The clash of civilisations
Schengen, a tri-point where the boundaries of Germany, France and Luxembourg meet, was nothing but a small wine producing village 30 years ago but now it is known for one of the most historic treaties that brought down boundaries between the European states in 1985 to allow the free movement of people for business, leisure, study and work purposes. For more than thirty years, no social, economic or political disagreement even came close to raising the borders once again which were brought down by this agreement. But last year’s Paris attacks and the recent attacks at the Brussels airport and metro stations might change the situation, especially after the huge influx of Syrian refugees in Europe. After the Paris attacks, the French government momentarily suspended the Schengen visa and activated border controls followed by most of the Schengen countries that out of apprehension followed the practice.
Students, workers and refugees with names of Arabic origin and wheatish complexions were the major affectees, as they were considered probable suspects. European countries started sealing their borders for refugees and refugees were considered the carriers of the deadly virus we know as terrorism. But as time heals all wounds, things were getting better and refugees were finally settling in their newfound homes through very impressive programmes initiated by some of the European countries to incorporate them into the society. Free programmes were launched by universities to provide education to the refugees, students were volunteering to teach them their languages and academics with the development practitioners were carrying out projects to find a sustainable way of incorporating them into the economy, society and polity of Europe. But right when it seemed like everything going to be fine after all, attacks on Brussels airport and metro station happened.
This attack will not only set back the progress that Europeans have made with refugees back to the starting point but there is a huge possibility that this might also set back the whole no borders, one visa and free movement situation of Europe, commonly known as Schengen agreement, back to zero temporarily if not permanently. While it is a grave concern for Europe, it is as much of a concern for youngsters belonging to this part of the world. Europe is the cheap and quality alternative to US and UK for talented (or not) students and professionals of Pakistan. Students and professionals who in pursuit of better education, profession and an improved living move to Europe have already started feeling the heat; the rate of visas being rejected to attend conferences, to study and work have increased and the level of scrutiny for people coming from Muslim world has increased manifolds. This might seem ridiculous to many of the applicants because they feel that they fulfil all the criteria required to be a part of a degree programme or a conference or an employment opportunity and also have a clean record hence they shouldn’t be discriminated on the basis of their names, religion and origin but they need to look at this whole situation from the vantage point of a European.
A European had no problem at all with sharing the employment opportunities that Europe offers with a man named Ali before these attacks. A European was completely fine to share a classroom with a woman named Fatima before these attacks and a European doctor would treat a patient named Mohammad with the same care and attention as anyone else before the attacks. But these attacks change things. People are filled with fear. Fear makes people question things the way they never did before. What if the Ali who just joined the company and sits two workstations away from me is conspiring to kill my children? What if the Fatima I study with will blow up the same university where we study? What if the man named Mohammad I treated yesterday was behind the Brussels attacks? Fear warrants such questions in the minds of the most liberal of the people. And at that particular moment fear makes these Europeans free from their moral responsibility to be nice to the minorities so they judge them on the basis of their colour because they want to be safe. Fear makes these Europeans free from their humanitarian responsibility to make space for the refugees so they seal the borders because their first responsibility is towards their family, friends and fellow countrymen.
No matter how loud you chant the slogan “We are not the same”, they practically have no way to find it out and they fear that it might be too late for most of them if they don’t distance themselves from you when they had time. No matter how frequently you tell them that we are the liberal lot, they have no barometer to gauge the truth and they fear it might be too late if they carry on associating themselves with you. Because for them you are the people who come to their countries, survive on their state support, thrive on their social benefits and somewhere in between the laughs and love, you betray them by bombing their airports and killing their countrymen.
Islam asks Muslims to tightly hold on to the rope of Muslim brotherhood, to stay united and act as one nation, the Ummah. Unfortunately, the Muslim world has been unable to achieve this task in centuries. We are divided. There are Shias and Sunnis, and there are Muslims who are terrorists and Muslims who are not. These divisions seem reasonable to a person who is deep into this, but for the Europeans we are the same; the same Muslims who bomb the airports and the same Muslims who study in their universities, the same Muslims who feed on their social benefits and the same Muslims who molest their women on New Year’s Eve. They neither have the time and energy to differentiate nor a responsibility to do so. Their stance is clear: if you want to live in our countries, abide by our rules. This might seem a little harsh but to be honest the rules are pretty simple, live and let live.
The most ironic thing about this fiasco is that the Muslim Ummah failed to stand united itself and might well be on its way to divide the region that took the liberty to act as one people.