Europe’s Jews and a continent’s troubling quiet

Europe’s Jews and a continent’s troubling quiet

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Britain commemorated the fifth anniversary of the London underground bombing on July 7 in an extremely low-key manner. This tragedy — which killed 52 innocent civilians on the London tubes and buses in 2005 — was the most significant terrorist event in Europe since April 10, 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement settled the centuries-old hostilities between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

Yet its anniversary passed with only minimal acknowledgement. In Britain — even with a new government now in place — political leaders persist in taking a politically correct position when confronting Muslim-based terrorism.

This action is only a further manifestation of the tension throughout Europe as its long history of liberal democratic values confronts the growing numbers of Muslim immigrants and the expanding influence of Islam.

In the larger cities — London, Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam — the growth of the Muslim population is obvious.

In economic terms, the consequences of this visibly growing Muslim population are multi-faceted. In some places, Muslims perform many of the more menial jobs, exhibiting the same resentment that was sometimes shown by blacks in the United States. Middle-class and upper-class Muslims, meanwhile, are actively feeding the economies by working and spending.

European countries are responding in a variety of ways to the Muslim “challenge.” France is on the verge of outlawing the wearing of the full burka and the niqab; Spain and Belgium already took measures to restrict religious dress. The Swiss voted to ban new mosque construction. These moves, however, are likely only to postpone the inevitable confrontation.

For European Jews, the situation is relatively calm — so long as there is no inflaming issue emanating out of Israel. For the 20,000 Jews in the Netherlands, the 30,000 Jews in Belgium, the 300,000 Jews in Britain, and even the 600,000 Jews in France, daily life is quite vibrant. In Britain, however, one certainly has a sense that Jews are only waiting for the other shoe to drop.

European Jews are vigilant against any outbreak of domestic anti-Semitism. They recognize that even prior to the more recent controversies over questionable Israeli seriousness on the peace process and the Turkish flotilla episode, they needed to be ever-ready to present a reasonable defense to Israeli actions.

Yet the leadership frets about the convergence of left-wing support for the Palestinian cause and the growing political and economic power of Muslim minorities. It doesn’t take much for some European circles to lash out at the Jews, even if critics make the false distinction between attacks on Zionism and attacks on Jews.

As Bassam Tibi, a prominent scholar in Germany of international relations and the growth of Islam in Europe, observed, Muslims form a significant subset of anti-Jewish feeling in Europe. “The growth of the Muslim diaspora in Europe is affecting the Jews,” Tibi told the Forward. For some Muslim populations in Europe — though not all — “every Jew is seen as responsible for what Israel is doing and can be a target.”

Finally, adding fuel to the not-so-smoldering flames is the lingering recession and severe dislocation experienced throughout Europe over the past few years. Before the advent of the European Union, Greece’s problems, and Spain’s and Portugal’s, were not direct European concerns. The elimination of national borders by the European Union had numerous positive effects throughout the continent. Common currency, expanded work forces, reduced travel restrictions, unrestricted trade measures, and numerous other changes have improved the quality of life for many throughout the continent.

Unfortunately, negative consequences have begun to challenge many of the fundamental, liberal democratic values of which Europe was rightfully proud.

Ironically, just as the excitement of an all-European World Cup final reached its climax, the conflicted and confused national identity of today’s Europe was exposed. The array of social, political, economic, and religious problems facing Europe do not suggest easy, constructive resolution, even without any external or terrorist threats. For the Jews of Europe, it could make for even more difficult times ahead.

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