The recent terrorist attack by an extreme right wing Norwegian led to the deaths of 76 people. Mr. Anders Breiviek, the attacker, stated in court, “the purpose of his action was to strike a blow against the Labor Party because of its policy of ‘mass import of Muslims’.” He claimed he acted to save Europe from Islam. (Financial Times, 7/26/2011).
A tragic thing to notice is that immediately after the attack, the mass media (print and electronic) in western society gave the impression that the attack in Norway may be related to Islamic terrorism.
Islamophobia is deep-rooted in western societies and it pre-dates the rise of al-Qaeda and its attack against the U.S on 9/11.
Islamophobia in the west dates back more than a thousand years to the Crusades wars. Pope Benedict II called on Christian European political rulers to organize a war in the Middle East to save Christ’s land. The irony of the pope’s call is the fact that “Christ’s land” was inhabited by the people of three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, who lived side by side. The Crusaders war lasted nearly 200 years but at the end they were expelled from the Middle East region. The anti-Islam views are deep rooted since that time in nearly all western societies. However, since the end of World War II, extreme right wing political views have been increasing in western societies.
The Financial Times presented an interesting article (July 26, 2011) in which it shed some light on extreme right wing populist parties that have been on the rise in European states. They have been active in state politics as is reflected in the following data:
1) Norway – Progress Party received 22.9% of the vote
2) Finland – True Finns received 19.1% of the vote
3) Sweden – Swedish Democrats received 5.7% of the vote
4) Denmark – People’s party received 13.8% of the vote
5) Netherlands – Freedom Party received 15.5% of the vote
6) Austria – Freedom Party received 17.5% of the vote
7) France – National Front received 4.3% of the vote
8) U.K. – British National Party received 1.9% of the vote
9) Italy – Northern League Party received 8.3% of the vote
10) Hungary Jobbic Party received 16.7% of the vote
11) Bulgaria – ATTACK Party received 9.4% of the vote
All of these political parties have attacked Islamic immigration to European countries and have expressed their concern about Islamic threats to their Christian identity. Pope Benedict the 16th publicly stated that Europe consisted of Christian states and he was opposed to Turkey, a Muslim nation, joining the European Common Market. The pope’s statement enforced anti-Islamic views in Europe.
There are several other factors that have nourished Islamophobia in western societies, especially in Europe. The economic factors influenced the views of many blue-collar workers who are unemployed. They tend to view immigrants as a major cause for their unemployment, especially when the rate of unemployment continues to rise. Immigrants are looked upon as their competitors for employment. Such feelings contributed to hostility to foreign-born European citizens. Also, they look at foreign workers as the major cause of depressing wages.
In Norway, nearly 28% of the population is foreign born. However, not all of these immigrants are Muslim. Nevertheless, the number of Muslim immigrants to Europe have been increasing and most of them are from previous European colonies in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Their number has been estimated to be around 53 million as of 2007, according to the German Central Institute – Islam Archive. That number is equal to 7.2% of the European population, excluding Turkey.
This small percentage is viewed as a threat not only by the working class but also by some of the heads of European states like A. Merkel of Germany, N. Sarkozy of France and D. Cameron of the U.K. All of them have referred to Muslim immigrants as threats to European identity and believe that multiculturalism has proved to be a failure. These leaders have ignored the positive contributions these immigrants have made to their countries. First, what percentage of the immigrants are college graduates and professionals? It has been estimated that the coast to raise and educate a person is over $350,000. For example, the Arab world alone has suffered from the brain drain to the West, which has been taking place over the past 40-50 years, which have attracted millions of highly educated people.
The free cost of such highly educated Muslim immigrants to the west should be classified as a form of human and economic aid that runs into the billions of dollars on a yearly basis. Furthermore, the economic contributions of the Islamic immigrants to western states cannot be denied. Another positive factor that has been ignored is the fact that nearly all European countries’ birth rates have been on a steady decline. The birth rates have fallen below the replacement level, which is two babies per family. The flow of immigrants to these European countries reflects a vital demographic advantage. It will slow the aging of these European states, where in the near future the demands for workers will increase to fill needed positions that are vital for the maintenance and economic development of these countries. European political leaders rarely recognize the important economic role-played by educated immigrants in the west publicly.