On Wednesday, July 27, Pope Francis arrived in Krakow, Poland, in order to celebrate World Youth Day. As part of this trip, the pope commented on controversy surrounding Muslim migration to Europe. Many of these comments reveal an apparent ignorance of Polish history and current reality, a privileging of Marxist and culturally relativist worldviews that distort reality, and an abandonment of true Christian ideals. I write as a devout Catholic. I wish my pope would read what I write here.
Western Europe, typified by Angela Merkel’s Germany, has encouraged mass, unvetted, Muslim migration. Germany has openly acknowledged that it is doing this to fill labor gaps created by its low birth rate. Too, Angela Merkel’s “compassion” is meant to wash away stereotypes nailing Germans to the nation’s Nazi past.
England, France, and other Western European nations also want to refurbish their brands. They want to escape the image of themselves as arrogant colonizers of Muslim nations, and be christened as certified tolerant multiculturalists. They want to escape the image of themselves as Crusaders.
Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary have all expressed overt resistance to mass Muslim immigration. Their resistance is expressed in unambiguous terms that would render the speaker radioactive in Western Europe.
Western Europeans, including, sadly, the pope, have addressed Eastern Europeans in insulting and patronizing ways. They have completely ignored the history and current conditions that affect Eastern Europeans’ approach. Worst of all, they have not said what needs to be said to Muslim migrants. Western European arrogant posturing is making the migration crisis worse.
Eastern Europe, long the poorer half of Europe, sees mass, unvetted Muslim migration completely differently than Western Europe does. Concrete historical and contemporary differences with Western Europe condition Eastern European perspectives and offer a sobering corrective to Western errors.
Germany has a labor gap it must fill. Poland has a high unemployment rate. Poland, unlike Germany, was on the right side in World War II, so it does not face the same need that Germany does to tinker with its image. Unlike England and France, Poland never colonized any Muslim nation. Poland does not need to prove it has overcome its colonial past vis-à-vis Muslims.
Poland, aware of its own history, feels no need to certify itself as a tolerant, multicultural nation. The Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth was, as Eva Hoffman wrote in her book Shtetl, “a long experiment in multiculturalismavant la lettre.” That is, Poland was multicultural before the term “multicultural” was invented.
During the Wars of the Reformation, Poland was a “state without stakes.” For centuries its population included Lithuanians, one of the last holdouts of authentic Paganism in Europe, Arians, atheists, Jews, and others. Poland’s current religious and ethnic homogeneity is the result not primarily of Polish choices, but of German genocide, Churchill and Roosevelt colluding with Stalin to rejigger borders, and the 1968 Communist scapegoating of Jews. This is why Poles become uncomfortable when Westerners, including the Pope, lecture them about their need to be multicultural.
Further, Poles did not significantly participate in the Crusades. In fact, Polish Muslims fought side-by-side with Polish Catholics and Lithuanian Pagans against Crusader knights, the Teutonic knights, at the Battle of Grunwald, one of the largest battles of medieval Europe and perhaps the largest battle to involve knights.
Eastern Europe is the poorer half of Europe for a variety of reasons. One is that Eastern Europe abuts the landmass of Asia and the Ottoman Empire. For centuries, Poland has had to fight invaders for its very survival. Often those invaders were Muslims. The Crimean Khanate and Al-Andalus made use of millions of Polish and other Slavic slaves. Poles, under Jan Sobieski, famously played a significant role in the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at Vienna on September 11-12, 1683. Bernard Lewis cites this battle as the end of jihad’s expansion, and the beginning of Muslim self-doubt, a self-doubt it attempts to correct with its current jihad. As Lewis wrote, “This defeat, suffered by what was then the major military power of the Muslim world, gave rise to a new debate, which in a sense has been going on ever since. The argument began among the Ottoman military and political élite as a discussion of two questions: Why had the once victorious Ottoman armies been vanquished by the despised Christian enemy? And how could they restore the previous situation?”
All nations have their favorite targets for ethnic slurs. When Poles indulge in ethnic slurs, their targets have most often been Jews, Germans, Russians, and Ukrainians – that is, their most significant immediate neighbors. Hatred and stereotyping of Muslims has not traditionally been a big part of Polish cultural baggage. In fact, Poles proudly mention that Muslims have lived and practiced their faith in Poland since the 14th century. The Lipka Tatars were invited into Poland and given the status of nobility. They served in the military. Polish Muslims were granted autonomy, had the right to practice their religion and to intermarry with Polish Catholics. They had representation in the Polish Sejm, or parliament. These Muslims largely Polonized, adopting Polish language and culture. Except in the 17th century, during the Ottoman Empire’s attacks, there were few reports of conflict between these Muslims and Polish Catholics. Rather, Polish Catholics tended to speak of these Muslims as an interesting part of the country’s history and evidence of the country’s multiculturalism and tolerance.
Too, during WW II and Stalinist population transfers, many Poles found themselves in Muslim Central Asia. Typical Polish refugee survivor stories do not include anti-Muslim stereotyping. One such Polish memoirist,Edward Herzbaum, wrote a picturesque account of his time spent in Muslim Central Asia:
“There is a bright moon and some wind. As we stop for a few moments, the exotic landscape is striking, like an intoxicating scent. The tall poplars wave and rustle; the clay walls of the hovels are lit up brilliantly by the moon and the small windows look completely black. Under some trees somebody is laughing or talking in a gentle voice and then there is silence again, but it is full of life. Everything which is dead in the heat of the day is now awake, a life so lush and vibrant that it is difficult to describe. There is also the wind, hungry and restless like a young animal, coming down from the mountains and blowing above the fertile, fragrant valley. It runs amok and then it’s silent again.”
It is true that anti-Muslim sentiment is strong and often expressed in Poland today. Current anti-Muslim feeling in Poland is a new development. Younger Poles are most likely to resist Muslim migration, according to theChristian Science Monitor. This new hostility to Muslims and Islam references current jihad actions and Western Europe’s apparent inability to address them. In spite of their history of being the targets of Crusader knights’ aggression, Poles have sometimes chosen the image of the Crusader knight to express their current disagreement with Western Europe’s migration policies, as did soccer fans in Wroclaw, Poland, in 2015, when they displayed a huge banner depicting Poland as a knight defending Christendom from invading Muslims.
In short, Eastern Europe is very different from Western Europe when it comes to historical interactions with Muslims, and when it comes to the contemporary economic and cultural forces affecting decisions about Muslim immigration.