About six weeks ago, I found myself in Zurich on a Saturday. It was my first time in Switzerland, not counting airports, and it was a matter of hours, but I could see the city centre without a problem, as Zurich is not that big a city. A few things surprised me about it: how expensive everything was, the luxury shops in the city’s main high street, their weird accent in German, and the huge amount of Spaniards around.
Even though, come to think of it, there is something else that surprised me more than all the other things put together. On my way back to the train station from the restaurant where I indulged myself to lunch, I saw a stall in the middle of the street, covered in dark cloths, with two men wearing djellabas in it. Out of curiosity I approached the stall, and saw a pile of books in the stall’s table: Holy Qur’ans. In German. One of the two men started talking to me in Swiss German, which is to standard German what an illiterate American Southern redneck's language is to RP. In my rusty German, I asked him what they were up to, with those Qur’ans there, and he told me, in standard German much to my relief, that they were giving them away (for free!) to whoever wanted one, not out of proselytism but rather, out of wanting to make people understand Islam is not about violence or justification of terrorism. He took a couple of leaflets and one of the books (conveniently covered in plastic as it was raining) and gave it to me. So I saw myself standing in the rain, with a Qur’an written in German in my hands. “What do I want this for?”, I asked myself. I asked him if he had one in English, by any chance, and he said no, but he showed me a link in one of the leaflets: “you can download it in English here”. The book wasn’t big and it fit in my coat’s pocket, so I took the book to not make him feel offended.
I was about to leave when I saw a man, about 60, come to the stall from my left. He started telling off the other man in the djellaba. I couldn’t get much because this all happened in Swiss German, but I could get the general gist of it: “What are you doing here? Leave Switzerland, we neither want you nor need you here, least of all publicising your religion!” The man from the stall tried to reply to him and even tried to give him a Qur’an, “so you may see for yourself why what you are saying is not true”. The old man didn’t allow him to do so, and he left. I could not waste much time myself, so I exchanged a knowing look with the guy who had spoken to me, and smiling, I left.
This gave me a lot to think about. On my way to the airport, I looked at people at the station, on the train... and I saw people from all backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and nationalities. Much to my joy, they spoke a dialect of the hardest language I’ve ever tried to learn, a dialect so different that some native German speakers friends of mine have recognised they find hard to follow. I googled quickly a couple of things before boarding the plane, to find what I suspected: despite Zurich being one of the richest and most cosmopolitan cities in Europe, it is also one of the less tolerant. A Swiss extreme-right party has had great success in recent elections (SVP-UDC), and the recent minaret controversy is not unknown to anyone.
“Oh well, Sergio, calm down. This is Switzerland, the least European bit of Europe. Now you are going back to England, where multiculturalism arrived decades ago and everyone lives in peace and harmony.”
Well, no. A few days ago a couple of lunatics, both British passport-holders, killed a British soldier in London with a machete. This is a horrendous act, and I am worried about the rise of radicalism in my country of residence. But, and this is a big but, I am even more worried about Cameron's cabinet calling up an emergency COBRA meeting. Let me get this straight: two white British lunatics kill a soldier shouting ‘you cunt innit’. Crime, violence, chavs, etc. Two non-white British lunatics kill a soldier shouting ‘Allah-u akbar’. Terrorism, Islamic radicalism. For Allah’s sake, gentlemen, this has no consistency. Removing the veal of PC, I am going to dare saying that it is the West that is partially to blame for these attacks, too.
It turns out the perpetrator of such hideous acts is a Nigerian-born Briton, from a devout Catholic background, that after getting closer to bad people and getting friendlier with weed (like
half of Spain the Qur’an specifically forbids to be), he radicalised as a Muslim after Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s wars invasions.
In social networks several pages in support of the victim are seen to have close ties to the EDL, something which gives a lot to think about.
A Guardian article explains fairly comprehensively why this act should not be classed as terrorism, you can read it here. It talks about how an old man was stabbed to death a few weeks ago as he came back from the last salat of the day. No one spoke of terrorism then, no one called up a COBRA meeting. Potentially, no one in government even knew that this happened.
On a more academic scope, two scholars (Balagangadhara and De Roover) talk about terrorism about the transubstantiation of crime to acts of supererogation. In Politics as a discipline it is considered sound and fancy to complicate simple facts with unpronounceable words, but what it means is that terrorism is powerful because we give it its power. It sounds a bit constructivist, but the message is clear: treat crime as crime, and you’ll see how it loses its mystical aura. If we treat it as terrorism, we only achieve that these extremists see such acts as heroic.
If we carry on marginalising the European islamic community as a bunch of extremists, fanatics or terrorists (if you think of it, they’re a minor minority, in proportion to European white people who are part of extreme right parties), well... it sounds very politically incorrect, but we are only enhacing such fanatism!
“Oh well, Sergio, calm down. This is in the UK, where multiculturalism has been approached in a too laissez-faire way. Just chillax, this doesn’t happen back in Spain.”
Well, nope. Just today I have opened one of the newspapers I usually read, El País. The largest Spanish speaking newspaper, and fairly left-wing too (a bit like the Spanish Guardian). I have opened two pieces of news at once. The first one, an interview to Manuel Valls, France’s Home Secretary, born in Barcelona and a Spanish citizen until he reached the age of majority. The newspaper points out that he chose French to conduct the interview even though, althouh technically being on French soil, he was in Madrid, talking to a Spanish newspaper. Needless to say, both his Spanish and his Catalan, albeit accented, are flawless. M Valls expresses his worry about growing hatred to Muslim Europeans, as well as the growing number of Muslim Europeans who have gone to Syria to fight with the rebels. Just last week I read that nine native Spanish Muslims from Ceuta (a Spanish exclave in Morocco since the 17th century) have fled to Syria in the last year.
The second piece of news is that only this evening a French soldier has been stabbed in Paris. Alert! Is this connected to Woolwich? Is this a terrorist conspiration? No one is talking about it being another lunatic, inspired or not in London’s lunatics.
Going back to M Valls’s interview, I am so surprised that he chose French instead of Spanish to conduct the interview that I decide to check the comments, to see how many people called him a “Spanish renegade”. The answer: no one did. All comments, again, in a progressive, left-wing newspaper, were about a) let’s kick the bloody Muslims out of Europe, b) we should not permit Muslim immigration to Europe (how is being a Muslim related to one’s nationality or ethnicity?) or c) how to stop the Muslim invasion of Europe. Incredible.
“Oh well, Sergio. It is easy, being a troll on the internet. This is probably just a bunch of idiots commenting with different names to seek attention. Again, chillax, you come from a very diverse area in Barcelona’s periphery, where sure, there has been some trouble, but generally we all live together in perfect harmony, like ebony and ivory”.
Well, not even that. I have to read how two days ago a 37-year-old man kicked two underage Maghrebi girls in a train station, throwing one to the tracks and kicking her repeatedly to not allow her to climb back up to the platform. This all happened in Mataró, 5 miles from my house. I know that station very well and I do not even want to think about what that poor girl had to go through.
So things are this bad.
I have hardly read the Bible, the Torah or the Qur’an, but I have read a few passages of all three books. To brush up my German sometimes I flick and glance through my Qur’an in German, and I can tell you that the message adds up to about the same in all three. Both in England and in Spain I have many friends of diverse creeds, both believers and non-believers, practising and non-practising, Christians and Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, and not Bahá’is by pure miracle.
And I can tell you a common trait to all of them: the more a person believes, the harder it is to talk to them about stuff outside their faith. Most have (or don’t have) their beliefs but that does not stop them of leading a completely normal life, enjoying the daily routine with worries that would make half of Africa or Asia blush. They do realise they are part of the chosen minority who can enjoy a Western quality of life, no matter their skin’s colour, religion or nationality.
There may be a bunch of Muslim terrorists, but they are not a majority. Islam is to war and peace what Christianity or Judaism are to it. Christianity, let’s not forget, is the religion that promoted the Crusades, the Holy Inquisition and religious colonisation.
Let’s not fall into generalisations either, within Christianity there are many branches: Catholicism, Protestantism, Orthodox practices, Coptic practices, several sects, etc. Within Judaism you get Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, the Haredim, the seculars, etc. Oh well, tadaa!, the same goes for Islam: Sunni and Shi’a Islam are the most well-known ones, but there’s also Wahhabism, Ahmadiyyanism, Ibadism, etc.
Shit happens everywhere.
I am really worried about the rise of anti-Islamism in Europe, as well as the marginalisation leading to a rise in Islamic radicalism within Europe. To say it in the language in which I had my last religious contact, reading the Islamic Holy Word, genug ist genug. Enough is enough.
I leave you with the wise words of an imam... from London, as much a Westerner as I may be. It states very clearly what Islam’s position on all of this is, it sets out clearly what the steps to follow are, if we want to solve it, who needs to take part in this solution, and how it must be done. Do watch it.