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29 de Març de 2014


No one in their right mind would dare to say that what happened on Wednesday 26th March in El Vendrell is anything but a terrible tragedy. Four young siblings aged between 3 and 12 lost their lives in a violent blaze which completely destroyed a flat in one of the most economically deprived areas of the town, inhabited mostly by immigrants of Moroccan descent, as this family was.

To make matters worse, the family had been in dire straits for a long time and, after having been evicted from this same flat, they had illegally broken into and re-occupied it some time back. And some still say that lightning does not strike twice.

These are the bare facts: a family has lost four of their six children. Two bereaved parents will have to come to terms with a loss much greater than any economic misfortune that might have befallen them in the past. Two parents will have to start anew without anything at all to start with and, above all, without four of their children. If thinking about the death of a child is hard for anyone, it gets much harder if you are a parent. I am, and the sole thought of losing one, let alone several, of my children, is not tolerable, not even for a few seconds. I have to brush it off and try to think of something else. You know what I mean.

That is the main reason why what has been said and done in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy feels so wrong, so misguided, so vile. It makes you question whether any red lines remain or whether some people have decided to blur them in order to advance their own agendas.

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, a spontaneous demonstration of El Vendrell's muslims gathered outside the Town Hall: tempers were frayed, sensitivities highly-strung; the threat of a violent outbreak, although never mentioned, was ever-present, and it was only dispelled after a speech by a muslim representative and a final prayer. Throughout the day, spontaneous demonstrations mushroomed here and there; the message was always the same: muslims were discriminated against; muslims lived in poor, sub-human conditions; muslims were ignored by mainstream society; the fire brigade took a long time to arrive, something which, they say, would not have happened in any other area of the city; a very serious and, indeed, false accusation, as, to all effects and purposes, the fire brigade did not take longer than a few minutes to reach the flat ablaze. And this after the local authorities had pledged that the surviving members of the family will get a home once they are discharged from hospital. But, apparently, this was not good enough for El Vendrell's muslims. They still felt they had a rough deal.

To mess things up further, muslim cultural association Itran issued a statement in which it denounced the permanent state of "discrimination, mistrust and xenophobia against immigrants, especially Moroccan immigrants". The statement went on to say that neither Moroccan nor Spanish authorities had done anything to improve this state of affairs and to try and provide jobs for the unemployed, and that it was only when tragedies such as these occurred that the media paid any attention at all to the plight of muslims suffering from long-term unemployment and financial hardship. The statement ended up by calling for the resignation of both the local El Vendrell authorities and their Moroccan counterparts responsible for the tragic situation of this family.

Muslim communitarism is well-known in European countries where muslim immigrants settled down decades ago and where many current muslim residents are already second or even third-generation nationals. Communitarism can take many forms, but the underlying cause is always the same: muslims feel attacked when one of their own is, say, arrested by the police and brought to justice for having committed a crime or an offense; it can be non-violent, as happened in L'Hospitalet just a few days ago in the case of the kidnapped and sexually-abused 9-year-old Moroccan girl; the demonstration there was made up mainly of women and children, as in El Vendrell this week. But it can also be extremely violent and lead to very severe rioting, as has repeatedly happened in the Paris banlieues, in other French cities and in the English riots in 2011, to give just a few examples. It should be pointed out that anger and its manyfold manifestations are not seen in muslim culture as a sign of weakness or inability to control one's own impulses, which is a totally Western perception: anger or over-the-top displays of emotion are considered signs of strength and conviction, whereas the usually understated, moderate, typically Western reactions are generally interpreted by muslims as a sign of cultural and moral relativism, and weakness.
Muslim communitarism stems from the concepts of honour and shame, deeply ingrained in the Muslim psyche: if a legal and judicial system which one regards as faulty, lacking, inferior and imperfectly man-made as compared to divinely-inspired sharia law is enforced against a muslim, this is often perceived as an attack on the Muslim identity as a whole, a collective humiliation and, therefore, the response is usually violent or, in the best of cases, non-violent but expressed in an extremely victimistic tone. This is exactly what has happened in El Vendrell.

Victimism is a form of violence. Subtle and psychological, but violence after all. Victimism is a form of coercion, of emotional blackmail: only if your perceived opponent is made to feel somewhat guilty of or responsible for what has befallen you can you extract something out of him, which he will then willingly give to you in order to atone his guilt.

When El Vendrell's muslims demonstrate in the streets and say that social welfare is insufficient and that they cannot get by, they are striking a chord in the social fabric: because most welfare payments are means-tested, immigrants in general and muslims in particular are already the social group getting the bulk of these payments, to the chagrin of the local working classes who feel short-changed after having worked and paid tax for much longer than these newcomers.
By claiming victim status, muslims are also self-segregating from mainstream society by vindicating a sort of implicit entitlement to social welfare, as they are never seen demonstrating in favour of increased payments for anyone who is not a muslim, for example. And, finally, they are implicitly acknowledging that they are not widely employable and that there is nothing much they can do apart from getting these handouts. But, if this is the case, which it unfortunately is, I am sure many of us locals would be so happy to see some degree of empathy on the part of muslims towards our own unemployed and financially deprived; we would be so happy to see muslims trying hard to integrate instead of demanding that mainstream society adapts to their customs and ideas and accommodates their religious mores; we would be so happy to see muslims putting and end to this constant whinging, whining, hand-wringing victimism, to pull their socks up and to show their willingness to rise over hardship and to improve their lot. Instead, those of us fortunate (or guilty) enough to have a job, pay tax and struggle to raise one or two kids on a daily basis instead of seven, eight or more, are constantly being called "racist" and "xenophobic" just because we believe in the value of struggling for the sake of self-improvement instead of crying and begging for help whilst at the same time biting the hand that feeds you.

Victimism is as much part of the Muslim collective consciousness as individualism is part of the Western one, so things are not bound to change, I am afraid, any time soon. Muslims place all their trust in Allah ("inshallah", "God willing" is a recurrent phrase in Arabic). On the positive side, this enables muslims to be more accepting of whatever hardships they may have to go through in life, something which we, hedonistic Westerners, often lose sight of. However, it also poses the risk of making you unable to rise above circumstances to try to improve your situation, as this is supposedly brought upon you by a divine, all-powerful hand, that of Allah. In addition, as individualism is not something which muslim culture values highly (rather the opposite is true), the problem of your fellow muslims is regarded as your own, so individual or innovative solutions or alternatives to remedy one's financial or social troubles are not often forthcoming.

Throughout the digital social media, reactions to the tragedy in El Vendrell over the last few days have been mixed: the initial, spontaneous reaction was one of general horror followed by a natural feeling of compassion, which, I would dare say, still prevails. However, in the aftermath of the muslim communitarist displays of anger, self-segregation and victimism, reactions have turned angry and outraged in many cases, and rightly so: it is one thing to mourn these four unfortunate children, which we all do, and quite a different one to rip our garments and beat our chests as expressions of misguided collective guilt. Those who have used these four deaths to criticise Western society for its inherent wickedness, racism, xenophobia and what not are doing themselves and their fellow muslims no favour at all, for they are vindicating the many politically-incorrect opinions against the ongoing islamisation of our society.

No amount of patronising, self-righteous, politically-correct, clichéd and ultimately meaningless muslim-friendly statements and declarations will do anything much to deflect this tidal wave against the most basic tenets of our culture. For as long as one group relies on argument, reason and logic to make their point, whereas the other favours emotion, anger and God's will, nobody will convince me that we are not headed for direct confrontation and, ultimately, total disaster.

Having said this - may these four blessed souls rest in peace.











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