by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 6, Shawwal, 1437)
Europe’s mask of civility is off. Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment are rampant and expressed openly. Our correspondent offers some tips on how to go about living and traveling in Europe.
Brexit, the cancellation of Austrian presidential elections, the wave of terrorist attacks worldwide including in Europe, the economic crisis, and the EU’s imperialist meddling in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is shifting Europe toward the right. In this type of atmosphere, being a Muslim and travelling on the European continent requires some savvy.
Every year, when for a few weeks visiting my parents back home in Europe, my family and I encounter blatant or implied racism and xenophobia. Today even implied xenophobia is getting more blatant. From intense stares on the public transport system to outright rudeness with a flavour of disdain for “immigrants,’’ one has to learn how to deal with it. This article aims to provide some practical advice.
First, not all EU citizens are racist. One must not commit the mistake of overgeneralization even if one reads that the Council of Europe is alarmed by the public manifestation of racism in the EU. There are millions of EU citizens combating racism on a daily basis and facing hardships for doing so. Islamically this would be an act of injustice to paint innocent people with the broad racism brush. Also, by generalization one will be giving credence to the right-wing narrative. In addition, it will make basic interaction with the people cold, somewhat tense, and awkward.
Second, speak English if you need to. If you are a citizen of the EU who has been living away from the continent for a long time and your German, French, Spanish, or Italian is not what it used to be, simply speak English. It helps eliminate the perception of an unwanted immigrant. In the summer season you will be viewed as a tourist and not another immigrant who is misusing the social welfare system. Even though it was PEGIDA leader Tom Balazs who was fined by a Dresden court for defrauding Germany’s social welfare system, the local EU media did a good job caricaturing immigrant residents. Unfortunately, in the EU unlike in North America, a citizen who is clearly of immigrant background rarely gets praised for his/her language skills. Often one is “corrected” in quite a patronizing manner. If you want to avoid this nonsense, put the tourist hat on, speak English.
Thirdly, people will pay extra attention to you if you look Middle Eastern and for everything the Italians are loved for in Europe, you will be scolded. If you are loud in a café or late for a meeting, don’t be surprised if someone reminds you that in Europe you must not talk loudly, and be on time. Unless of course you are Italian; then if you are loud, you are considered “outgoing,” and if you are late, you are a “relaxed”and an “easygoing person.”
Fourth, do not misinterpret and negatively judge people through the shallow Saudi minded “Islam.” Just because a person has many tattoos does not mean he or she is a drug addict, a hippy, or homeless. You are in a society that due to unfortunate historical reasons lives outside of the scriptural paradigm. In fact, experience has often showed that guys with tattoos and those who listen to reggae music are actively looking for spirituality or are on the same page with their Muslim compatriots in combating racism, Islamophobia, and imperialism.
Fifth, the beard is no longer a “problem.” The lumberjack beard is now in fashion, so no need to trim your beard if you don’t want to in order avoid attention. And if you are wearing baggy pants, you are a hipster to most nearby, not a Muslim.
Sixth, when in doubt about what part of Europe to visit, choose Italy. If you are a Muslim of Middle Eastern or Levantine background and you are a bit paranoid about rising racism in Europe, but still want to take a holiday in the EU, in Italy you are at “home.” It is the place where a Turk can easily pass for a Sicilian and a Lebanese for a local Roman. Italy will save you from many unwanted stares.
Seventh, my deepest respect to Muslim sisters. While, we the males, can somewhat avoid discrimination through linguistic or fashion camouflage, our sisters bear today’s flag of Islam, the hijab. That is why most Islamophobic policies worldwide begin by targeting the hijab. So man up and don’t let your mother, sister or wife face the challenge alone. Try wearing a kufi or a keffiyeh with your aqeeq ring or use a bismillah when boarding a bus or a subway to share the unfortunate experience Muslim females face daily in the transforming Europe.