Muslims surged more than threefold in 2015, jumping from 133 incidents to 429, according to the country’s Interior Ministry. In May, Polish police entered university dorms in Krakow to question a number of foreign students about connections to terrorism, prompting allegations of racial profiling and Muslim-bashing. In January, the Danish city of Randers passed a resolution requiring public institutions to serve pork. Supporters rallied in favor of the bill by saying Danish food culture should trump the religious requirements of Muslim immigrants. In April, the Italian province of Veneto adopted a change in a law that critics say makes it harder to build mosques. “I’m absolutely against the construction of new mosques,” Luca Zaia, Veneto’s governor from the right-wing Northern League, told the Nuova di Venezia newspaper. “I’ve already met some of these preachers, and I told them clearly that sermons need to be pronounced in Italian, for reasons of transparency.”

In an open letter to these extremist anti-Moslem groups Mina Ahadi, an Iranian dissident and critic of fundamental Islam, writes that they “basically represent the same authoritarian, homophobic and sexist — in short: inhumane — position as ultraconservative Islamic associations.” In response the Alternative for Germany party is relying on authorities such as Tilman Nagel, a former professor of Islamic studies at Göttingen University, who in a telephone interview, lashed out at political correctness and stated that “The fundamental principles of Islam can’t be reconciled with our free constitution.” One can wager that the same professor, if placed in an academic setting, will proceed to wax eloquent about freedom of religion and respect for foreign cultures and civilizations. Talking of schizophrenia! Europa, nosce te ipsum.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Europe

Time to Tackle the Stigma Behind Wartime Rape

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Images: UN Women Kosovo

The youngest capital city in Europe, Pristina, is the ultimate hybrid of old and new: Ottoman-era architecture stands amongst communist paraphernalia, while Kosovars who lived through the bloodshed of the 20th century share family dinners with a generation of young people with their sights set on EU accession.

This month, the capital’s Kosovo Museum welcomed a new force for change; Colours of Our Soul, an exhibition of artwork from women who survived the sexual violence of the Yugoslav Wars, showcases the world as these women “wished it to be.”

Colours of Our Soul isn’t the first art installation to shine a light on the brutal sexual violence thousands of Kosovar victims suffered throughout the turmoil of the conflict which raged from 1988 to 1999. In 2015, Kosovo-born conceptual artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa transformed a local football pitch into a giant installation, draping 5,000 dresses over washing lines to commemorate survivors of sexual violence whose voices otherwise tend to go unheard. “I started questioning the silence, how we could not hear their voices during and after the war and thought about how to portray the women in contemporary art,” said Xhafa-Mripa at the time.

Victims, and their children, pressed into silence

The silence Xhafa-Mripa speaks of is the very real social stigma faced by survivors of sexual violence in the wake of brutal conflict. “I would go to communities, but everyone would say, ‘Nobody was raped here – why are you talking about it?’”, remarked Feride Rushiti, founder of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (KRCT).

Today, KRCT has more than 400 clients— barely a scratch on the surface given that rape was used in Kosovo as an “instrument of war” as recently as two decades ago. Some 20,000 women and girls are thought to have been assaulted during the bloody conflict; the fact that the artists whose work is featured in the Colours of our Soul exhibition did not sign their work or openly attend the installation’s grand opening is a sign of how pervasive the stigma is which haunts Kosovar society to this day.

As acute as this stigma is for the women who were assaulted, it is far worse for the children born from rape, who have thus far been excluded from reparation measures and instead dismissed as “the enemy’s children.” In 2014, the Kosovar parliament passed a law recognising the victim status of survivors, entitling them to a pension of up to 220 euros per month. Their children, however, many of whom were murdered or abandoned in the face of community pressure, are barely acknowledged in Kosovar society and have become a generation of young adults who have inherited the bulk of their country’s dark burden.

A global problem

It’s a brutal stigma which affects children born of wartime rape all over the world. The Lai Dai Han, born to Vietnamese mothers raped by South Korean soldiers, have struggled for years to find acceptance in the face of a society that views them as dirty reminders of a war it would rather forget. The South Korean government has yet to heed any calls for formal recognition of sexual violence at the hands of Korean troops, let alone issue a public— and long-awaited— apology to the Lai Dai Han or their mothers.

In many cases, as in the case of Bangladesh’s struggle for independence, the very existence of children born from rape has often been used as a brutal weapon by government forces and militants alike. Official estimates indicate that a mammoth 200,000 to 400,000 women were raped by the Pakistani military and the supporting Bihari, Bengali Razakar and al-Badr militias in the early 1970s. The children fathered, at gunpoint, by Pakistani men were intended to help eliminate Bengali nationhood.

Their surviving mothers are now known as “Birangana”, or “brave female soldier,” though the accolade means little in the face of a lifetime of ostracization and alienation. “I was married when the soldiers took me to their tents to rape me for several days and would drop me back home. This happened several times,” one so-called Birangana explained, “So, my husband left me with my son and we just managed to exist.”

No end in sight

Unfortunately, this barbaric tactic of rape and forced impregnation is one that is still being used in genocides to this day. The subjugation of the Rohingya people, for example, which culminated in a murderous crackdown last year by Myanmar’s military, means an estimated 48,000 women will give birth in refugee camps this year alone. Barring a major societal shift, the children they bear will suffer ostracization similar to that seen in Kosovo, Vietnam and Bangladesh.

Initiatives like the Colours of Our Soul installation in Pristina are not only central in helping wartime rape survivors to heal, but also play a vital role in cutting through the destructive stigma for violated women and their children. Even so, if the number of women who submitted their paintings anonymously is anything to go by, true rehabilitation is a long way ahead.

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EU–South Africa Summit: Strengthening the strategic partnership

MD Staff

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At the 7th European Union–South Africa Summit held in Brussels Leaders agreed on a number of steps to reinforce bilateral and regional relations, focusing on the implementation of the EU-South Africa Strategic Partnership. This includes economic and trade cooperation and pursuing the improvement of business climate and opportunities for investment and job creation which are of mutual interest.

Leaders also discussed common global challenges, such as climate change, migration, human rights, committing to pursue close cooperation both at bilateral level and on the global stage. A number of foreign and security policy issues, including building and consolidating peace, security and democracy in the African continent and at multilateral level were also raised. Leaders finally committed to work towards a prompt resolution of trade impediments affecting smooth trade flows.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. South Africa was represented by its President, Cyril Ramaphosa. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Katainen and Commissioner for trade Cecilia Malmström also participated, alongside several Ministers from South Africa.

President Juncker said: “The European Union, for the South African nation, is a very important trade partner. We are convinced that as a result of today’s meeting we will find a common understanding on the open trade issues. South Africa and Africa are very important partners for the European Union when it comes to climate change, when it comes to multilateralism. It is in the interest of the two parties – South Africa and the European Union – to invest more. It will be done.” A Joint Summit Statement issued by the Leaders outlines amongst others commitment to:

Advance multilateralism and rules based governance

Leaders recommitted to work together to support multilateralism, democracy and the rules-based global order, in particular at the United Nations and global trade fora. South Africa’s upcoming term as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council in 2019-2020 was recognised as an opportunity to enhance cooperation on peace and security. As part of their commitment to stronger global governance, Leaders stressed their support to the process of UN reform, including efforts on the comprehensive reform of the UN Security Council and the revitalisation of the work of the General Assembly. Leaders reiterated their determination to promote free, fair and inclusive trade and the rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organisation at its core and serving the interest of all its Members.

Bilateral cooperation

Leaders agreed to step up collaboration in key areas such as climate change, natural resources, science and technology, research and innovation, employment, education and training including digital skills, health, energy, macro-economic policies, human rights and peace and security. The EU and South Africa will, amongst others, explore the opportunities provided by the External Investment Plan. Linked to this, Leaders committed to exploring opportunities for investment, technical assistance including project preparation, and the improvement of business and investment climates to promote sustainable development. Leaders welcomed the conclusion and provisional implementation in 2016 of the EU-Southern African Development Community (SADC) – Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

Leaders also committed to find mutually acceptable solutions to impediments to trade in agriculture, agri-food and manufactured goods. They agreed to work towards a prompt resolution of these impediments.

Regional cooperation

Leaders welcomed the new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs put forward by the European Commission. They exchanged views on foreign and security policy issues, addressed a number of pressing situations in the neighbourhoods of both the EU and South Africa, and welcomed each other’s contribution to fostering peace and security in their respective regions. Leaders agreed to explore opportunities to enhance cooperation on peace and security, conflict prevention and mediation.

Leaders confirmed common resolve to reform the future relationship between the EU and the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States. To this end they are looking forward to the successful conclusion of negotiations for a post-Cotonou Partnership Agreement, that will contribute to attaining the goals of both the United Nations 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the long-term vision for African continent – Agenda 2063.

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Macron so far has augmented French isolation

Mohammad Ghaderi

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French President Emmanuel Macron has recently criticized the unilateral pullout of the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) but at the same time expressed pleasure that Washington has allowed France and the other JCPOA signatories to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.

In an exclusive interview with the CNN, Macron said that he has “a very direct relationship” with Trump. “Trump is a person who has tried to fulfill his electoral promises, as I also try to fulfill my promises, and I respect the action that Trump made in this regard. But I think we can follow things better, due to our personal relationship and talks. For instance, Trump has decided to withdraw from the Iran pact, but at the end, he showed respect for the signatories’ decision to remain in the JCPOA.”

There are some key points in Macron’s remarks:

First, in 2017, the French were the first of the European signatories to try to change the JCPOA. They tried to force Iran to accept the following conditions: Inspection of military sites, application of the overtime limitation on nuclear activities, limiting regional activities, including missile capabilities within the framework of the JCPOA.

Macron had already made commitments to President Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push Iran to accept the additional protocols to the deal, and he pushed to make it happen before Trump left the JCPOA.

Second, after the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, although France expressed regret, they had secret negotiations with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the JCPOA.

The result of the undisclosed talks was deliberate delay on the part of the European authorities in providing a final package to keep the Iran deal alive. In other words, after the US unilaterally left the JCPOA, the French have been sloppy and maybe somewhat insincere about making the practical moves to ensure it would be saved.

Third, France has emphasized the need to strengthen their multilateralism in the international system and has become one of the pieces of the puzzle that completes the strategic posture of the Trump Administration in the West Asia region.

Obviously, French double standards have irritated European politicians, many of whom have disagreed with the contradictory games of French authorities towards the US and issues of multilateralism in the international community. Also, France’s isolation and its strategic leverage in the political arena has grown since the days of Sarkozy and Hollande. Some analysts thought that Macron and fresh policies would stop this trend, but it has not occurred.

First published in our partner MNA

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