'Others' in Europe and their influence on elections

Published 25.04.2017 01:13

Muslim populations in Europe have become one of the most important variables in elections in the European Union in some time. Right-wing and extreme-right politicians have developed three main attitudes toward them: "Muslims should go," "if they stay, they shouldn't act like Muslims" and "no more Muslims should come here."

To be honest, there are also many Europeans who criticize these attitudes and politicians, as there exist in Europe strong anti-racist and anti-discriminatory currents, too. However, even those who have more liberal views about Muslims have been incoherent from time to time.

When European politicians talk about "European Muslims," they don't want to say simply Muslims who live in Europe, but they think about a different kind of Muslim, more European, i.e. very different from the Muslims of Uzbekistan, Qatar or Pakistan. They believe Europe's Muslims are or should be different from their compatriots in other parts of the world, and those in Europe are expected to adopt a more "modern" way of life. I'm not sure they have a similar distinction in their mind between Europe's Catholics and Latin America's or Middle Eastern Catholics.

Muslims have become a debate topic, not only because the attitude toward them will influence voters, but also since there are many Muslims who will vote in those elections. For example, in France, there are about 6 million Muslims out of 66 million inhabitants, and it is important for politicians to know for whom these people will vote.

It is of course erroneous to believe that Muslims in a given European country will all vote in the same direction as if they were a monolithic socio-economic group. Anyone who says, "Muslims vote for this or that party" is in fact admitting that they don't see Muslims as individuals who will develop their political views according to their own interests or political convictions.

Thankfully there aren't many politicians in France who say that Muslims will only vote according to their religious identity, but still, they discuss something they call, the "Muslim vote." We are used to this kind of debate in Turkey, as some people persistently evoke a "Kurdish vote."

We know, nevertheless, that Turkey is being constantly criticized by the Europeans because of its Kurdish policy, and to tell the truth, if there is such a thing as the Kurdish vote, maybe some of the criticism is justified. Of course, those who keep criticizing Turkey should sometimes look in the mirror and think about the Muslim vote debate in their countries. It is a problem to think that people who are being called on to cast their votes are not individual citizens but just members of a defined religious or ethnic minority group.

For a very long time, "equal citizenship" has been debated in Turkey. It appears, however, that it is not only Turkey's problem. In any case, the problem is important and it needs to be addressed. Even in countries with efficient legal and administrative measures against discrimination, there is little change in peoples' minds and perceptions. They still categorize some people as "others," and they think those "others" all live and act the exact same way. Maybe what nations need is to develop social measures to attack those prejudices, rather than simply adopting laws against discrimination; because, obviously, legal measures change little in ordinary people's minds. Prejudices risk accumulating and in time, they may provoke serious social unrest if nothing is done about them. Such unrest will never remain limited to one country, threatening international peace.

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