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(On September 25, I travelled with a group hosted by The Middle East Forum on a fact-finding mission to Europe. There were 33 attendees from Australia, UK, Canada and USA (academics, activists and ordinary citizens) and we spent two days each in Paris, Berlin and Stockholm. In each City we had a local guide, met government officials, organizations and civil society. The following report is not an opinion but based on facts. Names have not been used for reasons of security and privacy).
The main conversation in Europe is about migrants (mostly Muslim) and this is the topic all political parties are focused upon. Europe is heavily weighed down with the refugee crisis, which is not helped by EU porous borders. The entire concept of The European Union is under discussion.
France: In Paris we travelled along Boulevard La Chappelle and saw migrants living under the bridges. A small percent of these are Syrian, rest are North African, mostly Sudanese. Our guide took us to St. Denis (the former religious shrine of the French Catholic kings and now a pre-dominantly Muslim area). It was like being in the Middle East with hardly a white person in sight. Behind one of the oldest Church’s in France, is the office of the Muslim Brotherhood running under the innocuous name of Association of Cultural Muslims. The fallacy that these areas are ‘ghetto’ was removed as we saw good housing, roads and infrastructure telling us that the problem is not socio-economic but essentially a clash of ideologies and culture. These areas are called “the lost territories of France” with high levels of crime and drugs where police are hesitant to intervene. This is known commonly as “93 area” and all major Muslim organizations in France have their headquarters in the 93 area including Muslim Brotherhood and Tabligh.
Later we heard a French intellectual and philosopher speak. He almost cried at what he felt was the loss of French culture by the growing majority of migrants from other cultures who will not integrate, assimilate or respect the host heritage. He fears a new French civilization taking root which does not include ethnic French communities.
Berlin: Germany is reeling after Merkel’s decision although many Germans feel that they should take in migrants. In Berlin we saw a huge difference between East and West. West Berlin shows much diversity but in East Berlin you don’t see signs of Islamic tradition. The conversation in Berlin is about the future of Europe against a backdrop of Islam and there are many studies being done on the issue, including anti Semitism. In the 1920’s Berlin was a major city for Jews but the numbers are now dwindling due to the pull to go to Israel as well as fear for the future.
We visited the oldest mosque in Berlin run by the Ahmadiyya community who work closely with all levels of government and community. Their sermons are in German, Arabic and English and there is a move in Germany to ensure all Mosques have their sermons in German and that Imams coming from other countries must speak German. A problem specific to Berlin is the animosity and tension between Turks and Arabs, the Turks considered to be a more moderate community. There is also a problem with ‘clans or tribes’ where a family of 100 will live as a tribe close together and gang up against law enforcement if they come to investigate a crime. This is how ‘partial no-go zones’ are created as law enforcement is hesitant to enter these areas. A Salafist mosque was closed down for inciting hatred and killing of Jews.
Sweden was the biggest shock. Our very Swedish tour guide as soon as he entered the bus said very clearly that he’s not very Swedish, which he takes to be a compliment. This was the attitude of most of the Swedish people we met except the politicians who are working to bring about change. The Swedes generally say that they don’t have a culture and that they have too much of a good thing so they must share. And share they do.
Sweden has taken per capita the largest numbers of immigrants and the consequences are over $50 b in costs plus 55 no-go zones. According to one report, in 2015 Sweden took 162,887 asylum seekers mostly from the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region which included 35, 369 unaccompanied minors. Largest numbers were from Syria and Afghanistan. If a person arrives in Sweden and says he is from Syria, he gets immediate refugee status and benefits.
The government has not helped the situation by placing for example 500 migrants in a small town of 150 Swedes. This is happening across Sweden where heritage buildings, hotels and old people’s homes have been turned into migrant centers with no move to educate and inform the host community or the migrants.
The pushback has been intense. Police want to resign because they can’t deal with the situation as in Malmo where large groups of migrants reside and there are serious problems of sexual assault, heckling white people and attacking women.
DOUBT AND DENIAL:
France: There are roughly 1.4 m Muslims in France with about 25% identifying themselves as ‘French Muslims’. We met local Muslim leaders who had invited a Rabbi to join them. The overall conversation was that all is good with no mention of the fact that 40% of French Muslims support sharia law. They bemoaned the fact that media paints them in a negative light but when pressed about radicalization in the youth, they confessed there are huge problems both in society and especially in prisons. After they felt comfortable (although they seemed to be speaking from a set script) they opened up and said that Imams are being sent from Turkey, Morocco and Algeria, they don’t speak the language and are paid by their own governments. The Institutes that train Imams are funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar (thus the thrust of Wahhabi influences on the Muslim populous) and the Imams are highly political. One of the Muslim leaders put this into perspective by saying “their bodies are here but their heads are in North Africa”. He confessed that they don’t know the social codes of the country they live in. He also pointed out that religious observance was increasing among French Muslims because of outside influences.
The Rabbi did not address the issue of rise of anti Semitism in Europe where Jews are leaving in large numbers. When the Muslim group was asked about this they said that they differentiate between Jews and Israel, confessing that the largest Al-Quds rally takes place in their area where thousands join in. We also met with a local priest who did not address the problems head on. Instead he mentioned that most Muslim kids go to Catholic schools and that all is good.
In Sweden there was a conference at which the a major Socialist politician was heard saying “there is no domestic Swedish Culture”
POLITICIANS AND ORGANIZATIONS
France: Next year France heads into elections and the major election issues will be based on the question: what is the future of France? Will it have a multicultural identity or a unique French identity? Nicholas Sarkozy is making a comeback. Some of his measures are considered controversial e.g. pre-arrests which says that a family, friend of a terrorist should be put in to detention under the control of a judge.
There is an intellectual debate going on in France about Islam and Muslims. Olivier Roy says “It’s not Islam that’s being radicalized; its radicalization that’s being Islamized”. Other intellectuals and politicians warm of an impending civil war unless things change drastically.
The right and the left of the political spectrum are both using Islamism in Europe to further their political agendas. They are heard saying that they will restrict more migrants coming in, restrict welfare to the migrants, allow no more Mosques and Islamic schools and even ban halal meat.
So far the French have been resilient but if another terrorist attack happens, French society might lose its cohesion and implode. There are people waiting in the sidelines for this to happen and they will jump right in.
We had a meeting with the Ministry of Interior in which they shared with us their programs on de-radicalization and anti-terrorism. They have applied a new law against terrorism as well as created a hot line which has been very successful. Upon being questioned about the community’s response they said that they have had 5570 calls since this hot line was set up and some parents says they would rather their son be sent to jail than to go and fight with ISIS. This is based on the fact that hundreds of European Muslim and non-Muslim youth have left to join ISIS.
They also use help of a psychologist to counsel parents of wanna be radicals.
In terms of immigration, they have a new law that every immigrant has to sign a contract with the State that they have to attend Civilian Education Classes.
In Sweden political Islam came on the scene 30 years ago. We met with government officials, academics working on the issue of migrants and radicalization and an ex-Muslim Brotherhood operative. From their conversation we were told “Islamists work trans-nationally and Europe is their arena”.
According to their research and studies of the Muslim Brotherhood they find that MB have a project of “Islamization from Below” which is their reform for Muslims. This is what it looks like:
Focus on the Muslim Individual to a Muslim family to a Muslim government to a Muslim society and then a Muslim world.
Overall there is great uneasiness in Europe about Muslims and the French have listed them as:
• France has no Muslim past
• Efforts towards integration are failing
• Cultures are widely different and there is a clash
• In schools, parents impose their culture upon the majority
• Gender disparity e.g. women who won’t see male doctors
• Muslims don’t accept French history
• They are anti-semitic
• They have attacked women and butchers selling pork
• Messages from Mosques and Islamist Organization are based on hate
• Many want sharia law
• Reduce legal immigration and make greater efforts to stop illegal immigration
• Make it essential for migrants to learn the local language
• Refuse behaviours contrary to French values
• If an Imam says something contrary to these values, he should be deported and the mosque closed down
• Ask French Muslims to accept an ideology compatible with the 21st. Century
• Learn to be tolerant and live and let live without imposition
(What I felt at the end of this trip is that there are major problems and everyone is complicit. Government, organizations, civil society, media and migrants. Unless there is a better understanding of the real problems and balanced measures taken to address them, Europe is like a powder keg ready to blow)