Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Swiss Ban on Minarets; Assimilation (Or Not) in Western Europe

This picture is of a minaret in Geneva. The Swiss recently passed a law (or amended their constitution?) to prohibit the building of minarets. 57% voted in favor of the ban.

Ross Douthat wrote in yesterday's Times (here) about Muslim immigration to western Europe and the increasing anti-immigrant / anti-Muslim feelings in a number of European communities.

Douthat argues that, contrary to the expectations of elite opinion leaders, (1) not all Muslim immigrants have been willing to assimilate and (2) not all foreign-born Europeans have been willing to accept them into their societies:
Switzerland isn’t an E.U. member state, but its minaret moment could have happened almost anywhere in Europe nowadays — in France, where officials have floated the possibility of banning the burka; in Britain, which elected two representatives of the fascistic, anti-Islamic British National Party to the European Parliament last spring; in Italy, where a bill introduced this year would ban mosque construction and restrict the Islamic call to prayer...

Millions of Muslims have accepted European norms. But millions have not. This means polygamy in Sweden; radical mosques in Britain’s fading industrial cities; riots over affronts to the Prophet Muhammad in Denmark; and religiously inspired murder in the Netherlands. It means terrorism, and the threat of terrorism, from London to Madrid.
And it means a rising backlash, in which European voters support extreme measures and extremist parties because their politicians don’t seem to have anything to say about the problem.

In this week's New Yorker, Ian Buruma also examines the issue of Muslim assimilation into western European norms. Buruma focuses on Ahmed Marcouch, a Moroccan-born Dutch politician who has espoused liberal views (including acceptance of homosexuality) while also advocating for the teaching of Islam in Holland's public schools.

Both of these articles made me think about the similarities and differences between attitudes towards immigrants in the US and in western Europe. No matter how anti-immigrant some Americans are (and I believe that nativism in America is an underreported story in the media, Lou Dobbs's success notwithstanding), the European situation is ten times more fragile because of the overlay of violence and past acts of Islamist terrorismm.

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