Islam and Social Democrats

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Jonathan Laurence in Dissent:

The first serious divergences between Muslims and the left in Europe began with the fatwa issued by Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini against Salman Rushdie in 1989 and religious demands to censor his novel, The Satanic Verses. The split widened later that year, when France began to restrict the wearing of girls’ headscarves in schools.

Until then, parties on the left had embraced the mostly working-class minority as a natural ally. Migrants from Muslim majority countries first began settling permanently in Western Europe in the 1970s and ’80s. The unexpected transformation of receiving countries into “immigration societies” provoked nationalist and racist reactions on the right, while parties on the left appeared the likely beneficiary of the influx of future voters. German trade unions were already enrolling Gastarbeiter (guest workers) in the 1960s, decades before the German state considered granting Turks easy access to citizenship. When the Socialist leader François Mitterrand was elected French president in 1981, he authorized foreigners to create cultural and political associations—mostly benefiting Algerians, Moroccans, and Tunisians—that party leaders hoped would federate under the Socialist banner.

Parties of the left began supporting civic integration efforts at the same moment that center-right parties began battling an ascendant extreme right. While Christian Democrats repeated the mantra that “Germany is not a country of immigration,” for example, German Greens and Social Democrats lobbied for dual nationality for Turks. Conservative coalitions at the time portrayed the immigrant population as a drain on resources and a threat to security and the national way of life. The Social Democratic defense of the second generation’s “right to be different” and to participate in politics allowed center-left parties to defend their ideals while making inroads into a budding electorate of millions.

More here.

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