M I C H A E L   K A T A K I S

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Letter 4 July 2004

Rapallo, Italy

To: DeWitt S.,  Greenwich, CT

...As to my living and traveling throughout Europe I have experienced a sense of foreboding somewhat like a faint scent momentarily experienced and then gone. My impression is coming from a variety of sources. There are conversations and looks given to certain people as they pass, body language, whispers and an apparent growing frustration and anger. The words often used in response to my questions are assimilation, immigration, terror, work, religion Muslim and America.

Being the son of an immigrant I am well aware of the implied contract that has existed between immigrant and state. Simply put, the immigrant agreed to assimilate, obey the laws of the country and respect, if not appreciate, the culture. The state was obliged to provide work and opportunity and maintain order so as to create a stable environment where the immigrants could elevate themselves and, perhaps prosper.

It is clear that this implied agreement is coming under increased pressure from both sides.

I have talked with many Muslim men and women from Bozeman, Montana, New York, Paris, London and Montpellier among others. In my conversations it is clear that many Muslim men, of a certain age, have a problem with the idea of assimilation or disregard it altogether. Muslim women less so if they are not under pressure, which I have found they often are. Sharia law has been mentioned more than a few times which, of course, is totalitarianism by another name and completely incompatible with a free society. You want to know about Sharia? Read Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ and you’ve got it. The observations of Naipaul and Rushdie have currency here in explaining the Arab and Islamic contradictions and Edward Said’s views give a balanced counter. I always remind myself that my country, as well as others, allowed many people to immigrate because of the supposed need for cheap labor but now, thanks to the blight of globalization, corporations are taking jobs anywhere where there are even poorer and more desperate people to exploit. The state and corporations (Plutocracy) have clearly broken their implied contract, as have some Muslims and others who are not assimilating and respecting the culture they now find themselves in. There is pressure, it is mounting and as opportunities narrow more and more people are in the streets.

I have heard it said that the world is becoming more dangerous for non-Muslims but I think the reverse to be true. I have encountered hate speech that I suspect is not very different from the vitriol that was directed at the Jews prior to WWII.
Do I think there is a threat? Well, I cannot discount the realities of Spain, New York, Bali and Africa to name a few but, with that said I believe that it is terribly important at this time in our history for societies to keep their heads and not over react or play into extremist’s (Theirs or ours) hands.

The irony now is that many of the world’s leaders seem to have something in common with the Bin Ladens of the world. They can tear things down but seem incapable of building anything up. Blair, who I once respected, wanted to be Churchill but it is not a Churchillian time. Bush wanted to be baseball commissioner.

Propagandists always deal in generalizations and partial truths and I’m sorry to say are often successful in their manipulations. Unfortunately for them I have met people like Abdul, in Italy, who is trying hard to have a life. His command of languages is impressive, certainly better than mine, and he is a fine cook who works very hard and makes the best pasta with clams that I have ever had. He takes great pride in that, as he should. Then there is Midi in Paris who loves books and wants to be an intellectual who argues ideas well. He is trying to find his way and make a life that is not at the expense of others. Contrary to the propagandists on all sides, I will never be convinced, that people like Midi and Abdul are not the Muslim majority.

However I will feel that something has changed dramatically and positively when Muslim men march in the streets of Paris for the right of Muslim women everywhere to take OFF the veil...
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