The future of Europe rests on how it protects the Jews and Muslims who live on the continent. The fate of the liberal political experiment in Europe, initiated in the 18th century and brought to the brink of collapse numerous times in the years that have followed, rests entirely on whether Jews and Muslims can safely walk the streets of Paris, London and Berlin. Is it possible for Jews and Muslims to experience full integration as members of the larger society? Can they practice their religions openly and without prejudice? Can kosher stores open on a weekday and not fear the return of broken glass, images seared in the not-so-distant historical memory? Can Muslims walk confidently into their neighborhood Mosque without fear of verbal or physical harassment? This is the central and most pivotal question facing Europe in the second decade of the 21st century.
Let us be clear that the vast majority of perpetrators of anti-Semitic incidents in European cities today are recent immigrants to Europe from North Africa and the Middle East. They are Muslim. Furthermore, despite protestations to the contrary they are committing hate crimes in the name of their religion even though the majority of Muslims worldwide do not condone such actions. So why do I lump together Muslims and Jews in the same fate if the perpetrators of the violent acts are by and large Muslim? Because while the faces, the identities and the ideologies continue to change throughout the modern period in Europe, the reality remains the same.
In countries dominated by a specific cultural, ethnic and/or national history can there be space for the other? Can a recent immigrant find acceptance or are they shunned to the dark corners of society left to brood, plot and conspire? Can the majesty of difference find expression in polities that actively seek to sculpt a specific form of public square. For example, in a state that legislates secularism: Can the faithful be full partners in a France shaped by laïcité? Muslims may very well be the perpetrators of the violence plaguing European streets today but they are also victims. One need only speak to a recent Muslim immigrant to France or England and hear the story of isolation and harassment to understand that this is the case.
To say Muslims are victims in the current saga of European society is absolutely not to excuse the inexcusable, to defend the indefensible. No matter how estranged one is made to feel there is no excuse to vent that anger at others. The clergy in Mosques throughout Europe have a responsibility to offer messages of peace building during Friday services and not fuel the flames of hatred and incite violence. The youth committing these horrible acts must be swiftly and decisively punished through the courts. There is no excuse for violence.
Yet, that does not deny that just as Jews have been the eternal “other” for European society, the measure by which the ideals and values of European states are judged, Muslims have joined that rank of “other” as well. French liberalism will not be evaluated on how safe the average secular French individual was but by how safe the Jews and Muslims of France were. The Prime Minister of France, Manuel Valls, stated recently in response to the attack on the kosher supermarket that “France without its Jews is not France”. I would add that France without an “other” is not France.
These are not insignificant challenges for the individual European states and the broader European community to grapple with. How do you integrate the new generation of Muslim immigrants without a coercive assimilationist approach? How do you uphold the majesty of difference in states that also seek to impose a specific character to the public square? How do you ensure the safety of Jews in a part of the world that still in living memory experienced the most systematic attempt at their annihilation in human history? These are the challenges that the fate of Europe rests on. As we observe from across the Atlantic let us pray that the European liberal experiment of these past few hundred years can not only weather this storm but come out stronger, more resilient and more responsive to the other; Jews and Muslims and all the varied difference walking the streets of European cities.