(Note: this article was written in 2015. Sadly, many still remain ignorant of this history).
“Xenophobic and anti-Muslim” was how the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described Hungary’s treatment of Syrian and other refugees, desperate for safe harbor. Yet Hungary appears unmoved by the fierce international criticism. Prime minister Viktor Orbán has insisted his country doesn’t want Muslims, and a sentiment echoed by members of his party. “We want to decide ourselves how many Muslims we want to live with,” a parliamentarian for the nationalist-conservative Fidesz party declared.
Other Eastern European countries are making similar, if less obviously callous, arguments. Leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and now Slovenia are hesitant to accept Muslim refugees. Slovakia offered to accept a token 200 refugees, on the condition that they be Christians. As Slovak interior-ministry spokesman Ivan Netik put it, his country lacks mosques, and therefore Muslims would not feel at home.
In all these pronouncements, Islam is represented as foreign to Europe. Even when politicians do talk positively about Islam in Europe, they tend to stick to the large Muslim populations in the United Kingdom, France, or Germany, most of whom arrived relatively recently. If Islam isn’t foreign to Europe, the narrative goes, then it’s new—something it’ll take Europeans (at least those who are practicing Christians) time to get used to.
Hungary would like you to believe Islam is foreign to Europe.
But this is false. Not just because Europe is an idea, and not a physical reality. Not just because nationalisms are imagined, constructed, and selectively edited. Not just because Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, is a Near Eastern religion.
The truth is that Muslims have lived in Europe for centuries. And while Germany and France have the largest Muslim populations of any nation in Europe (unless we’re counting Russia or Turkey), the European Union member with the highest percentage of Muslims is actually Bulgaria.
These are not immigrants.