Yup, that's my topic for today. I was reminded of it when I read Johann Hari's recent post explains the many reasons why he believes the Republican party is turning into a cult of sorts.. Among their many, many counter-factual ideas (e.g. global warming, evolution) he reminded me of another one: "They insist Europe has fallen to Islam, since Muslims immigrants are becoming a majority and are imposing sharia law."
As a pretty Europeanized American, I was taken entirely by surprise when I first encountered this nonsense. My old neighbors and friends were secretly turning Muslim? Who knew?! Even more intriguing: Republicans, after decades of deriding Europe at every available opportunity, are now deeply worried about its welfare? It's weird.
That said, there is in fact a cultural threat of sorts going on. It's just not what the wingnuts think it is. Read on...
But first, let's get back to the charges, levied by, among others, the inimitable Michele Bachmann:
[...] we are seeing that those who are coming into France -- which had a beautiful culture -- the French culture is actually diminished. It's going away. And just with the population of France they are losing Western Europeans and it's being taken over by muh...by a Muslim ethic. Not that Muslims are bad. But they are not assimilating.
Wow.. France isn't threatened - France has apparently already fallen. She actually speaks of French culture in the past tense! So Bachmann manages to be more extreme in her 'defense of French culture' than Jean-Marie Le Pen himself. That's not easy!
One of the main origins of much of this would appear to be the racist-wingnut tome "America Alone" (scathingly reviewed by Hari). It has been touted by ostensibly less batshit-crazy Republicans like former Sen. Ted "Tubes" Stevens.
Now, to refute this idea is really very easy. Muslims are a tiny minority in Europe; and are relatively moderate and secularized. This isn't to say that there aren't problems with immigrant integration. There certainly are. But it is simply ridiculous to cast that as a threat against European culture. It's simply a contradiction in terms: Immigrants who do not assimilate cannot affect the majority culture, because they're outside it. You can't change a culture from the outside. It's not possible.
Once people integrate, they're not viewed as a threat - except by those who are out-and-out racists. Then, cultural influence is possible. If döner kebab was a strange foreign food, Europeans wouldn't be eating it as much. To most it's no more foreign than hamburgers. (Nor should it be: While the hamburger originated in Germany, it's mostly an American invention. The döner originated in Turkey, but is mostly a European invention by Turkish immigrants). Who's scared of kebab? I've seen Nazi skinheads eat kebab!
Of course a Chinese takeaway isn't about to turn you into a Confucian. Foreign customs are, well, 'foreign'. Arabic is a very foreign language to Europeans. Islam is a very foreign faith (at least in the west and north).
Cultures do, in fact, disappear. Oh, French or German or British culture isn't about to - they're as big as they've ever been. But what about the others?
To Republicans it seems my second home, Sweden, is next to be flattened by the imaginary Muslim-immigrant steamroller. And this is supposedly a tragedy, as Sweden was so "racially pure". (In Sweden itself, such a statement would be considered to be outright Nazism. A TV host who said as much wouldn't likely be apologizing, they'd be unemployed.)
Well, it's true that Sweden is more diverse than it once was. My Swedish mother was fourteen when she saw a black person "IRL" for the first time (1960) - and that was a visiting American blues band.
Since before the war, but at an increased rate since, Sweden has increasingly fallen under the influence of a foreign culture. Not Arabic or Muslim, but rather Anglo-American. The web, is of course overwhelmingly English-language and American. Most programs on Swedish TV are American. Looking at what's currently playing at the Sergel multiplex in Stockholm, and I see that 18 out of 21 movies playing are American. One has screenings without subtitles (only children's movies are dubbed.)
As many know, their English is second-to-none among those who learn it as a second language. That's highly commendable. But it worries me when they use it at the expense of their own language. Which is increasingly often. Modern Swedish, especially among young people and business types, is increasingly peppered with English phrases and expressions. Even very mundane ones. It's not untypical to hear a young Swede say "It sounds better in English".
It doesn't. A phrase that sounds mundane in Swedish sounds equally mundane in English. (To the native speaker) It's silly. But the tragedy is: What they should be doing in those cases, is learning a less mundane way of expressing themselves in their own language. I feel they don't value their language as highly. (although there are some signs this may be changing)
That's a threat to their culture. It's not the neighbor who speaks Arabic and some broken Swedish. It's the native Swede whose choses not to use their language! The threat to their culture is not my Arab friend Fahmi who enjoys reading Ekelöf, it's the Swede who'd rather watch "Sex and the City"!
Swedes no longer use their own language when writing about the Natural Sciences. They're decreasingly using it in many business contexts. That's what linguists call a "domain loss" - and it's a real threat to a language. And language is an integral part of culture.
The threat to European culture.. is us. American cultural hegemony. Not immigrants, not Muslims. I'll go head-to-head with any wingnut on this!
For every single "ethnically Christian" Swede you can find me who's converted to Islam, I'll find you a dozen who've become Scientologists, or Jehovas Witnesses or some other new religion imported from the USA.
For every single young Swede you can find celebrating Ramadan, I'll find you a hundred going to a novelty 'Halloween party'. (Which directly competes with the domestic tradition of All Saints)
Dutch kids are getting to know Santa Claus better than they know Sinterklaas. In Sweden, Santa's already usurped the present-giving role of the Swedish Yule Goat, and Coca-Cola has a massive advertising blitz every winter to try to get Swedes to buy their crap instead of the traditional Julmust.
If you didn't know, they run the same ads almost everywhere. Cultural differences don't need to be respected, unless it causes a drop in sales. It would cost money to produce a new ad for every little market. That would lower profits! It would indeed be the most profitable thing to only have one culture. Since we're the most consumption-crazed culture in the world and the most commercialized culture in the world, it logically follows that the best thing for profits would be if everyone was American.
Insofar there's a threat, we're it.
I'd just like to say that I know it's not really our fault - as Americans, we can't blame ourselves for other people imitating us. As I hope I made the case: Nobody outside can threaten a culture. Or save it. But I do think we need to be self-conscious about our role.
I've also found that this argument can be devastatingly effective. No foreign culture has had anywhere near the influence on European cultures that we've had. And make no mistake: We're a foreign culture. Its the idea that we're somehow not, that's the threat.