Yes to Kebab, no to Muslim migrants

The Polish blogosphere has been overtaken by ‘discussions’ about–or should I say, expressions of hatred towards—Muslim refugees and migrants. The debate intensified when the European Union proposed binding quotas on asylum seekers for its 28 member states. Poland vehemently opposed these plans.

Poles took to the Internet to express their outrage about the possibility of admitting Muslim refugees and migrants. The better mannered commentators pointed out cultural and religious difference between Catholic Poles and Muslim migrants that would prevent integration of the latter into the Polish society. Those with less restraint called Muslims ‘’lazy, passive and intolerant savages who treat women poorly, ruin whole neighborhoods, behead passerbys, and comit terrorist attacks.”[1]

Many Poles see Muslims as a threat to European identity. They are afraid that Sharia laws will replace the Polish legal system and cite Nigel Farage who has claimed “that ‘ghettos’ in parts of the UK are being run according to Sharia law as authorities ‘turn a blind eye’ because of their ‘moral cowardice’.”[2] I know that hatred and racism are not rational feelings, but I often wonder whether a bit more education about Islam and Muslims would positively affect the Poles’ attitudes toward Muslims. Perhaps the education should start with a historical look at Muslim minorities in Poland.

Yes, there are Muslims in Poland. The presence of Muslims in Poland dates back to the 14th century when Tartars settled in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In northeastern Poland there are villages where Muslim Tartars have lived peacefully alongside their Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brethren for a long time. I remember taking my anthropology students to Sokółka and Bohoniki to see the peaceful co-existence of different religions and cultures in the late 1970s. Konrad Pędziwiatr estimates the number of Muslims in Poland between 25,000 and 40,000 people.[3] At a conference at the Józef Tischner European University in Krakow in July 2011 panelists talked about Poles of Syrian, Egyptian and Turkish origin—whose families arrived after 1970–who play an important role in civic and community organizations in different parts of the country. The consensus was that Muslims are contributing members of the society and should feel welcomed in Poland.

What a difference 4 years makes! When Ewa Kopacz, the Polish Prime Minister, announced in the summer of 2015 that the country would take in 60 Syrian refugee families[4] of Christian faith, Poles breathed a sign of relief. The debate leading to the announcement was anything but welcoming. In my hometown of Poznan—that would take 10 of the 60 families—the local TV show aired a discussion between Krystian Golec of the All-Polish Youth (Młodzież Wszechpolska), a Polish youth organization based on nationalistic doctrine, and Dr. Mariusz Marszewski from the Eastern Institute (Instytut Wschodni) of the Adam Mickiewicz University.[5] In the discussion Mr. Golec showed a great deal of ignorance about Christianity in Syria and was shocked when Professor Marszewski talked about Christian Syrians being culturally Arab. Somehow the Arab identity of Christian Syrians did not fit into Mr. Golec’s visions of cultural similarities between them and the Catholic Poles.

The ignorance of many Poles shows also in total lack of understanding of how the international refugee regime works and who bears the financial responsibility for refugees. The opponents of admitting Muslim refugees to Poland shout loudly about the financial burden refugees would place on the Polish society. In reality, ¾ of the funds needed to resettle refugees would come from the European Union’s Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund, while ¼ would come from the Polish government. In the case of the 60 families, the total cost would be four million PLN or a little over one million US dollars. The Estera Foundation, a Polish non-governmental organization, claims that they are able to guarantee to maintain and care for 1,500 persecuted Christians from Syria. They refugees would receive a Polish language training, case management, and integration assistance. All of these actions would be financed with private money, not taxpayers’ money.

Sadly, reason and mathematical calculations fall on deaf ears. The nationalists are eager to welcome the descendants of Poles sent to Kazakhstan and Siberia in the previous century. They united in their desire under the slogan: We don’t want immigrants, we want repatriates! When Poles appreciate multiculturalism, they limit their appreciation of diversity to culinary offerings people from other countries can provide. As my friend and colleague, Professor Michal Buchowski says: They say yes to kebab, but no to Islam.

[1] See commentaries to an article written by Roza Thun, a Polish politician, in the Polish Daily Gazeta Wyborcza where she invites Catholic Poles to follow the Bible and welcome the stranger.

https://www.facebook.com/wyborcza/posts/10153178192778557?comment_id=10153179291733557&notif_t=share_reply

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/nigel-farage-claims-there-are-nogo-zones-for-nonmuslims-in-french-cities-on-fox-news-9976907.html

[3] http://www.krakowpost.com/2011/08/muslims-at-home-in-poland/

[4] Estera, a Polish non-governmental organization, asked the government to allow 1,500 Syrian Christians to live in Poland. The NGO said charities, businesses and churches could cover living costs for the refugees.

[5] http://wtkplay.pl/video-id-18674-z_syrii_do_poznania

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