Far from ‘outsiders,’ Europe and Islam have long been intertwined

Globe & Mail:
In the wake of the most recent attacks in Paris, the airwaves have been full of myths about Muslim communities in Europe. After the commentator Steve Emerson declared on Fox News that the English city of Birmingham had become a “no-go zone” for non-Muslims, he was roundly denounced by figures across the political spectrum. Even the British Prime Minister himself, David Cameron, used uncharacteristically harsh language to describe the regular Fox News guest as “clearly, a complete idiot.” The Fox network finally issued an abject apology for perpetuating this urban myth.

Then a U.S. governor and potential presidential candidate, Bobby Jindal, took that rhetoric further by launching into a missive around certain “people” who move to the West but do “not adopt our values,” suggesting that this is the cause of Islamist radicalism.

The underlying claim at the root of Mr. Jindal’s comments concerns the supposedly ‘foreign’ nature of Muslims and Islam in Europe and the West.

However, history tells a rather different tale: Muslims are far from alien from European culture; in fact, they are central to it. The links between Europe and Islam date back to the very first generation of Muslims – one of the Prophet’s companions being a blonde-haired, fair, Greek-speaking Byzantine. Called ‘al-Rumi’ (no relationship to the now-famous poet and mystic), it is reported he was selected as the temporary commander of the entire Muslim community at one point, with the Caliph Umar having vested him with this authority while a leader was being chosen.

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