Post 8: Muslim Integration in Europe


1. How do Zemni and Parker explain the “failure of integration” of Muslims in Europe? Why is the way Europeans think about integration and multiculturalism problematic in the discourse surrounding Islam and Muslims in Europe? Explain and give examples.

In European Union, Islam and the Challenges of Multiculturalism, authors Sami Zemni and Christopher Parker discuss the “failure of integration” of Muslims in Europe. They explain how there is a “perceived failure of migrants/immigrants of non-European origin to integrate into host societies.” There is an ongoing social construction of an immigrant being a problematic participant in social and political life of Europe, especially Muslim migrants. The historical context of the so-called “failure of integration” of Muslims in Europe is first, the fulfillment of low wage jobs in European countries in the early 1950s to the 1970s when the economy fell and lead many countries to appoint a stop to immigration. The second dramatic movement of immigrants to Europe was due to economic and political upset in home countries during the Cold War, leading to an increase in the migrant population, especially in Western Europe. The “failure” refers to the notion that immigrants failed to “adopt styles and practices of daily life” considered normal in European societies. Today, all of these apparent outsiders are Muslims, whereas in the 1970s they were called the “Other.” This shift directly correlates with the view of the Islamist movement across the world political scene. Slowly, migrants have been “de-linked” from there nationality and linked to a cultural matrix, remaining a stranger to what is still seen as “normal” European society.

The way Europeans think about integration and multiculturalism is problematic in the discourse surrounding Islam and Muslims in Europe because of the embedded suspicion associated with the group. There is a thought that “the migrant, as determined by his or her culture of origin, is incapable of meeting and respecting the demands and responsibilities of citizenship in the “secular” European state.” This lends to problems for both the Muslims themselves, and the way the policymakers in Europe interact with one another. For example, Muslim immigrants may be less inclined to participate in society because of the way they may come across as less-educated, or incapable of seeing eye-to-eye with others in a community because of their religion.


2. How is the Islamic gender system different from that of the French?  Why does the Islamic headscarf pose a challenge to the French republic’s ideal of “abstract individualism” and “laïcité”?  What are your own thoughts on this debate and controversy?

The Islamic gender system is different from that of the French system, especially in terms of women. In Joan Wallach Scott’s book, “Politics of the Veil,” she discusses the differences in the two systems. While in both systems, men are viewed as secondary to men, in the Islamic system, women downplay their sexuality, whereas French women celebrate it. The headscarf is a symbol of modesty, privacy and morality. In a poor and ethnically mixed middle school in France, three girls were expelled for failure to remove their headscarves. The principal claimed to be enforcing “laïcité,” the French version of secularism in which religion is meant to be kept private. The headscarf posed a problem to this ideal of “laïcité” because religion was not being kept private. Disallowing the headscarf to be worn in school also took away the values of Islamic culture like modesty and morality discussed previously. One argument was that “laïcité” meant respect for and tolerance of differences of religious expression among students. Another side saw the discussion of the hijab as a chance for Muslims to start a revolution. Many saw the  focus of secularism teachings in school as a direct aim at the Muslim community. Abstract individualism occurs when people are stripped of traits that represent their culture or religion. Thus, the hijab directly reflects the wearer’s’ religion and culture and goes against the French ideal of keeping the traits private.
My view on the debate is that people should be allowed to demonstrate their culture and values in private and public. Not allowing girls to wear headscarves in school seems wrong because it’s stripping them of their identity. At the same time, French and Islamic cultures are very different than my own, so seeing both sides of the argument is important in order to be part of the discussion.


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