03/27/2007, 00.00
ISLAM
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Multiculturalism and Islam: Muslims in Europe, no to ghettos, yes to integration

by Samir Khalil Samir sj
Multiculturalism fosters fundamentalist violence. Politicians must concern themselves with integrating Muslims. The positive example of Denmark. Only with a strong identity can Europe help Muslims defeat fanaticism. Fourth in a series of articles.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Multiculturalism's mistake is that of closing cultures into the immobility of ghettos.  With regard to Muslims, this makes it impossible for them to integrate and to take on a new national identity, leaving them prone to fundamentalism.
 
The question of national identity is very important both for newly-arrived Muslims and for those who have lived in Europe for some time.  They should be made to feel proud of being Italian or British.  If they live in Italy and if they integrate in Italy, they should be able to say "I am Italian" and not just because they are able to have a passport or they are standing on Italian soil.
 
Let’s take for example the shocking situation that developed in Milan some time ago, when a group of Arab parents (Egyptians) pulled their children out of public school and opened an Arab school: intellectuals and Italian political figures emphasized this choice as an effort to "maintain their roots," to be educated in the Arabic language.... This, for them, is not the priority, nor is it for the state.  It is rather a task for the family and perhaps some cultural group.  The task for politicians should be to help integration, help immigrants find work, guarantee dignified housing and affordable rent, and all this on the condition that immigrants are willing to adopt the Italian way of life.  In fact, if a young person feels useless, discouraged, insignificant, and is without work, then the escape to religion becomes inevitable and a political reading of religion begins in opposition to what is causing his pain, i.e the social situation in which he finds himself.  To accept the idea that your identity is the culture of the country in which you live (and not your religion) requires education and also an education plan.  Thus, from now on, the right word is integration and not multiculturalism. 
 
Denmark: integration vs fundamentalism
 
This is what the two Danish authors of a best-selling book found.  Karen Jesperson and Ralf Pittelkow have been eminent members of the Social-democratic party:  Jespersen was Interior Minister and Pittelkow advisor to the Prime Minister, before the left's fall in 2001.
 
Both were supporters of multiculturalism, of respect for cultures and accommodation.  After the incident of the Mohammad caricatures, they rethought their position and wrote a book entitled "Islamister og Naivister" (in Danish) which can be translated to "Islamism and Naivism."
 
The authors highlight a risk: fundamentalists are gaining ground among the young people of Europe:  They are seeking to interfere in the lives of people, even those who are integrated, to indicate to them various kinds of behaviour: how to dress, what to eat, how to handle certain problems, etc, so as to distinguish themselves from others.  They are warning people that if they do not do this, they risk disappearing like salt in water.
 
The authors blame this increase in radical Islam on the West for having praised the "cultural ghetto" position, with the excuse or the idea of multiculturalism.  "Both Denmark and the rest of Europe must aim at integrating the Muslims already in their community," Pittelkow says.  "Islamism is a totalitarian and fatally dangerous ideology... If a woman does not wear the Islamic veil, Islamists are ready to exercise strong pressure and to threaten violence so that she wears one.  Such behaviour, which aims at applying Islamic principles at all costs, is as authoritarian as Communism."
 
The book had an immediate influence on Danes.  An election candidate, Fogh Rasmussen, for example, proposed the following to Muslims: "You are welcome if you come and integrate yourselves and give your contribution to our society.  But you are not welcome if you come only to exploit the situation and receive welfare assistance."  If immigrants participate in society and the country's development, then they will be treated as citizens with the same rights enjoyed by Danes.  Otherwise....  This proposal was applauded all around.  At this point, the reasoning goes as follows: we cannot accept people who come here only because they have guarantees of making a living, unemployment insurance, health assistance, etc.  We must set conditions that promote integration.
 
The book is one long accusation and is useful for understanding the mechanisms of integration in countries with more experience.  And it would be good that Italy, at its second generation of Islamic immigrants, used it as a resource.  M.P. Naser Khader, of Syrian origin, leader of democratic Muslims, says that the book poses the right questions.  "The Islamist threat exists and it would be ridiculous to minimize it."  In their book, the authors point their finger at the caricature affair and the apology made by the Danish government to Saudi Arabia.  They say “enough” to being weak on the principle of free speech: we have the right to criticize Islam too. Perhaps they should add: "and Jews and the state of Israel as well."
 
The caricature affair was also a wake-up call for some parts of the Islamic world.  A Muslim author said: "I have no intentions of defending an Islam that supports terrorists.  When a part of a religion goes toward violence and fundamentalism, we must criticize it."
 
The Koran and the constitution
 
A new party was recently founded in Denmark: SIAD (Stop to Islamization of Denmark).  It demands the prohibition of Koran passages which are in contradiction with Danish laws, and makes the following proposal: whoever quotes Koranic verses which are contrary to the Danish constitution must be punished because the constitution is superior to any other law.  They quote articles 67 - 69 of the Danish Constitution which say, "We authorize freedom of worship, provided that it is exercised within the framework of law without disturbing public order."
 
All this is a clear signal that people are beginning to reflect on the possible contrast that exists between the constitutions of European countries and some laws of the Koran.
 
In Denmark too, there exists two tendencies: that of the "left", or the "do-gooders", who want to respect the culture of others, saying that ours is not absolute, or suggesting that we must be tolerant and give Muslims some time until they are ready to take this step; and those who make no allowances, who say that whoever is not able to integrate is better off going elsewhere.
 
Immigration and integration policies that tackle the social causes of Islamism are urgently needed.  Among these causes are: the concentration of immigrants in neighbourhoods according to their ethnic origin, the ghettoization of populations that life exclusively off social assistance, the reproduction of traditional authority structures between sexes and generations, the lack of knowledge of the Danish language, the multiplication of fundamentalist imams, the activism of Islamist groups, unemployment.  But the standard views held by all politicians, whether right-wing or left-wing, are the prime obstacle to the development of such policies.
 
Young bloggers in search of freedom
 
We Westerners do not realize that affirming our identity is what helps Muslims too to have the courage to speak clearly, to begin a reform of Islam and to stand in the way of fanaticism and fundamentalism.  In Egypt, for example, there was the outrageous case of Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman, a young blogger from Alexandria; known by the name Karim Abdul, he is a law student at the Al Azhar University.  He belongs to a religious Muslim family, and began to defend women, saying that women in Egypt and in the Islamic world are not defended.  He thus began writing several blogs.  He was attacked and sentenced to four years in prison for having offended Islam.  The sentenced was passed just half an hour after the trial began; everything seemed pre-arranged.
 
Yet Egypt is a country known for its moderate form of Islam.  But here too religion is becoming untouchable.  In this way, however, Islam risks provoking a wave of refusal, a generation of people ill-disposed to religion.  Many young people who are able to communicate and compare themselves with another culture -- the blogger knows English -- seek a more balanced way to live their religion; it does not become the sole focus of their life.  This tendency is increasing just as fundamentalism is increasing.
 
Europe and Muslims united against fundamentalism
 
To conclude, the affirmation of cultural identity in Europe and the battle being fought by Muslims against fanatical elements of Islam are one single battle against all forms of fundamentalism and religious extremism.  And in fact such fundamentalism clashes not firstly against state powers, but against elements of culture, integration and accommodation.  The Islamic fundamentalist project is successful only in places which are fragile in terms of identity, whether in Europe or in Arab countries.
 
It is necessary that Europe remains faithful to its laws and traditions, without making concessions to multiculturalism.  At the same time, Europe must also present a humanistic project, with a religious dimension.  But if Europe presents itself as an atheist, materialist and immoral project, then it just reinforces the fanatics on the other side.
 
A strong European identity helps Muslims to defeat fundamentalism. Moral relativism, Western materialism reinforce Islamic fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is the humus on which terrorism grows: the best weapon against all this is not war, but a social project.
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