Though European countries are constantly globalizing, the interactions between Europeans and Muslims are hardly mundane. Extreme cultural differences drive a wedge between these two groups, forever complicating a peaceful cohesion. These two groups vary in religion, economics, and politically. Unfortunately, there is no right answer to expedite successful interactions, there are 3 general steps to be taken in the right direction: assimilation, communitarianism, and newer modes of integration. Assimilation and communitarianism are the two extremes when it comes to interactions between Europeans and Muslims.
“The assimilationists tend to believe that Muslims should accept the totality of the cultural and political ethos of their country of residence or citizenship. They can, of course, remain Muslim, but their religion must be a private matter and publicly invisible” (Hunter p. 273).
Assimilation involves forfeiting ones previous culture and identity to take on the culture of the society they are migrating to. Countries like Germany and France strongly believe immigrants should assimilate. France has recently gone so far as to ban Muslims from wearing veils in schools. This is an extreme example of politics forcing assimilation. Yet, second and third generation Muslims are still wanting to assimilate into these societies.
On the other hand, some European countries believe in communitarianism.
“Communitarians – both European and Muslim – prefer Muslims to form cohesive communities which can then enter into systematic dialogue with state and society. Some Muslims prefer to live in complete isolation according to strict Islamic rules” (Hunter p. 273).
While assimilation promotes Muslims adapting into European culture, communitarianism promotes Muslims forming groups in a specific place in order for these communities of similar individuals to communicate with the country. Communitarianism emphasizes that an individuals identity and personality are shaped by their community, not by the individual. Muslims are expected to live in isolated, exclusive communities and respond to society as a whole.
Other European countries have adopted a mix of these two interaction techniques, as well as other new modes of interaction. One of the most popular forms of this is integration without complete assimilation. This form allows immigrants to keep some of their traditions and cultural differences while simultaneously fitting into and feeling at home in their community. These newer movements are typically more predominant among the Muslim youth in Europe.
In The Failure of Multiculturalism, Kenan Malik describes “the diversity myth” that has plagued European countries for centuries. This myth incorporates two related myths to explain multiculturalism and immigration.
- The first part is the myth that European countries used to be one single race, and have since then become highly diverse. The reality of this myth is that European countries have actually become less diverse since the beginning of each country. The reasoning for the confusion surrounding this myth is “historical amnesia,” or significant portions of people forgetting or altering their history.
- The second aspect of the diversity myth is current immigration is much different from previous waves of immigration in such a substantial way that society must restructure to accommodate the immigration. The main idea is that this new immigration is “less assimilable” than previous surges of immigration. In fact, assimilation was almost more difficult in European countries in the past than it is today. In 1905, the British feared immigrants would live by their own customs and, essentially, ruin the British image. This fear inspired the 1905 British law called the Aliens Act, which specifically barred Jews, who were seen as unBritish. The judicial systems in European countries are much less anti-immigrant than they were previously. Though assimilation is rarely an easy task for immigrants, historical amnesia blocks the reality of assimilating in the early 1900s and previous decades.
In a blog written by Malik, he goes into further detail about the third myth surrounding multiculturalism: the idea that “European nations have adopted multicultural policies because minorities demanded it.” Basically, this myth is that European countries have become multicultural because immigrants made them. In the 1940s and 1950s, immigrants were coming from India, Pakistan, and the Caribbean. They brought with them numerous traditions of which they were very proud of, but they were not concerned with conserving the cultural differences that divided them from British society. One shinning example of this third myth is the immigration of Muslims in Europe. Malik uses the Muslim family of British writer and theatre director Pervaiz Khan, whose family immigrated to Britain in the 1950’s. He explained how his father and uncle would go out for a drink, none of the women wore a hijab, they rarely fasted at Ramadan, and missed Friday prayers. Though they did not boast about these shortcomings, they were still known by their community, yet the family was not ostracized for it. Today in Europe, any Muslim family partaking in any of these would be greeted with distrust and distaste. Multiculturalism was not a response to a demand by immigrants, rather, “the desire to celebrate one’s culture identity has itself…been shaped by the implementation of multicultural policies.”
The difference between assimilation and multiculturalism is explained by their definitions. Assimilation is “
Malik proposes progression by initially making three distinctions:
- “Europe should separate diversity as a lived experience from multiculturalism as a political experience.” Societies made diverse by immigration should be welcomed, while political/formal recognition of differences should be rejected.
- “Europe should distinguish colorblindness from blindness to racism.” Treating everyone equally because of law is different than treating everyone equally because we should.
- “Europe should differentiate between peoples and values.” Societies should not be viewed by an identical society attached to a set of values, rather just parts of a modern democracy.
Malik wants to end the idea that assimilation and integration are successfully achieved through politics and legislature, and emphasize the idea that they are achieved by a civil society, bonds between individuals, and organizations they establish. End political reigns on assimilation and allow civil societies to incorporate multiculturalism.