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Beyond Minarets: Europe’s Growing Problem with Islam

Switzerland’s ban on building minarets is emblematic of a larger issue in Europe, according to Brussels-based journalist Shada Islam. It highlights not only the increasing divide between Muslims and non-Muslims in the continent, but also the need for Europe to embrace multi-culturalism. Indeed, the issues present a stark contrast between perception and reality. Many believe that Muslims are flooding in, taking jobs, and would like to turn Europe into a land ruled by Islamic law. Yet, Muslims only represent three percent of population. On the other hand, Muslims seem to have done little to assimilate, or at least find common ground with their fellow citizens, often making demands at odds with a liberal society such as wanting gender segregation in public spaces. All this gives plenty of fodder for the populists among the majority population. But it also leads to radicalization among Muslims. Fortunately, Europe’s leaders are waking up to the threat of such rifts by encouraging more inclusiveness from education to immigration to civil service, according to Islam. But the biggest change needed on both sides is to accept that it is possible to be both Muslim and European. – YaleGlobal

Beyond Minarets: Europe’s Growing Problem with Islam

Can one be both European and Muslim?
Shada Islam
YaleGlobal, 14 January 2010
Minaret missile: Swiss campaign against construction of minarets presents Islam as a threat

BRUSSELS: Switzerland's vote to ban the building of new minarets exposes a damaging fissure in Europe. It has provoked outrage among Muslims and applause from Europe's increasingly popular anti-Muslim politicians. As such, it appears to deepen the divide between Muslim and non-Muslim Europeans. However, although predictable, the reactions are misleading: for all the furor over minarets, European Muslims today are focused less on religious symbols and more on securing recognition as full-fledged European citizens. The brouhaha over the minarets also comes as a new reminder that while European politicians may win votes in some places by ranting against Islam, prosperity, stability, security and social peace across the continent depends on the successful integration of Europe's Muslim citizens.

The challenge for European governments is to shift the focus from bans and restrictions on Islam and Muslims and instead try to forge a cohesive and inclusive society.

The overarching challenge for European governments is to shift the focus from bans and restrictions on Islam and Muslims and instead try to forge a cohesive and inclusive society where all citizens – including the continent's Muslims – feel at home. Building belonging, accommodation and acceptance, however, remain much too low on the agenda of most European Union governments. European leaders have for long preferred to refer to Muslims as "foreigners" and immigrants" rather than as citizens who can be Muslim and European at the same time. On the other hand, European Muslims have long lived outside the mainstream, demanding special privileges and treatment, rather than focusing on concerns such as jobs and education which they share with the larger society.

Most of Europe's 20 million Muslims came to the continent from South Asia, Turkey and North Africa in the 1960s and 1970s to work in the steel and textile factories, coal mines and, as Europe grew increasingly prosperous, the expanding services sector. The much sought after immigrants were, however, expected to go home once their contracts expired. Many countries like Germany did little to try to integrate their so-called "guest workers" and excluded them from any right to acquire full citizenship and nationality. As Europe's economies slowed, formal immigration was stopped although most countries did allow family reunions.

In theory, most European policymakers today recognize the importance of implementing successful pro-integration, anti-racist and anti-discrimination policies. In practice, however, the EU's focus on European Muslims is colored by security and counter-terrorism concerns. EU anti-discrimination policies get lost in the maze of measures being enforced by states across the continent to combat radicalization, especially of young men of Muslim descent. In Britain, for example, police concerns about and action against violent extremism among South Asians poison ongoing efforts to ensure a better integration of Muslims.

Although Europeans are increasingly secular, it is difficult to overlook many Europeans' deep, historical prejudice against Islam, with Muslims viewed as "the other".

In addition, although Europeans are increasingly secular, it is difficult to overlook many Europeans' deep, historical prejudice against Islam, with Muslims viewed as "the other", echoing once blatant prejudice against Jewish communities. Many still cling to an out-dated notion of Europe as a continent anchored in Christianity, with Muslims as permanent outsiders and Islam and Europe as fundamentally incompatible.

The acrimonious debate over admitting Turkey to the Union now seems to be accelerating Islam and Europe toward a damaging collision course. Switzerland's anti-minaret move comes on top of French efforts to ban the burqa, the all-enveloping veil worn by an extremely small minority of Muslim women. French President Nicolas Sarkozy – who like German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposes Turkish entry into the EU – has initiated a nationwide discussion over what it means to be French, a move that many see as creating more walls between French Muslims and their fellow citizens.

In the Netherlands, fiery far-right politicians like Dutchman Geert Wilders woo voters by denouncing Islam as a fascist ideology while elections to the European Parliament this summer led to the election of two members of the xenophobic British National Party. Other politicians, who routinely link Islam to global terrorism, warn that Muslims and immigrants are stealing jobs from mainstream Europeans and sponging off the continent's social welfare systems. Racism is also a factor, since many Europeans automatically associate Muslims with immigrants of color.

Demands by some Muslims for special privileges such as segregation by gender at public swimming pools prompt concerns that Muslims do not share European values.

Meanwhile demands by some Muslims for special privileges such as segregation by gender at public swimming pools and hospitals and the practice of tribal customs, including polygamy, genital mutilation, forced marriages and honor killings, prompt concerns that Muslims do not share European values. A minority of young Muslims are indeed falling prey to radical ideologies. Europe's diverse Muslim communities and their leaders often pay too much attention to demanding their rights and not enough on fulfilling their obligations as European citizens.

Such attitudes encourage the view propagated by some US analysts and, Europe's far right politicians that European Muslims are determined to transform a once-tolerant continent into what has been termed Eurabia, a land where the sharia will reign supreme, adulterers will be stoned and thieves will have their hands cut off. Europe, according to this vision, is morphing slowly but surely, into the ultimate battleground for a clash of civilizations.

The reality is more complex. While the radical actions of some Muslims make headlines and provide fodder for Europe's far right, European Muslims represent a mere three percent of the population of the continent, hardly the numbers to ensure a Muslim take-over of Europe. True, a minority of Muslims may live on the radical fringes of society but a large majority accepts European norms and lives successful and integrated lives, belying the stereotype of European Muslims as obsessed with their religion, socially and economically marginalized and unable and unwilling to integrate into mainstream society.

New studies on Muslims in Europe by organizations such as the Open Society Institute paint a picture of communities of European Muslims living comfortably and in peace with their non-Muslim neighbors. The OSI and the British Council are working on projects which focus on living in a "shared Europe" where conflict and confrontation between different religious communities in not inevitable, provided governments – at national, provincial and local levels – implement correct policies.

Across the continent, efforts are being made to change school curricula to reflect Europe's multicultural landscape.

Addressing Europe's unease about accepting multiple identities, a recent Gallup poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Muslims in France and Germany said they were loyal to their country and saw no contradiction between being French/German and Muslim. In Britain, a 2007 Gallup study found that despite Muslims' strong identification with their religion, a majority condemned terrorist attacks on civilians and did not want to live in segregated communities.

Also, most European governments are finally waking up to the challenge. Across the continent, efforts are being made to change school curricula to reflect Europe's multicultural landscape while state authorities are encouraging the recruitment of ethnic minorities into the police force, health services and government offices. They are also working to promote the setting up of businesses by Muslims and other minority groups. Meanwhile European business leaders, worried about shortages of skilled and unskilled workers, are pressing governments to open their doors to new migrants and are stepping up the search for workers in Europe's migrant communities.

Such efforts have to be sustained. The onus is on European leaders and policy makers to marginalize the far right's discourse of hate and anger. But European Muslims must also work equally determinedly to counter extremist and radical ideologies in their midst. If Europe is to prosper and grow, European policymakers must recognize urgently and publicly that Europe is now a multicultural society whose members are willing to celebrate diversity rather than fear it.

Shada Islam is a senior program executive at the European Policy Centre. She writes for YaleGlobal Online in a personal capacity.
Rights:Copyright © 2010 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization

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25 January 2010
I support and agree with Shada Islam's analysis and over all view of the increasing gulf between European majorities and its only 20 million Muslin communities.
Having worked with ethnic and religious minorities in EU for many years, I wish to bring an NGO perspective to this heated but misplaced debate which has now replaced the sensible manner of discussions.
To me it is not the issue of Muslims forming their identities as they wish but what identity the society is willing to bestow upon them. In choosing ones identity, 95 % individuals among Muslim communities are totally dependent on the good will of the Europeans.
And that goodwill is getting smaller and smaller by the day.The latest survey from Fundamental Rights Agency testifies this assertion.
I do not believe that Muslims communities in Europe have a wish or need to form a separate identity. Few years back, I made a survey about this issue. What I found out was that they just want to be left alone, so that they can get on with their lives as law abiding citizens, educate their children, have a good job, a cozy place to live and a little money in the bank. Even those who are religious did not express a wish for a separate identity.
In the case of inclusion of Muslim minorities in Europe, the thinking man’s true contribution lies in helping political leaders by re-examining the path via which the cultivated person is educated and developed, taking into account that one of the key characteristic of the modern society is, it’s pluralistic nature. To achieve a pluralistic society, a cosmopolitan identity and a intercultural dialogue, the majority must do away with Euro-centrism and enlarge the definition of identity from being ­ exclusive to all-inclusive. It must be multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious.
This means in practical and intellectual sense that tomorrow’s European should no longer be obsessed with the idea of a single identity, even less so by the quest of a strong sense of European-ness based on mono-culturalism or Christian heritage alone, as Pope once suggested.
If European ­ Muslims and non-Muslims wish to succeed in creating a single European identity, then politicians must create an atmosphere in which identity is not determined by the colour of your skin or the religion a person practices or the geographical area one comes from but on a single principle which is enshrined in the UN Human Right Conventions related to social, economic and cultural rights. Only then civil and political rights will make any sense.
Speaking of human rights, it is sad to point out that many European countries put a lot of emphasize on legal rights which in itself is commendable but if right to work, housing and cultural progress is not assured then what good will come out of political freedom.
Europe is home to millions of persons with Muslim roots but who are an integral part the societies, they live in. They only want to be respected and listened to, but most of all, wish to be left in peace, to find their own way in the society. They shall participate, use their rights, observe societal duties but also demand equal rights. Not because they are Muslim but because they are decent human beings and they contribute to the society, on all levels.
I sincerely believe that the desired integration would not succeed if it is forced upon unilaterally by the majority or coloured by religious demands, instead of human rights. No European with a little bit of self respect would dare to argue against rights based on humanity but it would be easy to deny the same rights if asked on the name of religion. The choice lies with Muslim minorities ­ humanity comes first or religion.
I would go for humanity, because it also includes my beautiful religion, Islam.
I have no doubt to conclude that today anti-Islam rhetoric and propaganda is the single most difficult barrier in the way of creating an inter-cultural society where Muslims feel safe in choosing their multi-or mono identity.
My observations are also in line with many surveys done by international organisations and respected academics. Liz Fekete of Race Relation Institute in London has just published her new book; A suitable Enemy ­ racism, migration and Islamophobia in Europe. She very eloquently observes that hatred against Muslims in Europe is not just random or the work of some crazy people but stems from a well thought after strategy and is a result of official policies, media coverage and political rhetoric.
World famous scholar and historian Karen Armstrong articulated her wish while accepting TED prize in USA in February 2008; “ We should move from the time of toleration to the time of appreciation of each other”. Amen to that.
My own experience of 43 years in the West tells me that no matter how bleak the future looks, there is always a ray of hope and a tiny candle of light burning to show us the way. Faith in the best in humanity can move mountains and if we do not loose sight of our goals, one-day the journey will be completed. But it is imperative that the progressive European forces, especially young people must wake up, because to those much is given, is much required.
Even if Islam is a global religion and Europe, a continent, these two have co-existed for centuries and still can do. The crisis or the fault line lies between the power elite in Europe and the powerless non-European ethnic and religious minorities, especially the Muslim communities. If we can convince the politicians, and the media, the road to mutual integration would be much easier to travel.
In the end, a word of self-criticism. Muslim minorities must play their part in making sure that they get what they deserve. Influence would not be served on a platter but through constant struggle and awareness.
Let me remind you the words of a great thinker and fighter of human dignity, Mahatma Gandhi. He was once asked, how one can judge if a society is civilised.
He replied;” If you want to see how civilised a society is, look at the way, it treats its minorities”.
Well, if we have to live up to this criteria, then Europe has a long long way to travel.
-Bashy Quraishy , Brussels
23 January 2010
My hometown... 35000 people in the inland of eastern Spain... any muslim woman without veil and abaya... a nice bunch of muslim men wearing eastern clothes and long beards. All this since little more than 5 years ago. They don't mix with us. They don't speak to us. They don't adapt to the place and society they r living in. They ask us to adapt to them. They ask us to change and accept them. Inside their minds they are doing the right thing, and following the only true way, that is, Islam. And even more,... they feel safe about it because according to their imams we are not sure of our own beliefs and conception of the world... if we were, as they are, we would treat them the same way they do to us in their traditional homelands,... but as far as we confused ppl with any clear way to follow, we don't do.
That's how they see us in Ontinyent. That's how their wahabbite imam tells them to behave. That's what we r not stopping at all. And some day all this will explode in our faces, when they keep growing at birth ratios they do now...
Maybe my sons but surely my grandsons will not face a 3% minority in a future. They feel the same way. Some estimations say that by 2050 around a 40% of british, german and french population will be muslim. I don't consider myself racist, and in fact I got friends thru internet in most of arab countries. I am right now coursing a degree on Humanities that I want to complete with a Master in Islamic World Culture.
This said, it's clear that I am open to know about them. And since I started to meet muslims I noticed of something we will need in a future. They attach to their roots. They attach to their cultural heritage, so absolutely related, according to wahabbism with islam. What do we attach to... relativism?... nihilism?... a kind of respect that denies to ourselves the right to keep our own roots?... WHY ALL THIS SOUNDS SO INTOLERANT TO MANY WHILE IT IS JUST COMMON SENSE.
I am not nationalist, nor I am a defender of any racial supremacy. I am a spanish european with a cultural, religious and historical background and heritage. It is deeply inside me, and it's my roots. I cannot deny my origins and my roots. And this doesn't mean that I have to go against those who think different. But I have to fight for them the same way ppl with deep values do. If muslims wanted to teach me smthg is that I have to respect and hold strong on my roots. Or maybe my grandson will be a dammin terrorist and racist fighting for the survival of what I left to loose.
-Tono Sanchez , Ontinyent, Spain
18 January 2010
"Across the continent, efforts are being made to change school curricula to reflect Europe's multicultural landscape while state authorities are encouraging the recruitment of ethnic minorities into the police force, health services and government offices"
Goodbye Europe - you should never have let the progressives tell you what to do.
-Dev ,