The barriers between Muslims and the West
New barriers are rising between Muslims and the West, and too many of them are separating Europe from its neighbours south of the Mediterranean. Some of these barriers take the form of barbed wire, such as the 175-kilometre fence being erected by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Hungary. The Hungarians hope this barrier, which will be in place by the end of August, will stop illegal migrants, many of whom hail from war-stricken Middle East countries and are seeking to enter the Schengen zone from next-door Serbia.
Every country has the sovereign right to enforce its immigration policies. There is historic irony, however, in the fact that a country that was among the first to breach the Iron Curtain is now building one of its own in Central Europe. More damaging, however, are the statements recently made by Mr Orbán in justifying his decision.
The barrier, he warned, was intended to prevent “the disappearance or, more precisely, the transformation beyond recognition of the European citizen’s lifestyle, European values and the European nations”.
A higher barrier he tries to build is fear. “It is clear,” says Mr Orbán, “that we can’t filter out the hostile terrorists in the huge crowds.” He also alleged that there is a “drastic increase” in crime in places where illegal migrants live.
The discourse of the Hungarian leader has clear racist undertones. The Associated Press quotes him as saying: “The really serious threats are arriving not from the war zones … but from the depths of Africa. North Africa today can no longer defend Europe from the immense masses of people.” Who knew that North Africa’s role was to “defend” Europe from Africans?
Unfortunately, Mr Orbán’s views are shared by too many in Europe’s intolerant fringe and beyond. An opinion poll undertaken in July by the French polling company IFOP showed that 44% of the French believe that France’s Muslim community represents “a threat to the identity of the country”. Among followers of the extreme right wing National Front the response was 90%. About one-third of all French and 72% of National Front followers believe Islam itself poses a “threat” to France.
Intolerance easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Bigotry leads to disenfranchisement and marginalisation reinforces the religious extremists’ argument that they were right all along to refuse social integration in Western nations.
Europeans are right to try to shield themselves from the fallouts of war and terror. They cannot, however, eschew their responsibility towards migrants fleeing armed conflict, terror and hunger.
They cannot shield themselves from entire nations on the other side of the Mediterranean. Europe’s neighbours to the south are suffering dire circumstances that, if not addressed, will eventually swell the ranks of illegal immigrants and increase the popularity of radicals.
But much of the onus falls as well on the shoulders of Arab and Muslim nations, which need to put their houses in order and weed out extremism in their midst. Western bigotry is ugly and, ultimately, self-defeating. But denouncing bigotry in the West alone is not enough.