European Nostalgia and Other Fears

Mehru Jaffer

A few days ago I met an old friend from Vienna. We spent a few hours talking about the good times spent together in the past. A leading feminist and activist, it is always a pleasure to discuss the ways of the world with this European friend of mine. One thing led to another. While discussing the state of Europe, my friend concluded that the continent was being dragged back to the Middle Ages by Muslims who want to build more mosques and whose women tromp public spaces on the enlightened continent in head scarves.

The relationship that many of Europe’s Muslims enjoy with their culture, language and religion bothers Europeans (like my friend) who perceive that a traditional way of life is detrimental to modern, progressive values. However, this is only one of the problems troubling Europe today. The phobia of Islam among even the so called enlightened Europeans can be traced back to the Middle Ages when the force of the Turkish army had made all Europe quake with fear.

That fear and revulsion with the might of the Turkish army whose religion was Islam haunts Europe to this day and continues to dictate anxieties about contemporary identity, the past and future. The irony is that there is more to fear in Europe than Islam.

For example, there is an attempt to equate extreme nationalism with modern concepts like democracy and the European Union (EU). There is an attempt to ignore the events of the 20th century and to carve out a future inspired by what happened in the 19th century.

Many a discourse within the EU today revolves around bringing together strange bedfellows like nationalists and democrats. Ever since the ‘end of socialism’, nationalist forces have been trying to gain ground, sometimes even combining elements of socialist ideology with national pride and choosing to blank out 20th century events that are considered inappropriate for marching ahead. This may include the socialist years considered by some as a dark period of dictatorship. The events chosen for celebration may point to a 19th century uprising against the Muslim Ottomans, or, important religious events observed by the church before religion was banned, fanning the outdated concept of eternal conflict between Islam and Christianity.

There is today an attempt to seek a symbiotic relationship between religion and nation as it existed before the socialist revolution. The paranoia amongst Austrians is fueled by nationalists who evoke memories of the Turkish army surrounding Vienna for ten months before it was made to flee in 1583. This historic imagery is meant to remind contemporary Europe of Muslim fundamentalism today.

 

There is the telling of historic lies like the continent’s recent socialist past. Many protracted struggles and sacrifices of brave Europeans against 20th century fascism are being ignored today. The socialist legacy is dismissed as a period of non freedom. There is an attempt to jump back to pre world war feudal kingdoms ruled by monarchs and to eulogise them. The trend of distancing the self from the socialist past and erasing the socialist legacy from modern day narratives is found in many parts of the continent, particularly throughout post-socialist Europe.

The violence that followed post communist times have led many to move towards historic revisionism; to reinterpret events that led to the Second World War which culminated in decades of socialism. Anger against the socialist legacy is creating disturbances and violence and strengthening nationalism and fascism, particularly in Eastern Europe. Besides, the problems faced by Europe are multiple and complex and Muslim fundamentalism is only one such problem.

A new elite has been born that regards socialism as a non European legacy that was undemocratic; this is preventing people from fully integrating into a democratic EU due to its socialist past. Communist ideology is being held as directly responsible for crimes against humanity. It is not nationalism but socialism that is equated today with Nazism as part of modern day European morality and conscience. This is an ideological trap that many Europeans are either unaware of or choose not to address.

Surely, my dear friend, to equate fascism with socialism is ‘traditionalizing’ Europe even more than the headscarf worn by some women of Muslim origin in Europe. Indeed, it is yet another way to marginalize the anti-fascist struggle.   

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: NOVEMBER 2013