The Islamic State flag is a familiar sight in public parks and squares, the police are scared of entering Muslim areas and a seething mass of fundamentalists are poised to establish a caliphate. Welcome to Europe, 2014 – at least according to a primetime Israeli TV show aired last week.
Channel 10 Arab affairs correspondent Zvi Yehezkeli, famed for previous exposés of the so-called Islamification of Europe, returned to London to discover the massed armies of jihad approaching the gates of Vienna. Or something.
Yehezkeli's series of news reports, called "Hijra," does not reflect any reality that I, a citizen of Europe, recognize. I've travelled to some dozen European countries in the last year without seeing the black flag of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, flying anywhere at all. Multiculturalism brings its challenges, but it is over the top to foretell the demise of Western civilization.
It was particularly galling to see Yehezkeli's report on London, liberally cut with grisly footage of Islamic State atrocities – just in case we misunderstood the fate our liberalism is blindly leading us to.
The personality he chose to be the star of his show was Anjem Choudary, the United Kingdom's go-to, media-friendly jihadi-supporter. While Yehezkeli pretended to be a Palestinian, I doubt Choudary would have minded knowing he was an Israeli Jew. He is forever delighted to speak to media outlets, Jewish or otherwise, and always happy to provide a suitably spicy sound bite. For his sound check with Yehezkeli, he chirruped "9/11, 7/7," referring to the dates of the attack on the twin towers in New York and the 2005 quadruple suicide-bomb attacks in London. Very droll.
As they strolled through suburbia (subtext: look what Muslims are free to say on the streets of London), Choudary claimed that it will be "a piece of cake" to establish a caliphate, and cheerfully outlined potential scenarios: a coup; mass conversions; a Bosnian-style civil war.
Choudary is far from being a benign clown. British jihadis have been traced to his circle; he has led numerous now-outlawed, Islamist organizations; and he has been arrested and investigated multiple times, while more or less keeping within the law (he is a trained lawyer).
But Choudary is also very, very far from being the representative voice of British Islam. That didn't stop Yehezkeli from presenting any mainstream Muslim voices. Instead, his report showed image after image of violence and extremism.
This kind of journalism feeds into a very Israeli view of Europe as cowed by a Muslim onslaught (after all, what other reason would there be for the European Union's support for Palestinian independence?). According to this reading, it's either fear of violence or political pressure from the growing Muslim electorate that influences policy across the continent. There's little room for context, such as France's historic links to North Africa, or Britain's former empire in south-east Asia, to explain the presence of Muslims in Europe. Rather, these newcomers are seen not as immigrants, but colonists who seek to change the culture of their host nation to suit their own beliefs.
Of course, this fear-mongering isn't unique to Israel. The American right – including figures like Pamela Geller, Newt Gringrich and Barbara Bachmann – are reliably hostile to Islam. And then there is the rise of populist movements across Europe that are driven by anti-immigration sentiments, from the English Defence League in the United Kingdom to Pegida in Germany.
But in Israel the fear-mongering has a peculiar dynamic. I hear it again and again with a strange kind of glee from otherwise moderate people: Europe is being swamped by Muslims; it won't be long before Arabic becomes the dominant language and Sharia joins the canon of European law.
Maybe this reflects an Israeli preoccupation with demographics, or the experience of being surrounded by hostile nations. Certainly, Israel feels its unique situation is not appreciated by Europeans, who sit securely in centuries-old nation states, far from the turmoil of the Middle East.
Facts are evidently immaterial in this narrative. (According to the Pew Research Center, the Muslim population of Europe was 6 percent of the whole in 2010 and is predicted to rise to 8 percent by 2030).
It is natural for things to look different from far away. Some Europeans envisage Israel as a war-torn zone of constant conflict. But the growing population of Muslims in Europe is driven by economic and social factors (globalization, in other words) – not a secret plot to dominate the world.
The realities and ambitions of radical Islam should not be downplayed in Europe or elsewhere, but spreading apocalyptic hysteria is dangerous. It obscures genuine threats with an amorphous fear that doesn't help us unpick the complex vectors behind radicalization.
And in Israel, such fear-mongering is counter-productive. It shores up the sense that the Jewish state is a last resort of refuge in a sea of insane jihadis, driving Israeli society away from the possibility of coexistence by equating Palestinian nationalism with the extremes of ISIS. Following this logic, Islam is the sole problem, and reaching any territorial compromise with the Palestinians would be a deal with the devil.
In Yehezkeli's report, a security expert was filmed talking with typical British diffidence about anti-extremism measures. Her suggestions included dialogue and vocational training – all intercut by the filmmakers with images of 9/11 and flag-burning Muslims.
"Europe is not prepared" for an Islamist onslaught, said Yehezkeli, leaving unsaid the obvious conclusion: "Unlike Israel."
Daniella Peled is editor of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and has written widely from across the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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