Why 'Islamophobia' is less thinly veiled in Europe
How anti-Muslim sentiment is different in European countries than in America.
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Muslims, interviewed at mosques, offices, and cafes in Paris and London, say they often don't recognize common depictions of themselves. They resent the fact that Islam is a subject of derision and reject the stereotype of Muslims as being one uniform, slightly sinister group.Skip to next paragraph
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Tufyal Choudhury, a law lecturer at Durham University in England and the primary author of an 11-city study on Muslims in Europe, notes that Muslim concerns are not about spreading the faith, but housing, education, and neighborhood safety. Young second-generation Muslims have high expectations but often feel excluded. "Their parents had less expectations and less disappointment," he says.
A recent French government study found that job applicants with Arab Muslim names had less than half the chance of getting an interview than applicants with French names.
One Muslim, Said from Cameroon, interviewed at a Paris mosque before prayers, points out that Europe is a place of liberty for Muslims, many of whom have escaped repressive states. Some come to escape orthodox Islam while still being devout. More Muslim women find Europe a harbor to challenge older "cultural" models of Islam that restrict their freedoms. Muslims agree that some younger adherents get radicalized. But others are eager to integrate. They want to be European, or French, or Dutch. In university settings and among some Muslim moderates, frank reappraisals of the Koran are under way, which includes a tougher look at its calls for militancy.
Ahmet Mahamat is one who wants to integrate. A slender immigrant from Chad with luminous eyes, he has lived in Paris for 15 years. He is a filmmaker working on a documentary about the civil war in his home country. When he first arrived in France, he says he was impossibly idealistic. He still describes the streets of Paris rhapsodically. But in recent years he has felt targeted as a black and a Muslim. Muslims, he says, are now seen as a problem. Trust is low on both sides. "We hear it all the time: Terrorism is a shortcut that links to immigration," he says. "Immigrants are linked to criminality or delinquency or fanaticism."
As a filmmaker, Mr. Mahamat uses the Hollywood classic "Casablanca" to make his point. "At the end of 'Casablanca,' Humphrey Bogart certainly is the man that shot the German officer. But who do they round up? The usual suspects – probably local Muslims. The new obsession here with Islam is very strange, because our world doesn't lack problems. We've got global warming, poverty, famine, dictatorships ... we don't have small issues. But we are focused on Islam. We need a usual suspect."
He adds, "There is an African saying, 'that if you are with someone long enough, you can look in their eyes and eventually see yourself.' But now I feel this African saying is wrong. I look in the eyes of so many people and what I see does not correspond to who I am. They see another me."