Translated from Arabic by Jonathan Wright.
Most Europeans hide behind a façade of fine education when they have to deal with the question of migrants, especially those coming from war zones, where life is torment and education is in ruins. This great European education, which in many cases is laden with arrogance and egotism, prevents many of them from understanding the reality of what is happening in the world around Europe. Europe today reads only itself, although it is living in what it calls the age of information and knowledge. Europe has created its own iconic array of writers, artists, musicians, theorists and philosophers and has locked itself in its temple to practise its rituals of democracy. When Europe wants to read the world, it reads it through the lenses of stereotype. These lenses were invented and reproduced in Europe throughout a long history of Eurocentrism practised since the days of colonialism up to the colonialism of capitalism today. This introverted European education produces what I call the ‘ignorance of the educated’.
This European ignorance imposes, among other things, an obligatory identity on migrants from North Africa, the Middle East and some Asian countries: the identity of Islam. When defining themselves in Europe, most migrants do not consider their primary identity to be Muslim. They see themselves as Iraqis, for example, or Moroccans or Iranians, and they are surprised when educated Europeans treat them as a single group. This is a Western tradition with roots going back centuries, and it is useful in this context to refer to studies and books on Orientalism. Educated Europeans ignore the fact that the countries of what is called the Islamic world are diverse and heterogeneous, and that they have vast cultural traditions quite apart from religion. This deliberate oversight is evident in the behaviour of Europeans when they focus only on the religious identity of migrants, just as Western tradition throughout history has ignored the East’s entire legacy of literature, art, music, sciences and civilisation-building, and pinned an Islamic identity on a vast and varied world.
Educated Europe today ignores the culture of all the European Mohammeds, who are born to immigrant families in free Europe but in a cage with bars put in place by free Europe. These Mohammeds grow up in Europe, and in European schools they learn about its icons and traditions. Nonetheless the distorted label of ‘Muslim’ is attached to them through the media and the channels of education of European society, and their whole mother culture is stripped of its content, leaving only the image of the evil Muslim who wakes up and goes to bed dreaming of destroying free Europe! So the European Mohammeds are besieged from both sides: by the ignorance of the educated European and by the ignorance of the uneducated, in this case their families, whose lives have been destroyed by wars and dictatorial regimes and who have not received the right education to be able to support the European Mohammeds in the face of the flood of distorted images invented by educated Europeans.
Mohammed must be given a chance outside the cage. Europe claims, for example, that it has a duty to let immigrants build mosques to pray in, while the European media and extreme right-wing parties continue to propagate a distorted and stereotypical version of Islam. It’s as if we were telling the European Mohammeds, ‘You were born here in Europe, which has all the beauty, knowledge, literature and arts, while you are from a background which has only evil Islam.’ Cultural diversity, as we know, doesn’t just mean letting the Other perform his religious rites. No, the Mohammeds, and educated Europeans too, have to breathe the culture of the East, which is rich in poetry, music, art, literature, myths, and a vast and varied heritage of traditions, so that immigrants don’t feel weak and powerless and therefore angry.
The European Mohammeds do get angry sometimes. But they don’t get angry on behalf of the historical Mohammed. That’s just a pretext that they hide behind when they are really angry about the way they themselves are portrayed, the way educated Europeans have portrayed them.
Are European humanitarian values now drowning in Europe’s selfishness, while migrants drown at Europe’s locked gates? Is Europe drowning in a deliberate ignorance that derives its disguises from a world that is materialistic, profit-based and cruel, built on contempt for, indifference towards and misunderstanding of other societies?