15.05.2006Zafer Senocak – Abdelkader BenaliMuslims and Integration in Europe
Amsterdam, 26 April 2006
The present discourse about multiculturalism, globalisation and reaching out to each other to answer the challenges of globalism is taking on more and more of the traits of an unpleasant drama. We love to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly that are stored up in humankind, but when in the meanwhile nations, regimes, democratically chosen leaders and not so democratically chosen leaders are preparing for war, are unwilling to give up their plans to enrich uranium, or continue to bombard innocent countries, everything positive that could be said begins to sound a little bit hollow.
Poetry changes nothing, and I also would add, nor do novels and short stories and the occasional essay. I totally agree with you that writers should be hesitant where society becomes hasty and demands immediate solutions to erstwhile neglected problems. I love to write slowly and I love to be patient although I also think that when urgency prompts you to speak out loud, to put emphasis on the Zeitgeist, and you see things clearly where others just observe a blurred picture, you should do so.
But nowadays I have grown weary. I think it is a mistake to ask writers, especially us, endowed with this incredible experience of two cultures, to lay down the fundaments of the future. The future is unknowable. Of course: I believe in the happy couple, I believe in making plans and I believe in the groundwork of common sense that will bring people together and unite them in their struggle against social injustice.
But like in every good marriage unforeseeable things can happen along the way. The husband can fall in love with his mistress and the whole affair tumbles until it resembles the agonising Scenes of a Marriage by Ingmar Bergman.
But let me give you a brief outline of the mistakes made by our present governments: the mistake of not reaching out to the underclasses to improve their backward situation but instead attributing their social problems to religion. This is a mistake for which the French are paying, as we have seen in the banlieus.
Another prize is that Europe is still very much a confederation of states, in other words: every country is deeply nationalistic. The history of Europe has always been one of emphasising the differences between the states, so France is different from Germany and for that reason we can go to war, England is different from the Netherlands and for that reason we want to stay out of war.
Europe was always basing its identity on the fact that it was different from the other. The deaths of the First and Second World War were of soldiers who were defending this absurd but workable notion of difference. That is also the reason why the idea of Europe does not appeal to people nowadays. There is nothing to fight for, because Europe was created on an idea of peace and that idea has an economic foundation of mutual self-interest. It's a fine balance and still maintained.
You can understand why Europe has many problems accepting the immigrant as his equal: because it means contradicting this prevailing idea of maintaining the difference that ruled Europe for hundreds of years. The immigrant should, in order not to break the nationalistic dream, stay different. The moment the immigrant starts asking for equality, it is given on the basis of the ideals of the French Revolution, but that sits uncomfortably with the idea of nationalism.
The "scum" of the earth found refuge in the twentieth century in socialism. Its universalism and redemption of the damned appealed and worked, but socialism was dealt a blow with the fall of the Wall. Socialism was death and the parties directed their attention to the new middle class that came out of the old lower class. But nowadays we have a new form of lower class: all those people of different origins that neither fit in to the idea of Europe nor find their way in the socialism of the third way. They are the new orphans.
To be an orphan is to be independent out of necessity. You cannot not be independent, because nobody is taking care of you. This idea, this challenge, creates, as you said, great individuals, but it leaves the group disoriented. The new form of Islam appeals to a lot of these orphans. I understand why. They don't want to go through a scenario out of Scenes of a Marriage – they want an identity (although it may be cheap) and a stability that can protect the orphan that is within them. It says: you can be saved too, and resounds with all the clichés of the so-called dynamic religion. Whether you abhor it or have sympathy for it: it creates a new reality and it is up to the global society to deal with it.
Let me come back to the idea of globalisation; I agree with you: failure to deal with globalism leads to fear and reactions that have their root in provincial nationalism. Europe is caught in its desire to be a Jack-of-All-Trades; it does this perfectly well but it leaves its citizens without a soul. I will elaborate deeper on this next time.