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Islam, Immigration, and the WEST

Reader comment on item: The Swiss Ban on Minarets: A Possible Turning Point

Submitted by LOU FROM QUEENS,NYC,USA (United States), Dec 8, 2009 at 01:58

After World War II, Western European countries overestimated their need for immigrant labor. Instead of investing in new technology, they drove down labor costs, and destroyed the powerful labor unions by importing cheap workers without regard to the long term social and political consequences. The economic assumptions, that immigrants increased national wealth were incorrect. With old industries such as textiles already in decline, immigrant workers merely delayed the necessary process of restructuring. In many of these older industries the wealth they generated was only small percentage of the GDP. In most cases much of the wealth generated by immigrant businesses that appear in economic statistics is absorbed by the costs of accommodating them in their new environment thru social services, and welfare payments. In addition, many immigrants send a good amount of money back to their home countries. The terrorist bombings in London and Madrid, the riots in the Paris, the growing Muslim prison populations, and the horrors of unreconstructed patriarchy in the form of "honor killings," systemic homophobia, and the bizarre medical "hymen repair operations" allowing women to recover lost virginities are all dangerous precedents. The Muslim versus Muslim versus everybody horrors taking place in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, Somalia, the Sudan, and elsewhere are also etched into the consciousness. There are now many native born citizens who now fear Islam and wonder if it is a primeval, expansionist religion impervious to change or reform.

The current levels of Muslim immigration are unprecedented. In the past, groups of immigrants were big enough to enrich the lands of settlement but not so big as to threaten them, the sheer volume of Muslim immigration endangers the indigenous cultures of Europe, not least because those cultures themselves have become precariously fragile. Political correctness, anti-racism, and multiculturalism, born of guilt about colonialism and shame about the Holocaust, are eroding national cultures, while failing to produce any sensible or coherent vision of a common European identity. The current European model of citizenship: You are one person for your culture and another for the law borders on the absurd. You can be an official (legal) European even if you are not a "real" (cultural) European. These viewpoints may sound tolerant and liberating, but it has its downside. Rights are attached to citizenship. As soon as your citizenship becomes legal, so do your rights.

Immigrants to Europe have been able to exploit their rights as both citizens and residents, by staking claim to the health and welfare (birth to grave) benefits to which the native born are entitled. Western European countries have provided the most generous benefits ever given to workers anywhere at any time in history. With shortened working hours, seven-week vacations, full health coverage, and wages for unionized workers reaching almost $45 an hour. This along with social spending has impeded investment, stifled risk-based entrepreneurship by small, flexible start-up companies that has driven most of the innovation in recent decades especially in the new information economy. The USA, by contrast, is less indulgent: contrary to the myth of American openness, immigrants are pressured to conform. An immigrant may maintain his ancestral culture, but if culture or religion prevents him from speaking English fluently, being skilled or productive at work, he will probably remain improvised. And those low skilled high paying manufacturing jobs with great benefits at the big three auto makers no longer exist.

Europe has become a multiethnic society partially by design but mostly by accident. European societies have yet to find satisfactory ways of institutionalizing Islam within their national politics. This is partly due to the fragmentary and contested nature of Islam itself, in which no formal priesthood stands between the individual and a God who reveals himself in texts that are subject to, and have a wide variety of interpretations. Historically the religion has no coherent worldwide hierarchy.

Several Islamic organizations act as interlocutors with various governments, such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the French Council for the Muslim Faith (CFCM), are rejected by Muslims as being too political, not political enough, or simply not representative of people. It is clear that as a religion formulated during an era of political ascendancy, the mainstream traditions of Islam have yet to find comfortable moorings in the mostly secular, pluralist, free-thinking, and somewhat materialistic West.

The funding of European mosques and Islamic institutions from ultraconservative countries is another dangerous reason for concern: in France, the Union of Islamic Organizations (UIOF) —is an umbrella group of doctrinaire Muslim youth organizations linked to the radical Muslim Brotherhood. It gets a quarter of its annual budget from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and other foreign donors. Two thirds of the imams in France live on welfare, as do a similar number in Britain. A majority of them are foreign-born and trained, and have received little instruction in science, Western culture, religion, or the history of their new homelands. A minority of them have been exposed as, "preachers of hate." The British laissez-faire model of leaving immigrant communities to manage themselves has allowed extremism to flourish in complex, and dangerous ways. Islamic missionary organizations such as the Tablighi Jamaat, known for its pietism and abhorrence of politics, nevertheless encourages a separatist spirit in which extremism can be incubated: most of the men convicted in September for the plot to blow up transatlantic airliners using liquid explosives in soft-drink bottles had connections with the Tablighi Jamaat, as did two of the suicide bombers who murdered fifty-two people in the London transport system in July 2005.

Even marriage can be an agent of radicalization: the first generation of migrants' children pleased their parents by marrying cousins imported from Pakistan or Bangladesh, their children's insistence on marrying Muslim partners of their own choice is leading to the creation of a Muslim identity that transcends the older patterns of "encapsulated" settlement based on region, culture, language, and extended family networks. This new home grown, pan-Islamic identity both feeds on and contributes to the perceived hostility of the host society: the Rushdie agitation in 1989, the row over the "insult" to Islam conveyed by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in publishing a cartoon showing Muhammad with a terrorist bomb as his turban, the marches in France protesting the headscarf ban in schools, the riots of youth in Parisian suburbs, and episodes of Islam phobia reported on al-Jazeera television or in the Muslim press all contribute to the sense of an embattled community that is also flexing its collective muscles.

Despite the legal, institutional, and cultural differences of the European host countries in which Muslim immigrants find themselves, a growing web of data points in an alarming direction. The bottom line is that Islam is a religion of believers who themselves see no demarcation between church and state. In their homelands the religion as practiced is intertwined with the political and judicial system. Most Europeans and Americans are not only skeptical, but, as heirs to the Enlightenment, they regard religious skepticism as essential to their outlook, and as a strong part of their national heritage. This is in addition to their absolute belief in freedom of thought, speech, and assembly.

A shrinking population of several hundred million Europeans lives north of the Mediterranean, while a growing population of several hundred million lives south of it, many with a desire to take up residence in Europe. A certain minority of that Islamic population are radicals dedicated to Europe's destruction by armed violence. Europe's basic problem with Islam, and with immigration, is that some of the strongest communities in Western Europe are, culturally speaking, not entirely European anymore. This problem exists in all European countries, despite a broad variety of measures taken to solve it—multiculturalism in Holland, France, benign neglect in Britain, constitutional punctiliousness in Germany.

Islam is one of the world's largest religions that have at various times produced enlightened, tolerant, and reformist societies. But all propaganda to the contrary; it is neither a European or American religion nor even a great part of their cultures. The Muslim presence in the West is not just a problem of religion, values, and cultures, but as a psychological one as well. Western societies in general and Europeans in particular are experiencing a very deep, multidimensional "identity crisis" flowing from the double effects of globalization and growing third world economic power, pride, and nationalism. Everywhere European landmarks of national identity and cultural memory are being eroded or challenged from both within and without. The presence of immigrants that are so chauvinistic in their own beliefs adds to their feelings of discomfort, and confusion.

While aging populations need immigrants to sustain their economies, the new comers threaten ideas of cultural homogeneity. Much of their own identity, beliefs, and economic livelihoods have been endangered by radical politics, globalization, and the communications revolution. Europeans now seem trapped in an irreversible cycle. Economic necessities are in conflict with the cultural forces around which their identity is based. Muslims living in the West face similar predicaments. Their identity crisis generates anxiety leading them toward attitudes of self withdrawal and isolation. Unfortunately these socio- economic problems have not been openly and honestly addressed, and both sides seem to be trapped in positions of their own making. Unfortunately the politicians seem to be content taking sides, jockeying for power, rather than honestly addressing these issues, and problems head-on.

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