In Europe, leaders must rediscover their potential as positive thinkers and motivators instead of allowing Islamophobic tendencies to pop up
Living in a family is how our societies are intended to be built and enjoyed, at least for a vast majority of us. Thus said, any given society is made up of millions of individual families. The worst-case scenario is when a particular society refrains from having a constant influx of "new" families. In this case, a static society emerges in which at one point elderly citizens receive no pensions as younger (working) citizens decline in numbers. In many countries this is referred to as the contract between generations.
Under normal circumstances and over the decades in post-war Europe, the above became an accepted fact: Grown children move out from their parents' houses and set up their very own family, kids in tow.
Hence, it is disturbing to witness a certain rejection, a certain withdrawal from this way of life regarding "new" families originally hailing from abroad knocking at Europe’s doors. At stake: Why was the successful concept of family life apparently only reserved for home-grown men, women and children and unduly questioned regarding people born someplace else? When considering the growing resentment toward migration and refugees trying to reach Europe’s lands and shores, one feels inclined to label it Islamophobia 1.0 as it mostly targets innocent Muslim people.
Then and to make matters worse, even first, second and third generation migrants who immensely contributed to the welfare of the emerging economic European Union powerhouse and who by now are full-fledged local citizens benefiting from the same rights (and duties) as all other members of the population have become a target for hate-speech and often outright physical violence across the EU. In a nutshell: Islamophobia 2.0. has once again targeted Muslim people.
So how can this shocking development be stopped, or can it? Are European democracies no longer run by the standards and universal norms of a democratic way of living together? And above all else, where and how did it all start? Did no one see it coming?
More subtle attacks on democracy
As was reported in Daily Sabah on March 21, 2022, Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun was quoted from his contribution to the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) communications magazine as calling Islamophobia a "malicious seed” directly or indirectly planted in the minds of people by Western-based media organs, academics, think tanks and more. He further argued that, “The Orientalist perspective is a concept rooted in racism that aims to negatively impact the image and reputation of Muslims by systematically associating Islamic values with a sense of negativity.”
He then suggests that it is political leaders who have the power to stop this dangerous trend by saying, “Leaders wield the power to impact large segments of the society in constructive ways ... that there are currently very few leaders who ... embrace their own cultures to counter Islamophobia.”
Let us put the author’s analysis into the context of three related personal comments. First, a look at academic teaching. Second, is the European media overly racist? And third, can elected office holders really influence the free flow of news?
Vilfredo Pareto et. al.
Let us play devil’s advocate. In the mid-1980s, it was common in what was still West Germany to teach about Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto during philosophy classes (contributor’s own experience). One of Pareto’s most controversial suggestions was to say democracy is an illusion in which ruling classes always emerged and enriched themselves. He called for a drastic reduction of the state and welcomed former Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini on the way to a minimal state. Now add 60-plus years: The professor, who in his youth had been associated with flirting with fascism himself, still kept his tenure at what was supposedly a rather “right-leaning public university.”
There are two options. One, discreetly allowing scholars who did not distance themselves from fascism and packaging it all as a lesson in democracy and free speech – should the authorities step in and fire him? Alternatively, should the university and education ministry defend free speech on all levels and sit idle?
What we have to consider in this context is whether to curtail freedom of expression and if deemed necessary, on which level? The question was as important back in the 1980s as it is today. How should society react when anti-democracy tendencies are openly promoted on the academic level?
'Whatever Turkey does is wrong'
Similar to our first case study, European media often uses the same “discreet” tactics by focusing anti-democracy stories on what are perceived as hate objects. Example no. 1: modern Turkey and ever more so its charismatic and trusted leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. By declaring whatever happens in Turkey as wrong or outright dangerous for the so-called Western way of life, many media organs create a climate of fear among their audiences geared at one single nation and its people.
Should governments and authorities ban those media houses and require the journalists to be fired? Or should they once more sit idly by and watch?
Can, and should, elected leaders stem the tide?
Yes, there were and are ill-fated tendencies in some European academic circles promoting openly anti-Islam, anti-multicultural values and concepts. Likewise, misinformation about Turkey, in particular, as a leading Islamic democracy, is pushed for by many media houses in Europe. And granted, right-wing think tanks argue that the concept of integration is outdated and that Western societies can only survive by sticking to their own religious and cultural beliefs. Even some conservative political parties argue the same points (elections to the federal parliament in Germany in 2021 are a case in point).
And if reading between the lines of Altun is allowed, this is the point in time where governments and elected office holders on all levels must come forward and figuratively as well as literally speaking, go live. They can address their voters by going public exactly in those media houses normally declaring Islam a threat. They can meet and talk with influencers and stakeholders. They can promote free speech without tolerating hate speech. A climate must be created in which tolerance and solidarity flourish and not “we are against the other.”
Leaders must rediscover their potential as positive thinkers and motivators instead of allowing far right and xenophobic tendencies to pop up. They must understand that there are “open” signs of racism and “discreet or camouflaged” signs in the name of freedom of expression. Both are dangerous for a harmonious way of living with each other and not just next to each other.
It would be nice if our societies and democracies could do it by themselves. At least in the medium-term, politicians and other well-intended personalities must roll up their sleeves and come to the rescue of our very democracies. It is five minutes to 12.
Ending by returning to our opening paragraphs, let the European family system be rejuvenated. This should include people from all four corners of the world who either out of desperation or out of free will decide to come to us no matter their personal preferences or religious beliefs, no matter what color, age or gender./DS
BY KLAUS JURGENS
Political analyst, journalist based in London