Muslim-European Interactions

  1. Compare and contrast the following discussed patterns of Muslim-European interaction: assimilation, communitarianism, or newer modes or integration.

As we’ve progressed in this class, it is apparent from our readings and discussions in class that strong tensions exist in Europe between native cultures and societies, and those of immigrants. Particularly strong are the tensions brought on by Islam and the influx of Muslim immigrants and residents in Western European countries. In her book, Shireen Hunter concludes with discussing different approaches to Muslim-European interaction. Assimilation is a popular viewpoint followed by countries such as France and Germany. “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” (273). This viewpoint perpetuates a Muslim-European interaction that is defined by more restrictions on the Muslim freedom of expression. For example, in France, female Muslim students are prohibited from wearing their head veils. On the other hand, countries like the United Kingdom follow a communitarianism approach. “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” (273). These governments see it as easier to give group identities, and have immigrants fit into these groups and operate on a more representative level, rather than the immigrants being more active members of society themselves.

  1. What is the diversity myth discussed by Malik? How does assimilation differ from multiculturalism? Give examples. What solutions does Malik propose to overcome the failure of multiculturalism?

Once heralded as the solution to Europe’s woes, multiculturalism is now perceived by many to be the source of such problems. Kenan Malik, in his article The Failure of Multiculturalism, explores how Europe’s approach to immigrants and policies have exacerbated the tension between cultures. He identifies how many governments, “seek to institutionalize diversity by putting people into ethnic and cultural boxes…and defining their needs and rights accordingly” (21) The diversity myth “embodies both a description of society and a prescription for dealing with it…perceived problem with supposed solution” (22). Multicultural society is defined as having a diverse population, but policies that attempt to manage this population exist. The dissolution of many labor organizations and decline of the working class in Europe has led to a reframing of the way people perceive one another. Social class is not so much a factor. “They define social solidarity not in political terms but rather in terms of ethnicity, culture or faith…concerned less with determining the kind of society they want to create than with the community to which they belong” (24).  In the 1940s, British governmental officials feared that the influx of immigrants would “undermine the country’s sense of identity” (25). A common myth the author identifies is that these governments created multiculturalist policies with the belief that these minorities wanted to “assert their differences.” But Malik points out that the immigrants themselves weren’t so preoccupied with cultural assimilation as political officials were. They faced discrimination and different treatment, when they were not seeking out to be treated differently because of their cultures. It was with this realization of discrimination that the government realized these immigrant groups needed to be represented, in some form, in the political sphere. That, is what Malik explains as the origins of the first multiculturalist policies. The “policies…not only bound people more closely to particular identities but also led them to fear and resent other groups as competitors for power and influence” (26).  In Germany, the influx of Turkish immigrants were met with policies that encouraged them to retain their own culture and traditions, but Malik points out that this policy wasn’t perpetuating an inclusive culture in the country. He states, “the policy did not represent a respect for diversity so much as a convenient means of avoiding the issue of how to create a common, inclusive culture” (27). France claimed to have an assimilationist policy that treated “every individual as a citizen rather than a member of a particular racial, ethnic, or cultural group” (29). Despite this claim, however, Malik says that the French government was still treating its immigrants in a “multiculturalist way,” that set them apart from French society.

Malik offers solutions for how Europe can alleviate the issues caused by multiculturalist policies. First, he says, it is important to avoid institutionalizing diversity and formally distinguishing cultural differences. It is then important to recognize the existence of racism and prevent certain groups of citizens from being treated differently. Lastly, Malik identifies that Europe needs to distinguish people from values. This means that diversity is important, but so is treating everyone as an equal citizen. Taking the best attributes from Multiculturalist and Assimilationist policies is necessary for positive change.



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