This Saturday (May 14), for the first time ever, Americans were able to watch the final round of the Eurovision song contest live. The contest is a very big deal. Two hundred million people around the world watch contestants from 42 countries (mostly Europe as well as Australia and Israel) compete in a massive, campy sing-off. Those fortunate enough to watch the 61st contest this year, however, saw something very different from the usual fare.
The war-torn country of Ukraine was represented by Jamala, a Crimean Tatar Muslim woman. Her winning song “1944” respected Eurovision rules by not being overtly political. But with lyrics evoking the deportation of Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union, the point was hard to miss. Many in the audience, however, were left with an interesting question: Was she singing only about 1944, or about 2016 too?
The right direction and the wrong direction
In 1944, well after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union had failed and the Red Army was on the offensive, Joseph Stalin accused Jamala’s entire people of colluding with the Germans. The charge was, like most of his charges, ridiculous. The solution, as per most of his policies, was monstrous. Stalin ordered the entire population of Tatars deported from their homeland in the Crimean Peninsula.
And so in May of 1944, Soviet troops began a massive house-to-house operation, giving many Tatars just minutes to gather their belongings. That includes Jamala’s great-grandmother, who never saw her homeland again. Some 200,000 Tatars were forced onto trains and deported to what is now Uzbekistan. Some estimate that, within a few years, nearly half the Tatars died. Half the entire population of a people, wiped out, in a matter of years.
History has a funny way of remembering some tragedies while erasing others. History has a funny way of remembering some tragedies while erasing others. Just a few years after the horrors of the Holocaust, in May 1948, the establishment of Israel resulted in and required a mass expulsion of the indigenous Palestinian Christians and Muslims, many of whom are now refugees in their own homes, or unable to return to them. Their plight is not so different from that of the Tatars, who also continue to find themselves under occupation.
When, in the 1980s, Tatars were finally allowed to return, they found Russian settlers had taken their homes and property. It’s no wonder the Tatars so welcomed the fall of Communism, or that so many of their fellow Ukrainians did, too. It’s also not hard to see why so many Tatars, and so many other Ukrainians, risked their lives in 2014’s Maidan revolution. That revolution, which started with student protests but eventually led to the overthrow of the government, was supposed to make the country more democratic and more aligned with the interests and politics of the West.
But you don’t escape history that easily. Since the Maidan revolution, Putin has backed Ukrainian separatists in the country’s east, an effort designed to minimize the revolution and isolate Ukraine from the European Union. Russia annexed Crimea outright, too, putting the Tatars back under the rule of a historically hostile government.
Eurovision’s choice matters. But it remains to be seen what this awareness will accomplish. The persecution of Tatars, like other European Muslim peoples—for example the Circassians—is rarely recognized. And so Eurovision’s choice really does matter. But it remains to be seen what this awareness—or, for that matter, the sanctions slapped on Russia by the West—will accomplish. A much more effective solution would be to strengthen Europe by adding more members to the European Union. Unfortunately, this seems like the last thing many Europeans are in the mood to do.
Earlier in May, Sadiq Khan was elected mayor of London by a wide margin. His opponent, Zac Goldsmith, chose to run an Islamophobic campaign, which failed. That prospect of democratic security and respect for diversity is the reason why Ukraine, like Albania and other candidate countries, aim for EU membership. But the thing they seek to join may be abandoned by its founders.
On June 23rd, Britain will vote on whether or not it wants to stay in the EU. A “Brexit” could accelerate the unraveling of the EU, and empower the nationalisms menacing Europe all over again. Incidentally, the Eurovision song contest was founded to help ease these same nationalisms back in 1956. The theory was that countries could compete over music instead of power and territory.
Put them on trains
Europe is not the only region grappling with its newly emboldened demons. Across the West, we see rising intolerance and violence. Talk of mass deportations, of moving and eliminating people as if they were furniture, is back in vogue.
This January conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat effectively argued that to prevent European fascism, we must turn to fascist strategies. Douthat proposed that Europe commence with the deportation of able-bodied male Syrian refugees en masse. Put them on trains! Only the removal of refugees, he argued, could save the continent from forces of toxic xenophobia and hate. Eliminate diversity to save diversity? Europe is not the only region grappling with its newly emboldened demons.
At least he makes an attempt to employ a moral logic.
Trump, of course, wants to uproot even more people–roughly 11 million, an impossibly huge number. He seems to think people can be torn from their homes willingly, even peacefully, and lots of Americans seem unperturbed. It seems we’ve forgotten what happens when people are empowered to force other people onto trains.
Meanwhile, a growing number of “isolated” incidents are starting to look more and more like a pattern. We have American academics calling for Muslims to be interned, the French school system is at war with halal and kosher meat, and neo-Nazi and far-right movements are rising across Europe. A protest against refugees in Poland ended with a Hasidic man, wrapped in an EU flag, burned in effigy.
And the next leader of the free world could very well be a man who believes we should leave NATO and the EU, praises Putin while insulting our European allies, and has made mass deportation a literal part of his election platform. This weekend “1944” won, but it remains to be seen whether the song’s deeper message was heard.
Elyes Ismail replied on
I’m deeply touched by your article that reflects faithfully the bitter dilemma that is living, nowadays, the Islamic community all over the world. But, I’m wondering if the author has ever asked himself (herself) why it’s always the same story of the hangman and the victim: the hangman (the executioner) every time with a different face from a different ethnicity and different culture or different nationality and the victim was always the same one from the same religious confession along more than one thousand years of history, from the time when Jerusalem fell down in the hands of the crusaders who massacred almost the entire Muslim population of the city on 15 July 1099 (30 000 destroyed human lives most of them children and women) . I can say that was one of the most atrocious genocides of the history of the humanity.
I’m not a historian and I’m not here to recite again history, neither in the dark middle ages nor in the contemporary world: Crimea 1944, Palestine, Srebrenica 1995, Birmania 2006, Central African Republic 2013-2014...etc...etc. I just wanted to highlight on that mysterious relationship between the beast and his eternal prey that belongs to the Islamic confession.
Paradoxically, the Muslim community has always been the most tolerant and peaceful one along the history: Muslims always lived in peace with different and various cultures under Muslim kingdoms and rulers, Muslims have never took the sword and went to fight far populations and force them to believe in any kind of ideology, why were they always the most wanted prey in the most atrocious genocides and mass deportations during history? Was this fact by coincidence? I don’t think so, that’s impossible, so if Muslims claim to be the elected nation of Allah thanks to his revelation to his last Prophet Muhammad “be peace and blessings upon him” who is coming from a long line of prophets, why have Muslims always been the first agonizing victim in these horrible scenes? Was it something wrong in their faith? Was it something wrong in their life?
YES INDEED, there was something wrong in their faith and their life. To be honest, I have no idea about how were Tatars of Crimea living before deportation of 1944, about how was their faith? Was it strong? Or was it weak? were they assiduous on preserving their 5 prayers in time? And the same question with the Muslims of Bosnia before Serbian massacre? How was their faith?
On the other side, I know very well what exactly happened to the Muslims of Jerusalem before crusaders come in 1099, and what happened to Muslims of Andalusia before the“Reconquista” of the crusaders and the fall of Granada on the unforgettable macabre date of the 2 January 1492 and what happened to the Muslims of Bagdad under Abbasside Caliphate before Mongols come and destroy the city and the most important library, not only in the Arabic civilisation but among all human civilisations and they massacre the entire population (90 000 civil human lives), as by irony of fate, Mongols were influenced by the strong Islamic confession and embraced Islam after their atrocities, if this fact reveals something, it only reveals the greatness of the Islamic religion that transformed, in a short time, Mongols from barbarian killers into good believers.
The bitter truth is that within these 3 examples of tragedies of the “Umma”, Muslims were so far from the real Islamic faith, so corrupted by the lusts and the pleasures of the worldly life, They were so far from the holy Qur'an and the prophet tradition “Sunna”, they were so far from their duty of spreading the message of Allah with wisdom and good instruction, as a matter of fact they have neglected the 5 compulsory prayers that are the column of the Islamic faith, this was always the main reason of all the tragedies of the “Umma”.
And that’s the key point, because they’re the elected nation of Allah, because they’re the holders of his universal message to the entire humanity, every time they go astray from the right path and betray their oath toward God, he will send and unleash on them the most cruel populations of the earth to make them remember and to force them to come back to the real lights of faith, that’s what God promised in holy Qur’an, every time Muslims abandon prayer “Salat” and deny the message of Allah, soon or late, they will find those monsters on their gates, raping their women and killing their children and burning everything on their way. Allah says in the Qur’an “But there came after them generation of successors who neglected prayer and pursued desires; so they are going to meet loss and destruction” Surah Maryam Verse 59.
Some sick minds will tell you “Why the clement and merciful Allah would inflict such atrocious punishment to children and innocents?” I would answer them that bitterly this is related to the human nature that easily and quickly forget, sometimes dead hearts and blind consciences need a heavy ordeal and a huge number of victims and losses to make them wake up and to bring them back to life and sadly the atrocity of the ordeal and the size of the epic depend on the blindness level of the dead Muslim hearts.
What is happening now to the Islamic “Umma”, in reality, emerge from their own sins as Allah says in Qur’an “What comes to you of good is from Allah, but what comes to you of evil, [O man], is from yourself” Surah Al-Nisa Verse 79.
This is just like the shepherd who unleashes his wild dogs (Or as you preferred to call them in your article “emboldened demons”) to his flock of sheep when they go astray from the straight path.
As long as Muslims are united by the monotheism dogma and strongly attached to their holy book and their Prophet tradition and above all to their prayer “Salat”, those ravenous dogs or “emboldened demons” can never approach them and as our Lord promised to them, they will inherit the earth. It’s my message to all my brothers and sisters all over the Islamic World.
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