Failing to come up with something concrete to counter the far-right threat, conservative popular parties have started to buy into the marginal discourse of these small parties. In other words, the conservative parties are unable to transform the far-right parties and are being hoisted with their own petard, being forced to use the rhetoric of those parties. Afterwards, they observed that an election-oriented discourse which puts immigration issues in the spotlight without providing any substantial plans to address other issues can become very popular among voters and used such a discourse to attract voters. The parties of the masses eventually realized that this is a dangerous road to tread. When hundreds and even thousands of people organized through social media and took to the streets under the umbrella of the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), the mass parties that defend democracy and pluralism decided to take steps to prevent social polarization.
Europeans tend to beat around the bush in expressing their reactions, but the indirect methods they use are very effective. Field studies conducted in the Netherlands and France produced disheartening results and surprised everyone. Although they found the draft constitution quite agreeable, the masses refused to support the EU’s greatest project due to political discontent with regard to domestic policies and they opted to send a message to their governments via Brussels. A group of political scientists from Dresden University of Technology interviewed about 400 people who attended PEGIDA marches and found striking results. It is interesting to note that a significant majority of the people who attended the marches said their primary motivation was their dissatisfaction with political developments. The participants who listed the media’s and the public’s approach to the problems as their second most important motivation for taking to the streets also complained about the increased burden added by immigration.
In-depth analysis reveals the prominent role of biases regarding Islam in the increased opposition to immigration. It is a remarkable fact that only 2 percent of the protesters, who have an average age of 48, are unemployed or looking for work. Contrary to what is usually suggested, the masses have not grown more extreme in their political opinions just because they experience financial troubles. A major finding of the survey is that PEGIDA protesters — numbered over 100,000 — enjoy better economic statuses than the average of their respective states.
‘Democracy is haram’
Let’s go off on a slight tangent here. Last week, I came across a two-frame cartoon on social media. In the first frame is a man with a beard, characterized in the typical “Islamist” cliché. “Help me, democracy! I am drowning,” he cries, beseeching a modern-looking, long-haired woman in the dock for help. The woman saves the “Islamist” from drowning, but the “Islamist” pushes her into the sea. “Democracy is haram [religiously forbidden],” he sinisterly shouts. We must realize that that which is achieved through a mere streak of a legal battle by using the path of individual freedoms, laid down by Europe’s universal values, will persist if we fail to respect those values. Muslims cannot enjoy the rights achieved by that legal battle if they refrain from establishing dialogue with Western societies and inspiring confidence in them and reinforcing friendship with them.
We must show them that we respect human rights, particularly women’s rights, and we condemn violence against women, we don’t see pluralistic democracy as a mere instrument and we defend freedoms in principle, not only when we need them. Most importantly, we must be prepared to walk the long and slow path and establish dialogue with more and more people to eliminate or undermine prejudices. Furthermore, we must understand that if we fail to show that we agree with the West’s hard-earned democratic achievements and we live in compliance with those achievements, all that we gained by using the opportunities provided by these achievements will soon perish.
Last week, thousands of Germans, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck, attended a peace march in Brandenburg Square, giving the message that they understand Muslims. Muslims who could get rid of the monolithic “The West is the enemy of Islam” cliché supported the rally, thereby kindling a glimmer of hope for a solution. Those who can remove mutual biases and invest an effort in projects of peaceful coexistence can give multicultural life in Europe another chance.
Savaş Genç is an associate professor in the department of international relations at Fatih University.
This article first appeared in Today’s Zaman, a leading Turkish newspaper. Click here to go to the original.