Some days ago, I received a message from one of my most beloved Friends. She’s an amazing Egyptian living in the US, able to enjoy a freedom and a prosperity that her own people decided to reject when they had the first chance to vote, back in those old times when we all had hopes and will to believe that Arabs were normal people, after all.
And above all, she’s one of the most important friends I have. The kind of those that no matter what, you know you will always have as friends for the rest of your life.
So my friend asked me to write about my own impression and reflection about the Middle East issues and also about the wave of refugees coming to Europe. It was something like this:
Whatever happened to your blog man. I was biting the head off someone at work who was debating that all Europeans hate us & specially Christians that are holding their faith close to heart. And guess who I was thinking about while defending all European Christians’ honour???
Would you like to pen down a blog entry or two talking about whatever you’d like to talk about that’s going on in the Middle East? (…)”
I have a lot to say about Middle East. A very big lot.
But I will start by talking about my view on the immigration issue. I will look at my side of the world.
My mind went immediately to those news coming from Germany. News of common Germans cheering up while a prospected refugee centre was set in flames, and preventing firemen to intervene. News of common Germans stopping a bus full of refugees (some men, but mostly women and children heading for another refugee centre) with the help of the director of that same centre(!) Also with the collaboration of the Police who made the refugees feel as if they were to blame for the situation, especially the kids. And again people were cheering up.
My mind flew to the news of those Balkan nations and Austria meeting on their own, apart from EU institutions and Greece, to take their own measures to stop or reduce the influx of people crossing their borders from Greece and Turkey. Most coming from Iraq and Syria, but many also from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Africa. Dispossessed all of them.
Poor people with tanned skins, who don’t talk European languages, who come with nothing, like an apparently endless river out of any control, and ask for help, crossing through some of the poorest nations of Europe, in their way to the rich North.
It doesn’t matter that many of them had a normal job, and superior studies in the past, especially those formed in Syria. There is a massive amount of people with University degrees among those lonely youngsters who fled the hell of Suriye, running from the flames of the Islamists or from the frying pan of the Assad regime. It doesn’t matter at all.
If they don’t give a damn about University formation of hundreds and thousands of Spaniards with double degrees, who migrated due to economic crisis to end up serving coffees and washing dishes in London, why are they going to mind about this other kind of poor tanned people who also don’t speak well their language?
That rich North that started welcoming the arrival of these people in need, in Sweden, in Germany… also saw how contrary movements appeared equally fast around them. In Denmark, for example, but also in Poland, Hungary, the UK …
My generation has seen waves of refugees before. It was not a completely new thing. My mind came now back home. To my own small-middle sized hometown in the middle of a valley, with its people living so proud of themselves under the shadow of the old bell tower (the 2nd tallest in Spain!)
We lived the wars of the Balkans, and the painful exile of thousands of Serbians, Bosnians, Croatians and Kosovars, who came to Spain years ago. Soon after that war was over, we met the arrival of waves of economic migrants, from Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Ukraine… And I also remember that most of those migrants were excellent people trying to adapt to our society, learning our language, taking their kids to school, and happy to mix. They are far from being Spaniards in origin. We are different even in religion, because most of them were Bulgarian or Serbian Orthodox, while Bosnians and Albanese-Kosovars were Muslims. That was never an obstacle as well. They are what they are, as no one asked them to reject their roots, and their kids learn our language at school and their parents mother tongue at home, as happened to all migrants since I remember.
The wrong side of that process? The high increase in violent crimes, in the form of robbery in houses, express kidnappings, pick-pocketing in big cities… and most of the times TV and media informed of this or that crime, or the detention of some responsible of these crimes and it was in an 80% of cases “a gang of former military from Eastern Europe”, or “a gang of Albano-Kosovars” (these tend to be particularly violent), or a family clan of Romanian gipsies who have been entering and exiting Police offices and courts some dozens of times.
We also had a huge amount of immigrants from Latin-America, mostly Ecuadorians, Colombians, Peruvians, Bolivians… looking for a better future at this side of the Atlantic pond.
Again they were a people who didn’t speak our language (just FYI, we speak mostly Valencian in my hometown, so Spanish is not our mother tongue, and the Latino accent doesn’t help at all to normalize the situation) they look physically different as well, and they also had their issues, but these never lasted, because same as most Eastern Europeans, most of the Latin-Americans earned their jobs and their wages working as everyone else. And they never went into creating trouble.
Let’s not forget mentioning the Chinese! These people don’t speak our language, don’t mix with us at all, and we positively know that they have created more trouble to our economy and our industrial competitivity than anyone else. But they never get in trouble. They mostly never argue, they only work, work, work, work… And on one side we respect those who respect us, not messing up with our stuff, not asking for special treatment, and we respect hard workers… and Chinese are damn hard working people.
Today, the local news published that my hometown has lost a 42% of foreigners in the last 5 years. They simply left for somewhere else, to find a job, a new chance in life. Maybe back home?
Most of those leaving were Eastern Europeans (including gipsies) and Latinos. Those who stayed is because they found some stability, opened their own business, or grew kids here who are Spanish nationals and will have better chances than they had… and also speak Valencian, which is something that opens doors in my hometown! Those who stayed have gone through the same that my father met when he came from Albacete, long ago. Everyone knows he’s not from here, but he earned the right to be considered “one of the locals”. I am already “a local” and no one will remember my father’s origins as any kind of “stain” in my pedigree. And same will happen to the sons of those immigrants from Europe or Latin-America who will stay and grow up here. They will melt in our tiny cultural pot, whatever they look like, and whatever they speak at home.
But there is a wave of immigrants I haven’t mentioned until now.
They came after the Europeans and the Latinos. First were only men, living packed in the worst houses of the town, hardly speaking our language and not mixing with anyone. They came because a couple of Arab investors opened their factories here, and brought them, mostly from Morocco.
After a couple of years, we started to see the first hijabs on our streets. They were gathering their families and bringing in their newly wed wives, earned through long hours of endless work in the factories, which helped saving the money for the dowry they had to pay for an arranged marriage down in Al-Maghrib.
These couples started to grow kids. Not one or two, like most Spanish couples. Nor two or three. Like most Latinos, but three, four, five… And soon I heard of little conflicts, mostly because they relied on social help more than anyone else. It’s what happens with big families, everywhere, when they cannot afford the cost of life, isn’t it? I also saw some fights between local and Arab guys in clubs, when the latter attempted to hit on local girls and were faced by their boyfriends, or were too fast using hands, or simply didn’t accept to be rejected by a girl. I saw some of those myself.
These Arab guys are stupid, stubborn and hot blooded, …same as us. But in a different way, at least towards respect and women.
We soon noticed they behave differently than anyone else who came before…
Arabs not only dressed different (specially women), didn’t hardly speak any other language than Arabic (not to mention an absolute unknowledge of Valencian) or used of the social services more than anyone else. They, and most especially women, NEVER mix with locals.
We are a social people, we speak with loud voice when we salute on street, we participate together publically in preserving and supporting our traditions and we love to get out and meet to have something with friends. It’s very common (even during the crisis) to go out at least once a week for a lunch or dinner in a Restaurant, or even for a coffee with friends.
I have never seen an Arab woman having a coffee with other women, even if they were all Arabs, in a cafeteria. I have never seen an Arab family going to have lunch together to a restaurant. I have never seen an Arab family unit here enjoying their social life in public.
Well, let me correct myself. There are some few exceptions. Those 3 or 4 guys that I know that apparently adapted. Yes, I said 3 or 4. I don’t even know if they are married. But they go working like everyone else, and they go to bars, drink whatever they want, from Coke to beers and mingle with locals. Same as everyone else. As I said, an exception.
The rest, they live in our same apartment blocks, maybe wall by wall,,, and completely apart from us. They got their mosque, located in the outskirts of the town, with something as 3 or 4 salafi-styled imams wearing their long beards and their short galabayas, thobes, geelabahs, or whatever they call it. Their women are clearly visible, because in an uncovered society there is nothing more eye-calling than covered people.
Exactly the opposite of what is supposedly intended for covering up: discretion and invisibility.
The wives of the imams even wear niqab. Seeing one of them covered in black while walking around in July, when everyone wears light clothes, is like seeing a Dementor roaming our streets escaping directly from a Harry Potter movie. And there they go, everywhere in groups, with their kids, talking in Arabic with themselves, and never addressing someone out of their circle. Never mixing with us, never becoming locals.
In the harsher times of the crisis I also saw some of them collecting food, clothes and other needs in the local Catholic inter-parish charity office. They were never denied of it, of course, and they were never indoctrinated… but don’t expect them to get close to any of our “contaminant” religious traditions. And yes, we are a combination of Catholics and atheists in my hometown, who participate together in these public occasions, just for the tradition, despite religious beliefs.
Their many kids can speak Valencian as perfectly as ours, and they had the same education as every local child. But they play just with Arab kids on street. I rarely see them playing with others. They don’t go to birthday parties like the rest. They hardly participate in any festival at school (same as their parents disappear whenever we are celebrating something in public) and in high school they start to ask for especial treatment, in some cases, because of their religion.
Girls start wearing hijabs and behaving differently as soon as they get their period, and they start distancing from those who have been their friends until then (boys and girls) and out of school they just gather with other Muslim girls, emulating their mothers’ ways.
Those who belong to the first generations even grew enough to reach the age to vote and there they go with their families, as happens in this pic appeared in the local newspaper last December:
The man in the greyish beard is Jordanian, but his wife is Spanish and I’m not sure she’s even converted. That’s maybe why she’s not wearing headscarf. She has her voting notes in hand. Their two sons are voting too. The bearded father doesn’t hold any paper in hand, though.
He was detained last January by Police, as being part of an organised plot that apparently managed a second hand clothes collecting company, apparently focused in sending much of it like charity to the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan.
What they didn’t declare when they sent the sealed containers to Middle East from diverse Spanish ports is that between the clothes and other charities they smuggled weapons, electronic elements for bomb manufacturing, money, ammo, data about new recruits, etc… all linked to both Al-Nusra front and ISIS (Daesh).
A report on the detentions can be found here (in Spanish):
When we heard about it (people were transmitting the detention live on whatsapp) everyone was like “this had to happen… it was too obvious that these people, with their beards, their veils, their secrecy… are this kind of people” and again every conversation mentioned everything I detailed above. And a lot of imaginative and expeditive “solutions” to “the problem”.
I blurred the pic because the case is still under investigation, but I feel it’s an iconic image.
Stories like this (maybe without the terrorist element) this kind of un-integration, can be found all over Europe.
It’s not the same kind as that of Chinese, who are masters in the art of discretion without having to cover like ninjas, this is a strong position of resistance to integrate. It’s a positive behaviour of rejecting the possibility of becoming “one of us”, offering us, instead, an obligation of respecting them, and a demand to tolerate them and adapt our small society to them.
Of course, this is just the case in this little town, and I can only hope that these are really a minority and most Arabs in Europe are peculiar but normal and not at all troublemakers, like the rest of foreigners who came before… but then I remember that we already thought this way when they started coming.
My mind goes now back to the borders of Macedonia, Austria, Serbia… and I can feel the urgency of helping people in such a desperate need. So many people fleeing disasters that many political analysts will explain putting the blame almost exclusively on some western governments’ policies. But disasters that are absolutely not the responsibility of the common European folks, and even less of the inhabitants of this small town in a valley. After all, when I remember our own Civil War in 1936-39, I feel that many outer powers played their role in our disgrace, but it was after all our own responsibility and our own crime, to kill one another like beasts.
We are perfectly aware of their situation, and our natural impulse is to help, but on one side we noticed that this people who we know are mostly strict religious people, are coming from countries already torn by religious conflict. And they are getting inside Europe without a minimum control.
Not long ago I heard that there are some 10000 unidentified children refugees, travelling alone all over Europe. Uncontrolled. Today I heard that Germany has lost track of some 150000 migrants who have vanished. That sends signs of alert. And on the other side, we see what happened with those who have spent years here and came in with control and peacefully. And we don’t like what we imagine.
We don’t want our way of living to become what they see as the right way. We don’t want our society to be a different society, and not for religious concern (those who know me can be sure that I am a strong but critical Roman Catholic). It’s not a matter of belief. It’s a matter of behaviour. Their social and cultural ways (so linked to their religious view of the world, it’s true) are not compatible with hundreds of years of efforts and sacrifices to achieve he levels of freedom and respect that we enjoy nowadays. And that, talking about Spain, is a lot to say.
This Catholic rejects the imposition of Catholicism applied by Franco after the Civil War, for example. And I equally reject the obstacles in exercising the right to freedom of religion, of course… but I can’t understand the exercise of this right if it goes against the values of my society, mostly because many of those values derive from our Christian tradition, despite the rejection of this idea by my atheist and agnostic friends everywhere.
When I see what is happening with refugees, my Christian side wants to open borders, not closing them… but then my European spirit, my Spanish blood, my hometown roots, can’t happily accept among us a group of people who decided that they don’t like us or how we are, behave, believe or think, but they nevertheless want to come, stay, and grow until they change our ways to theirs by simple reproduction. I simply can’t tolerate that.
We around here can’t feel that we must respect those who have told us openly that they won’t educate their many kids to respect our ways, but to perpetuate theirs. And I am not even saying that this people have an evil soul! The problem is that their usual ways are for us the same as getting back 100 years or more, when people could be good and bad, as everywhere else, but violence, religious and moral scrutiny and intolerance, among other issues, were the rule.
We had enough of that, honestly. Spain is decades behind other European nations because of having been a retrograde society until 1975. Yeah, we had enough of that intolerance and imposition.
And we simply need to know that we, or our sons, or our grandsons, won’t have to experience the same story coming back… this time dressed in the Middle Ages style.
Good night, world.
P.S.: …GEEZ… SORRY FOR THE EXTENSION OF THIS!!