Why do Muslims seek refuge in the non-Muslim West?
The question is a crucial one since it is one of the main political subjects in Europe, which is about to stage a number of national elections.
It is the unwritten question in the ongoing debate between Turkey and Germany over Turkish politicians’ desire to address communities from Turkey in Germany (and other countries with Turkish residents like France, Austria and the Netherlands) over the April 16 referendum about a possible shift to an executive presidential model as sought by President Tayyip Erdoğan. This is because it involves an agreement between Turkey and the European Union over the control of the refugee flux that has been amplified by the Syrian civil war.
The EU, as the world’s richest economic region with 28 countries and the house of some of most advanced democracies on earth, is trying to cope with a total of 2.3 million refugees. The number of refugees in Turkey, mostly from Syria, is around 3.5 million.
As difficulties about security and economy increase, more people in Turkey say they would like to live in another country (more than 27 percent according to a MetroPoll survey) – but not as refugees. They just want to live a more easygoing and prosperous life.
In the case of refugees, they are after security, justice and basic needs. A crushing majority of them are from Muslim countries such as Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Morocco, Mali, Somalia and others.
Those running for their lives are Muslims but they are not seeking shelter in other Muslim countries, except for Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, where the political systems are not based on religious law. They turn their eyes to predominantly non-Muslim, mostly Christian societies in the West.
Why is that so?
Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the Ennahda movement in Tunisia, who can speak as a – or perhaps the only – success story from the Arab Spring, is also looking for an answer to that question.
In a speech he delivered in Ankara on Feb. 8 in a conference organized under the title of “Ankara Palace Meetings” by a group dominated by politicians and academics in line with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), Ghannouchi said the following:
• “In the Medieval Ages, people living in Europe used to migrate to Islamic countries. Nowadays, unfortunately, Muslims living in dictatorships are migrating to European countries. They are not turning their heads from Islam to infidelity, they are looking for a shelter from oppression.”
When a politician among the audience asked Ghannouchi about the increasing bias against Islam in Europe and especially in France, the answer of the Islamist leader, who maturely shared power with secular politicians despite winning an election, was instructive:
• “The evidence that people in North Africa are migrating to France is that the life in France is better. … France is seen as a democratic country. There is freedom of religion [in France]. Muslims are living there in peace. Some of those Muslims have acted badly against France with terror. Some Muslims who were raised by France have misunderstood Islam. Those doing that have not only harmed France, but also Islam; they put Muslims living in France in a difficult position. We condemned those acts of terror and stood by France. … Terrorism is something we have to condemn whether it is in America, France, Turkey or Tunisia. Terror cannot have any righteous justification.”
The seasoned politician also stated that true Islam could only flourish in free and just societies, not under sectarian oppression, even in Muslim societies.
As long as Muslim societies lack true democracies with respect for rights for all citizens, migration in search of security, justice and freedom will continue. Therefore, the answer is not in building walls and fences, accepting oppressive regimes as they are because they are good trading partners or seeking to alienate them, but extending a hand to better the quality of democracies – something that will ultimately lead to better economies.