I’ve been watching the anti-Islam marches in Germany with a mixture of amusement and bewilderment. However, the one emotion I haven’t experienced is surprise. The sight of thousands of Germans marching in Dresden against the perceived rise of militant Islam in Europe is nothing we in Africa should be worried about; rather, what should make us worried is what it symbolizes.
I find it quite interesting that the rise of Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamification of the West) occurred around the same time that European nations are facing shocks to their standards of living.
In the southern European nations of Greece, Spain and Portugal, the austerity measures demanded by the EU are leaving people destitute and desperate. In Italy, the dolce vita of yesteryear is the stuff of cinema and modern history classes; whereas it used to be known as the home of the iconic Sophia Loren and Gianni Agnelli, its now known as home to Silvio Berlusocni (with his notorious bunga-bunga parties) and faltering governments. Belgium once went a whole 18 months without a government in 2010, as various regional parties squabbled and the UK is doing all it can to get out of the European Union, without actually doing so. In other words, there are real systemic issues within Europe that need to be fixed.
However, these problems are not being fixed by the European political class, so guess what? Instead of taking aim at the real causes of their nation’s malaise, what we are seeing is a redirection of popular anger and frustration. Where before the scapegoats used to be either the Jews, the gypsies, the immigrants, the Irish or the Poles, now the scapegoat is Islam.
Yes, the religion of Islam hasn’t had the best PR in Europe, especially after the Charlie Hebdo attacks recently in Paris, but it honestly doesn’t matter if there wasn’t an attack, or series of attacks. Europe has always been historically xenophobic, and despite its ‘civilised’ and ‘open’ outward appearance, nothing much has changed.
How European are migrants allowed to feel?
Yes, there are huge non-Caucasian European communities today, but the question we must ask is, how truly integrated are they? How truly quote-unquote ‘European’ are they? How European do they feel? And most importantly, how European are they allowed to feel? Because it would seem to me right now, especially with not only the actions of Pegida but also the rise of the right wing, that Europe is turning on those who are different i.e. those who are not white and profess a religion that isn’t Christianity.
This anti-Islam movement (which I truly believe is an anti-immigrant movement in all honesty) bears some resemblance with events that occurred in the famous South Africa suburb of Soweto. While Soweto will always remain in popular myth as the home of the anti-apartheid struggle, today it symbolizes to me something less heartening. Murderous xenophobia.
In February , a small argument between an 18-year old South African youth high on a local drug called ‘Nyaope’ and a Somali shop owner was escalated by a frustrated and poor community. One local South African newsmagazine quoted one member of the community saying, ““I hate them [foreign shop owners] because they are killing local businesses, they don’t pay taxes and they don’t hire locals”.
Whether that was factual or simply based on prejudice, the fact of the matter is that as a result of that kind of thinking led to a looting spree of foreign owned shops and businesses by mobs of local South Africans. Unfortunately, instead of protecting property, the local police actually encouraged and took part in the looting and violence.
Similar motivations in Dresden and Soweto
I see many similarities between the Soweto violence and Pegida’s rise. First of all, they are all based on mistaken beliefs that could not withstand even basic scrutiny i.e. that there is an Islamisation of the West (à la Pegida) and the foreigners are pushing out local business (à la Soweto). Secondly, I find it interesting that both issues found a home in economically marginalized areas of their respective countries, Dresden and Soweto. And if you look at what both groups really want, you’ll see one main similarity; they both want less immigration. And they want less immigration simply because there is less wealth to share around.
Despite the hugely successful anti-Pegida counter demonstrations, I see a more and more right-wing tilt to the European political and social landscape because of an under-performing European Union. Yes, Pegida went a bit too far right for many people’s taste, its basic tenets of radically decreased immigration will become the mainstream opinion.
That is, until the European economic machine splutters back to life and there is a need for more human capital. Capital that only immigrants can avail.