Sunday 13 August 2023

Europe: A Cultural Time Bomb?

I start by surveying the origins of the social problems gripping most European societies: rising crime, radicalism, racialism and Jihadism, mainly among the youth of Black and Muslim groups throughout Western countries. A worrying counterculture sweeping Europe is demographically impacting its social fabric. I then sketch out their causes and how they are intertwined, mostly stemming from poverty, discrimination, alienation, marginalisation and feelings of being left out. I then propose ideas on how Europe needs to respond to achieve social cohesion and adapt to the inevitable incoming cultural diversity. 

At the end of WWII, Europe (as in all references, I include Britain as part of Europe) wanted to get back on its feet, clear up the destruction the war had caused, begin reconstruction and re-industrialise.  Manual labour was in short supply, so the countries turned to their former colonies.  Britain turned to its former Caribbean, Indian, and African countries.  France primarily relied on Algerians, Moroccans and other former North African colonies.  Although Germany did not share in the carving of Africa, like Belgium, it was reluctantly granted a place in the sun.  It also had allies such as Turkey.  From these sources, it invited a labour force mainly working as guest workers in the car and construction industries.  Germany also turned to Morocco, Portugal, Tunisia and Yugoslavia to work its mines and to satisfy its other booming sectors.  There was also a wave of Irish immigrants to post-war Britain, mainly employed in heavy work, building trade and infrastructure. 

The import of human labour continued throughout Europe, including Spain, Holland and Italy.  This cheap foreign labour put to jobs that the local inhabitants would rather not do.  The social implication constituted a dividing line that ran parallel to previously imbued racial ideas of the white man's preeminence over the 'other'.  In Britain, this influx of foreign labour created faint signs of xenophobic tendencies, enough for some landlords to put up signs "No Irish no blacks, no dogs" in windows of rented accommodation.  Derogatory Terms such as Wog, P*ki, etc., increased.

The spark of prejudice and discrimination lit up, but as yet too dim to the naked eye.  Only, it would crystallise in the European social outlook and in many European institutions, including law enforcement.  Up until now, European authorities were unaware that ubiquitous social attitudes of superiority were taking hold and would act as stored markers in the future.  However, social stratification and categorisation were indeed taking place.  A Nigerian person in Nigeria is identified by his tribe and by his Religion.  The same person in Germany is identified as Nigerian or African, while he is recognised as Black in Britain. Bearing in mind that by 1914, Europe held roughly 85 per cent of the earth as colonies, protectorates, dependencies, dominions, and commonwealths, it is no wonder that most immigrants into Europe were either Black or Muslim. 

Nonetheless, the flow of multiethnic and multi-religious people continued, changing Europe's industrial and commercial landscape.  The economies of Europe expanded at a phenomenal pace.  In Britain, the average annual growth of GDP was raised – from an average of 3 per cent to 3.6 per cent between 1962 and 1973.  Real GDP per capita by the end of that period had risen by 45 per cent.  Moreover, the 1960s also saw a notable rise in labour productivity.  At the start of the decade, it was growing by 2.6 per cent a year; by 1967, the annual growth rate was 6.4 per cent. 

In early August 1972, the President of Uganda, Idi Amin, ordered the expulsion of his country's Indian minority, giving them 90 days to leave the country.  Most of them are holders of British nationality, granted to them for building the Kenya-Uganda African Railways, so Britain was the obvious choice of refuge.  Their arrival added to an already complex cultural mix, fuelling further prejudices.  Similar intakes were happening elsewhere.  Europe at this time was seeing tremendous growth in economic immigration.  Yet the countries concerned remained undeterred by changes to its social complexion, unaware they were constructing a 'problem', as yet, a pixelated view of cultural complexities.  Even from these early stages, they should have noted that cultural differences must be appreciated and understood.


Two economic classes of migratory people into Europe had given rise to population dynamics and city demographic changes.  Those who come to Europe for work tend to congregate, building up distinct pockets of culture and enjoying their shared language and customs within their closely-knit communities.  In Britain, for instance, the Irish Catholic went to Kilburn in inner London, those of Indian origin housed in South Hall West London, and later arrivals concentrated in Harrow, Kingsbury and Wembley areas of North London.  At the same time, people from Muslim Pakistan went to Tower Hamlet in East London.  A slum area part of London, which had previously housed mainly Russian Jews escaping the numerous Pogroms and who gradually moved to Golders Green and Hendon in North London.  Those from Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, went to the Green Street area of Forest Gate, East Ham, while Caribbean people joined in Brixton, South London and Jamaicans in Notting Hill.  People who come in for humanitarian reasons tend to be more affluent, integrated more efficiently in terms of housing and education and more geographically distributed, living in central London and its outer suburbs.  However, all these clusters of immigrants had no wish to mix with natives but tended to stick to their cultural communities, sharing a common language and customs as those they left behind.  The same overall grouping occurred in Birmingham, Leicester, Manchester and Liverpool.

 A similar shaping of social landscapes was taking place in Germany's Berlin, Cologne and Frankfurt cities.  While in France, people mainly from Almaghreb, North Africa, which includes Tunisians and Algerians, heavily concentrated mainly in Paris and less so in Lyons and Marseilles, South of France.  Immigrants who made their homes in both countries worked in the mining, steel, construction, and automotive industries.  Their woman took up domestic work for extra income.  At the same time where such heavy concentrations of common identities were located, shoots of counter-ideological forces began to surface.  Faced with the downturn of the economy in France and Britain, economic hardship coupled with neglect in government housing re structural policies, second-generation immigrants felt deprived and disadvantaged, an anger that showed itself in the increase of ideological radicalism.  Immigrants started to be perceived not as Immigrants from Morocco, Pakistan or Turkey but as "Muslims".  More of that later. 

Frustration and Anger; an easy go-to emotion, began to surface in earnest, and both had different strands that showed in many ways: Rioting and looting by the Black community and the terrorising that later ensued by Muslim radicals.  It goes without saying that the vast majority of both communities are law-abiding individuals, and only a tiny minority indulge in rioting and religious fanaticism.

It is interesting to understand why such escape routes were chosen and what European government institutions can do to prevent them.  Let me take the Black issue before embarking on the more challenging Muslim 'problem'.  Both are analogous; although linked in many ways, at the same time, they diverge in other ways.  The Black minorities' route to violence through negative emotions such as anger and frustration ends up in what is sometimes dubbed 'grievance culture'.  This is mainly evidenced these days by increases in serious youth violence and knife crime, often caused by drugs and gang culture.  Studies show the main reason is racial discrimination, repression and lack of opportunities in work, housing and barriers they face to social mobility.  Having closely examined the issues involved, there are clear signs of racial disparities marked by colour prejudice.

Black people face unacceptable difficulties in simply finding somewhere to live or getting a decent job because of their skin colour, according to findings from a major repeat survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.  Many from deprived and disadvantaged families are neglected in care homes, living under constant threat of exploitation, eviction, and arrests.  Take racial harassment: 30% of respondents say they have been racially harassed in the last five years; 5% have been physically attacked, and around a quarter of black people experienced racial discrimination at work or when looking for work.  Young black people are especially vulnerable; in some countries, up to 76% are not in work, education or training compared to 8% of the general population.  14% of respondents say private landlords will not rent accommodation to them.  This is especially problematic, as only 15% own property, as opposed to 70% of the EU's general population.  In addition, 45% live in overcrowded housing compared to 17% of the general population.  Discriminatory profiling in police stops is also an issue: 24% of respondents were stopped by the police in the last five years.  Among those stopped, 41% felt the stop constituted racial profiling, which undermines trust in policing and community relations.

Faced with such high hurdles, many opt out of the education and employment system but take more accessible routes to better themselves—drugs and gangster culture, which inevitably leads to rioting, looting, serious youth violence, and knife crime.  Opting out is also mirrored in the make-up of the social fabric of much of the black community, where single mothers living in ghetto-like council estates suffer absent fathers, child neglect, deprivation, and an altogether dysfunctional style of life.  Unfortunately, it is so often popularised by the media as Black people's disease.

The second part of this article is about the 'Muslim' problem'. Terrorism and violence are among the first things many people think about when coming to this subject, which can generate both racist ideas, Islamophobia and hate crime. So, what drives youths, by all evidence, a tiny Muslim minority, towards that end.? Aside from the similarities we found towards black people here, there is an addition of a vital element: Religion. Many studies on the subject, however, dispute elements of Religion are the factors since most of those turning to violence are not religious zealots or picked up their teachings in Mosques or religious schools. Different studies show different conclusions. Much evidence suggests other complex series of societal dysfunction factors involved in causing barbarous carnage. While many other experts dispute this, they believe ideological factors veer these youths towards Radicalism, Jihadism and violence. 

Both sides agree these youngsters have become "radicalised," a process through which vulnerable Muslims are groomed for extremist violence by those who champion hate:

1-The claim is that people become terrorists because they acquire specific, usually Religiously informed, extremist ideas.

2-These ideas are acquired differently from those in which people receive other extremist or oppositional ideas.

3-A conveyor belt leads from grievance to religiosity to adopting radical beliefs to terrorism.

4-The insistence that what makes people vulnerable to acquiring such ideas is that they are poorly integrated into society.

Jamie Bartlett, head of the Violence and Extremism program at the British think tank Demos, argues that such terrorism "shares much in common with other counter-cultural, subversive groups of predominantly angry young men."

It also follows that those who spurn secularised ideological differences, upholding self-proclaimed righteous codes of conduct, and wish to impose them on others are the principles markers of fanaticism.  These intolerable attitudes towards others' way of life lay the rules of incompatibility.  Inversely, visible features of marginalisation, the pull away from the mainstream invisible and peaceful vast Muslim majority.  They perceive an array of moral wrongs by the mainstream while allowing a build-up of multiple grievances against the not-like-minded, including fellow Muslims, ending in terrorist activities against clubs, theatres, Churches and even Mosques.

But Religion is not always the ruling factor in violence.  There are many home-grown youngsters whose orientation is at the opposite end of Religion.  Anger and frustration fill their everyday life, and they feel left out without a chance to better themselves.  They feel alienated from the mainstream and realise they are incapable of achievements, causes for which many of them can not reason.  Unable to reach where they want to be, prisoners within themselves without any release opportunity from a nightmare.  Their only way to express themselves is through intolerance, crime and violence. 

 As such, there are clearly many strands to the problems and, equally so, many threads to be tied together by those in governments to introduce effective measures for Europeans to integrate.  Harmony is of the essence before time runs out and for the divisions to turn from social to political since the Hard Right is eager to capitalise on riots and civil unrest in Europe's capitals.  The parties of the Right have been steadily gaining traction among voters and consolidating power in recent years in tandem with increased immigration due to Europe's open borders policies.  The sudden and high rates of imports of immigrants, mainly from Muslim countries, clearly put a strain on Europe's social fabric, exhausting the provisions on health, housing and education. 

As I see it, the keys to integration are three-fold.  I call for the general white native populations, the immigrants, the government, and voluntary organisations for providing the essential tools.  Remember that blacks and Muslims living in the EU are a highly diverse mix of ethnicities, languages, secular and religious tendencies, cultural traditions and political convictions.  Often, the second generation, although of similar makeup, is more challenging to handle, having experienced some of the prejudices faced by their parents.

Now for the more challenging 'Muslim' problem, in my opinion, its possible causes and possible remedies. 

Many European Muslims, particularly young people, face barriers to their social advancement. This could give rise to a feeling of hopelessness and social exclusion. Racism, discrimination and social marginalisation are serious threats to integration and community cohesion. Discrimination against Muslims can be attributed to Islamophobic attitudes and racist and xenophobic resentment, as these elements are often intertwined. Available data on Muslim victims of discrimination show that European Muslims are often disproportionately represented in areas with poorer housing conditions. At the same time, their educational achievement falls below average, and their unemployment rates are higher than average. Muslims are often employed in jobs that require lower qualifications. As a group, they are over-represented in low-paying sectors of the economy. This could give rise to a feeling of hopelessness and social exclusion.

For example, in the UK, a radio programme produced by the BBC in 2004 carried out an exercise where 50 firms received applications from six fictitious candidates with names strongly suggesting white British, African or Muslim background. The white candidates were more likely (25 per cent) than the black (13 per cent) applicants to be invited to interview, while those with a Muslim name (9 per cent) had the least success. In France in 2004, the University of Paris sent out standard curricula vitae identifiable as being from a variety of ethnic groups in response to 258 job advertisements for a salesperson. It was found that a person from North Africa had a five times less chance of getting a positive reply. The same is found to apply to educational facilities and housing, and altogether, like the black population, severe restrictions on social mobility are a general failure of meritocracy.

Moreover, discrimination and social profiling can run along these lines. A European Muslim can not be Iraqi/British or Algerian/French, the same as he can not be Catholic/Muslim. There is no such thing as American/Arab or American/Muslim, only Arabs or Muslims. Going off topic a little, in America, for instance, the government has denied the Arabs their individual and exclusive identity, and they remain invisible and outside the political arena as a consequence. American prejudice runs: "You can hit an Arab free; they're free enemies, free villains—where you couldn't do it to a Jew or you can't do it to a black any more." Or, when an Arab/American says 'we', a white American asks, "Who do you mean?"

To meet the ideological and racial conundrums, since integration is inevitable in minimising social disturbances, we need to overcome several myths as a starting point.  The apparent failure to integrate by Muslims has been viewed in cultural terms, that is, as a failure to adapt to European culture and to adopt European norms, values and styles. In other words, Muslims do not integrate because they are Muslims, and Islam is perceived as incompatible with Western culture and values. A further problem is that Islam has been constructed as a problem.  To damp down the growing anti-Islam sentiments that have recently arisen due to increases in migration.  To understand the cultural difference not to lump all Iraqi, Iranian, Moroccan, and Pakistani not by nationalities but Muslims. People from Morocco and people from Afghanistan have only religion and Islamic culture in common and nothing else.   

It is important to note, religious violence is not exclusively directed to Muslims but is widespread among other religious groups.  Antisemitic violence exists in all its forms as well as antichristian violence directed at Christian groups.  People do ask why this Christophobia goes mostly unreported and those committed in places like Pakistan receive little interest.

I argue, therefore and advocate the following suggestions. Measures and practices that tackle discrimination and address social marginalisation should become policy priorities.  Also, they should incorporate anti-racism and diversity training in their police training programmes.  To implement support measures for migrants and minorities, including Muslims, to provide them with equal opportunities and prevent their marginalisation.  Minorities should be actively consulted in formulating policies aimed at social integration.  Governments must encourage and intensify their efforts to improve employment opportunities, particularly social mobility for minority youth, Black and Muslims alike.  Discussing racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and discouraging religious hostilities should be part of official school curricula.  To encourage to engage, especially among the youth, more actively in public life (e.g. in political, economic, social and cultural institutions and processes).  Media are encouraged to implement recruitment and training initiatives for journalists to better reflect the diversity that exists in European society.  States are encouraged to enact or reinforce legislation on Internet service providers to prevent the dissemination of illegal, racist material.  Last but not least, new training is an opportunity for culture change in policing, undertaking measures to rebuild public trust.  Increasing the representation from ethnic minority communities across the country introducing guidelines, if not disbanding racial profiling.  These encouragements will set trends in bringing fresh perspectives, helping to build a service more representative of the public it serves and instilled with the right culture, hoping to eliminate incidents such as the recent French riots.

Integration must not stop at the gates of the host country, but the Muslim community needs to acknowledge its share of responsibility and play its part.  Because part of the reason for resisting integration among people of the host country is Islamophobia.  Much of this fear stems from the continued scenes of violence in Pakistan, Afghanistan and from most of the Arab countries. 

At the popular level, Islamophobia is very powerful in generating anti-Islam sentiment leading to hate crimes and hate speech. Hardening of attitudes also dramatically increasing, as revealed by a special study on Islam by the Bertelsmann Foundation. Taking Germany as a case study, the 2014 public opinion survey shows the following alarming percentages: 57% of Germans believe that Islam poses a threat; 61% are convinced that Islam is incompatible with the West; 40% say that 57% that“because of Islam I feel as a stranger in my country”; and 24% think that Muslims should not be allowed to immigrate to Germany.  Also, in the UK, according to YOU GOV, a survey in England revealed that 49% agreed that there would be a clash of civilisations between Muslims and native white Britons.  

Muslim countries can not ignore these figures, they need to accept some of these findings because they are counted as responsible for the degradation of Islam.  They can not dismiss the rising tide of Islamophobia by dismissing it by suggesting it is a sort of incurable Western illness.  Also, they defend their position by claiming that European-native Jihadists or ISIS sympathisers do not represent real Islam.  Moreover, some rich Muslim countries need to stop exporting nihilistic fundamentalist movements while keeping a tight grip on protest and dissent at home.  The same applies to teachings in Mosques and Madrassas in host countries. Such measures will help to narrow the cultural distances between Muslims and other religions.

In conclusion, some 25 million Muslims and an estimated 10 million black people live in Europe.  A clash of cultures is bound to come unless Madrasses, Mosques, government institutions and NGOs help to stamp out Islamophobia and mitigate the harmful rhetoric coming from the far-right parties.  Racial stereotyping, force, surveillance, stigmatisation and repression do not answer social problems like Radicalism, Jihadism, youth violence and knife crime.   Greater efforts are needed to emphasise social-economic integration, civic participation and equal citizenship, as opposed to ethnic solidarity. However, Europe may be at a crossroads but remain determined to find solutions to quell the anger and accommodate minority interests by exploring adequate measures while remaining mindful of cultural differences.  Finally acknowledging, multiculturalism is an inescapable part of European life, and accepting that Europe is changing its colour and starting to appreciate the social reconstruction of its peoples and the richness that comes with cultural diversity.

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