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REBUTTAL: Srebrnik’s argument does nothing to promote understanding


Henry Srebrnik's recent commentary on Arab immigrants and the threat they allegedly pose to western civilization is old news (Journal Pioneer, Dec 5, 2016). His purportedly "scholarly" article is cause for considerable concern. The well-known and respected U.S. literary magazine, The New Yorker, nearly two years ago published an original and lengthy article about the situation faced by Arabs in France and other European countries. As reported, there is considerable social unrest in the Paris banlieues (suburbs). There Arab youths face a 40 per cent unemployment rate. Recent summers have seen extensive rioting in Paris with 9,000 cars being torched. This clearly reflects a major social problem, not an ethnic or religious one.

The current position of Arabs (who represent only 20 per cent of all Muslims) in major European urban centres is integrally related to the decolonialization process, especially in France. France has had no qualms about using immigrants, especially those from their former North African colonies - the Maghreb - as a source of cheap labour. Entire arrondissements (districts) of Paris are filled with immigrants, including those from North Africa. Today immigrants also come from war torn Middle-Eastern countries. One is reminded of New York City between 1860 and 1920.

The integration of an immigrant group into the broader society takes time; mobility studies indicate that two to three generations is required. A classic case in point is the experience of Jews in New York City where the process of integration and assimilation from the lower east side as garment workers, to the Bronx where the newly monied moved, to the suburbs where yuppie professionals now live, took decades. The same lengthy mobility process has taken place in Montreal.

So why should immigrants to France, or any other European country, given the linguistic and cultural barriers, be expected to immediately and painlessly become integrated, any more so than Jews? Srebrnik is clearly using a double standard. Is this a realistic expectation, or, is this an example of his Islamophobia? This is the flip side of anti-Semitism.

Lastly, Srebrnik creates a series of Islamic bogeymen that are allegedly threatening our way of life. This "Islamic menace" allegedly includes so-called "no-go zones" where police in European cities fear to go, an alleged relationship between ethnicity and crime rates, and the use of Islamic Sharia law. These examples are supposed to convince uninformed people that the "Muslim hordes" are taking over. Tosh.

Every major city in the world, including east-end Montreal, Harlem in NYC, Moscow, Jo'burg, or London, has rough areas and slums that are often considered dangerous by local inhabitants and immigrants alike. Immigrants, almost by definition, are at the bottom of the social ladder.

What is disturbing about Srebrnik's assertion regarding so-called unsafe "no-go zones" is the lack of hard data he brings to the subject. At best he uses unrepresentative and isolated examples, and often fails to cite his sources (like Donald Trump). Is he suggesting that Arab districts in European cities be militarized and pacificed like U.S. black ghettos, or Palestinians in the West Bank?

But why does he fail to mention New York City's infamous Jewish mobsters and gangs of the 1920s? As sociologist Daniel Bell has argued, criminal behaviour is an alternative means of social mobility, and is not limited to one ethnic group. Srebrnik smears ethnic groups in their entirety; no doubt to scare us about the Islamic menace. If this were done to Jews, he would be screaming "anti-Semitism."

Lastly, Srebrnik suggests that in some Arabic communities in Europe Sharia law has acquired as much legitimacy as the national legal system. Thus, the Islamic hordes are subverting our institutions from within. This is patent nonsense since Sharia law can only be used on a consensual basis between the parties and only as it relates to civil law matters. A similar situation existed historically within the Jewish community in European ghettos where Jewish Halakhah law was used; it is still used on a consensual basis by Orthodox Jews here in Canada. Does Srebrnik accuse Jews of posing a threat?

Srebrnik's commentary is dangerous, disappointing and misleading, and suffers from stereotypical biases and other inaccuracies. Why does he demonize Arabs and Islam? It does nothing to promote constructive community relations or understanding.

 

Richard Deaton lives in Stanley Bridge, P.E.I.

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