Thursday, July 07, 2011

Adjustment issues for Muslims in UK and Germany

by Salman Hameed

There is a thoughtful oped in today's NYT that talks about adjustment issues of Muslims in Europe - in particular in UK and Germany. It criticizes the already-maligned multiculturalism approach that had been adopted by both of the countries, but then it also presents a thoughtful analysis of why so many Muslims feel alienated there. This is of interest to me because we are looking at attitudes to evolution amongst Pakistani physicians in UK and Turkish doctors in Germany - and we suspect that for some a rejection of biological evolution may have become entangled with their identity of being a Muslim.

This article makes an interesting point about the appropriation (with ample help from the British government) of the "Muslim position" by some of the more extreme groups in UK:
Thirty years ago, Britain was a very different place than it is now. Racism was vicious, visceral and often fatal. “Paki bashing,” the pastime of hunting down and beating up Britons with brown skin, became a national sport in certain circles. I remember organizing patrols on the streets of East London during the 1980s to protect South Asian families from rampaging racist thugs. Workplace discrimination was endemic and police brutality frighteningly common. Anger at such treatment came to an explosive climax in the riots that rocked London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol and other cities during the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was in response to this rage that Britain’s multicultural policies emerged.
The British government developed a new political framework for engaging with minority groups. Britain was now in effect divided into a number of ethnic boxes — Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, African, Caribbean and so on. The claims of minorities upon society were defined less by the social and political needs of individuals than by the box to which they belonged. Political power and financial resources were distributed by ethnicity.
The new policy did not empower individuals; instead, it enhanced the authority of so-called community leaders, often the most conservative voices, who owed their positions and influence largely to their relationship with the state.
 Politicians effectively abandoned their responsibility to engage directly with minorities, subcontracting it out to often reactionary “leaders.”
If the prime minister wanted to get a message to the “Muslim community,” he called in the council or visited a mosque. Rather than appealing to Muslims as British citizens, politicians preferred to see them as people whose primary loyalty was to their faith and who could be politically engaged only by other Muslims. As a result religious — and Islamist — figures gained new legitimacy in their own neighborhoods and came to be seen by the wider society as the authentic voice of British Muslims.
But along with this, the moderate voices have gotten sidelined:
More progressive movements became sidelined. Today “radical” in an Islamic context means someone who is a religious fundamentalist. Thirty years ago it meant the opposite: a secularist who challenged both racism in the streets and the power of the mosques. Secularism was once strong within Muslim communities, but it has been squeezed out by the new relationship between the state and religious leaders.
Many second-generation British Muslims now find themselves detached from both the religious traditions of their parents, which they often reject, and the wider secular society that insists on viewing them simply as Muslims. A few are drawn inevitably to extremist Islamist groups where they discover a sense of identity and of belonging. It is this that has made them open to radicalization.
I think this makes overall sense. However, we have to realize that secularism lost its strength in the 1990s in several (most?) Muslim countries. This does not mean that the causality implied in the article is wrong,  but just to keep in mind this additional bit of complexity.

And as far as Germany is concerned, there experiment in multiculturalism failed for completely different reasons:
A similar process has taken place in Germany. Postwar immigrants, primarily from Turkey, came not as potential citizens, but as “gastarbeiter,” or guest workers, who were expected to eventually return to their native countries. Over time, immigrants became transformed from a temporary necessity to a permanent presence, partly because Germany continued relying on their labor, and partly because they — and especially their children — came to see Germany as home.
The German state, however, continued to view them as outsiders and to refuse them citizenship. Unlike the practices in Britain, France or the United States, German citizenship is based on blood, not soil: it is granted automatically only to children born of German parents. Germany has nearly four million people of Turkish origin today, many of them born there, but fewer than 25 percent have managed to become citizens. Instead, multiculturalism became the German answer to the “Turkish problem.”
In place of citizenship and a genuine status in society, the state “allowed” immigrants to keep their own culture, language and lifestyles. One consequence was the creation of parallel communities. Without any incentive to participate in the national community, many Turks became dangerously inward-looking. Today, almost a third of Turkish adults in Germany regularly attend mosque, a higher rate than elsewhere in Western Europe and higher than in many parts of Turkey. The increasing isolation of second-generation German Turks has made some more open to radical Islamism.
This is a tough issue. Unfortunately, France's assimilation policies are not helped much by its ban on burqas nor does Switzerland with its prohibition of minarets. I think the US has so far done relatively well in assimilating different cultures, including Muslims, but we are seeing increasing hostility to the building of mosques and Islamic centers in the States. If this stays as a political weapon for the Tea Party Republicans, we may see a deeper entrenchment of the Muslim community. But I don't see the problem getting as bad as UK or Germany for three reasons: 1) the ties to home countries are looser here than in UK and Germany, 2) Muslim immigrants to the US are close to the national average in socio-econmic factors, whereas they are lower than average in most of Europe, 3) perhaps, because of the first two factors, there might be a larger fraction (key word is "fraction) of progressive (plus politically and culturally astute) Muslims in the US than in UK or Germany.

In any case, read this excellent article here.


Anonymous said...

Never the fault of the immigrants is it.

Muslim immigrants have failed miserably to integrate into and afford basic respect to their host cultures. So automatically the host nations are blamed. Possibly the fault is with the religion and culture of the Muslim immigrants, not Europe. The same kinds of problems have not been seen with the Sikhs and Hindus. Anyone trying to dump blame on Europe for this situation must first come up with a credible line of reasoning as to why these groups haven't decided to start getting aggressive. After all, the average BNP or NF memeber in the UK can't tell a Sikh from a Muslim, and before the late nineties we just lumped them all into the same 'Asian' category and treated them the same.

Blame them, not us.

maliha ghani said...

For accurate and true knowledge of the Quran in particular and of Islam in general, one must refer to the authentic books and to the learned scholars.

Salman Hameed said...


To a certain degree you are correct about the lack of assimilation. But remember, that the criticism is directed towards particular state policies - over which immigrant populations have no control. As far as other immigrant groups are concerned, their numbers are relatively smaller than some of the Muslim countries (Turkish immigrants in Germany, I think, is the largest immigrant population group in Europe). Second, the issue of immigrant populations is not exactly something unique, This has happened to populations within Europe, different European immigration waves to the US, etc. So while I share some of your concerns, I think it is a bit too simplistic to say that there are no problems with policies and/or that Muslims are the ones with the problem. And this NYT article is particularly good in dealing with this issue in a more nuanced manner.

Yakoub said...

Malik has to turn to the NY Times to spout his delusions of a Britain that is no longer racist because people aren't getting stabbed willy-nilly around London, because here in the UK he gets laughed at. He pretends Islamophobia is not significant, which is so at odds with the evidence from research into the media and elsewhere. He wouldn't notice, being as he is secular. Not long ago, he was boasting on twitter at how he was reading a 1930s children's history book to his kid popular amongst the white London middle classes, which includes Orientalist myths about Islam typical of the period. When this was pointed out to him (he didn't know), he didn't give a monkeys. He really ought to change his name to John Smith and have done with it.

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