In the theory of ethics, an analogy keeps popping up, that of Soran Reader’s ‘Hitler at the gates’. The analogy going that various western powers did nothing while Hitler built up his army, bypassed the restrictions placed in the Vienna Convention, hoping that the monster will go away. Then, when Hitler does arrive at the metaphorical gate, the great powers panic, and alternate between aggression and appeasement, all the while hoping that Hitler steps away from a gate.

Integration is a tricky business: for decades the bastion of liberal tolerance that is Western Europe has treaded this line between aggression and appeasement. The Hitler analogy has troubling connotations, but consider this (and swap him out for the less loaded term ‘barbarian’): governments in Western Europe, and the larger EU supra-government, have behaved like a parent unsure on how to raise their child. They want them to grow up the way they want to, but at the same time, are embarrassed by them in public.

Perhaps this is because Western Europe as a mass has been unsure of what it wants to be, or rather, what it can be: with rising tides of right wing nationalism, the ‘excessive’ liberalism of the nineties has given way to brash political ideologues: think Farage, Le Pen, and Wilders. White majority populations are angry, angry at what they feel are their domains and spaces being encroached by the ‘other’; namely, Muslims.

Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ model comes to mind, with its broad pronouncements of how there is an incongruity between the ‘east’ and ‘west’. This thesis, which has served as ‘evidence’ of so much xenophobia for so many who did not bother to read the fine print beyond page 15, finds evidence in reality: Muslim emigres have till now, been unable to assimilate into mainstream society. Proponents of this ‘clash’ point towards the ‘horde’ of migrants, the alleged ‘rise’ in crime (especially sexual violence) against the local populace, and the general consensus that Muslim culture cannot thrive in the liberal, free West. Minarets are propped up on the ashes of demolished temples, Sharia law scrawled across the political developments influenced by Hobbes, Locke and Luther. The majority is suddenly the minority. The blowback then, is justified.

With the pieces set, we come back to asking what Western Europe wants to be. Brussels has been accused of being unrepresentative, and to a degree, perhaps that is true; perhaps the EU has left its white majority populace behind, but more likely, it has not. More likely, the sense of Orientalist ‘other-isation’ carries on: emigres come in ‘hoards’, in ‘masses’, and Muslim majority areas are seen as no-go zones, or at least that is what the political authoritarian right would want you to believe. Huntington might be increasingly proven prophetic, but how much of that is due to the inability, or unwillingness of Western Europe to integrate individuals, only to snap back when their initial lax attitude comes back to haunt them.

With the hijab ruling, the EU is perhaps pandering to the right, perhaps it is showing how it can be a tool for this marginalized majority (if such a ridiculous thing can even exist), but more likely, it is continuing the cycle of ‘other-isation’ that has haunted Western European notions on how to govern the unruly minority.

I am a male, and as such, I find it troubling to comment on what women can and cannot wear, but it is puzzling how the EU has done just that: by pandering to a white majority, it has robbed Muslim women of agency, of the ability to do what they want. The idea of tacking on a blanket ban of all religious symbols might seem like an attempt to be fair, but it is not: how many Christian men and women would wear the cross, an overtly religious symbol, and how many would wear a headscarf, a cultural one?

The hijab ruling then is an indication of Western Europe’s growing queasiness of the Muslim other, and a fear of losing out on the ‘values’ that make it the bastion of freedom it espouses. It is Western style freedom though, and you are free to enjoy it, but only if you play by their rules. The fear might be that there is a barbarian at the gate, but fear has masked how another barbarian has awoken from its slumber on the other side.