A new wind is blowing across the Western world, even in the margins of the liberal left. A new wind that affects even those who until recently still believed in sharing equality and mutual respect with the other and commended the idea of multiculturalism. Cracks can now be found in the pillars supporting the Western ideologies that called for liberty and freedom of religion of the other living among them.
On the other hand, Europe awakens to a reality of a revolt on the side of its Muslim citizens, who were educated on the values and culture of the West. Muslims who recently immigrated to Europe join them and in a collective revolt they turn to the street to demonstrate and demand their right for religious equality and recognition as equal citizens.
The acknowledgment of the right for “liberty, equality, fraternity,” the motto of the French Revolution and a stepping stone in the history of Europe, was a founding moment that changed the face of society, granting it that precious freedom. And yet, in all probability the citizens of these countries had never foreseen that two hundred years later they would have to share this right with the mass of immigrants from Islamic countries who live among them today. Widespread objection to the Muslims’ different appearance, the traditional dress, the head covering, and other religious symbols attributed to them is emerging in the public sphere.
The Muslims, whose presence is increasingly noticed, sense discrimination and injustice, and do not hesitate to demonstrate. They do not necessarily feel grateful for the hospitality they have received in Europe. They also forgot the attitude toward liberty in their home countries. At any rate, they no longer feel like foreigners. The feeling of foreignness was replaced by a feeling of security for those who quickly adapted to the liberal spirit of the society into which they arrived and thereby, do not hesitate to demand an expression of Muslim law into local legislation.
The radical Muslim worldview, which has been quite influential on believing Muslims, is based on the writing of the founder and the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hasan al-Banna. In al-Banna’s book, Peace in Islam, a chapter focusing on the national movement calls every Muslim to await the promised sinking of the West and expect the realization of God’s vow of the rise of Islam. Al-Banna, who held the West responsible for the hardship of the Muslims, defined their treatment as cruel, arrogant, invading, occupying, and enslaving, and declared that its fate is to disappear from the world. He turns to those who believe in the Quran to remember that every place on earth where a Muslim lives will become an organic territory of the great nation, and the further its believers would wander the more this homeland will expand.
Al-Banna’s attitude and that of those to follow him, does indeed call Muslim believers to cross continents and establish communities across the world. In an age of globalization and mobility, everything is more accessible, and the move of whole communities from one side of the globe to another constantly takes place in front of humanity’s astonished eyes. The sight of migrant workers who wander to global economic centers and bring their families with them has become common. When the masses in Tunisia recently revolted against their corrupt government, leaders across Europe praised them. But when thousands of Tunisians started arriving at the ports of Italy and Malta as refugees, shortly after the revolution broke out, the Europeans were not thrilled.
The first country to quickly act against the flow of refugees was France, sending police officers to board trains between Italy and France in order to check immigrants’ identification papers and see whether they have return tickets. Now Denmark is taking another controversial step, announcing that the country will resume passport control in its borders with Germany and Sweden in order to supervise who is getting into the country.
Considering the existence of thousands of mosques in the West (1900 in the US, 2100 in France, 2600 in Germany, and more than 1500 in England), the presence of immigrants and the visible demographic reality is becoming an alarming factor for the conservative community, along with the statistics pointing out that the number of Muslims in the European Union is rising steadily by substantial percentages.
There are fifty-four million Muslims living in Europe today. Until 2015, the Muslim population in Europe is expected to double itself. In 2050, they will be about 20 percent of the general population. Some cities have completely lost their identity—in Marseilles, Brussels, and Amsterdam, the Muslim community amounts to 25 percent of the population. "A large danger is overhead, and it is very hard to remain optimistic," says Geert Wilders, a Dutch parliament member and leader of the Party for Freedom. "We might be in the final stages of the Islamization of Europe. This not only is a clear and present danger to the future of Europe itself, it is a threat to America and the sheer survival of the West. The danger I see looming is the scenario of America as the last man standing. The United States as the last bastion of Western civilization, facing an Islamic Europe. … Now these are just numbers. And the numbers would not be threatening if the Muslim-immigrants had a strong desire to assimilate. But there are few signs of that. The Pew Research Center reported that half of French Muslims see their loyalty to Islam as greater than their loyalty to France. One-third of French Muslims do not object to suicide attacks. The British Centre for Social Cohesion reported that one-third of British Muslim students are in favor of a worldwide caliphate. A Dutch study reported that half of Dutch Muslims admit they "understand" the 9/11 attacks."1
On the other hand, there is also a more liberal approach, calling for a restrained view based on the faith that the new citizens will immerse themselves in the local population and live side by side it in peace. Today, the citizens of Europe are facing a dilemma for which they had never prepared a contingency plan. Will it be the formula for the life of foreigners in Europe conceived by Robert Brasillac, the Fascist French intellectual who paid with his life for being what he defined as a "moderate anti-Semite"?
We grant ourselves permission to applaud Charlie Chaplin, a half Jew, at the movies; to admire Proust, a half Jew; to applaud Yehudi Menuhin, a Jew; … We don’t want to kill anyone, we don’t want to organize any pogrom. But we also think that the best way to hinder the always unpredictable actions of instinctual anti-Semitism is to organize a reasonable anti-Semitism.
Philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek notes in his essay "The Majority and the Multicultural" that Western government now employ the same attitude when dealing with immigrants.
He writes after righteously rejecting direct populist racism as "unreasonable" and unacceptable for our democratic standards, they endorse "reasonably" racist protective measures or, as today's Brasillachs, some of them even Social Democrats, tell us: "We grant ourselves permission to applaud African and east European sportsmen, Asian doctors, Indian software programmers. We don’t want to kill anyone, we don't want to organize any pogrom. But we also think that the best way to hinder the always unpredictable violent anti-immigrant defensive measures is to organize a reasonable anti-immigrant protection."2
This vision of detoxing one’s neighbor presents a smooth transition from direct barbarism to human barbarism. It is a withdrawal from the Christian love of the neighbor to the pagan mode of preferring one’s tribe (Greek, Roman, and so forth) to the barbarian other. Even if it is concealed as a protection of Christian values, it is in fact the greatest threat to Christian heritage.
Among the many essays dealing with the question of this culture clash and its future, a noteworthy number of essays deal with the right of Muslims to coexist as equal citizens on Western soil. In the title of an essay published in Time Magazine in August 2010, Bobby Gosh asks, "Does America Have a Muslim Problem?" Gosh refers to the proposition to build a mosque next to Ground Zero, which has encountered a negative reaction from the local community who sees this as a provocation and a harmful measure against the victim’s families of the September 11 attacks. The article reveals that the dispute was followed by a wave of hatred in the streets, the media, and the Internet. The essay holds these publications responsible for unbalanced misconceptions that give Islam a bad name, presenting it as a Religion that follows a path of terror and violence. He ends the essay by warning of Islamophobia, which gave rise to xenophobia in the West.3
In the essay "Europe, Liberalism, and the ‘Muslim Question,’" its title hinting at the comparison the writer makes between the "Jewish Question" of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and the "Muslim Question," Bhikhu Parekh exposes his frustration not only of the street, but mainly of the insincere declarations of Western liberals, or as he refers to them "human rights knights," who see a political and cultural threat in the Muslims. According to Parekh, the Muslims who do want to immerse themselves in European society cannot do so in front of the visible and invisible barrier of the West. He argues this from the standpoint of the injured party, and blames the negative opinion on Muslim immigrants for this. According to him, the fear of Muslims increases in front of the possibility that the latter may in fact immerse themselves in Western culture.
Contrasting opinions expressing doubts about the cultural clash and the dangers of it are many and varied. "The Clash to End All Clashes" is an essay dealing with the Prophet Muhammad caricatures occurrence. This is one of the incidents to spark a flame in Europe and the Muslim community living in it. It emphasized the gap in understanding and cultural sensibility on both ends. Considering this crisis, Bat Ye’or’s essay calls Westerners to stand for their positions and abide to values of freedom of speech, of religion, and of conscientiousness as the basic moral codes of their civilization. Ye’or understands Muslim sensibilities, but expects them to respect Western values, being that they live in Europe, and criticizes the attempt to cover up the affair through the monetary transactions and search for temporary calm provided by politicians, and calls to hold a dialogue between the sides rather than prevent it.5
And on the Other Side of the World…
Ten years have past since the terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, the day of the drama that shocked the whole world, and more so the US and the West. The honor of the empire has been injured. Beyond the 3000 innocent citizens who died in this terror attack, it also damaged the national pride of the superpower that did not realize how it was attacked on its own soil for the first time in two hundred years.
The following decade brought with it a succession of terror attacks that changed the rules of the game across the world. Even before the body count was finished, George W. Bush, then President of the US, declared the War on Terror, and the chase after Osama Bin Laden took a path that lasted ten years. In October 2001, the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, which has yet to end. The invasion was justified by claiming that Afghanistan supports the Taliban guerilla fighters and al-Qaeda’s terrorists.
In March 2003, the Coalition invades Iraq, claiming that its leader, Saddam Hussein, is hiding weapons of mass destruction, and thus endangering the region and world peace, a claim that has never been proven. Some claimed that the war was meant to seize control of the world’s most important origins of petrol and energy. In any case, it is the proclaimed beginning of a new era in the breach between Islam and the West.
Samuel Huntington was the first to read the writing on the wall, and years earlier tried to warn the complacent West of the danger of Islam, seeing the culture clash between the West and Islam a real threat. In his best-seller Clash of Civilizations, published in 1996, not long before the terror attacks that shook America and the Western world, Huntington claimed that the results of the conflict would bring about an enormous clash after which the West would find it difficult to retain its current power and superiority.
And in a supposedly different field…
The Arab states are currently witnessing an unprecedented struggle, which is receiving much attention across the world. A wave of revolts has reached the Arab streets, drawing the masses in a call to a new world. Desires and wishes that were suppressed for many years now rise in front of our eyes. The Arab world is waking to a new dawn, saturated with past frustration and jealous bitterness, but also with a hope for change.
The wave of revolutions in the Arab world is accepted with a certain understanding in the Western world, which has been watching it hesitantly and eagerly. This is a great revolt that calls openly to refuse the complete hegemony of the totalitarian rulers of these states. But if the West really listened, it could hear clear hints concerning the Western involvement in the creation of the hardship the rebels hope to do away with.
The exhibition WESTEND was formed considering these events.
WESTEND invites its viewers to partake in an experience as it is happening, and to examine the different approaches of artists who created their works in the abovementioned space of conflict. To walk between struggles for honor, faith, and prestige weighted down by suspicion, and to look closely at the maze of hostility that led two civilizations to an existential struggle on power and control of the world of tomorrow. Visiting the exhibition will, for a moment, blur the border between imagination and reality. The images from the streets that are reflected on television screens pervade the exhibition halls, are affected by them, and interfere with them. The works that react to this reality do not pass judgments, but rather, open another debate within this reality.
But is there one reality?
Is there a cross-reality path that allows us to pass from one reality to another? Can the language of art, literature, or creation in general affect us, the human society, and teach us not to repeat the mistakes of the past and the tragedies born of the hatred, separation, and rejection of the other? Maybe the world would conceive of a middle ground for those who live side by side, and want to live side by side, as equals.