It was the cover of a Polish magazine, The Network (wSieci ), that sparked debate this time. It features the image of a white woman, wearing the European Union flag as a dress, her face contorted in agony as she is being groped and assaulted by dark-skinned male arms.
This eye-popping mise-en-scène is entitled: “Islamic Rape Of Europe”. The cover, as well as the articles in this week’s issue, are devoted to the question of migration and the sexual assaults of European women, for which the recent flow of refugees to Europe have been accused.
As expected, users of social networks, as well as some mainstream media, compared the provocative cover to Hitler’s Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italian fascist propaganda.
This fragile white woman with her blond frizz grabbed by muscular dark men’s hands undoubtedly reminds us of the fascist campaigns against Jews and North African men in the 1930s, including the infamous: “Defend! It can be your mother, your wife, your sister, your daughter”.
Meanwhile, Twitter discussions revealed three active groups of participants: offended Muslims, some of who claim that the cover is the evil result of western standards of free speech; proud extreme-right Europeans who claim that the magazine reveals the truth; and leftists, who whipped out the term Islamophobia and some have even called for a ban on such publications.
I don’t know about you, but to me all three groups are very questionable factions with no less questionable arguments. I wouldn’t join any of them.
The controversial magazine cover is clear mauvais goût; its intellectual bankruptcy is not hard to notice with the racist and xenophobic undertones. But the amalgam of ethnicity, refugees, Islam and rape stifles any chance of convincing a rational reader of the legitimacy of its message.
Even though I dislike the cover, I am convinced that this image follows the western standards of freedom of speech and has a right to be exposed to the public. Moreover, banning a message that does not please many, including myself, will simply indicate the existence of limits to freedom of expression in Europe. And I really hate to think about that.
But I am also outraged by the recurrent claims of “Islamophobia” from the regressive left. This term, some claim, was first used by Iranian mullahs, and even though it is often used incorrectly as a synonym for racism, it surely only calls for one thing – a ban on criticising Islam (which I often enjoy doing). Are we really still talking about Islamophobia? Even after the Charlie Hebdo killings?
While the cover of the magazine does not deserve more attention than it has already received, the debates around it surely do, as they reflect the state of today’s crippled European society. A society that is in the middle of a refugee crisis, a society that went through terrorist attacks committed by extreme Islamists, horrific sex attacks in Cologne…
Europe feels the anger of European Muslims, as we hear populist right-wing speeches filled with xenophobia, but we also observe the silence or deliberate hiding of the current problems by many leftists, whose praise of multiculturalism as a reaction feeds the rise of xenophobes.
To have reasonable debates and analysis of today’s European reality is difficult, as many appear not to be able to distinguish between criticism of religion, and the demonisation of a group of people. Some are unable to see the difference between rapists (including foreigners) and those who flee to Europe to survive and save their children.
The regressive left, however, are unable to honestly recognise Europe’s failure at integrating newcomers and admit the urgent need to promote universalism, even after the Cologne attacks. Instead, they use self-defence as an a priori failed notion of “European multiculturalism”.
It often appears to me that Europe is politically divided today into two big gangs of fools: xenophobes (the extreme right-wing) and xenophiles (the regressive left). The xenophobes are loud and the xenophiles are deliberately silent. And if you think this will not destroy Europe, you might be a fool yourself.
All of this causes a growing civil conflict. As many leftists have yielded space to the right-wing, the latter has managed to spark a real campaign against foreigners, with a focus on Muslims, and the Polish magazine’s cover is just a small example of this.
What’s important is that this clash between right-wing and European Muslims is specifically desired by Isis , whose goal is to destroy the West in order to establish their caliphate.
As they openly claim in an essay entitled: “Eliminating the Grey zone“which appears in their English language media Dabiq, Isis’ goal is dividing the world into two groups: the camp of Islam and the camp of the West. They call for the elimination of what they call the “grey zone”, countries where Muslims and Europeans coexist peacefully. Therefore, we can assume, the goal of the November attacks in Paris was not solely to spread fear among the Europeans, but also to antagonise them and cultivate a suspicion of Muslims.
It is time to oppose the attempts of the right-wing to spread hatred and fear, and to reject the silence of the leftists. To get rid off the notion of borders and identities of the right-wing, and multiculturalism of the regressive left. Liberals must let their voices be heard.
We must enjoy limitless freedom of speech and coexistence with people of different opinions. But not be scared to point out the sexist and violent sides of religions and cultures, sharing the universal values of humanism and equality with others. It is time to recall the fundamental values of Europe and, urgently apply them in our everyday life.
And we must accept that the covers of Charlie Hebdo or The Network simply illustrate the diversity of ideas we are all peacefully able to support, criticise or mock – without creating a civil war.