The Europe Harakiri

The Europe Harakiri Photo Credits-JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
  • After the ISIS attacks in Brussels, it is high time Europe introspects on its political correctness. Maybe it should read a bit of history also, especially about Cordoba and the Battle of Tours.

FOR MILLIONS AROUND the globe whose ancestors have been subjected to the unspeakable horrors and cruelty of Western European colonialism, imperialism, exploitation and genocide for the last 700 years or so, it would be quite appropriate to watch the recent events in the northern continent with a certain amount of glee and satisfaction. The one word that comes nearest to describing these feelings is appropriately a German one, schadenfreude, that has wormed its way into common English parlance in the last 70-odd years, as humankind came to grips with the conduct of the Germanic people. This is a word that sums up an entire mindset and needs two to three lines to spell out its ramifications. The most acceptable rendering would be “deriving pleasure from the misery, sorrow, pain or unhappiness of others”.

More on the German connection later.

The queries that rise in our minds are the following. Is it divine retribution that is striking the sahibs after so many centuries ? The gods in heaven are finally dispensing justice? Neither of these explanations, of course, even gets to the basics. A certain historical backdrop may give us more insight.

For centuries, the world of Islam has suffered from the Cordoba syndrome, a nostalgia for the good old days when the Moors ruled the Andalusian city of Cordoba and its surrounding regions. From its initial capture in 711 by the Moors who made it the capital of the Islamic Caliphate, till its recapture in 1236 by the Spaniards during the Reconquista, the city marked the northernmost extension of the Islamic world. The loss of Cordoba was symbolised by the conversion of the Great Mosque into a cathedral, although the artwork of the original mosque is still preserved. In the world of Islam, there is a mystique about Cordoba that always resonates in the minds of Muslims everywhere.

The other two events that have similar significance in the Muslim psyche are the Battle of Tours (between the two towns of Poitiers and Tours in southern France) in 732, when the Frankish king Charles Martel put paid to the ambitions of the Moors to invade France. We are in the good company of eminent historians like Gibbon (of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire fame) and Creasy who have asserted that a defeat of the Franks in Tours would have permitted Islam to capture the whole of Gaul (present-day France) and possibly the remainder of Western Europe.

Gibbon went so far as to say that the Umayyad armies would have even captured England, had not Charles Martel won. Creasy was even more eloquent: “The great victory won by Charles Martel decisively checked the career of Arab conquest in Western Europe, rescued Christendom from Islam, and  preserved the relics of ancient and the germs of modern civilization.”

The final nail in the coffin of the Islamic attempt to conquer Europe was provided by the victory of the Polish king John III Sobieski, in the Battle of Vienna in September 1683, against the Ottoman army commanded by the Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha. After this catastrophic defeat, the world of Islam gave up its attempt to conquer Europe.

This foray into history is essential if we want to understand (however incompletely) the current happenings in Europe. The old continent is being swamped by an unending avalanche of refugees from the Islamic world. The Mediterranean is turning out to be a facilitator rather than the buffer it once was. Indeed, it is a crisis, the like of which the world has not seen for decades. And Europe seems to be completely defenceless against an influx like this. The tragedy is of a scale that is difficult to describe and the human sufferings one has seen on screen and in print are heart-rending.

However, we must be clinically objective when we assess what is happening. The influx of refugees that is swamping Europe is overwhelmingly Muslim. If there are any non-Muslims, such as Christian Copts or Yezdis in the midst of this throng, they are in a minuscule minority or possibly nil, since there are plausible reports and accounts that non-Muslims trying to join the influx are summarily dealt with by their Muslim fellow-travellers.
Once the refugees land in Europe (whether in Greece or earlier in Italy), they count on the tolerance, kindness and patience of the ordinary citizens of these countries to give them temporary shelter and sustenance, until they can make their way to Germany or the UK, two destinations they rightly perceive to be safe (and comfortable) havens, where they can enjoy a living standard they could only have dreamt of in their home countries.

Germany, again, turns out to be the centre point in this whole scenario. This is a Germany that displays an official face completely different from any of the xenophobia once associated with that country. International students of European culture and civilization are simply bamboozled by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s stand on West Asian and North African shelter-seekers in Germany. Many observers are asking themselves whether Germany’s conduct in the present crisis is a direct outcome of a severe guilt conscience about its horrendous crimes and genocides in the last century. Merkel herself is an East German and clearly went through the strict de-Nazification and detoxification educational programmes of the Communist regime in the erstwhile German Democratic Republic (GDR).

The ground realities are crystal clear—Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU)-SPD coalition government  allowed more than 1.1 million migrants from West Asia and North Africa to enter the country in 2015. The result was a security nightmare, with widespread incidents of the new migrants (predominantly from Muslim backgrounds) raping and assaulting women and children with virtual impunity.
During the Christmas and New Year public celebrations, the city of Cologne was virtually held hostage by thousands of young men from North Africa and West Asia, who were seen on camera and TV running amok and assaulting any women they could get hold of. The German police and security apparatus were caught unawares and they did practically nothing to control the mayhem.

Whether they were under orders to hold back is something that is still being debated.
Germany’s immediate and near neighbours also felt the heat. Countries like Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Slovenia etc which were being used by the refugees as transit points in their journey from Greece to Germany also came under severe pressure.

However, the administrations in all these countries adopted strict measures to ensure that the refugees did not create too much disorder and problems during their transit. The Czech Republic flatly refused to entertain any refugees and took a strong stand on making the Schengen visa-free system more secure.

Merkel is now facing a backlash from the German electorate, with the AfD party winning convincingly in elections in two states of the country. One must remember that the AfD is a party that was founded only in 2013 on a platform that was opposed to the European Union, and it advocates measures like the abolition of the single European currency.

Currently, it is the third-largest party in Germany and is on track to cross the 5 per cent threshold in the 2017 general elections, so that it will qualify for seats in the national parliament, the Bundestag. In any case, it poses a major challenge to the country’s established political order.

Despite all this, Merkel is obstinately pursuing her existing policies on asylum seekers, without appearing to be worried about the major sociopolitical upheavals that are staring her country in the face.
At the other end of Europe, we have the UK, which is also going around like a headless chicken, as it dilly dallies about the hordes of Muslim immigrants that are threatening to swamp the crowded island nation. It has even turned a blind eye to the problems being faced by France, as the latter tries to tackle the problem of UK-bound refugees who transit through France.

The Channel town of Calais  that serves as the border-control point for travelers to Britain has become a gigantic refugee camp, leading to considerable friction between these two neighbours and almost threatening the old (but always fragile) Entente Cordiale.

Yet, the Cameron government and the other British parties, particularly the Labour Party, have not been able to come out with  any cohesive ideas on this vexed issue.

The Scandinavian countries have always been active in combating racism and have been very tolerant about the non-Europeans whom they have permitted to enter their countries in the past. Despite their commendable record in this matter, they, too, have seen a dramatic spurt in the aggressiveness of the Muslim residents who are their citizens.

In terms of the number of Muslims who now make Europe their home, hard figures are not readily available. Also, there are legal restrictions in many countries on carrying out a religious headcount; France, for example, does not permit any racial or religious profiling of its citizens in its census.

However, some studies place the number of Muslims in the EU at around 17 million at the turn of the century (2000). This number rose to around 25 million in 2010, according to Pew Research, though this figure has not been fully calibrated and fine-tuned.

After the influx of last year, it would be safe to assume that all these exercises will have to be redone and the results will become even more dramatic. All that we can say is that Europe has entered a very critical and sensitive phase in its history. Even hard-nosed and objective non-Europeans will admit that the continent is facing an existential threat.

An existing Muslim population, already radicalised to a great degree, is being supplemented by Muslim immigrants who are even more fundamentalist.

For all its crimes and misdemeanours, the old continent has made remarkable contributions to humanity and the world. Can it continue to do so, when its social fabric will be subjected to violent strain?

Good old Marx and Engels wrote in 1848 that “a spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre…”

This spectre came true some decades after this was written. This writer has never fought shy of admiring the perceptive assessment of these two giants in many areas of social studies, even while being severely critical of the rest of their theses and even more critical of the ethics and conduct of most Marxists. However, it would be an interesting flight of fantasy to guess what these two would have thought of the danger that confronts Europe today. The Cordoba syndrome taking its revenge?

Jay Bhattacharjee is a policy and corporate affairs analyst based in Delhi.

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