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Europe is trapped in self-guilt

opinionEurope is trapped in self-guilt

The colonial experience left a scar upon the civilised European conscience. Europe is now going out of its way to be hospitable to migrants from the old colonies.


Spain invaded Central America after its native Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, landing in what are now known as the Bahamas for the first time in 1492. The Spanish conquistadors, over the centuries, destroyed the Mayan civilisation, killing a large section of its people, grabbed loads of gold from what is now Peru to ship to Spain. They did the same to two other civilisations, Aztec and Olmec.

During the colonial period (1492-1832), an estimated two million Spaniards settled in America with terrible outcome for the indigenous population. Close to eight million deaths followed the initial conquest. Guns against native civilisations unaware of firearms, executions after inquisitions and deliberate proliferation of European diseases like plague were the methods employed by the Spaniard conquistadors to carry out this genocide.

Of the original (approximately) 50 million indigenous people in the New World, fewer than two million were left a few hundred years later. This is possibly the world’s biggest genocide. The provocation for such cruelty is not known, but much of it was sadistic in nature. Present-day Europeans’ angst because of this colonial past is, therefore, not difficult to understand.

Portugal followed Spain and conquered the present Brazil, which is the only Latin American nation to speak Portuguese. The rest of South America speaks Spanish. This was Europe’s first experiment at enriching itself at the cost of other countries. Further in history, several European countries went out and captured areas in Africa and Asia and exploited their wealth.

The Netherlands, whose people were natural sailors, went mainly to Africa and Asia. Today’s South African Afrikaner population has Dutch parentage, and Afrikaans, the language they speak is similar to Dutch. The Netherlands went further east, held parts of Kerala for several decades, and Sri Lanka too, where their identifiable successors are the Burghers, who are well educated and hold high positions in society.

The richest Dutch prize was today’s Indonesia, earlier known as the East Indies. Though not known for extreme cruelty, Dutch colonialism was not devoid of sadism, especially at the lower levels of sailors and soldiers.

France first tried its hand in conquering India, but failed to prevail over the British East India Company, though it did meet with success in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. In India, the British later left the French alone and allowed them to hold on to Pondicherry, Chandan Nagar near Kolkata and Mahe on Kerala’s western coast. The Portuguese held on to Goa, Daman and Diu, also ruling Angola and Mozambique in Africa. France conquered and retained large territories in northern Africa; notably Senegal and the Arab countries of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

Portuguese cruelty, particularly that of converting natives to Roman Catholicism is well documented. Their mission was, above all, religious. The French were more keen spread their proud culture. In Africa, Congo was about the only colony that fell into Belgium’s hands. By all accounts, Belgian soldiers were not known to follow a dividing line between cruelty and kindness.

Britain built history’s greatest empire, one-fourth of the world’s land area upon which the sun never set. While there was no organised violence or cruelty perpetrated on a national scale, sadistic behaviour by British soldiers and young officers was not absent. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar by Brigadier Reginald Dyer is an example of this. Perhaps one of the most shocking cases was that of a celebrated cavalry regiment, the 9th Lancers, drawn from British aristocracy, and having high and powerful connections. On 9 April 1902 two troopers of the regiment which had arrived in Sialkot from South Africa, asked their native cook Atu to provide them with a woman. His refusal resulted in a savage beating. The troopers broke two of his ribs, bunged his eyes and rained blows on his head, face, back and chest. Atu was left all night, bleeding and unconscious. He was carried to a hospital only to die nine days later.

An inquiry by the regimental authorities turned out to be a sham, forcing Viceroy Lord Curzon to conclude that it was a crude attempt to hush up the murder. He saw this incident as a travesty of justice, and a crushing blow to British rule.

Such sadism and the colonial experience would have left a scar upon the civilised European conscience. Whether a guilty conscience leaves behind any particular psychological complex or not, one does not know. Nor has any psychologist been known to consider masochism as a reaction to sadism. Sadism is the obtainment of pleasure by imposing agony on others, whereas masochism is deriving pleasure through inflicting pain upon oneself. Nevertheless, it is intriguing to see Europe going out of its way to be kind and hospitable to migrants from the old colonies. Latin America is far away and the current migrants have come mainly from the African and Asian colonies. A number of European countries have been welcoming Islamic immigrants despite the Continent’s own experience of Muslim oppression between the year 712 AD and until 1681, when the second siege of Vienna ended. Even thereafter, Balkan Europe with its proximity to Turkey has continued to experience the old Muslim ways.

In the 20th century, Islamists declared a virtual war on Europe at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, massacring a dozen Israeli athletes. Thereafter, more and more countries have become victims of terrorism and also incessant Muslim migration. France today has Muslims numbering over 10% of its population. Germany has a host of Turkish “guest workers-cum-citizens”. Belgium and Holland are oppressed by migrants from Turkey and Morocco, while Spain is a remarkable case. Conquered by the Moors in the 8th century and driving them out only in the 15th, it has allowed thousands of Moors back again. The Christian “re-conquerors” of Spain had given three choices to the Moors: reconversion, exit or death. How else can one explain this paradoxical conduct than to suspect that the host countries suffer from a psychological complex, whether masochism or any other?

The Muslim encounter with the West dates back to the beginning of Islam’s expansion. The Arab conquest of the Byzantine Empire in Southwest Asia and North Africa led to Eastern Christian churches (Byzantines, Jacobites, Copts, Gregorians and Nestorians) coming under their control. Reversal of this began with the Crusades and the Reconquista with the fall of Granada in 1492.

According to The Oxford History of Islam, Europe’s current encounter with Islam is a byproduct of World War II. A 1986 estimate said about 23 million Muslims were present in Europe. North African and Senegalese mercenaries recruited to fight in the French colonial wars were the first to settle in France.

A small number of Muslims have lived in Berlin since 1777. Germany is home to temporary “guest workers” imported to relieve the shortage of manual labour in the post-World War II economic reconstruction. However, German society’s impression that these “guest workers” would return to their homeland is not materialising. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “Welkum” mantra notwithstanding, ethnic Germans have become shrill in declaring the Muslim presence a threat. It is the same story in other European countries. Hungary, Poland, Austria and now Italy have firmly decided to shut their doors to Muslim migration.

Scholar Oswald Spengler’s thesis, The Decline of the West (in 1921) predicted as much. Describing the third phase of a civilisational cycle—growth, flourish and inevitable decline—Egyptian writer Bat Yèor wrote a pamphlet, “Eurabia”, in 2005 predicting the Arabisation of Europe.

The term Eurabia was coined by Bat Yèor in the early 2000s. Her contention is that Europe “has surrendered to Islam and is in a state of submission in which the continent is forced to deny its own culture, stand silently by in the face of Muslim atrocities, accept Muslim immigration, and pay tribute through various types of economic assistance.” According to the theory, the blame rests with a range of groups including communists, the media, universities and mosques.

Bat Yèor’s theory has given rise to anti-Islamic sentiments and movements like “Stop Islamisation of Europe”. It gained renewed traction after the 9/11 terror attacks. The prospects of demographic threat, the fear of an Islamic takeover of Europe sometime in the future, or as the distinguished Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis put it, “Europe will be Islamic by the end of the century”, are looming large. Walter Laqueur’s The Last Days of Europe is quoted often among Eurabia literature.

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