Leaving home. Leaving the place you have carved out for yourself: the familiarity of streets, neighborhoods, stores.
Leaving home. Leaving friends, acquaintances, people who know you, who have watched you grow up, have applauded your triumphs, cushioned your defeats.
Leaving home. The smells, the sights, the sounds of the everyday.
This is about the painful abandonment of one’s sense of place and belonging, one of the primary sources of security for most of us. Maybe there are some few peripatetic souls who prefer the rambling road, but for most of us, home is a hard-won sense of place. It is not one we easily surrender.
Nalin Pekgul is leaving home. Again. The first time she was thirteen. It was 1980 and her family fled Turkey for political reasons. Being a Kurd in Turkey and demanding human rights recognitions is a risky business. It was her father’s business and it led to immigration for his family.
They settled in Sweden that year, in a Stockholm suburb called Tensta. It was a place in transition, called by some a ghetto of failures, and by others a multicultural enclave. But Ms. Pekgul says it was not either of these things — or rather that it was both:
Neither of these images painted a complete picture. Yes, we had unemployment and prejudices that led to ethnic tensions. But we also had happy children and ambitious young people with bright hopes for the future.
Funny, isn’t it, when you live an experience rather than merely observe it. You have its truth in your bones in a way no outsider can fully fathom or accurately describe. When Ms. Pekgul says it this way:
I stayed in Tensta as an adult, even though I could have afforded to move to a more prosperous neighborhood. This led to accusations that I lived there just because it’s “politically correct.” I never chose to live in Tensta to improve my image. The only reason I didn’t want to leave was that for 25 years Tensta was my home. Many of my closest friends live there. If my children got sick and we didn’t have any medicine at home, there were always so many families around us to ask for help. This gave me an enormous feeling of security — a feeling most people who choose to live where their roots are probably know.
So what drives her to leave after twenty five years?
One reason: murderous intolerance tricked out in religious fervor:
Unfortunately, the neighborhood I called my home for so many years has changed. It’s no longer the familiar place it used to be and, most importantly, I no longer feel safe in Tensta. The influence of Islamic fundamentalists has grown so much over the years that it is now impossible for me and my family to live there anymore. I’m tired of being expected to speak badly of Christians and Jews just because I’m Muslim. I’m tired of the hate preachers. I’m tired of seeing women condemned for the way they dress. I don’t want my daughter to be exposed to this type of aggression in the future. So I will soon have to leave Tensta.
Ms. Pekgul comes from a long line of educated, forward-thinking Kurds. She looks at the present situation in Tensta through the lens of her family’s history of struggle and development:
As I look back at the history of my family, which for generations has fought for progress and modernization in Kurdish provinces, I’m astonished by the recent developments here in Sweden. Many years ago my grandfather, living as an imam in Turkey, decided to take his children out of Quranic school and send them to Latin school. That was in the 1950s. During the 1980s, my husband was active in the Kurdish-Turkish student movement and fought for the rights of women. I never imagined that in the new millennium, and in Sweden of all places, my five-year-old son would have to defend and explain in his day-care center why his mother doesn’t wear a head scarf.
That’s the new Islam she’s describing and it is a bloody business, one funded by Saudi Arabia and spreading through Europe and America. It is a cancer in the form of Wahhabi Islam.
I use the metaphor of cancer deliberately. A tumor is a group of cells that have gone wild. In order to grow and spread, it must have blood; it must send out orders to attract blood vessels to those first cells. This signal and returning answer is angiogenesis, the building of blood vessels. Without this essential feature, tumors cannot grow or later metastasize.
The tumor is the Wahhabists, vascularized by petroleum, swollen and metastasizing its death cult over the whole world. The Wahhabi Saudis are a death-driven cancer. Without their oil, fundamentalism would wither and die, just like a tumor deprived of its blood supply. Ms.Pekgul has seen this and she despairs:
Muslim fundamentalists have focused on strengthening their position in Europe for many years now. The first time I ever met Muslim fundamentalists was in 1993. I had read in Turkish newspapers that Saudi Wahabbists were trying to set up organizations in Europe in order to isolate the European Muslims from the rest of the population. These young men I then met in Tensta were educated but also full of hate against the West. I didn’t take them seriously back then.
But today I must admit that they have succeeded. The Muslim fundamentalists are now getting stronger by the day. When the Islamists complain how the Europeans don’t show any respect for the Muslim way of life, you get the impression that all they want is that we all make small, little adjustments out of consideration to their customs. But when have Islamists ever shown any consideration or respect for other people’s way of life?
When you have seen Islamists throw acid in the faces of women because they don’t wear head scarves, then there is no room for compromise. They want to impose their ideology on the rest of society.
So what drives an individual to find this kind of life attractive? Ms. Pekgul says the original driving force in the advances Wahhabi fundamentalism has made lay originally in the feelings of being outsiders who were discriminated against. In a certain sense she is right, but she has only part of the truth there. Because she lives inside the system it is difficult for her to see beyond it to another kind of culture.
What is killing Europe is the unintended consequences of cradle-to-grave social welfare working in tandem with the European inability to let outsiders fully participate in a given culture and mingle on an equal level with the native population. Unlike the American experiment of welcoming immigrants whole-heartedly, Europeans cut themselves off, afraid perhaps of the concomitant changes that accompany any widening of the group. At the same time, they use their welfare programs to keep the strangers in their midst housed and fed, but hardly employed at their level of competence. This breeds resentment more surely than if they had left them homeless and hungry:
The Islamists’ solution to the discrimination is for Muslims to distance themselves even further from the European society. Influenced by the fundamentalists’ propaganda, the young men begin to mold their identity exclusively around one central theme — that of being offended and injured Muslims. This was also a contributing factor for the riots in the French suburbs.
Ms. Pekgul says this puts moderate Muslims in a difficult position. I say it puts them in an untenable position. They cannot go up against an organized terrorism that will ratchet up the ante immediately if they disagree publicly. It is unreasonable to expect moderate, secular Muslims to deter these people any more than the average Irishman could have affected any detente with the murderous IRA.
Caught between a rock and a hard place, reasonable people like Ms. Pekgul must leave in order to survive. It is up to the political, legal, judicial and social structures of European countries to sort out this mess. Unfortunately, they set up a system they have yet to find a way to direct or control.
Until they figure this out, the moderate Muslims have the same three sad choices that befall anyone living under tyranny: they can keep silent, they can join up with the fundamentalists, or they can flee.
Ms. Pekgul is honoring her family tradition: once more, another generation is fleeing terrorism.
Hat tip: Reader Annlee