- 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.
Zemni and Parker explain this failure to integrate by first running through the history that surrounds Muslims in Europe. Migration was initially encouraged in the 1950s as laborers arrived in Europe with their families to fill low wage jobs. By the 1970s, migration was no longer seen as beneficial for Europeans in that people were fleeing their home countries because of conflict and war. They were seeking refuge. In this way, failure to integrate referred to a migrant’s inability to get ahead in Europe in economic terms. After the 1970s, migrants were no longer spoken of as guest workers from countries like Turkey or Morocco, they were perceived as Muslims. They weren’t unable to integrate because of low socioeconomic status like in the past. Europeans now saw Muslims as not able to fit into society because they were culturally different. So we see two shifts. The first is in the language used to describe these migrants who were once seen as scabs or laborers and were classified based on nationality and are now seen as Muslims. The other shift is in the reasoning behind this failure to integrate. What was once seen as a class distinction is now seen as a cultural disconnect.
This failure to celebrate diversity on the part of Europeans is dangerous for Muslims because it puts them in a position where they are forced to defend their ability to properly adopt the responsibilities of citizenship. This way of thinking often surfaces in lawmaking, which in turn legitimizes discrimination against Muslims. An example of this is of course France’s decision to ban the headscarf in schools because they saw it as a threat to French culture, which I will discuss further in the next question. Zemni and Parker also use the example of a Flemish migrant who is never questioned in terms of his or her ability to integrate into a different nation state. Individuals might view this as a form of multiculturalism that adds to the nation in some form, but somehow Muslims are still seen as other and their failure to integrate does not add to the nation, it is instead problematic. Other nations in Europe have passed laws that single out Muslim communities. For instance, in Austria, in 2015, the parliament passed a law that bans foreign funding for mosques and imams. While this was supposed to target radical Muslims, it affects all Muslims who oppose the ban because international support is still permitted for Christians and Jews.
- 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?
While the Islamic gender system and the French system are opposite in many ways, in both societies, women are deemed as inferior to men. While the French system celebrates sex and sexuality, the Islamic system sees sex as threatening to society and politics. Basically, according to the French politicians who agreed to this ban on the headscarf, Islam oppresses woman, while French republicanism liberates them. Because “equality” is seen as a main pillar of French republicanism, anyone who opposed this (i.e. those who wanted to wear headscarves) could never be seen as fully French. The French identity and the Muslim identity was not seen as sexually compatible before this ban was passed. Laïcité is a term that was difficult to fully grasp, but from what I found it is a form of secularism that is a main pillar of the French republic in which religion is kept private. The Islamic headscarf is a clear symbol of religion and does not go along with this private notion of religion set forth by laïcité. After the Charlie Hebdo killings in France, the government pushed for a more aggressive teaching of secularism that was aimed at mostly Muslim schools. Many saw this as discrimination as it was so pointedly aimed at the Muslim community.
This is a very tough subject to have an opinion on because I still feel like I will never be able to fully understand what it is like to be French or Muslim. In the New York Times article that I read, the head of a Muslim association said that he felt like soon enough the government was going to ban Muslim names like Muhammad because they were not secular enough. This definitely put into perspective what this type of discrimination would feel like if I were a Muslim living in France. The French identity is so strong and distinct, but I think that some of France’s legislation needs to “get with the times.” The laws surrounding laïcité were put into place in 1905, so I feel that they could be updated to reflect the current situation that is happening in France. 8% of the population identifies as Muslim, so this ban on headscarves didn’t affect just a few people throughout France; it was major.
Even in the United States, which is supposed to celebrate diversity, there is a lot of fear that comes from increased cultural influence. Soon, white people will no longer be the majority and this is definitely scary for a lot of people. When populations change though, I think the laws must also change to be more inclusive and responsive to the people. Democracy is supposed to be by the people for the people, so it if its not representative, then it’s not a true democracy. I didn’t know what my true feelings on this subject were, but the more that I read about this subject, the more I disagree with the laws that France and other European nations are passing. In my opinion, you don’t pass laws out of fear. You pass laws to enforce rights, not restrict them.