The news coming out of Europe this week is disparaging. On Wednesday January 7, 2015 the headlines read, "TERROR IN PARIS." As CNN reported, "Hooded, black-clad gunmen burst into the office of provocative French satirical magazine 'Charlie Hebdo'...killing 12 -- an attack that could be a game changer...."
This comes on the heels of protests over Muslim immigration and 'Islamization' in Germany and reports of "anti-Islamic sentiment finding a foothold" in Sweden (we think, the "open door nation" of all places?!)
Terror. Islamophobia. Immigration. These are trying times and difficult debates for Europe to wrestle with. They are pressing issues we must all confront. In attempting to understand the situation according to both its historical context and contemporary impact we turn to pundits, academics, progressive Muslims condemning the attacks, far-right political parties, journalists defending free-speech, and world leaders.
What if we turned to Henning Mankell, a Swedish novelist and dramatist? Best known for his crime-fighting creation Inspector Kurt Wallander, famously portrayed by Kenneth Branagh on BBC, Mankell's first novel starring Wallander not only speaks to the current crisis, but presents a novel way to help us navigate the tensions between Islam, state secularism, immigration debate, fear over foreign incursion, and racism.
Faceless Killers opens with blood and terror, much like the headlines hit us on Jan. 7, 2015. An elderly couple, the Lövgrens, have been gruesomely murdered. Before she dies from being strangled by a noose, Maria Lövgren whispers one word, "foreign." Though Detective Wallander attempts to keep this aspect of the investigation quiet it soon leaks to the press and soon white supremacist groups increase their hateful rhetoric, which leads to a bloody anti-refugee reprisal including an additional murder. Eventually, Wallander solves the crime through careful, reasoned, investigation, but along the way he wrestles with the changes coming to Sweden in the form of an influx of refugees and immigrants, white supremacy, nationalist sentiments, a conservative swing in politics, increasing drug use, crime, violence and his own feelings about the rapid pace of change and inner feelings of prejudice and racism.
Sound familiar? It should. Given the parallels between Mankell's novel and this week's news stories from Sweden, Germany, and France I propose FIVE THINGS WE CAN LEARN FROM A NOVEL TO NAVIGATE RELIGIOUS & ETHNIC TENSION IN EUROPE and HERE AT HOME:
1. EUROPE AND "THE RISE OF ISLAM"
One of the principle issues that Wallander deals with in Faceless Killers, and indeed all of the detective's stories, is "future shock." Things are changing, rapidly. Many Europeans feel that there is a Trojan-horse like infiltration of Muslims and other immigrants sneaking, forcing, and imposing their way into Europe. The fear is that the "Islamic worldview," -- essentialized as a monolithic bloc -- is entirely incompatible with the secular, liberal, and pluralistic values that define European society.
Basically, the sentiment is that Muslims aren't, and can't be, European. Like oil and water, Islam cannot amalgamate with European civilization. Wallander wonders in the novel whether or not Sweden's "lax immigration policy" permits a new Swedish world order imcompatible with the old. He longs for the past. The safety of an imagined history wherein xenophobia, multiculturalism, violent crime, and fear are supplanted by the forgone smörgåbords, pickled herring, and communal music of old.
In reality, there has been a rapid rise in the European Muslim population. According to the Pew Research Center, the Muslim population in Europe (with Turkey excluded) was around 30 million in 1990, rising to over 44 million in 2010. Estimates range from a total of 55-70 million by 2030. The growing number of Muslims is due primarily to higher birth rates and immigration. While Muslim birth rates are expected to decline and settle over the coming years, the rate will remain slightly higher than the non-Muslim population (2.2 compared to 1.5). In addition to immigration and birth-rate, conversion is also a factor with over 100,000 convert in the UK, over 70,000 in France, and 50,000 in Spain.
In total, there are around 350,000 Muslims in Sweden (4.4% of the population), 4 million in Germany (5%), and 5 million in France (7.5%). The latter being the largest Muslim population in Western Europe. While not all of these are practicing Muslims (a study in France revealed that only a third [33%] are faithful in prayer, alms, etc.) there has still been a significant influx of Muslims in Europe from North Africa and the Middle East.
What this swift swell is causing is a European identity crisis typified by the German supporter of Pegida who held a sign that emphatically declared, "Islam and Europe are not compatible." In attempting to resolve this identity crisis, to cope with the global becoming local, an increasing number of European's are turning to the bedrock of one the first theories of globalization and the worldwide Muslim population -- the Huntingtonian thesis.
Essentially, Samuel P. Huntington's thesis states that cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict and tension in the post-Cold War globalized world. Famously, he quipped that this would prove a "clash of civilizations," principally between "Islam" and "the West." He proposed that wherever the two meet there are "bloody borders."
While this thesis may assume the borders of nation-states the rub is -- what happens when the lines are blurred, when neighborhoods are creolized, and arrondissements are hybrid amalgamations of "Islam" and "the West?"
On the other side, Muslims in Europe, particularly second-generation youth, are wrestling with their newfound secular contexts, individualization, Westernization, inner-hybridity (being both Muslim and European). Sometimes this tension breaks into violence. Other times it is expressed in a re-doubling of religious piety. The tension is expressed in graffiti, hip-hop, poetry, and visual art. More often than not, it is expressed in accommodation of European culture over a Muslim past.
Whether "European" or "Muslim," everyone in Europe is dealing with an identity crisis. From Sweden to Belgium, from the UK to Spain, the people are asking "who are we?"
Unfortunately, in attempting to resolve the inherent tension apparent in this questions, some turn to xenophobic rhetoric or terroristic violence. They buy into Huntington's thesis -- both radical religious terrorists and extreme secular Islamophobes -- share the same language and exacerbate an already strained situation.
2. EUROPEAN SECULARISM.
The following two points are essentially sub-points to the above, in that they explain two primary issues at stake when discussing "the rise of Islam in Europe."
First, the idea that Europe is a secular entity, a paragon of nonreligious society making. While we in the U.S. might attach certain ideas to the idea of "secularism" it is important to identify the unique perspective of European secularism.
European secularism might be more properly defined as "laicity." Founded in the French notion of "laïcité" the argument that secularism is bound up with the process of modernization and is a decided progressive move away from traditional religious values. In Europe, secularization has occurred on both a political and social level.
An increase of Muslims, in name and/or practice, seemingly threatens this secular outlook. How can a religious identity mix, meld, or make peace with the nonreligious character of Europe? Again, we are back to this identity crisis. But in Europe it is an identity crisis that not only threatens the body politic, but the very social order, the fabric of the neighborhood, the fütbol pitch, and/or the local pub.
It shakes the idea of European civilization, on both the popular and personal levels, to the core. It strikes at the idea of "who we are" and "who I am."
3. EUROPE, INCREASED IMMIGRATION, and VIOLENT REACTION
Now, from a European perspective, when Muslims move into the neighborhood they upset the secular apple cart. The rhetoric becomes, as referenced above, one of discussing the oil of Islam and the water of European civilization (in its various nation-state manifestations and its pan-continental embodiment). This rhetoric leads to some racial/ethnic binaries from the "European" point of view (more on that later), but what I want to focus on here is the "Muslim" perspective.
With all this rhetoric about immigration changing the face of Europe and Islam invading the continent there is a message delivered to the Muslim populations in places like Spain, Sweden, and France, etc.
The communiqué is, "you, and your kind, don't fit in here. We are a place of secularism, liberty, free speech, freedom of the press, and separation of church & state (although we have official, formal, state churches...just ignore that). You are a religious, backwards, medieval, enslaved, censored, legalistic, and theocratic people."
The unfortunate effect is that not only do far-right Europeans buy into this narrative, but so do many Muslims moving into town. Even though there is much that is modern, global, liberal, progressive, and even secular within the realm of Islamic discourse (especially among immigrant populations) many on both sides buy into the false dichotomy between being European and being Muslim.
It is a recapitulation of the "bloody borders" thesis, but this time within the same country, the same region, the same city, the same neighborhood. Inevitably, this tension breaks. Unfortunately, individuals on both sides react violently as they seek to resolve the anxious self-seeking and identity crisis. Let it not be lost on us that the Charlie Hebdo attack is the most deadly attack on European soil since Anders Breivik killed 77 people motivated by a mutilated far-right European political ideology opposed to Islamization, feminism, cultural Marxism, and multiculturalism.
Using similar language and founded in parallel worldviews, but from different angles, the perpetrators of this type of violence are dealing with the same bastardized vision of the issues at play in increased Muslim immigration, births, and conversion in Europe.
4. EUROPE'S ETHNIC TENSIONS.
Wallander struggles with this strain as well. Inspector Wallander endeavors to blunt the "foreign" identity of the perpetrators, but in a complicated manner in which he pondered, "I really hope that the killers are at the refugee camp. Then maybe it'll put an end to this arbitrary, lax policy that allows anyone at all, for any reason at all, to cross the border into Sweden. But of course he couldn't say that to Rydberg. It was an opinion he intended to keep to himself."
Wallander is no white supremacist. Yes, he wrestles with racism and prejudices. His issues are with the immigration policy, not necessarily the immigrating people. Indeed, no explicit racist would, as Wallander does, put his life on the line to save lives at the refugee camp when it begins to burn.
Our situation might be the same. And Wallander's circumstances gives us an opportunity to reflect on our own condition.
We are all racist, prejudiced, or caught up in this clash of civilizations thought process to some degree. As Nyberg says to Wallander in the BBC version of this story, "everyone deals with [racism]. It just matters what you do with it."
That's the key. We all wrestle with this idea of the clash of civilizations, the transformations and changes that come with immigration and population shift, with prejudice, ethnic tension, and racism. But it matters what we do with it.
The writers at Charlie Hebdo dealt with it by creating caricatures and using snark and satire to be equal opportunity offenders. Others deal with it through religious stereotyping and abject racism. Others take to the streets. Still others take to the polls. Others take up arms. Others write threatening letters.
Still others engage in dialogue, share a meal, build bridges through friendships, and work together to navigate the tension seemingly between Islam and Europe. This is the type of "dealing with it" we need to pursue.
The types of "dealing with it" that we need to denounce is essentializing caricatures, dichotomous rhetoric, religious racism, and violent terror.
Indeed, we must bear in mind that is possible, and fruitful, to condemn both the attacks as well as condemn caricatures, religious stereotyping, and racism.
5. THE STRANGER NEXT DOOR
The "Ariadne's Thread" throughout Faceless Killers is Wallander's daughter's boyfriend...who happens to be a foreigner (in this case, a Kenyan). Mankell personalizes the politically charged storyline of his novel by engaging his character in a "stranger next door" situation. He puts flesh on the issue.
And in doing so, Mankell makes it clear that Wallander's issues are resolved (sort of) through vulnerability, loving compassion, and his willingness to reveal his own deep sense of being flawed. Likewise, Mankell invites us to consider our own society, and ourselves, through Wallander's lens. The challenge he lays out is for us to take our responsibilities as citizens of a global village seriously, not avoiding the sometimes uncomfortable ambiguities of our situation, the unknown possibilities, prejudices, and "future shock" that confront us. The hope is that by personalizing a societal shift we might make incremental improvements and take authentic steps forward toward real renewal and community.
What does that look like? We come back to this crisis of identity, this seeming chasm between European and Islamic worldviews. So much of the rhetorical force of the situations drives us to consider this situation as "us" and "them," the "normal" and the "other."
The first step we must make is to reclaim community in a globalized world. Essentially, to redefine what it means to be European (or Western, or Muslim) in lieu of shifting population patterns. This will require relationship. It is difficult, nigh impossible, to feel a sense of community with abstract ideas and essentialized caricatures of "the other."
Peacemaker Jon Huckins wrote for Relevant magazine, "as ISIS fills the headlines, Islamophobia spreads like the common cold and sound bites trump human interaction, there is no more important time to build friendships with our Muslim neighbors." He gives five reasons, which I will expand on briefly: 1. A cure for fear; 2. An expanded worldview; 3. An antidote to isolationism; 4. Meeting the need for mutual relationship; 5. An understanding of misrepresentation.
Each of these is salient for the present situation. Fear, narrow cosmologies, isolation, loneliness, and misrepresentation are each plaguing the world and exacerbating the problems.
By simply walking across the street, sharing a meal, or befriending the stranger next door we could reverse the rising tides of malignancy, misunderstanding, and marginalization that are more threatening than any increase in Muslims in Europe, North America, or elsewhere.
It means flipping the script from "I'm friends with a Muslim even thought I'm European/Christian/Secular/etc." or "I'm friends with a European/Christian/Secular-Humanist/etc. even though I'm a Muslim" to "I'm friends with a Muslim because I'm European/Christian/Secular-Humanist/etc." and vice versa.
Certainly, there will be difficulties in coming together. There will be moments of frustration and awkwardness and miscommunication. Friendships are no panacea. This is no utopian vision. However, friendship can be a progressive means of fighting the rising tides of militant secularism and violent Islamism that threaten our societies, our world, and our individual lives.
As you wrestle with the harrowing headlines, struggle with your own prejudices, and try to figure out how to respond that you may consider Wallander's narrative as a guide for your own. More than anything, may it lead you deeper into relationship and understanding and away from violence encouraging rhetoric and a dichotomist clash of civilizations worldview that fails to appreciate diversity, hybridity, and the realities of local, intimate, social change.
*For that matter, dig deeper by reading a list of "10 Novels Every U.S. Christian Should Read" (which includes Faceless Killers), the blog "the Problem with American (or Western) Muslims," or "The Lonely Jihadi" to learn more.