What might have been.
February 27, 2018 Bruce Bawer
Tuesday, February 20. It’s our first time in Prague, and – except for a couple of visits to Berlin – K.’s first time on territory that was once part of the Warsaw Pact. Today, as we’re wont to do on arrival in a new city, we passed on museums and other cultural attractions, preferring instead to walk and walk and walk – to get a sense of the place and the people and start finding our way around.
After several hours of wandering along the winding streets and across cobbled squares dominated by churches, we came back to our hotel and had a drink at the bar. After two gin and tonics, I saw that K. had tears in his eyes. I looked at him quizzically. He could hardly get the words out.
“I’m so angry at my country’s government!” he finally exploded.
The country in question being Norway.
K. explained. We had just seen a good deal of Prague, and had passed heaven knows how many thousands of people. Not once had we seen a hijab. Let alone a niqab or burka.
“In this whole big city, not one!” he cried. “And yet in that little town where we live – in the middle of nowhere! – you can’t look out of the window for a minute without seeing one.”
For us, the Islamization of Western Europe had been a constant topic of conversation for almost twenty years. We’d voiced anger, frustration, despondency, cynicism. But I’d never seen him get teary-eyed about it.
We lived in Oslo for twelve years. During that time, its Muslim population grew steadily. And so did the percentage of Muslim women in head coverings. During our first years in Oslo, we never saw a niqab, which covers everything but the eyes, or a burka, which covers even the eyes. Gradually, however, both became familiar sights.
Seven years ago we moved to the small town where we now live. It, too, has become supersaturated with hijab – and the occasional niqab.
In 2002, I was called an alarmist. Yet if you’d asked me back then whether, sixteen years later, it would be impossible to walk a few blocks down the main street of a remote Norwegian burg like ours without seeing a hijab, I would’ve said no: the transformation won’t happen that fast.
How wrong I was!
Over the years, we’ve traveled extensively in Western Europe, to other places where the same process of Islamization is underway. After a while it all seems almost natural – the bearded men in djellaba, the women in hijab, the ubiquitous strollers and baby carriages and armies of children, some of the tiny girls also wearing hijab.
But now here we are in Prague, and for K. the utter lack of any Islamic presence here is little short a revelation. He’s been intensely aware all along of what’s happening to his country, but now, in Prague, the horror of it has hit him like a punch to the gut.