Integration vs. assimilation

Muslims were already viewed as oppressive, backward and ‘barbarians’ by most people in the West. 9/11 served to further solidify these views. Muslims, especially those living in the West, are now being targeted left, right and centre. First it was the ban on religious symbols and apparel in public schools in France. Though the ban includes all overtly religious dress and signs including Sikh turbans, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses, it was mainly aimed at banning the hijab (headscarf and/or veil) worn by Muslim women. Then the blasphemous cartoons of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) appeared in a Danish newspaper and the furore in the Muslim world over that had barely died down when the Pope made disparaging remarks about the Prophet (PBUH). Last year, several Belgian towns banned the wearing of the burka (full veil) in public and several regions in Germany have banned wearing of hijab in public buildings, especially in schools. As if this was not enough, British Cabinet Minister Jack Straw wrote in the Lancashire Telegraph how he perceived the veil as “a visible statement of separation and difference” and how he felt more comfortable dealing with female visitors to his local political office with their faces uncovered. More recently, the Dutch government announced plans for legislation banning full length veils in public places and other clothing that covers the face.

The rising xenophobia in the West, especially in Europe, is alarming. Yvonne Ridley, a recently converted journalist, wrote about the attitude of most Westerners towards the hijab in an article titled, ‘How I came to love the veil’. Writing about her experience after she began wearing a hijab (only a headscarf and not the veil), she says: “I knew I’d hear from the odd Islamophobe, but I didn’t expect so much open hostility from strangers. Cabs passed me by at night, their ‘for hire’ lights glowing. One cabbie, after dropping off a white passenger right in front of me, glared at me when I rapped on his window, then drove off. Another said, ‘Don’t leave a bomb in the back seat’ and asked, ‘Where’s bin Laden hiding?’”

The West preaches freedom, democracy, diversity, tolerance, women’s rights, religious rights, minority rights, human rights, etc. to the world, but it seems as if this is mere rhetoric. These practices would be adapted when and where it suits them, but would be overturned otherwise. When same-sex marriage, euthanasia, drug use and prostitution are legal in the Netherlands, then why this double standard vis-à-vis the veil? The main criticism of the veil is that it symbolises oppression. Isn’t banning a woman from wearing a veil the same as forcing a woman to wear a veil? Both practices are oppressive in nature. Why not let the women decide what to do? A person should be allowed to wear what he/she chooses to wear, without any fear of reprisal.

Granted that the rise of ‘jihad’ in the name of Islam is mostly responsible for this anti-Muslim wave in the West, but why punish the majority for the evil deeds of a few? Muslim immigrants are continuously being made the scapegoats in this latest drive of Islamophobia. The French and the Dutch might think that enforcing such discriminatory laws will protect them against security threats, but the sad truth is that it will actually lead to more trouble for the West rather than solving anything. Passing such laws and discriminatory remarks by high-profile personalities would only backfire. This gives more ammunition to the fundamentalist Muslims and gives rise to anti-West sentiments. Suicide bombings, the so-called ‘jihad’ would not lessen if such discrimination is kept up; instead there would be a rise. If you discourage a practice, you elevate its status, as is evident from the fact that Jack Straw’s comments led to an increase in the sale of veils rather than discouraging it, young females being the primary buyers. Had he not made those comments, ultimately the Muslim immigrants in Britain would have stopped wearing the veil over time, except for a few exceptions. Had France not banned the hijab in public schools, a few generations later, there would not have been many hijab-clad females left. The key to multiculturalism is integration, not forced assimilation.

Some are of the opinion that Muslim immigrants are becoming extremists and these measures would help in curbing extremism. They are wrong. The reason why some Muslims are adopting extremist ideology is due to oppression and an identity crisis. They feel ‘neither here, nor there’. In some cases, immigrants have to face structural inequalities and are treated like second-class citizens. Unless and until these immigrant citizens – whose second or third generation are in essence ‘French’, ‘British’, ‘Dutch’, etc. – feel themselves to be so, they will continue to feel isolated and go on a quest for their lost identity, and most likely fall prey to fundamentalist factions who are always on the lookout for such a baffled lot. The British must ask themselves why British-born citizens (be they of Pakistani or Arab descent) have opted to form groups based on al Qaeda’s ideology? Why do they need to wage ‘jihad’ against their own countrymen? It is because these people did not feel as if they belonged to British society. Somehow, after 9/11, the West started stressing too much on the difference between the immigrant communities and the natives, rather than focusing on the similarities between them. The sense of alienation is what causes some among the Muslim immigrant community to go astray.

Multiculturalism has immense benefits. It helps different communities to live alongside one another, sharing their ways of life and in the process it enriches the social fabric of the nation. It cultivates society by providing new ideas, culture, cuisine, etc., and helps strengthen the economy. There are better ways of integrating the immigrant community, which could ensure that it is not radicalised, rather than imposing bans on its customs. The West must allow its Muslim immigrant community to wrestle with its customs, because pressing for assimilation will produce the opposite effect and only lead to a reactionary attitude.


Marwan said…
I liked your article, its nice and deals with the issue in a rational way. I think it should now be the objective of any educated Muslim in the West to use these kinds of blogs and the media for that matter, to put out a rational, objective, informative response to the clear Islamophobia that exists in the West. Islam is a misunderstood religion, and it suits many people to have it that way, that's why I think British-Muslims like you have a duty to continue to write to the other. The aim should be to convince, and to give the right picture of Islam, its teachings and of the Quran. If enough Muslims are able to do that then in the end it would have been a very worthwhile job. There is a second crusade out there, and our job is to fight it through using our brain.
mehmal said…
Thanks Marwan :) Though I am not a British Muslim (I am a Pakistani), yet what you've said is right.

The whole 'jihadist' Islam is a fallacy, as there is no basis for such type(s) of jihad in Islam. Muslims all over the world are now in a quest for the 'soul of Islam'. There are countless others like me who are trying to find it and then present it to the world :)
Bean said…
very interesting post...what you wrote about the netherlands is interesting- some people might think wearing hijab is oppressive...but quite honestly allowing prostitution is oppressive towards women and really shows that as 'equal' as they wanna be, allowing the socio-economic context to allow prostitution, shows that it is still a male dominated mentality.
you're post also made me realize that it might just be a matter of time before muslims in america won't be allowed to choose to wear or not wear hijab in public buildings...i can't imagine not being able to go to a public building without having to think twice about whether i want to take my hijab off to enter.
Sulman said…
i've got an answer for ya.
Anonymous said…
Well written article and i liked it. Muslims wake up, Quran is our guide to stand up for truth, liberate humanity from the clutches of Falsehood. We have the truth, we should sacrifice sleep for doing more work, we dont have time. our tools are knowledge, wisdom, compassion for the oppressed, love and concern for the humanity.

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