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Islamists, Europe and assimilation for the good of all!

Interesting Article: Muslims need to assimilate into Europe by QASIM MOINI / Karachi published Thursday, November 18, 2011

An interesting op-ed piece spoke about a topic of conversation at the 2 day international conference on ‘Islam in Europe’. The seminar was organized by KU’s Area Study Centre for Europe in association with the Hanns Seidel Foundation. During the conference the topic of Hijab removal in France had come up. According to Anwar Shaheen of the University of Karachi’s Pakistan Study Centre, European culture and Islamic culture have different ethos and both are bound to collide unless there is assimilation and compromise. Ms. Shaheen, who had conducted a survey of Muslim women living in Europe as well as Pakistani scholars to back up her research, said European society was justified in its reaction to Muslim women wearing hijab. According to her study, she found that proponents of the veil considered it a divine commandment while other women faced patriarchal pressure to observe the veil. However, she said many women also wore hijab out of free will. Those who objected to the veil viewed it as a form of discrimination while others felt it did not conform to “contemporary corporate culture”. “If Muslims don’t feel comfortable with European laws they should come back” to their countries of origin, she said, while adding that “European governments should not frame discriminatory laws”. So, what is Europe trying to get away from and what is the Muslim population running to?

This recent article interested me because I wanted to talk about the current rise of Islamists in Europe, and how Europe has been trying to deal with this particular topic. Nigerian scholar Najimdeen Bakare spoke on Islam and European democracy at the conference. He said there was no clash of cultures but “a clash of interests”. Mr Bakare said there was a need for a “cosmopolitan mazhab” for European Muslims as the community could no longer depend on fatwas originating from Muslim countries. He said the elements defining western, European democratic values were secularism, pluralism, political freedom, liberty, equality, rule of law and freedom of speech. He said the first generation of Muslim immigrants to Europe following World War II was not very literate and was primarily concerned with their economic well-being. The second generation was confused about traditional family values and values of the host society while the third generation of immigrants sought public visibility and wanted to move from the margins to the mainstream. This included wanting to express their religion publicly. “If western society fails to acknowledge the reality of Muslims there will be discord,” he said, adding that Muslim-majority nations need to have less influence on Muslim minorities. Mujeeb Afzal of Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, spoke on the post-Cold War West and Islam. Shia revivalism triumphed in the shape of 1979’s Islamic Revolution in Iran, while Sunni revivalists joined hands with the conservatives and the United States to take on the USSR in Afghanistan. The Soviet defeat in Afghanistan was not only the victory of capitalism, but the revivalists also felt they had a hand in the superpower’s fall, said Mr Afzal. After communism’s demise, “democracy and free-market capitalism were considered the only ‘viable’ systems”. He said Muslim youths were attracted to revivalism as there was no alternative ideology to capitalism. “Revivalists don’t pose a threat to the West, but to the imperialist hegemony of the West”. However, he observed that “Islam was now part of the West”. Within the West there were two schools where Islam was concerned: accommodationists and confrontationists. The accommodationists feel that Muslim revivalists’ anger is fuelled by the West whereas confrontationists denounce Islam as “anti-secular and anti-modernity”. From this revivalist agenda comes a form of radicalism. Robert Pelletreau, Jr., assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, believes that, Islamism is the subset of Muslims "with political goals ... within" the "broader fundamentalist revival". American historian Ira Lapidus distinguishes between mainstream Islamists and Fundamentalists, saying a fundamentalist is "a political individual" in search of a "more original Islam," while the Islamist is pursuing a political agenda. Islamic fundamentalism's push for sharia and an Islamic State has come into conflict with conceptions of the secular, democratic state, such as the internationally supported Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Anthony J. Dennis notes that "Western and Islamic visions of the state, the individual and society are not only divergent; they are often totally at odds." The acceptance of international law on human rights has been somewhat limited even in Muslim countries that are not seen as fundamentalist. Ann Elizabeth Mayer writes that states with a predominantly Muslim population, even when they adopt laws along European lines, are influenced by Islamic rules and precepts of sharia, which cause conflict with international law on human rights. According to Mayer, features found in conflict include severe deficiencies in criminal procedure, harsh criminal penalties causing great suffering, discrimination against women and non-Muslims, and prohibition against abandoning the Islam religion. Also, Islamists generally tend to favor the education of women and their participation in social and political life: the Islamist woman militates, studies, and has the right to work, but in a chador. Islamist groups include women's associations. While the fundamentalist side preaches for women to return to the home, Islamism believes it is sufficient that the sexes be separated in public. It seems that the line between Islamism and fundamentalism is very thin. Take the context of veiled women in Islam for example, as a good friend of mine recently stated-overly conservative societies, by repressing natural human behaviors in the name of what is deemed "decency", creates unpleasant behavioral traits. How can Europe continue to move forward if through immigration the societies moving in are trying to push it back? This is a hard question to ask, take for example the Veil controversy in France, according to numerous feminist groups, as well as some human rights advocacy groups, wearing the scarf symbolizes a woman's submission to men. It is often rejected that forbidding the hijab would limit freedom. Rather, it is argued that the hijab is not a free choice, but a result of social pressures (i.e., if a law does not forbid the practice of wearing the hijab, social pressure may render it obligatory). Demographer Emmanuel Todd has advanced a sociological explanation for the controversy over the veil by examining traditional familial structures in France and in the countries of origin of French Muslims. According to Todd, if Muslims impose the veil on their children it serves to prevent them from meeting and eventually marrying non-Muslims. This preemption of mixed marriage would correspond to endogamous practices very present in many traditional Muslim societies, where it is acceptable to marry cousins in order to maintain the unity of the clan. Todd speaks of an "endogamous, community-based family." The traditional French family would be, on the other hand, exogamous. Traditionally, young French men sought wives outside their villages. This tradition recalls images of Greco-Roman mythology and folk-tales in which a man travels far and wide to find a wife. Sometimes this is in order to save her (as in the cases of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty), and other times it is simply a jaunt for the purposes of kidnapping a woman and stealing her away (Zeus and Europa), but they always live "happily ever after" and have many children. The veil is seen on a subconscious level as a refusal to marry, as a code which says, "I will never be a part of your family." Its prohibition would mean the suppression of this opposition to mixed marriage, a kind of marriage which is more widespread in France than in most other Western countries. Robert S. Leiken says that both the multiculturalism and assimilation methods failed and that an integration policy still needs to be developed, something which will not happen overnight. Jorgen Nielsen, professor of Islamic studies at the Birmingham University says that "Europeanizing" Islam "requires changes in relations between the sexes, in relations between parents and children, significant changes in attitudes to people of other religions, and in attitudes toward the state." How that change can come is a bit of a mystery, but as Europe moves forward, it is important that we think about these issues of assimilation, lest we find ourselves in a conservative society living veiled lives. 

Bernard, Lewis, Islam and the West, New York : Oxford University Press, c1993.
'The Green Peril': Creating the Islamic Fundamentalist Threat," Leon T. Hadar, Policy Analysis, Cato Institute, August 27, 1992.
Esposito, John, Voices of Resurgent Islam ISBN: 019503340X
Remarks by Robert H. Pelletreau, Jr., Middle East Policy Council, May 26, 1994, "Symposium: Resurgent Islam in the Middle East," Middle East Policy, Fall 1994, p. 2.
Fuller, Graham E., The Future of Political Islam, Palgrave MacMillan, (2003), p.48
Roy, Olivier, The Failure of Political Islam, Harvard University Press, 1994. p.82-3, 215
John L. Esposito, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? (NewYork: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 8.
Matthews, Terry L.. "Fundamentalism". Lectures for Religion 166: Religious Life in the United States. Wake Forest University.
What Islam says on religious freedom, by Magdi Abdelhadi, BBC Arab affairs analyst, March 27, 2006.


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