Pankaj Mishra on Islamophobia

Pankaj Mishra has a fantastic article out in last weekend’s Guardian Review.  He takes on a shocking range of well-received books that seem designed to stoke fears of the scary Muslims taking over the world, or at least Europe.  So far, so depressing.  But reading the article, I discovered how many of my own beliefs about both Islam and Europe were false, and played into the stereotypes feeding the fears– despite my being a well-educated leftist who takes herself to keep up with things pretty well, and certainly not to uncritically accept right-wing myths.

For example:

I believed that the Muslim birthrate in Europe was rising.  I thought people were wrong to think this was scary, but I did think it was true.  It’s not.  The Muslim birthrate is falling.

I believed that French Muslims were very religiously observant.  Again, I wasn’t frightened by it, but I though it was true.  Only 5% of Muslims in France regularly attend mosque.

I believed that Europe had a history of tolerance.  Not sure how I managed that one, given that:

as the historian Tony Judt has pointed out, the modern idea of Europe – the presumed embodiment of democracy, human rights, gender equality and many other good things – conveniently suppresses collective memories of brutal crimes in which almost all European states were complicit.

Genocide during the second world war followed by ethnic cleansing were what finally resolved Europe’s longstanding minority “problem”, blasting flat, Judt writes, “the demographic heath upon which the foundations of a new and less complicated continent were then laid”. In Europe’s largest migrations of refugees, some 13 million ethnic Germans fled Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania after the war. The eviction of other ethnic groups (Poles, Czechs, Slovaks) brought many countries closer to fulfilling the Versailles ideal of national homogeneity.

I urge you to read this excellent article. (Thanks, Mr Jender!)

6 thoughts on “Pankaj Mishra on Islamophobia

  1. My poor mind is challenged by Judt’s idea that a less complicated continent has foundations laid on a demographic heath that was blasted flat. Ouch!

    Jender, given you went to school in the States, I’m wondering if the problems of the ethnic minorities just weren’t well addressed in history texts.

    I did heard a lot about the Poles, Czechs and Slovaks, but they were all connected religiously to Catholicism, even if some were Eastern Rite. Young Polish priests were prized, I have to say. From a distance, of course.

  2. Whenever people speak of “Europe” as if it were some kind of unity, I tend to roll my eyes.
    Apart from the continent here is no Europe. There is no European culture, no European health care system or school system, no European food, no European architecture or whatever. That is to say, when you say you had European food or saw European architecture, it’s completely nondescriptive.
    Europe is a continent with 50 souvereign states and 23 different languages, and the cultural diversity is huge.
    I have no idea WHOSE “modern idea of Europe” Tony Judt talks about, it’s certainly not mine. But then I am not a European: I am Dutch.
    Ok. And now I will read the article :)

  3. Damn good point about “Europe”, Hippocampa. I think both Americans and British tend to treat Europe as a monolith (though for the latter this view is complicated by an occasional acknowledgment that the UK is in fact part of Europe).

  4. Pankaj Mishra doesnt seem too bothered with getting his facts right. He claimed in the Guardian article that “the British National Party . . . .have repackaged their foundational antisemitism, and now accuse Muslims rather than Jews of secretly conspiring to control the world.”

    This is bunk. I’ve kept an eye on BNP literature for the last 8 years or so. The BNP may be guilty of all sorts of sins, but antisemitism just aint there in BNP literature: at least no more so than it appears in respectable newspapers like The Guardian. Indeed, there is a Jewish BNP councillor !

  5. Just stumbled upon this brilliant piece of journalism…

    Which also elegantly expresses a complete lack of clue about Europe. Note the funny comparison of Sweden to Amsterdam (and everyone knows that Denmark is the capital of Amsterdam, right?), the mentioning of “Europe as a welfare state”, European this and that with no actual representation (see my previous comment), the meandering between asylumseekers and immigrants, the curious difference between the Muslim immigrants to the US (modern) and the ones to “Europe” (very conservative), and and and…

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