One thing that has not been stressed in the coverage of the events in France is the fact that the percentage of Muslims inhabitants is almost equal to the percentage of blacks on the one hand - or Hispanics on the other - in the U.S.: It is 10%.
Unlike the situation in the U.S., where blacks have lived for centuries, and Hispanics have immigrated from countries that have been - at least nominally - independent for at least a century, the Muslims in France come primarily from former French colonies which did not achieve independence until the nineteen fifties or sixties, some, like Algeria, after a lengthy and bloody struggle.
North Africans were enrolled to defend France in both World Wars, and promises were made during the second of these which were either not kept or kept very tardily. Add to that the official secularism of France which has existed for over a century and constitutes for the French something akin to the first ten amendments of the constitution for Americans, and you can begin to see why the presence of Muslims is a major element in daily life and hence, in politics.
The complexity of the French situation is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that although the two brothers who killed twelve people at a satirical newspaper Wednesday claimed they were ready to die as martyrs, allied hostage-takers in a Jewish convenience store in Paris made good on their promise to kill them when the two brothers were gunned down in their hiding place.
The pan-European nature of the crisis is illustrated by the fact that heads of state or government from all over Europe - and the world - will attend a march in memory of the victims to be held on Sunday - a regular Franco-German summit being rescheduled - while the National Front party of Marine Le Pen was not invited. (Germany’s Muslims represent 7% of the population, which is about equal to the European average.)
While most analysts have focused on whatever happens to be the situation at any given moment, I have always thought the raw reaction to the increasing numbers of Muslims in Europe could only be halted by a sober consideration of broader numbers: the population of a largely under-developed Africa was expected to top one billion in 2014. The population of the European Union is half of that. For Africans struggling to earn a living in a continent that has been colonized in one way or another for over two centuries, in which traditional societies have given way to a ‘modernization’ that raises up only a small minority of citizens, Europe represents a promised land. (Americans need to know that the European welfare state, together with those of Scandinavia, represents the highest level of well-being in the world.)
It seems to me that nothing is going to stop the northward economic migration of Africans, while the logical place for refugees from a war-torn the Middle East is also Europe. Yet all signs are that no one in Europe is considering the numbers. Right-wing parties like that of Marine Le Pen in France merely add fuel to the fire, as they struggle to ‘defend’ their Christian traditions. For let’s not be coy about this: Islam is the fastest growing religion worldwide, and there is nothing ‘wild’ about the fears of Europe’s Christian population that Islam could eventually become the dominant religion on the continent. (It is no coincidence that the Catholic Church has given itself a Pope who breaks with almost every rigid tradition and very visibly reaches out to sectors of society that have hitherto been ignored by the Church.)
There are two other aspects of this crisis that deserve attention: one is that European leaders may begin to question the wisdom of teaming up with the US to lay down the law in Muslim countries by force. France is a special case because it’s prominence in the ‘fight against terrorism’ is closely linked to a colonial history that has morphed into close relations with ‘sovereign’ African states. (Italy could be the first to break ranks with the US led coalition, if campaigns against the use of its air-bases for bombing raids in Pakistan are any indication.) In this context, Vladimir Putin’s traditionalism is bound to be viewed differently by ‘secular’ heads of state than heretofore, because it includes Islam. Whereas Europe’s traditional right-wing parties see Islam as an enemy, Putin recognizes its value as a religion deserving of equal status with the Orthodox church. His policies and statements vis a vis the Muslim countries on Russia’s southern rim are a testament to that approach. The war in Chechnya is what makes the news; we hear little about Russia’s relations with the Stans, which support and encourage a modernizing and peaceful Islam. This is part of Putin’s overall attitude toward the world and relations with other countries, which should be based on cooperation and negotiation, the opposite of that of the U.S., which seeks ‘full spectrum dominance’ in order to pursue the global rule of the 1%.
I was gratified to see in the debate on France 24 (France’ s English language channel) that not all the participants rabidly defended Charlie Hebdo’s right to insult the leader of a major religion. And this brings me to the ‘free speech’ aspect of this crisis. Like many of my friends, most of the participants kept repeating: “I have a right to say anything I want. If I offend other people, that’s too bad. Free speech is an inalienable right.” These people have lost sight of the fact that in France as in the US and the rest of the Western world, free speech was originally about the right of citizens to criticize and even mock their government without being put in jail - as still happens in Muslim lands. Brain-washed by the consumer society they have come to equate free speech with the free choice of goods, while accepting a press that hides most of the truth most of the time. They are utterly indignant that a few followers of a foreign religion are ready to kill to avenge an insult (although not so long ago in Europe even personal insults resulted in duels), while being unperturbed by their government’s daily killing of innocent followers of that religion for the purpose of extending the reach of global industry and finance.
The cartoonists who were killed may have been convinced that they were merely exercising their right to free speech, and while they are right in claiming that this does not give individuals who feel offended the right to murder them, they are conveniently forgetting that their insults to Mohammed, that seek only to make people laugh, can be seen my Muslims as applause at the daily killing of innocent Muslim civilians across the world. Although the French Foreign Minister, Pierre Vals affirmed today that the fight is not against religion but against terrorism, claims that the killers were barbarians contradicts the fact that they were trained by Al Queda, whose motives are political.
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