Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mirroring the Middle East

My comments follow the article:

New York Times

Latitude - Views From Around the World
January 9, 2012, 2:28 am

The New Scapegoats of Europe

One afternoon in November, Océane Sluijzer, a 13-year-old Belgian Jewish girl, was beaten up after soccer practice by a group of schoolmates. Her tormenters, girls of Moroccan descent, called her a “dirty Jew” and told her to “go back to her own country.”

Two weeks later, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium mentioned the beating in a speech about the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. Howard Gutman, himself a Jew, saw Océane’s plight as symptomatic of a larger problem: Jews and Muslims in Europe are caught in a proxy war that mirrors events in the Middle East, especially between Israel and the Palestinians.

“[E]very new settlement announced in Israel, every rocket shot over a border or suicide bomber on a bus, and every retaliatory military strike exacerbates the problem and provides a setback here in Europe for those fighting hatred and bigotry,” Gutman said.

He’s right: Politics in the Middle East refract into tensions between Jews and Muslims in Europe. Violence against Jews on the Continent tends to increase when violence rises between Israelis and Palestinians, for example. The National Consultative Commission on Human Rights counted 815 acts of anti-Semitic violence in France in 2009, compared with 459 the year before, and found that the uptick was a response to Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s bloody incursion into Gaza in early 2009.

But while incidents in the Middle East are relevant, the root cause of the problem between Jews and Muslims in Europe isn’t simply the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; it is primarily the failure of European states to integrate immigrants, Muslims in particular.

Governments throughout Europe have struggled for the last half-century to expand their notion of citizenship. Muslims who came from North Africa and Turkey as workers in the 1960s and early 1970s were expected to go home eventually. But they stayed and built families in Europe. Today, their children and grandchildren are still defined as second- and third-generation immigrants rather than as Belgian, French or German.

This is partly because many Europeans cannot quite imagine how Islam and a secular European identity might co-exist. It is also because the once-marginal anti-Muslim ideas of the far right have become more mainstream; Muslims have replaced Jews as the scapegoats of Europe. If Muslims in Europe so thoroughly identify with the Palestinian cause today — posters at rallies for the right to wear the hijab often call for a free Palestine — it is partly because a weak Palestine subs in for their own maligned population.

And so while Gutman’s diagnosis of the problem rings true, his fix for it is misguided. In that speech in late November, he said that the solution to tensions between Jews and Muslims in Europe “is in the hands of Israel, the Palestinians and Arab neighbors in the Middle East.”

In fact, the real answer lies much closer to home: according to a position-paper by the Brookings Institution, if Muslim communities in Europe felt less marginalization and had more economic opportunities, they would resort less to misdirected violence. Although attacks on Jews are scary and hard to explain away, there is no broad and systematic anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe, neither among Muslims nor among the rest of the population. This is not 1936.

The key to helping Belgians understand the attack on Océane is not to sit down with Benjamin Netanyahu. It is to sit down with the girls who punched her and find out how to make them feel welcome in Belgium.

Sarah Wildman writes about the intersection of culture and politics, and history and memory in Europe and the United States.


  1. Sarah Wildman has rather very cleverly tried to pass the buck from Israel to European countries, when the fact of strained relations between Muslims and the rest in practically each and every pluralist country of the world, has direct and instant connection between what goes on between Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East. Wildman should not ignore that in Europe, Muslims and Jews find themselves on the same side on issues like Halal/Kosher slaughter and had been jointly facing the anti-Semitic resurgence. It is the conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Palestinians that is inserting altogether a different and distinct dimension to strained relations between the two 'scapegoats' of Europe and that has got everything to do with Benjamin Netanyahu. And this dimension has a global over-reach, not particularly confined to EU countries.
    • Tired of Hypocrisy
    • USA
    " is primarily the failure of European states to integrate immigrants, Muslims in particular."

    Are you sure you have that phrased properly? I do think it may be the failure of Muslims, in particular, to integrate within European states. A perfect example is their adherence to religious law instead of secular law.

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    1. @Design Partner - There is no hard or fast rule about who should follow whom. In USA, the migrants did impose their 'civilisation' on the indigenous population. The assimilation is a tricky process. Sometimes it is gradual and peaceful. Other times, it is a violent rout of the host population. The West has a long history of subjugating the 'hosts' all over the world, both through the force of arms as well as the superiority of their civil societal norms. In EU, Muslims at least are not bearing arms.
      • Design Partner
      • Westchester Cty., NY
      Well said. If you move to another country it must be assumed you feel it's a better place. Logic and custom dictate that you assimilate not that the country change it's laws, language and customs to accomodate the newcomer. This has been the way of all immigrations. To expect to change the host country to suit the immigrant is ludicrous and will surely lead to animosity.
    • RW
    • New York
    No, it is not 1936, but it is 2012 and there is still anti-Semitism in Israel. The fact that it is hidden behind anti-Zionism does not change that. When people start making excuses for anti-Semitism and blaming it on outside factors, it will only continue the attitude of denial that has traditionally surrounded the scourge of anti-Semitism. if you believe it's wrong, then have the courage to say so.
    • sceptique
    • Gualala, CA
    Isn't the question how willing Europeans are to accept a minority retaining its religious and cultural identity, while at the same time how willing that minority is to assimilate? Not something either side has been very successful at.
      • Nora Williams
      • London
      Do Westerners integrate and embrace the culture of their host countries in Africa, Middle East or Asia?? What should be asked for is a middle ground and true respect among people living together !!
  1. What happened in London was NOT an eruption of frustration of arabic citizens. That is completely untrue, and a racist slur. Any examination of the Law Courts records will show the majority of the offenders were British and mostly white.
  2. I recommend you look up The Stanford Prison experiment and read Prof. Philip Zimbardo's book "The Lucifer Effect" wherein you will find evidence that strongly suggests ordinary, psychologically normal and decent people are capable of being twisted into behaving in abhorrent ways if you place them into the "wrong" environment. Understanding why people behave violently is not to excuse what they did/do but it can help us remedy what caused their behaviour and - more importantly - reduce the possibility of others walking the same path as them. Slamming terrorists into jail, or even killing them, won't stop terrorism; but understanding what caused them to become terrorists may help us improve the environments so they may no longer spawn terrorism.
    • Yefim S
    • Southampton PA
    If to say England with it csocial policies is not good enough, who is?
    Another thoiught: is there anything immigrants shoud do to adapt?
    Immigrant to US

  3. Shalom Freedman said, "there is no justification whatsover for the kind of wanton hatred displayed by many of the Islamic faith against Jews."

    Very true. Nor is there any justification whatsoever for the too common wanton hatred of Jews and Christians against Muslims.

  4. I agree that the word "scary" is insufficient, and "abhorrent" is not too strong a term. Prosecution of perpetrators should go forward, but that shouldn't necessarily preclude talking to and listening to the perpetrators, their families and their communities.
      • James A
      • Newport Beach
      Can we do the same when whites act this way towards immigrants or minorities?
      • ordinary person
      • America
      We should listen to them. More importantly they should listen to us. It should be made clear to the Islamic community that anti-Semtiism and violent attacks on little girls will not be tolerated. It should be made even clearer that such attacks will be prosuted to the fullest extent of the law. Muslims seem to want it both ways. They want us to respect their laws and societies while in their communities. But they don't want to respect our laws and our societies while living in a non-Muslim country. That's unacceptable.
  5. It would appear than Muslims have not successfully assimilated into the European social order. Their young people have not made the economic advances that other immigrants have, whether this is due to lack of opportunity or active discrimination or some combination of the two cannot be denied. However, there can be no denying that some of the fault rests with the Muslim population itself. Those that resist adopting the values of their new countries be it in the treatment of women or in their refusal to conform to the social mores of the country, have contributed to the marginalization of these citizens. Nevertheless, what ever happens to Palestinians or Israelis, there is no excuse for violence against fellow citizens. The them vs. us mentality will only prolong and justify the continued marginalization of the Muslim population in Europe. If Muslims wish to succeed in their new countries they must be citizens of those countries first and Muslims second. Anything else is doomed to failure.
    • D. Eustace
    • London
    ---has there ever been a case where a Muslim person was attacked by a Jewish person?---the article is sane, sound and very welcome.
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    1. If this is a generalization that no Jewish person had attacked Muslim person, it will not hold water, when the new globalized world is the backdrop.
    • Rob S.
    • Washington, DC
    Muslims in Europe often refuse to integrate into the societies in which they live, clinging tenaciously to their religious and ethnic identities. It is at best arguable that one can be a devout Muslim and also a tolerant Western European. Muslims not being accepted is not the problem - the combination of anti-Semitism and Islamic insistence is.
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    1. European Jews should be the last people to criticize Muslims for trying to hold on their religious and ethnic identities. Sarah Wildman cannot brush aside what travails they have gone through centuries in Europe. Her focus on Muslims as intractable and uncompromising ignores what her own people have gone through in the past.
    • Liesje
    • San Anselmo
    I wonder how Ms Wildman would have justified the actions of some Dutch schoolchildren who, soon after the war's end, called me, a Holocaust survivor, a "a dirty Jew. " It sickens me that these manifestations of hatred and prejudice against an innocent child can somehow be excused as reflections of frustrations and powerlessness on the part of the perpetrators. It so reminds me of the beliefs, quite common in Calvinist Holland before the war, that asked what the Jews had done to bring the Holocaust upon themselves.
    • Rick
    • Illinois
    Having lived in Europe for eleven years, I'm also aware that many muslims don't want to be assimilated. They don't want to embrace national values. They want to enjoy the benefits of the West while maintaining their own cultural identity.
  6. Why does Sarah Wildman want to "explain away" violence against Jews? We are, after all, talking about violence against Jews in Europe, the continent in which 1/3 of the Jewish people was murdered 70 years ago by the most industrially and intellectually advanced European country. If one cause of anti-Jewish attacks in Europe stems from Muslims scapegoating Jews for their problems, another cause is certainly the centuries-old history of European anti-semitism. It is abundantly clear that in today's Europe, European left-wing intellectuals often try to "explain away" anti-Jewish violence, just as Sarah Wildman does, because they are unwilling to acknowledge that both traditional European antisemitism still exists along with anti-semitism that has been fostered among Muslim immigrants by the widespread antisemitic propaganda that is endemic in the Arab and Muslim world. Refusing to face reality and simply referring to Muslims as the new Jews is yet another way to explain away anti-Jewish violence. It is of no use to Jews still trying to live in European countries.
    • James A
    • Newport Beach
    "he said that the solution to tensions between Jews and Muslims in Europe “is in the hands of Israel, the Palestinians and Arab neighbors in the Middle East.”

    Not at all. Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, gays and women in Europe and the US are expected not to beat up Muslim children despite the widespread persecution and injustice towards all groups in the Islamic world. If we can all restrain ourselves they can too. How about this "the solution to tensions between gays and Muslims, Christians and Muslims, Jews and Muslims, atheists and Muslims, Buddhists and Muslims, Hinduism and Muslims, women and Muslims worldwide is in the hands of the Organization of Islamic Countrires (OIC). If they want an end to Islamaphibia they must stop creating the breeding ground for it. This entails treating people of all religions, cultures, and ways of life with equal regard in all respects".

    • blackmamba
    • IL
    The perpetrators of the Crusades and the Inquistion that targeted both Muslims and Jews was the Roman Catholic Church and European Christian nations and their leaders.

    And the pogroms/ghettoes were common place among the Chrisian nations from West to East for many centuries thereafter.

    While the authors of the Holocaust and it's excesses and predecessors were Nazi Germany and it's fascist allies and rampant anti-Semitism in Christian European Empires..

    From the Balfour Declaration until the creation of the Jewish state of Israel the Muslims/Arabs/Palestinians rights were ignored. And ever since the ethnic cleansing of an alleged "land without people for a people without land" has continued. And the Arabs were moved from Turkish domination to British/Italian/French imperial domination.

    Israel is a theocratic colonial apartheid state sponsor of terrorism with nuclear weapons. It is no more a democracy vis a vis Israeli Arabs than were blacks in Jim Crow America. And Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are less free than were Americans under British rule.

    And ever since Abram of Ur,Sumer claimed that his God wanted him to invade and occupy Canaan in his name his Jewish/Christian/Muslim heirs have had problems getting along with each other and even within their faiths and with those of any other faith.

    This is all about human nature and theology. Where reason natural law and logic fail. And that is the connection.

      • herje
      • ft. lauderdale
      simply put, you are wrong.
      there is no apartheid in Israel. Israel may have nuclear weapons but not only don't admit it, but don't threaten anyone with them.
      people in the west bank or "occupied territories" are free to do as they please. they run their towns and communities with zero interference from Israel. There elections, if they have them are not run by Israel, their newspapers are not run by israel, their schools are not run by Israel, their politicians are not run by Israel.
      The restrictions that exist are restrictions to travel because of their threat to use suicide and other bombers to terrorize Israel. If they would promise to not bomb then there would be no travel restrictions.
      Ironically, the opposite is true; the west bank and all other arab areas/countries are apartheid. they do not allow jews to live there freely and if they do they are second class citizens whose lives, livelihoods, and property are constantly threatened........irony and hypocrisy!

    • Z
    • Bloomington, IN
    Violence is frightening, but the logic in this piece is scary.

    The writer, for no clear reason, says muslim anti-semitism in europe is caused by lack of integration. What is the evidence?

    Will improved integration decrease muslim anti-semitism? In Egypt, muslims are 90% majority yet they attack Copts who have been part of Egyptian society since before Muhammed. I don't see how muslims can be more integrated into Egyptian society.

    In Iran, the only muslim country with an appreciable Jewish community, the Jews are under siege as are Zoroastrians. The Iranian Bahai community is enthusiastically persecuted. Again, the problem is not muslim integration.

    Perhaps the problem is that intolerance is accepted. This is sometimes fobbed off as a religious problem (and there is a real contribution, there), but it is really a political problem.

    Too many politicians and social leaders particularly in europe take cheap shots at Jews using the proxy term zionist. Any 13 year old girl can tell you there is no difference.

    Perhaps the author of this piece should do a little investigation to recognize that Europe of 2012 used to be Europe of 1936.

  7. The "key" to addressing racial and religious hate and bigotry is 1) that the governments address and deal with their immigration problems, and I don't mean by kicking immigrants out. 2) Prosecute ALL perpetrators of hate crimes.
    • Bashy Quraishy
    • Copenhagen.Denmark
    The New Scapegoats of Europe By SARAH WILDMAN touches on a very important issue, namely the way European societies have been marginalizing Muslim communities in the last few decades and how it has contributed in anti-Semitism suffered by Jewish people.
    She also claims that while incidents in the Middle East do produce incidents of violence against Jews, the root cause of the problem between Jews and Muslims in Europe is primarily the failure of European states to integrate immigrants, Muslims in particular.
    I wish to point out that:
    1. Physical violence against Jewish people comes from individuals among Muslim communities and does not come from organized groups or represent the sentiment of Muslim communities. While there have been few cases of violence against Jewish people in some EU countries, France is the only country in Europe, where such has been widespread.
    2. Then there is the case of wide spread Islamophobia in Europe, also among some Jewish individuals and especially intellectuals who constantly demonize Islam and Muslims. Bernard –Henri Lévy of France is a good example. Luckily, Jewish-Muslim communal conflict is a perception, which has been highly exaggerated by some groups of politicians and media for their own agenda.
    3.Racism, discrimination and Islamophobia have always existed in Europe as has anti-Semitism. So let us not blame the Muslims for something, which Europeans have been past masters and still are.
    Kind regards

  8. The majority of western Europeans are more products of the Enlightenment, with a cultural (Judeo-) Christian understanding and sympathy. Americans and Muslims keep trying to drag this to a religious conflict, when the Europeans just don't think this way anymore. They resent Muslims framing the lack of integration in medieval terms like "Christian," "Jewish" and "Islamic," when it should be about "Middle Easterners" adapting to European culture. The Enlightenment and the secularization of Europe has led to the most stable, prosperous and happy era in the history of Europe. Frankly, if you can't make secularized society work for you, go somewhere else.
      • Nora Williams
      • London
      The conflict has nothing to do with religion. If you look at all religions, they are similar in their preaching, moralising, understanding, sympathy and also violence. "The enlightened Europe" you're talking about did lead people to ugly wars, genocide and colonization ... Let's have another look at human history and try to be logical to solve the problems of the 21st century. We need the thinking of the 21th century, a connected world and very complex economic and socio-cultural relationships !!
      • Advisor
      • Bangalore
      I think you make some very astute observation. As an aside, however, it is hard to accept that Enlightenment and what followed was a panaecia for all eveil. Afterall, it was European countries that looted and plundered much of the world in the colonial era, destroying the soul of enitire continents in the process. It was in Europe during early 20th century that mechanised warfare and mechanised slaughter were employed and perfected; It's only after the devastation of 2nd WW that Europe seems to have lost its appetite for violence. The present liberal environment is a pleasant and welcome development - but it is a recent development. It can't be attributed to Enlightenment and secularisation entirely. But I do agree with your larger point - it is precious, and should not be allowed to be jeopardised by anyone, immigrant or otherwise.
  9. Not to be too picky here, but that millions of Muslims who emigrated to Europe remain unassimilated sometimes generations later is wholly the fault of the host societies? It is nowhere the responsibility of the immigrant to fit into the nation to which he moves, but rather the problem of the recipient culture to make allowances for him?

    I'm sure European nations can be more accommodating, but shouldn't Muslims moving there make an effort to fit in as well? When influential elements in the Islamic immigrant communities in France and the UK seriously demand for their members to be under the rule of Sharia, somehow I can't completely blame the English and the French for being bad hosts as it is clear those making the demands are intent on recreating their countries of origin on European soil.

    Is perhaps the reason why Muslim immigrants have not become fully integrated into European society because no demands have been made upon them to do so? When the official governmental dogma is some hazy multiculturalism which is horrified at the prospect of expecting an immigrant to become culturally a member of the receiving society, why would they assimilate? Perhaps if it was clear that anyone immigrating must assimilate, they probably would. Expectations go both ways.

      • Nora Williams
      • London
      I would say the problem is first an economic integration which didn't take place. Poverty, lack of education and lack of opportunities engendered rejection on both sides. It's a vicious circle. People couldn't be dealt with as a tissue you throw away when used....
  10. After reading the other comments, maybe I should apologize for any ignorance on my part for simply complimenting the article. I was just seeing the glass half full as opposed to glass half empty in this article.
    I know this is a complex issue and yet simple too and is accompanied by highly charged emotions that I have the utmost respect for on all sides.
    I hope we all find it in our hearts to not contribute any further to the bad karma it can generate and sustain, turning it into the monster it remains in a tortuous loop of negativity, misunderstandings and even hatred and violence.
    Had Truman only heeded George Marshall's warnings and taken a different approach that took the Palestinians into account, showing them some consideration and respect too.
    And here we are all these years later.

    • Len Charlap
    • Princeton, N.J.
    "This is partly because many Europeans cannot quite imagine how Islam and a secular European identity might co-exist."

    But the author does not even attempt to answer the question of "how Islam and a secular European identity might co-exist."

    As Bernard Lewis once wrote, "There is no place in Islam for a secular government."

    • Worn out in Amityville
    • Amityville
    The failure is not Europe failing to integrate, it is the obligation of imigrants to integrate in the culture they move to. Sadly, multi-culturalism expects the host country and it's citizens to bend.
  11. Sarah Wildman gets it partially right when she says that problems between Muslims and Jews in Europe are due to the failure of European states to integrate Muslims into European society. There no doubt that Europe has a lot to learn from America in this regard. If Muslims begin to feel more at home as equals in different European countries, extreme attitudes should ease.

    This, however, does not explain the whole story. One can't ignore the negative impact of extremist Muslim leaders, the provocative anti-Israel and anti-Jewish media messages and images coming from the Middle East, and the bias toward Israel from the left, in particular, in Europe as factors contributing to anti-Semitic attitudes and incidents among Muslims in Europe.

    Ultimately, all these factors must be addressed in order to alleviate the surge of anti-Semitism in Europe that the continent has experienced in recent years.

    Abraham H. Foxman
    National Director
    Anti-Defamation League
    New York, NY

      • DG
      • New York
      Mr. Foxman, that was pretty generous. Partially right? This article is essentially saying that the anti-semites are the victims. To many of us, that is a very disturbing trend in the media.
      • Ron Cohen
      • Waltham, MA
      Islam is in transition, from a patriarchal, authoritarian culture to a modern and, one hopes, secular society. This won't happen overnight; it will be a multi-generational process. This is not an argument against opposing anti-semitism from whatever source. It is simply to offer some context for this excruciatingly complex issue.

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