The slow death of multiculturalism in Europe

October 28, 2010

Has multiculturalism run its course in Europe? If one takes a picture of
certain European countries today and freezes it, that would be the
logical conclusion.

The European right is thriving on anti-immigrant attitudes and is likely
to continue to reap the benefits in the short term. But there are forces
that are sure to keep multiculturalism alive whether we like it or not.

Take Germany as an example. Chancellor Angela Merkel has said bluntly
that Germany has failed to integrate large immigrant communities. The
complaint is that most Turks and Muslims who came to Germany in the
1960s to jumpstart the German economy after World War II have not
integrated into German society. They kept their language, religion and
most of their cultural habits. Instead of blending in, they created
their own parallel societies.

But is it logical to conclude that multiculturalism is dead because
certain European countries have failed to integrate their minority
communities? First of all, what some European countries present as
multicultural policies have very little to do with multiculturalism.
Again Germany is a case in point. German governments welcomed Greek,
Italian, Portuguese and Turkish workers in the 1950s and 1960s and
treated them as “guest workers.” But it never occurred to them that
these so-called guest workers were also human beings with social and
familial needs just like any other people. As a result, the German
governments made very little or no effort in creating a social and
political environment for them to integrate.

But it would be a mistake to think this is only a matter of policy. The
deeper issue is how culture and multiculturalism are understood in the
German context. “Multiculturalism” as a term has largely negative
connotations because “Kultur” in German means something rather different
than culture in French and/or English. Nietzsche, Oswald Spengler and
Thomas Mann used Kultur to denote the intellectual, spiritual, artistic
and religious values of a society. For many German thinkers in the 19th
century, civilization, which meant European civilization, was a sign of
decadence and loss of cultural purity. Culture, by contrast, meant
something more profound, something to be found in the Geist of a nation.
Given this definition of culture, how is any non-German-born person
supposed to participate in the German culture?

Besides these critical issues, what is the alternative to
multiculturalism? Forced integration? Assimilation? Walls of separation?
Or a complete halt of all immigration? The last option, which is the
never-ending political talk of all right-wing political parties from
Berlin and Paris to Washington, is not an option at all. The reason is
that the economic realities of globalization, the current state of labor
force and demographic trends in Europe make it impossible to stop

The age of cultural purism has ended. Europeans need to wake up to this
simple fact. As Fernand Braudel, the prominent French historian of
civilization, said: “The history of civilizations, in fact, is the
history of continual borrowings over many centuries, despite which each
civilization has kept its own original character. It must be admitted,
however, that now is the first time when one decisive aspect of a
particular civilization has been adopted willingly by all the
civilizations in the world…”

Instead of mourning the loss of an imaginary cultural heritage, we need
to articulate a new definition of culture. This definition will have to
be based not on some abstract notions and traits but on a deep sense of
social and filial empathy, a sense of reaching out to others, and
enriching oneself through the discovery of the other. An ethics of
coexistence can nourish a sense of cultural empathy without alienating

Mosque Bans

23 October 2010

In this article, Michael Prüller highlights the inherent problems associated with attempts to ban mosques: not only is reciprocity absurd (the lack of Christian churches in Iran should not have an impact on Indonesian Muslims in the Netherlands), but is goes against the very idea of human rights. However, he draws attention to an “elegant solution” proposed in Norway: while religious freedoms cannot be restricted, funding for mosques that comes from countries where those religious freedoms are not respected (such as Saudi Arabia), can be curtailed.

Austria Religious Communities Close Ranks in Support of Children’s Rights

21 October 2010

The representatives of Austria’s large religious communities – Catholic, Evangelical-Lutheran, Orthodox, Islamic, and Jewish – have come out in support of the initiative “Against Injustice.” The initiative opposes the practice of taking underage asylum seekers into custody, especially before expelling them from the country. The head of the Shura Council of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ) Fuat Sanac stated that it is “unacceptable for children to have to suffer for the mistakes of the authorities.”

Veil of Truth

19 October

In this opinion piece, the philosopher and feminist Andrea Roedig considers the question of what the position of a Western feminist should be with regard to banning the burqa. After explaining the main tendencies that currently exist, she argues for a contextualized understanding of the burqa ban, saying that what might be right for an Arabic country may ultimately restrict women’s right in a European context. For a genuine feminist approach, the best example would be the “niquabitches” in France, who have succeeded in putting off both the secular state, with the upper half their bodies in a burqa, and orthodox Islam, due to their lower half being practically naked.

Muslim Headscarf Headache for Swiss Basketball Player

18 October 2010

Sura Al-Shawk, a Swiss citizen of Iraqi origin, has been unable to participate in any basketball games since her regional league banned her in 2009, due to the headscarf that she wears. Since that time her case has been tossed “like a hot potato” between the regional and national basketball associations, while a civil court has rejected the case. The regional association argues that it has been simply following the rules of the International Basketball Federation (Fiba), which bans religious symbols during official games.

Al-Shawk’s lawyer continues to argue that his client’s “individual rights have been infringed,” and is considering taking the case to the Federal Court.

Juan Williams, Islamophobia, and Journalistic Fairness

Jamil Khader
October 26, 2010

Should Juan Williams have been forced to resign after his unfortunate remarks about “Muslim garb”? Although I believe that something should have been done, I’m not sure firing him was the right answer. NPR could have taken him at his own word, demanding that he lives up to his “I’m not a bigot, but . . . ” remark… [continue reading]

Juan Williams, Islamophobia, and Journalistic Fairness

By Jamil Khader
Stetson University, Florida

Should Juan Williams have been forced to resign after his unfortunate remarks about “Muslim garb”? Although I believe that something should have been done, I’m not sure firing him was the right answer. NPR could have taken him at his own word, demanding that he lives up to his “I’m not a bigot, but . . . ” remark. Instead of turning this into an opportunity to confront the mostly irrational fears many Americans have about Islam and Muslims, NPR perhaps inadvertently fueled that fear even more. While he could have been easily turned into an ally in the fight against prejudice in all its forms, Williams is now instead basking with a 2 million dollar contract with Fox news.

First of all, we have to acknowledge the existence of this visceral fear that many Americans have about Islam and Muslims after 9/11, while at
the same time insist that public discourse must remain rational and devoid of absurd statement like the ones Mr. Williams has made. Mr. Williams is entitled to his own emotional visceral response, but he could have found a more productive way of articulating that fear. As a Muslim myself, I’m not really sure what Williams means by “Muslim garb” especially, since none of the 9/11 terrorists was wearing anything remotely close to the stereotypical Islamic garb Mr. Williams had in mind. In fact, from what I clearly remember of the security feed, these terrorists looked completely western. Nothing about their clothes was Islamic. Moreover, I have not come across any criminologist or sociologist who has made a link between clothing and criminal behavior, not even among Goth teens and tattooed bikers. Mr. Williams’ bias against Arabs and Muslims is clearly irrational, making it, in the words of the conservative republican commentator, Andrew Sullivan, “anti-religious bigotry in its purest, clearest form.”

By pandering to O’Reilly, Mr. Williams has unfortunately contributed to the demonization of all Muslims, those who are for him total strangers—they do not look like us and, therefore, they terrify us just by their looks. What makes this dangerous and irresponsible on his part is that Muslims are the most maligned ethnic/religious groups in the US today, and that his comments, or most of the bigoted comments that are continuously streamed in the media and public culture, could not have been made about any other ethnic or religious group in the country. It would be instructive to examine the reaction of those who came to Williams’ defense with and against the firestorm of condemnation and protest following the bigoted comments recently made by other journalists such as Helen Thomas, Rick Sanchez, and Octavia Nasr. As columnist Glenn Greenwald states, “If we’re going to fire or otherwise punish people for expressing prohibited ideas against various groups, it’s long overdue that those standards be applied equally to anti-Muslim animus, now easily one of the most — if not the single most — pervasive, tolerated and dangerous forms of blatant bigotry in America.” It is not really difficult to understand the reason why Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Pam Geller, Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich, among others, stayed silent when Thomas, Sanchez, and Nasr, but not Williams, were forced to resign. Again, our culture today condones racist and insensitive comments about Muslims, but not about other groups. Muslims, it seems, have not been granted entry into the gates of PC culture.

Unlike other recent cases of conspicuous journalistic bigotry, Williams’ remarks subtly condoned and legitimized prejudice against Muslims. What he seems to say to O’Reilly, in fact, is that the latter is certainly justified in his view of all Muslims as potential terrorists. Having publicly expressed such bigotry, Williams has lost all the credibility, fairness and objectivity that are the foundations of his profession (but obviously in some news outlets like Fox news this does not matter). Should he have been forced to resign over one comment? He clearly violated his employer’s ethical code, but he should have been at least given a chance to explain himself. More importantly, NPR like all other power institutions in the country cannot just demand from American citizens to be sensitive to diversity without providing them with the necessary training and the tools to deal with such touchy topics with the sensitivity and cross-cultural competence needed. Such an educational effort requires the continuous planning, cooperation and investment of everyone not through one diversity training session or day, but throughout the year. As one educator said, “Diversity is everybody’s everyday work.”

Halal hairdressing launched in Scotland

24 October 2010

With its frosted windows, CCTV cameras, and tightly monitored security entrance, it is going to be one of Aberdeen’s most secretive business enterprises. So, you could be forgiven for wondering if the shop has something to hide. Well, it does — its customers. Or rather it is the customers who want to remain hidden. For this is Scotland’s first ‘halal hairdressers’ — a beauty salon which conforms to the strict rules of Islam; a place were Muslim women who wear the veil or headscarf can be seen uncovered without the risk of the gaze of men.

Discreet Creative Hairdressing, scheduled to open in three weeks, is the brainchild of 21-year-old Mahida Iqbal and her husband of nine months, Fueb Mieh. The salon will be a ‘man-free zone’. The frosted windows will stop any inquisitive men passing by from gawping at the clients. No-one can get in without passing through a secure buzzer entry system with CCTV. All this means that the Muslim ladies who have come for a new hair-do can remove their headscarves safe in the knowledge that only other women can see them.

“It is somewhere where customers can feel comfortable, feel pampered and relaxed, knowing that no-one is going to come in and disturb them,” Iqbal added. “Muslim husbands can feel relaxed knowing that their wife is safe, where no man is going to be able to see them, and then they can come home and show their beauty. Muslim clients have never experienced this ever. It’s a great feeling”, Mahida Iqbal says.

Baroness Warsi told by David Cameron not to appear at Islamic conference

23 October 2010

The Conservative party chair, Baroness Warsi, has been banned by David Cameron from attending a major Islamic conference today, igniting a bitter internal row over how the government tackles Islamist extremism.

Warsi, Britains first female Muslim cabinet minister, was told by the prime minister to cancel her appearance at the Global Peace and Unity Event, which is being billed as the largest multicultural gathering in Europe.

The London-based conference is aimed at improving community relations, yet critics have pointed out that a number of speakers who are due to appear have justified suicide attacks and promoted al-Qaida, homophobia and terrorism. An influential voice among the international Muslim community, Warsi believes that confronting extremists at public events is a more effective way to tackle fundamentalism than a refusal to engage with them.

German media roundup: Merkel’s convoluted immigration policy

18 October 2010

The German government announced plans on Monday for a raft of measures aimed at fostering integration of immigrants, two days after Merkel said multiculturalism had “completely failed.”

Merkel’s centre-right cabinet would adopt “concrete” new regulations governing immigration policy and residency permits, with a focus on German language courses and combating forced marriages, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

Saxony’s Leipziger Volkszeitung also pointed out Merkel’s seeming hypocrisy on the issue of immigration.

“Islam is part of Germany, but multiculturalism isn’t, says Merkel while giddily clapping for the TV cameras when Mesut Özil scores goals for the German national football team,” wrote the paper, referring to the midfielder with Turkish roots.

“While the federal government attempts to hash out criteria for highly qualified immigrants, the flailing CSU boss Horst Seehofer fantasises about foreign cultures and stopping immigration while enjoying Merkel’s protection. But that will simply scare away qualified experts,” the paper opined.
But the right-wing daily Die Welt wrote that multiculturalism can’t be dead, because it never lived in the first place.

“No one has anything against immigrants who live and work here and want to fit in,” the paper wrote. “But many have something against immigrants who want to bring their own laws along. To immigrate doesn’t just mean accepting the traditions of the chosen country, but respecting them too.” Those who choose not to do so should “please stay away,” the paper said.

Leftist daily Die Tageszeitung said that the German abbreviation for multiculturalism, Multikulti, isn’t even used by the Green party as it once was, and has instead become a “puppet for conservative politicians to batter ritually when they crave applause.”