Another side of multiculturalism
August 13, 2011 1 Comment
Since the tragic murders of nearly 80 people in Norway last month, much ink has been spilled looking at what motivated terrorist Anders Breivik to perpetrate a deadly bombing in downtown Oslo and methodical killing of dozens of people, mostly children attending a Labour Party retreat, on the island of Utoya. In particular this attention has often focused on the right-wing or “counter-jihad” bloggers and figures whose works appeared frequently in Breivik’s manifesto, which has in turn sparked renewed questioning of “multiculturalism” in Europe, the subject of many of Breivik’s musings. Unfortunately, much of this debate seems to misunderstand multiculturalism, using the word to refer not to the specific policies pursued by various European governments to deal with immigrant populations but instead to refer to the capacity of immigrants (and in particular Muslims) to integrate into and become a part of European society.
Into this debate stepped Malise Ruthven in a post this week at the New York Review of Books, where the Irish scholar digs into the debates and polemics surrounding Breivik. The entire post, though lengthy, is well-worth a read. However, it was Ruthven’s somewhat conclusion, a discussion of foreign (in this case Saudi) interference and dealings with Europe’s Muslims, that caught my attention. He writes:
In his manifesto Breivik deplores the spread of “Saudi theo-fascism” in Europe, and marvels at the way the West demonises Shi‘a Iran, while cozying up to Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. His anxieties may be overdrawn, but they are far from irrational. Despite the challenges to social harmony posed by burqa-clad women, or even the occasional act of violence driven by rage at the host society’s perceived hostility, or indifference, the deeper dangers posed by a growing Muslim minority in Europe are not to the host communities: they are rather to the Muslims themselves. The export of the ultra-conservative, anti-integrationist cult of Salafism from the Arabian peninsula and similar cults from South Asia—with doctrines that enjoin disdain for, even hatred of European values and life-styles—is a real threat to social harmony, because they serve to ghettoize Muslims, to create in them a sense that they are a people apart.
Before the recent atrocity, a group of Muslims residing in a major Norwegian city sought permission to build a mosque. They explained that the biggest part of their funding—around $ 3 million—would come from Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. The municipal authorities—backed by the Norwegian government—turned them down.
This was not Islamophobia, but a wise decision that should be emulated throughout the West. The construction of mosques, which serve as community centers as well as places of worship, is to be welcomed when the funding comes from sources that are accountable to communities that use them. When that funding comes from the state that produced fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 terrorists (and whose intelligence services may even have been implicated in the attack, or from other religious sources that preach hatred or disdain for “infidels,” the authorities have every right to refuse.
While Ruthven goes a bit far in the language he uses to describe Saudi influence, such funding and its impacts are widespread in Europe and the United States, and he highlights an important but often understudied element of the discussion about multiculturalism and Muslim integration in the West.
While explanations of multiculturalism and its “failings” will be the subject for another, much longer post, one of its key elements has been the farming out of key functions within communities, especially the training of religious leaders, to foreign countries who have large immigrant populations in the West. Two easy examples are Germany and Belgium, where Turkish and Moroccan leaders have respectively supplied or attempted to supply mosque leadership to their communities in Europe, a practice that often meant religious instructors arrived speaking very little of the local language, promoting more insular communities detached from their surroundings and inhibiting the adaptation of law and practice to a Western context.
This back and forth between leaders in countries such as France, the UK, Belgium and Germany is in essence a symbiotic relationship: For years European leaders were able to dodge the difficulty of taking on responsibility for regulating and in some cases training religious staff, while foreign leaders were able to maintain influence in diaspora communities and keep an eye on expatriates, many of whom still vote in local elections, send money back home, and sometimes actively oppose the state.
In recognition of the problems posed by outsourcing imam education, several European countries have for years been either providing training and courses for imams or are planning to in the future. And while the issue of imams is only one thread in the complicated web of relationships between diaspora communities, home countries and European governments, it is helpful as a demonstration of policies enacted by the latter under the banner of multiculturalism helped in turn fuel greater separation between peoples and brunt integration. As governments, writers and others debate multiculturalism’s impact, then, it is important to keep in mind how specific actions taken in the Paris, London, Berlin or Brussels helped foster or prolong the problems Europe’s governments are facing today as they try to decide how to best deal with their Muslim populations.