From Michael Reynolds
Despite all that is going on in the Middle East, what caught my eye recently are three items concerning western Europe. Each is very different, but all indicate that the question of the integration of Muslims into European societies will remain contentious for some time to come.
The first involves Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s visit to Germany. Khaled Diab has an account of it here. Erdogan’s success in attracting a large crowd of Turks and his pleas to them not to lose their cultural identity irritated Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said, “If you grow up in Germany in the third or fourth generation, if you have German citizenship, then I am your chancellor.” But as Diab notes, due to Germany’s unwillingness to grant citizenship to immigrants, very few Turks in Germany fit Merkel’s definition. Europe, Diab concludes, is increasingly multicultural, and increasingly polarized.
One way to deal with this reality is to accommodate multiculturalism by institutionalizing polarization. By establishing clear boundaries between communities one reduces the likelihood of clashes. This in essence is the recommendation of the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, who in his lecture of February 7 on the topic of civil and religious law in England suggested the recognition in Britain of the sharia’s jurisdiction in certain spheres, such as marital law and the regulation of financial transactions. As he states, “But if what we want socially is a pattern of relations in which a plurality of divers and overlapping affiliations work for a common good, and in which groups of serious and profound conviction are not systematically faced with the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty, it [recognition of Islam law] seems unavoidable.” (The lecture and related materials can be found here.)
Williams’ lecture has caused quite a stir, not for its intellectual content—the relationships between law, religion, and identity are famously knotty, and rather than engage the difficult issues in those relationships Williams instead skims over them by making a series of glib assumptions—but because of what many see as its message of “appeasement” or “surrender.” I don’t think that this was Williams’ intention, but his lecture does lend support to the argument that with the Islamization of Europe now underway, Muslim immigrants should not accommodate European norms and assimilate European culture, but instead they should strive to reshape Europe in accord with their vision(s) of Islam.
Meanwhile the popular Dutch member of parliament Geert Wilders is sending a radically different message. Wilders declares Islam “an ideology of a retarded culture” and “something we can’t afford any more in the Netherlands.” Not only does he want to ban the “fascist Koran” but he claims to have prepared a short ten-minute film on Islam in which he desecrates the Koran. (Go here for an interview with Wilders.)
Wilders claims he loathes Islam but not Muslims. His overtly hostile rhetoric and inflammatory cinematic projects, however, ensure that even lax Muslims in the Netherlands and Europe will, at least in the public and political spheres, identify more closely with their faith and culture, not less. The result will be to foster the growth of suspicion and hostility between Europe’s Muslim immigrant and native populations.
The presence of immigrant Muslims in western Europe in the coming decades is projected to continue to increase in both absolute and proportional numbers. Muslim immigrants have been a significant part of the European landscape for some four decades. Yet, as these three items all highlight, European societies remain anxious and at a loss at how to deal with their immigrant communities. Discord will remain a feature of relations between native Europeans and Muslims. As the incident with the Danish cartoons illustrated, with today’s transnational communities and global communications, conflict inside Europe can and does ripple throughout the Middle East and beyond, with destabilizing consequences.
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