Behind Europe, Christiandom

To open this reflection piece, I’ll break the class rule of not citing outside sources. This one struck me enough that I think it’s worth it.

Trivellato, F. (2010, March). Renaissance Italy and the Muslim Mediterranean in Recent Historical Work. The Journal of Modern History, 82(1), 127-155.

Amongst other points, the author tries to reinterpret the Renaissance, not so much as an architectural or intellectual evolution, but as a revolution in European-Ottoman relations. The Byzantine nobles forced out of their ancestral lands by the Ottoman takeover of Anatolia and the Balkans fled to Europe, many of them to Italy – and attempted to rally the local rulers to their cause, hoping that if the Ottomans could be routed, these Byzantine nobles would be able to reclaim their lands and the associated wealth.

Such an endeavor would require massive allies – the entirety of Christian Europe, perhaps. And so the Ottomans had to be seen as an existential threat – more than a simple imperial rival. To create this perception, the Byzantine refugees started a long campaign of redefining this as a religious conflict, conflating Christianity and Europe, and thus arguing that the Muslim Ottomans could never legitimately hold European land. Instead, that land belonged to Christians – more specifically, it belonged to them.

I believe we can see the repercussions of this redefinition in the attitudes described by Göle and the other readings of this week. There remains, in the popular view, a deep conflict between what is European and what is Muslim, he says. Yet, clearly, there is intellectual dishonesty at work here – at first blush, ‘European’ is a geographical descriptor (not that the borders of Europe are uncontested, but it remains a geographical concept), while ‘Muslim’ is a religious, if not cultural, label.

And yet, there is a conflict. And so it must be that ‘European’ does not refer to a purely neutral, objective concept. Instead, it is a linguistic legerdemain, itself also referring to ‘a religious, if not cultural, label’.

That underlying definition can be seen, perhaps, in the insistence of European populists – such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban, as reported on by the Guardian’s Julian Coman – on helping Christians in the Middle Eastern, while rejecting Muslim refugees currently in Europe. The bond is built not along geographical lines, as would be suggested by the ‘European vs. Muslim’ framing; instead, it is built along religious lines, with European Christians (with Orban constantly emphasizing his faith) reaching out to Middle Eastern Christians. It’s why there remains an unresolved tension in the identities of Muslims living in Europe, as described by Fatima El-Tayeb.

This doesn’t explain why, however, the dominant rhetoric emphasizes ‘Europe’ rather than ‘Christianity’. And Göle has the answer here as well: it is a question of portraying oneself as modern and rational, while the other is tribal and superstitious. This “moral grammar of war”, he says, is why these European populists speak not of ‘headscarves’, a neutral garment, but of ‘burkas’, to emphasize the Islamic and foreign nature of the garb.

After all of this comes Renaud Camus, who speaks of a ‘Great Replacement’, of Muslim immigrants eroding the identity of Europe. If Europe were but a geographical border, this would mean nothing; instead, he – and the far-right circles recycling his concept – are tapping into centuries of propaganda. They cannot be dismissed as some new outgrowth, born merely of populist backlash to the Syrian migrant wave; instead, one must look at their historical roots. As Camus says: “Distance is very, very necessary for observation,” and for understanding.

Is Europe Truly Multicultural?

Written by Emma Bronsema

Europe and discourse surrounding Europe like to portray it as being inclusive and multicultural, but when it comes down to it, and you change the discussion, it is a truly ideological polarizing continent. There is more division than unification found within. 

When examining the discourse surrounding the Muslim communities in Europe, it becomes clear that they are often othered, understood in static terms, and categorized to be traditional, intolerant, and a rigid community. More often than not, their voices are drowned out by European concerns about the supposed threat to the culture that they have become too comfortable in. By systematically concentrating racialized minorities into certain areas, there becomes a visible supposid threat to European culture.  

It is ironic how Europeans will look at the Muslim culture as rigid and traditional, and like to claim that their culture is fluid and inclusive, when they are ones who are rigid and unwilling to accept, adapt and recognize other cultures. Similarly, xenophobia comes into clear view when looking at the reluctance the Europeans had when it came to admitting refugees into their countries. This is also shown when looking at the policy created by the EU, which contains the desire for minimal support efforts and to minimize and prevent migrants. In practice, anti-immigration sentiments were clearly shown by their response to the 2015 refugee crisis – during which they were extremely reluctant to accept Syrian refugees.

I would like to know how Nations who claim to be multicultural are so afraid of including and accepting outside cultures. Especially since Islamic Europeans are not a new phenomenon and have resided in Europe for centuries. My best answer would be that it is through selective memory, that Europe is able to portray a specific culture and narrative that allows them to completely disregard their long history of emigration and immigration.

References:

Fatima El-Tayeb, “”Gays Who Cannot Properly be Gay.’ Queer Muslims in the Neoliberal European City” European Journal of Women’s Studies 19/1, (2012): 79-95. 

Dan Stone, “On Neighbours and Those Knocking at the Door: Holocaust Memory and Europe’s Refugee Crisis.” Patterns of Prejudice 52, no. 2/3 (May 2018): 231–43.

Nilüfer Göle, “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam” New Literary History, Volume 43, Number 4 (Autumn 2012): 665-685.

Is secularism neutral?

One of the readings this week was Nilüfer Göle’s “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam”. One aspect of the relationship between Europe and Islam she discusses that I want to touch on is the idea of Islam in secular chronotopes. That is the idea that all human and social interaction develop in their own time and space. She argues that secularism and democracy in Europe and Islam which has ties to a long history and past are still working this out as they quite different in many ways. She also explores this in the European public sphere using the example of the burka and the assumption that secularism is neutral and therefore better. Obviously this is cherry-picking on a whole lot longer article that explores many aspects of these ideas however I did find it one of the more interesting parts of her paper because of this question. Is modern life/secularism neutral?

I honestly can’t exactly answer that. I feel like it comes very close, though everything has an agenda nowadays. I agree with the separation of church and state. Though the elimination of the burka doesn’t have much to do with that. Obviously the absence of any religion is most likely neutral. I suppose it depends on one’s views and commitment to the state one is in. If you don’t accept that your religion should be a private affair, and you disagree that any time it conflicts with your functioning within the state or the functioning of the state itself that it should be discarded, then I suppose you wouldn’t view it as neutral. You’d be angry that you cannot do what you want. However, if you were to consider that ALL religions need to have this parameter and you accept that this is the best way for order to function in the state with so many differing views, and accept that you have to make some adjustments in order to enjoy that harmony, then one would have to admit it is neutral. The only time this would change is if there were certain other parties agendas being pushed by the state onto you and other religions that could be argued didn’t need to be pushed. Then it becomes a whole other problem, and that looks like very different things to very different people. Not sure where I’m going with this, It’s a big but important topic and I wanted to write down some of my initial thoughts and maybe see what other people think if you wonder about that balance as well.

The Iliberal Alliance: Cosmopolitans and Traditionalists against Islam

Jake Rooke

The role of Islam in European politics and contemporary society with the presence of relatively larger migration flows has become a hot topic, especially amongst right-wing activists. The collective memory of Islam in Europe is contested and, in many respects, its most prolific impacts, in Medieval Spain and through the Ottoman Empire in South Eastern Europe have largely been framed through paradigms of conquest and culture wars. These culture wars created a dichotomy of ‘In-group’ and ‘Out-group’ in historical memory, fostering a historical perspective that considers Europeanness and its civilizational roots as a homogenous and overtly exclusive concept. In contemporary Europe, the core-inner group’s exclusive and hegemonic chronotope has reoriented, from Christian heritages to secular-dominated linear narratives. However, Muslim actors are entering secular spaces and embracing secular experiences, clearly demonstrating the heterogeneity Muslim peoples (Gole 2012) some perceptions are changing. Nonetheless, “many young pious Muslims defend Islam as the religion of their parents; Islam provides them with a source of resistance to acculturation and an opportunity to bind with their heritage” (Gole 2012: 668). With this, many young European-born Muslims’ and migrants experiences with Islam is remarkably different than peoples in Muslim majority countries, such as Turkey and Syria.

Although Islam is not identical to its believers, the introduction of Islam in European contemporary societies’ is having a large effect on the social and power structure. First, traditional cultural identities, mainly deriving from the Christian faith have been displaced by newer cosmopolitan and multicultural norms. These groups traditionally sought power against cosmopolitan liberal values with counter ultra-conservative reaction. With the introduction of Islam into the mainstream through migration, traditional ultra-conservative groups have a newer target. Second, newer liberal cosmopolitan structures and groups, notably such as aspects of the wealthy gay cohort and their allies, largely seen as the victors of the traditional v. cosmopolitan culture wars are being co-opted against the new ‘other; Muslim European-born and Muslim migrants. This is evident in the Onishi (2019) article, that focuses on Renaud Camus, a Gay French literary and fiction author that coined the phrase ‘the Great Replacement’. The far-right have co-opted many secular individuals in their fight against Islam in Europe. This is particularly evident in countries such as France, with its long history of collective and confrontational secularism, that sees Islam and religion as by-products of a bygone age. The Great Replacement is also being mainstreamed by Hungarian Prime Ministe, Obran and Poland’s governing Law and Justice Party. In France’s case, the Great Replacement is largely in relation to France’s secular and liberal values and traditions. Whereas in the post-bloc countries, Poland and Hungary, a lack of secularism and adherence to universal liberal values, such as gay rights, pro-choice and multiculturalism, has resulted in a state-run systematic ‘othering’ of migrants from Syria and the Middle East.

Islam is being painted by traditional and aspects of the cosmopolitan class, as anti-European and fundamentally at odds with the civilizational social fabric of the continent. There is this notion that Muslim born individual must be ‘saved’ from Islam and its supposed medieval values. This is hypocritical to the core. For one to be pro-women’s rights and a believer in ‘women can make choices for themselves’, ordering a woman to not wear a burka exhibits a lot of irony.

A Traditional Europe?

I enjoyed this weeks combination of articles discussing the way Europe is conceptualized in the sense of who belongs where and the traditional idea of who belongs. In the Göle reading for instance, it reminded me of a paper that i had written this last semester about the impact that Bosniak Muslims have had in the culture of the Balkan region as well as the formation and breakup of Yugoslavia. In the former Ottoman Balkans in the 17th century where Bosniak culture was respected and revered saw a very different look after Turkey withdrew from the region and those people became repressed under a system that sought to favour the more desirable and ‘traditional’ eastern orthodox Serbian-Croatian denominations. Not only this, but Muslim influence has extended into the mediterranean region and the Iberian peninsula.

The theme of this imagined rightful demographic to situate itself in Europe extends into the New York Times article by Norimitsu Onishi about how immigrants are colonizing the white homelands of the French and of other white Europeans as stated by Renaud Camus. This idea that Immigrants are replacing Whites has had a direct influence on French politicians and has resonated widely beyond France with right wing white supremacist groups. Interestingly Mr. Camus was known a novelist and a pioneering writer of gay literature before turning to writing about the “great replacement”

These ideas expand to many types of people and are not reserved for a single stereotype. The majority of these ideas lay in misinformation of the lack of proper education on the matter, for example Mr. Camus had his ideas based solely on his experience on Facebook and Twitter….how can one fully grasp the situation of immigration and integration so far removed. The Göle article is the opposite and tries to show us that “Europe and Islam as connected histories, yet with competing narratives, cultural values, and time-space constructs of modernity”

The Islamic Invasion of Europe?

By Conrad Yiridoe

Ornishi’s brief piece on Renaud Camus’s and his insight on the idea of the great replacement is interesting as well. Unfortunately, the thoughts behind Camus’ viewpoint are not hugely surprising. Camus even admits that “in fact, he acknowledged that his understanding of such people was based mainly on Twitter and Facebook. He said he almost never read newspapers or watched television.” Of course, he is not alone in developing opinions chiefly from social media, nor is he the first person of “influence” to do so. In addition, this is not an argument to state that news media or television sources are more or less reliable in comparison. However, it does provide a timely reminder of the power the new online social media platform provides.

What I find even more intriguing are some of the other quotes from Camus explaining his specific viewpoints on migrants and Muslims. For example, his view that “the immigrants are “colonizing” France by giving birth to more children and making its cities, towns — and even villages — unlivable” does not appear well polished, given that the blame here is directly tied to an increasing birthrate. It also, in a sense is confusing (at least to me), as I would have thought that given his apparent detest for immigration, he would prefer these migrants give birth to their children in the country, instead of allowing them to grow up and learn abroad before then moving in to the country. Hence, allowing said children to learn and be raised in French society. Camus goes on to state that, “they came as conquerors and colonizers, filled with hatred and a desire to punish France. He singled out Muslims for “not wanting to integrate” into French society.” Again, it is interesting to note how Camus is quick to single those moving into the country as apparent “colonizers” who do not wish to ingrain within the country, but then also criticize those that continue to bear children in the country. Whether one agrees or disagrees, the differencing viewpoints are thought-provoking to say the least.

El-Tayeb sums up the ongoing sentiment rather well I feel, by saying ““The framing of Islam not only as a ‘social order’ dictating every aspect of the life of every Muslim, but as an order incompatible with, if not actively opposing, ‘European values’ of tolerance and democracy has been thoroughly mainstreamed.” From these readings, it seems that the focus on instilling a fear of any change that welcoming Islam into certain European states may bring, has become a prevailing political attitude. It also appears as though this attitude will not be going away anytime soon.  

Multicultural Europe?

By: Andreea Gustin

This week’s sources centered on multiculturalism in Europe. Specifically, the readings highlighted how Europe sees cultural pluralism and mass migration as a threat to its national identity. We’ve seen this theme throughout the course – pure “European-ness” is celebrated and anything that does not fit into that identity is seen as lesser-than and as a threat. What even is European-ness? And why does this notion of superiority still exist in today’s age? 

Nilüfer Göle’s Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam, points out that Muslims belong to Europe in a variety of ways; as original inhabitants, citizens of Europe, converts, migrants, or political candidates. The visibility of Islamic religion in Europe has become a controversial issue in the last three decades, and it has inspired public expressions of resentment and fear, leading to a legislative politics of prohibiting or excluding the religious symbols and practices of Muslims in many European countries. Muslims in Europe have been subject to “othering” and an “us versus them” mentality. We know based off of our discussions of the Jewish population in WW2 that this kind of discourse is highly troubling and dangerous. El-Tayeb’s writings support this idea of Muslims being portrayed as the Other in Europe by focusing on the positionality of queer Muslims.

Based on the sources this week, it becomes clear that “European” identity is actually based off the idea of exclusion. It’s not about who is a part of it, but who is not. These divisive ideas being spread by both citizens and governments across Europe will continue to polarize the continent and continue the historical mistreatment and neglect of minorities. 

The Struggle of Accepting Multiculturalism in Europe

Sara Dix

Since the event of 9/11 (and even prior), there has been a widespread fear of Muslims and increase in xenophobia throughout the West. But, any sort of multiculturism in the West has recently been seen as a threat and this is shown clearly in Onishi’s article about the writer, Renaud Camus, and Dan’s article as well. Coman’s argument regarding the role of churches within the multiculturism debate also highlights the predicament that churches are in, specifically in Hungary.

Not only do far-right extremists in France believe that they are currently undergoing a “great replacement”, but this is occurring in many places within the West. Camus believes that immigrants are “colonizing” France and making its cities and towns unlivable. It’s unfortunate because by having a multicultural society, I feel there is more understanding between people because there are discussions to freely ask questions that helps create empathy. There is a general misconception of how easy it is for immigrants to come into a country, but it’s really tough and a lengthy process that people who have never experienced it just don’t understand.

Stone focused on Holocaust memory and Europe’s refugee crisis. I also found myself confused where he compares the attitude of the British government towards the Jewish refugees and Muslim refugees. The former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth argued that the British government should “allow at least 10,000 refugees into Britain in a modern version of the programme that brought some 10,000 Jewish children fleeing Nazi persecution in 1938-1939.” I thought that was really interesting because why shouldn’t they help refugees who are fleeing to save their lives and how does the preconceptions of these refugees affect whether a country will take them in or not? What made Jewish children fleeing Nazi persecution different than Muslim refugees fleeing the chaos in Syria?

European multiculturalism is not a new concept – but the rejection of it is

Michaela Bax-Leaney

As the notion of a homogenous ethno-cultural has become an increasingly central identifier for those on the right, the calls to defend that identity from perceived external attacks have too grown in kind. However, as we know from those such as Paul Hanebrink and Patrick Geary, that sense of identity – the “pure European” – is rooted largely in falsehoods, and the concept of a “pure” European does not exist as the far-right espouses it to be.

As Göle reminds us, Islam is hardly a new phenomenon in Europe; medieval Spain and Portugal were former Islamic states, Bosnian Muslims are ‘native’ to (or at very least have lengthy historical roots in) Europe, and the Ottoman Empire also comprised a large part of Europe up until World War I. As Onishi reports, Camus argues that previous migrants came to France out of love, but surely these new migrants – read, Muslims and people of colour – arrive in France with hatred in their hearts and plans to replace French culture with their own.

The problematic implications here aside, thought certainly not insignificant, his central premise is one we know to be false. The idea that French and European culture is inherently white and Christian is an inaccurate overgeneralization. And as Stone notes, even as we have constructed it, this white Christian European identity may not be all that great to begin with when we consider the treatment of Jewish refugees, and the enduring legacy of these attitudes. This is particularly pronounced in Hungary and Poland, where the religious and the right have coalesced and continue to fight for the ‘preservation’ of the white Christian right.

History of Coexistence

The theme of religion, religious identity and its entangled role with the immigration as perceived by far right and populist movements was center to the readings of this week. A few key aspects of the subject caught my attention.

First, Göle’s article rightly points out that Muslims have been a part of Europe’s mosaic of religions and ethnicities since the medieval period, from Spain through the Ottoman-occupied Balkans in the East. The Bosnian Muslims, as mentioned, as well as other ethnic groups such as Albanians, represent a continuous Islamic presence on Europe’s soil. Given these documented facts, I think that it would be wrong to assume or to advocate that Muslims migrants are challenging, or replacing, to use Camus’ words presented in Onishi’s article, the European’s whiteness and Christianity. If anything, this happened centuries ago, when the Ottoman conquered the Balkan territories, for example. And it certainly did not replace the population of Europe, it was just an added component. The tensions between Christians and Muslims, as outlined by Göle, were always present, but there were also periods of relatively peaceful coexistence between the religious groups. The Ottoman-era Balkans cities were, according to some sources (for example, this short documentary about the city of Thessaloniki in now Greece that presents the various ethnicities of the Balkans living together), an example of how different ethnic and religious groups could live alongside harmoniously.

This fact, in my opinion, contradicts Viktor Orbán’s claims, from Coman’s article, that Islam is a threat to Europe, even if he means Western Europe (and this calls attention to the definition of the imagined borders of Europe), since Muslims have been living on the territory, in Spain for example, for centuries. The antemurale myth he nourishes to portray himself as a protector of European values implies a very narrow definition and interpretation of European values. Whiteness and Christianity are traditionally associated with Western Europe, but as the appellation of Europe is opening up to encompass the whole continent, historical events should alter and add more values in order to represent the population in its entirety.

Second, I found interesting to read about the importance given to the religion in the context of a post-communist society, as depicted in Coman’s article. During the communist years, atheism was preferred, so the fall of the regimes provided an opportunity for people to express their faith freely, as well as for religious organizations to bear the cultural and traditional weight of society. I think this partly explains why Christianism now appears as an integral part of Eastern Europe and why migrants that brings in another religion might seem like a threat to it. I think that it is not the Islam religion per se that is threatening, but the fact that a part of the population does not adhere to something that was protected and that held the cultural spirit of the society during the communism years. Christianism in a way represents something that could not be crushed by the regime, and it is a symbol of victory over it. As such, it is normal that people feel entitled to protect it. It is the extent to which it is protected and the assumptions that non-Christians are a threat that are extreme, and even contradictory to the religion’s ways, as Pastor Gábor Iványi remarks.