A change in the Zeitgeist regarding Islam

The New York Times has an article titled Across Europe, Worries on Islam Spread to Center. It is a string of anecdotes and examples which show that criticism of Islam is now becoming acceptable in non-extremist circles. I am frankly pleased by this. Consider:

Whatever the motivations, "the reality is that views on both sides are becoming more extreme," said Imam Wahid Pedersen, a prominent Dane who is a convert to Islam. "It has become politically correct to attack Islam, and this is making it hard for moderates on both sides to remain reasonable." Mr. Pedersen fears that onetime moderates are baiting Muslims, the very people they say should integrate into Europe.

Attacking Islam, or more generally religion, is important. I am not one who believes that supernaturalism or religiosity will be banished from society, but, over the past 10,000 years with the rise of mass societies organized religion of some form has become a handmaid of the powers that be, and the cordoning off of religious ideas from critical examination was one of the major changes over the last 2,000 years in Western Civilization. Between 1700 and 1800 this consensus was shattered and atheism became a tolerated, if not normative, position. Criticism and analysis of religion is an accepted part of Western culture now, and obviously I support this. Comments from "moderate" Muslims strongly suggest to me that they simply refuse to partake of the bargain that Enlightenment liberalism made with organized religion several centuries ago, believe as you will, but do not expect the state to protect your sensitivities. For example:

Many Europeans, she said, have not been accepting of Muslims, especially since 9/11. On the other hand, she said [a native born Belgian married to a Muslim man], Muslims truly are different culturally: No amount of explanation about free speech could convince her husband that the publication of cartoons lampooning Muhammad in a Danish newspaper was in any way justified.

This is a man married to a Western woman who lives in the West, and he simply can not comprehend why the principle of blasphemy must be banished in a civilized society. I do not doubt that there are many in the Christian community who have the same instinctive feeling about blasphemy, and I have listened to William Donohue of The Catholic League express similar views to many Muslims when it comes to the sanctity of his own particular religious tradition and barring it from ridicule. But while Donohue is an activist outside of the mainstream of American Catholic thought in his positive attitude toward enshrining his own religious sensibilities through the action of governmental fiat, this attitude is common and normative among Muslims. It is the consensus within the Muslim world, and many Muslims who immigrate to the West seem reluctant to give up their values and compromise with the Enlightenment dispensation. Finally:

"I think the time will come," said Amir Shafe, 34, a Pakistani who earns a good living selling clothes at a market in Antwerp. He deplores terrorism and said he himself did not sense hostility in Belgium. But he said, "We are now thinking of going back to our country, before that time comes."

It seems that individuals such as the ones above hold to Robert Nozick's formula that the state is simply the means toward mediating capitalist transactions between consenting adults. This individual does not consider Belgium his country from the way he speaks, and he clearly does not hold the values of Belgian society dear enough to shed aspects of his religious worldview to accommodate the Zeitgeist in which he finds himself. This is not abnormal, religious values have a deep and powerful psychological resonance, and certainly the transition toward the acceptance of profaning sacred truths in the public discourse was a difficult one. There are still large expanses of this planet where Islam has a special and cherished role in the polity, where the truths propounded by the Prophet Muhammad are sacrosanct and inviolable. Those who wish to live by such consenses should move to those nations, and leave the lands of the West. It is not like I am of course an innocent bystander in all of this, by the very fact of who I am I blaspheme, by the fact of what I hold dear I blaspheme. Between the rise of Christianity and the destruction of Christendom during the Wars of Religion a skeptical attitude toward religion was banished from the West. This was not a fragile order, or a sentiment kept in place against human nature, banishing those who violate the sacred canons of the tribe, who transgress upon taboo, is an ancient human practice. Christianity and Islam have simply enshrined in their own philosophies this tribal sense of solidarity and line-drawing. The collapse of this order was not effortless or without horror and bloodshed. There is no shame in "political incorrectness" in the interests of preserving the right to inquiry won these past centuries. When idols are placed in the town square one must be free to mock, laugh and dismiss, lest the idol worshippers assume that their wooden gods have dominion over all.

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Around 1980 I had many lapsed-Muslim college-student friends from Yemen, Somalia, etc. One day we were sitting outside listening while people ridiculed and taunted a street preacher. They were pleased but uneasy -- "You couldn't do that in my country", they said. They actually felt a little fear, even 8,000 miles from home, and even though the preacher wasn't Muslim. Where they came, from someone claiming to speak for Islam could be confronted only by someone else claiming to speak for Islam. I think that people who grew up in a secular society aren't able to appreciate the value of secularism.

i have heard muslims express contempt for christians precisely because in nations dominated by christians numerically there is still toleration for heresy, blasphemy and atheism. the muslim attitude in some quarters seems to be "how can one respect a religion that tolerates such things?" but perhaps there is more under the christian heaven than some muslims can comprehend.

I think the major fact about this article is not so much that the sentiment exists in the center and the left (it has existed for a LONG time), but that the NYT sees fit to acknowledge it exists in the center.

Like immigration reform in the US, a few years back even broaching it was enough to get called a racist. The media determines who is labeled "far right" and who is labeled "centrist" and that makes all the difference in the world. Who the media wishes to destroy, they first label "controversial" or "extremist" or "divisive".

Razib:
By now you are surely familiar with my own views on organized religion of all stripes. I agree with you 100% regarding the matter of religious vs secular laws, rationality vs obscurantism and a public discourse free of superstitions and traditions that hark back to societal norms formulated thousands of years ago. The harmful and hypnotic hold that religion has on the minds of too many among us is indeed a problem which unfortunately we haven't been able to discard either by the exercise of common sense or a common consensus.

The issue of Muslims among the "free" nations is indeed a vexing problem currently. There is much in the nature of Islam itself, one argues, that lends itself to the kind of resistance to modern zeitgeist, you say. But if you scratch beneath the surface of all old world religions, you could construct a similar case for each one of them. The fact that Europe, the US, Israel or even India to some extent, have managed to shake off some of their respective superstitions and moved forward towards liberal democratic values is due more to democracy itself. Not because of Christianity, Judaism or Hinduism - but inspite of them.

The Muslim question in Europe is a bit more complicated than it appears to the naked secular eye. I have lived in Europe. Europeans are themselves extremely "unreligious" but they are not "unracist". Churches in many western European countries are subsidized by the state. (Are mosques and synagogues similarly supported? I don't know.) The reason why I was a little more suspicious about the Danish cartoons was because I didn't wholly swallow the bit about it being a plain and simple exercise in free speech. At the risk of committing the sin of what some bloggers call "blatant self promotion," I will provide the link to my own blog post on this matter which generated quite a lively discussion (my blog tends to be quiet).

The reason why I wasn't impressed by the Pope's call to rationality is because he has a different message for his Christian flock. He has on more than one occasion, exhorted Christians to resist the seduction of "too much" reliance on rationality and scientifice thinking, at the cost of hurting their faith.... So, superstition is okay, if rationality gores your own ox but is reprehensible when it worships at the feet of another idol.

I have similar problems with our pious politicians at home. You cannot constantly go into public ecstasy praising Judeo-Christian values in governance and not expect devouts of other faiths try teaching you lessons in peace, prosperity and the new world order.

Every year, until 9/11/ 2001, the Southern Baptist Conference used to publish a paid admonishment in the local paper directed towards Jews at Passover and Hindus around Diwali. The gist of the message was, "Come out of darkness, give up your demonic ways, see the true light; Take Jesus into your lives." Strangely enough, there never was one asking Muslims to do the same. Some Houston Muslim leaders were asked about this omission. One of them replied proudly, "The Baptist faith is powerful. But in Islam, they come up against the Ferrari of faiths." Of course, things changed drastically after 9/11. My point is that the Baptists and the Mullahs have the same game plan, they just have different jerseys and haircuts.

Muslims indeed cannot ride roughshod over those of us who have chosen to live by our open, liberal, democratic values. Perhaps, they should even be asked to "go back" if they reject those values, like the Pakistani shop keeper in Antwerp wants to do on his own. The laws of the land must be made clear and the boundaries of acceptable public and private conduct drawn. But it has to be done with firmness, reason (like Jack Straw) and without beating the drum of our own superior religion. Similarly, stupidity and infringements of human rights cannot be tolerated in the name of diversity. I consider myself a political liberal. But I feel that the mindless politically correct liberals impede a rational discourse as much as the right wing religious nuts do.

The media determines who is labeled "far right" and who is labeled "centrist" and that makes all the difference in the world. Who the media wishes to destroy, they first label "controversial" or "extremist" or "divisive".

I don't think that's quite the case. The media is subject to the broader set of socio-cultural perceptions just as the rest of society is. In a reversal of the above, one could note that the media often reports on evolution v. IDC as a "scientific controversy", despite the fact that that's utterly false.

But if you scratch beneath the surface of all old world religions, you could construct a similar case for each one of them. The fact that Europe, the US, Israel or even India to some extent, have managed to shake off some of their respective superstitions and moved forward towards liberal democratic values is due more to democracy itself.

well,

a) yes, christianity has changed quite a bit. i think it is defensible to say that overall the central tendency of the muslim zeitgeist is where christianity was around 1700. as i've noted many times, the last man executed for heresy in the british isles died around 1700. that i think is the turning point. as you might know, homosexuals and apostates are still being executed today in muslim lands.

b) i don't hold that "democracy" is what has been the driver of secularity, i think it is the elites. my own view is that the masses are by nature religious, and the character of their irreligiosity is to some extent shaped by elite conflicts. in the united states you see a steady tendency for religious discourse to enter into the political debate over the centuries as sufferage has been extended. i don't think it is a surprise universal white male sufferage coincides with the first conventional christian presidents in the white house.

c) it follows from this that manipulation of the elites is the key. even in personalized religionists like calvinist or salafism the charisma of leaders is crucial.

d) yes, europeans are quite a bit more racist than americans from all i have gathered. they are more parochial and most do not seem to accept that 'visible immigrants' are ever going to be anything but Other. and though this is not laudable, i still believe it is a lesser evil than islamic medievalism. there are nations where muslims of color can be free of racism and can practice their religion in whatever manner they wish to. allowing medieval religion to flourish in the interests of spiting racists does no one any good, and in fact the flourishing of such religious separatism no doubt reinforces racist attitudes. if one attempts to argue against racialism with the concept of amity amoung peoples based on shared values the argument is weakened when one is clearly not making a good faith attempt to enforce shared values.

e) similar caveats apply to the pope and southern baptists. one reason that they can't be all that primitive is that secular and diestablishmentarian elites do not allow them to be. the shame is not that the pope is a hypocrite in critiquing the islam, it is that secular intellectuals do not blast islam with the same bracing critique that they do christianity.

I think the "bracing critique" of Islam will be more easily forthcoming when the global "zeitgeist" is freed of the notion that at least "some" Muslims are getting the dirty end of the political stick. Such as in Palestine and Iraq. I think the reluctance to unequivocally criticize Islam's medieval misdeeds will be shed once there is a political solution on these fronts. It is therefore also in the interest of the Islamic dictators and totalitarians to keep such conflicts festering so that they can continue to exercise their unholy grip on their populace in the name of a universal brotherhood of victimhood. I am old enough to have seen Yassir Arafat's purely nationalistic movement transmogrify into a "jihadist" one. (George W. Bush hasn't helped matters either.) Meanwhile, rogue states like Pakistan will continue to pretend to be "allies" while doing us the greatest harm.

While European racism is not as "bad" in its power to kill and destroy, its insidious and pernicious character should not be discounted in the long lasting harm it does. Please note that the radicalization you see among European Muslims is invariably among European born second genners. They are at some level, avenging the humiliation that their parents faced. Perhaps the Muslims should seek their revenge the way other Asian communities do - through education and the political process. By building planes instead of blowing them up. But the mischief makers in their own community would rather see them remain ignorant and bloodthirsty.

Social change coming from the top down has some validity. The reason that progressive reforms came much more rapidly in Bengal compared to other Indian states in British India was precisely because of a section of the educated elite who militated and took on the fundies on issues such as the plight of widows and women. However, that change must also be accompanied by increased citizen participation in matters of the state and society. A benevolent monarch such as Akbar could bring about a temporary wave of reform but did not leave behind a sustained forward flowing stream of progress.

BTW. there is a theory about why Bengal and Punjab have always been atypical states with respect to religion. Why Hinduism did not have the kind of hold over the populace - as evidenced by the large percentage of Muslims in both states compared to the rest of India. It is termed the "border effect" or some such thing. There is book on this subject whose title I can't remember. Will have to ask my sister.

I think the "bracing critique" of Islam will be more easily forthcoming when the global "zeitgeist" is freed of the notion that at least "some" Muslims are getting the dirty end of the political stick.

part of the problem is the slotting of muslims into an amorphous whole. the fact is that mentioning iraq and palestine is apropos: many south asian muslims avow a strong opinion on this topic due to islamic solidarity, but i have never encountered an arab who was particular worked up over gujarat, kashmir or mindanao. but europeans (westerners) and muslims who live in the west, and so are westerners by definition, need to decompose the idea that all muslims have the same interests. one of ways in which catholic minorities in places like unified germany showed their loyalty as germans was through disregarding confessional loyalties when it came to national loyalty. american catholicism, or american judaism, has peculiar characteristics. those characteristics tie americans of that faith to this nation. similarly, i believe that american islam has peculiar characteristics, and it is to some extent becoming adapted to the religious discourse common to this nation (rejecting predestinarianism for arminianism in regards to free will is something i've noted among american born muslims). european muslims are generating a new identity de novo. many south asians have noticed that second generation pakistanis are rejecting the more tolerant sufi hanafi islam of pakistan for a somewhat deracinated arabicized islam.

this is not a process that westerners have no role in. reform judaism, or the 'americanist' movement in american catholicism, or conservative judaism, were all responses to the demands made upon an insular religious community from the outside. without critique and contempt, which judaism and catholicism experienced in the united states before they were americanized, islam in europe seems to be developing in a direction away from assimilation.

now, the point about european racism. that is real, and i don't know what to do about it in the current situation. there isn't an easy fix for it. but, i hold that this racism will increase in degree and direction as muslims become more alien from the norms of europe and persist in their own subculture. familiarity can breed contempt and ease, and, without religious barriers the process of intermarriage can lead to the absorption of minority communities into the mainstream.

BTW. there is a theory about why Bengal and Punjab have always been atypical states with respect to religion. Why Hinduism did not have the kind of hold over the populace - as evidenced by the large percentage of Muslims in both states compared to the rest of India. It is termed the "border effect" or some such thing.

my understanding is that when the muslims arrived on the scene buddhism and 'non-brahmanical hinduism' were both vital and strong in punjab and bengal. after all, the last great buddhist kings of south asia, the palas, were bengalis.

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Well, I am certainly happy to see that Islam is coming under critical attack in Europe. I hope the same development occurs in the U.S. in the near future, with the proviso that such criticisms be considered not politically correct so much as politically (and socially and culturally) acceptable. Indeed, I would be more than happy to see a voluntary consensus develop around what is wrong with Islam, even irredemably wrong.

And of course I would say the same thing about Christianity and Judaism: in so far as the organized forms of these religions is, or becomes, incompatible with the the norms and values of a liberal democracy, they ought to be criticized and condemned. Certainly there should be absolutely no legal restrictions whatsoever on speech critical of these or any other religions on the grounds that such speech is considered blasphemous or insensitive, whether by adherents, public officials, the general public, or anybody else.

What worries me however -- and I do not have any simple answers -- is the question of what is going to maintain over the long haul the sacrosanct nature of the very liberal values we all share. They cannot be founded on reason alone , and there are no good grounds to suppose that they will be preserved, over the long haul, on the basis of the perceived collective self-interest of the citizenry alone, though I think this is a real bulwark over the short and medium term.

Razib speaks of the power of elites, and I do not doubt the decisive role elites have played in the emergence of liberal society. Yet history is replete with examples of elite (ie, aristocratic) domination of the mass of ordinary people in the most illiberal ways imaginable, often, if not always, in the name of and with the explicit support of the institutions of organized religion. In fact, with the sole exception of our own society, I cannot think of any counterexamples off hand.

So, what is to prevent this kind of development in the future? There is, or used to be, a kind of civil religion in the United States whose sacred documents were the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the Gettysburg address, and maybe a few other documents (the Federalist papers, Martin Luther King's speech) which I have overlooked.
This secular religion, if that is the right word for it, was taught in the schools and inculcated in the rituals and grave pronouncements of our elected public officials, university presidents, business leaders, leading clergy, and so on. I grew up on it here in the South in the 1940's and 50's.

I don't see this happening much anymore however. Instead we have, to the extent we have anything at all, attacks on this civil religion in the name of multi-culturalism, historicism, etc., most of it issuing from the academy but deeply influencing our public school curricula as well. What used to be called the whig interpretation of history is rarely taught anymore, or indeed any other kind of history aside from the history of race, class, and gender (with the subject of class almost completely subsumed under the rubrics of gender and race).

This counter narrative of Western and U.S. history amounts, in my view, to a kind of "blasphemy" of what used to be our civil religion, but only in the sense that it amounts to a complete negation of everything that tradition stands for. I've got no problem with this per se. Blasphemy always has a right, even a place. But this is a kind of intolerant blasphemy that has largely supplanted the old established narrative that it seeks to discredit.

So I guess my concern is: on what possible intellectual and educational and cultural basis can the values of our liberal society be established with some hope of longevity? How do we preserve the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity?

Or do we have to settle for a shrug of the shoulders?

Posted by: Luke Lea | October 16, 2006 03:13 PM
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This is a fascinating issue, so I hope you don't mind my jumping on the comment thread so long after your original post.

I agree that Islam (and, indeed, other non-Western faiths) must conform to the Englightenment values of the West if Muslims are ever going to be taken seriously within these societies. The violent reactions to heresy and blasphemy are no more acceptable than they would be if these were Catholics or Lutherans or whoever.

But I'm a bit concerned by the lack of examination of the forces driving this sudden pressure to adopt these values. For the most part, the political forces that are driving this particular conversation at this particular point in time have never been all that interested in facilitating cultural integration before. For all the rhetoric about Western Muslims holding themselves apart (through veils, speaking non-Euro languages, etc...), we must recall that integration requires the cooperation of both sides. Yes, the immigrant must learn to adopt the social values of his or her adopted country -- including tolerance for heresy. But the host society must be willing to treat individuals equally in the job market, housing, and other areas where religion should not even be involved. Discrimination is not supposed to be an Enlightenment value either.

My point is that the radicalization of young people in Europe has roots in their early experiences with racism. For much of modern European history, it has been the white, Christian (or secular) majority that has been resistant to true cultural integration. I think this backdrop has been essentially ignored in most discussions about religious integration.

For example, in your supposedly damning quote regarding the Mohammed cartoon controversy, there is no acknowledgement of the true purpose of those cartoons. The point was to proclaim loudly that newspapers should feel a lesser responsibility to preserve the sensibilities of Muslims than other groups. The same paper would never have printed graphic depictions of sexual acts between Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, for example. The purpose was not just to test free speech, it was to send a signal of inequality. The glee with which so much of the European press promoted that right wing stunt in the name of "free speech" only amplified the message. Now OF COURSE that does not justify the violent reaction that swept much of the developing world. But is it so farfetched to say that it would feed a sense of alienation, even for a moderate? Is it so inappropriate to think that the message of intolerance was actually receieved as intolerance by many Muslims?

As for the stuff about "going home" -- isn't that a pretty normal sentiment among immigrants at times? I know my parents (who are Indian Hindus) are never emigrating back to India, but they still refer to it as "home" once in a while.

My point is that the radicalization of young people in Europe has roots in their early experiences with racism.

this is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition. the non-muslim visible minorities in england or the netherlands suffer racism but have no reacted in the same manner.

The purpose was not just to test free speech, it was to send a signal of inequality. The glee with which so much of the European press promoted that right wing stunt in the name of "free speech" only amplified the message. Now OF COURSE that does not justify the violent reaction that swept much of the developing world. But is it so farfetched to say that it would feed a sense of alienation, even for a moderate? Is it so inappropriate to think that the message of intolerance was actually receieved as intolerance by many Muslims?

interesting points

1) i disagree with your characterization of why the papers did what they did. the fact is that blasphemy is a common part of the avantge guarde discourse re: christianity in europe. critique of islam is not.

2) i think it is good to be intolerant of islam, just as it is good to be intolerant of fundamentalist christianity or ultramontate catholicism in a liberal society. this does not mean that beliefs should be banned, but society should be aggressive in mockery and disrespect. this is what christianity had to start going through in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

3) yes, european racism is bad. i concede that. that doesn't mean that my other points are null. muslims come to european societies, europeans don't go to muslim societies, so i tend to see the burden of change being more heavily on the latter than the former.

The same paper would never have printed graphic depictions of sexual acts between Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, for example.

uh, also, the cartoons weren't analogous to that level of offense from what i recall.

Well, I was obviously trying to find an example that would produce a similar emotional response. The purpose of those cartoons was explicitly to produce a response (at least that was my understanding). The response that's being provoked is always going to depend on the history of the group. I mean an American paper that tried to "test free speech" by publishing a bunch of pictures of people in blackface would clearly be sending a message. I believe that is a proper analogy to the thought processes behind these cartoons.

None of this is to say I disagree with your points, though. Obviously, any immigrant group will need to adapt to the cultural values of its host country. And it would probably be a VERY POSITIVE turn of events if a truly "Enlightened" brand of Islam were to develop. Individuals should be willing to laugh off innocent jokes or minor affronts, and the idea that any religion should be accorded some place of high honor is ludicrous today.

But that argument only seems compelling when it's applied to all faiths equally. Even today, powerful segments of European society maintain at least SOME regard for the church (whichever one dominated in that nation) and its traditions. The conflict is between secularists and traditionalists. But with Islam, you have secularists making the (very valid, imho) points you make. But you ALSO have the traditionalists attacking Islam as a heretical, invasive threat. In talking about integration, we have to recognize that there's a significant amount of baiting going on in addition to true attempts to bring Muslims into the mainstream (including with respect to secularism).

It's one thing to say that Muslims need to get used to living in a society where religion is not immune to criticism or mockery. It's another thing to say Muslims should quietly accept a society where they, as individuals, are more vulnerable to disadvantagement, mockery, and the like than practitioners of other faiths. Some Europeans may be attacking Islam because it is a faith that is too orthodox, and takes itself far too seriously. And that's fine with me. But I believe many others are simply targeting it -- and, far more importantly, attacking individual practitioners (or even those individuals who are ASSUMED to be practitioners, like any Indian...)-- because it is, and they are, alien. Any serious effort to really integrate Muslims into mainstream European society is going to need to tackle that inequality.

Examples of the latter include government efforts to ban veils and headscarfs even in those situations where wearing one is absolutely 100% voluntary. Or the crazy focus on the "demographic Islamization" of Europe (a direct analogy to the fears about minorities having "too many babies" here in the US). What purpose do those kinds of things serve, except to drive more "undecided" Muslims into the arms of the idiots who advocate cultural separation?

Some Europeans may be attacking Islam because it is a faith that is too orthodox, and takes itself far too seriously. And that's fine with me. But I believe many others are simply targeting it -- and, far more importantly, attacking individual practitioners (or even those individuals who are ASSUMED to be practitioners, like any Indian...)-- because it is, and they are, alien. Any serious effort to really integrate Muslims into mainstream European society is going to need to tackle that inequality.

1) i believe that the very europeans who normally target regressive medievalism in religion are holding their fire.

2) this leaves the battle to the reactionary hypocritical elements of which you speak

3) and now the normal disestablishmentarian element doesn't want to be associated with #2

the only way i see to break out of this cycle is that the normal disestablishmentarian sorts come out with guns blazing and be who they normally are when the skin isn't brown (because right or wrong islam is associated with race as opposed to religion). i don't grant that islam in particular is attacked or targeted, i think the secular elements of society are vigilent for christian revivalism. but they tend to give a pass to islamic primitivism because it is seen as quaint, marginal, or a possible political ally against the reactionary right. as you note, it is the conservative more religious sorts who argue against islam, so there is an element of hypocrisy, but if they are the only ones who wish to do battle should i hurl contempt on them when they say needful things?

and this: But that argument only seems compelling when it's applied to all faiths equally. i think this is wrong because one can not now make equivalence between christianity and islam, the former has been mostly gelded, the latter is not. 'moderate' in islam and 'moderate' in christianity are not equivalent, my own family are 'moderate' but express views to the right of (on religious issues) the normal american conservative christian when it comes to how a society and a religious confession should relate. the reason one need not excoriate anglicanism is because it is a toothless faith now. the reason one need not excoriate buddhism or hinduism is that in the west it has not been a 'problem' in the same manner as islam (therevada buddhism in sri lanka, different matter).

i am skeptical that muslims face, instrinsically, more racism than dark skinned hindus, or french christian blacks. i think the key is that muslims tend to behave in ways that are naturally more oppositional to mainstream society. i do not deny the problems with european racism, but i do not grant it sufficiency. there is a path of development which european muslims have taken which needs to be stopped. and the reason it needs to be stopped is not because white europeans will be overwhelmed, it is because muslims themselves will be the receiving end of the reckoning when it comes. i think forcing them to modify their supersitions and primitive beliefs as we (secularists) have demanded of other cults (e.g., christianity) is a small price. there are no easy solutions that i see.

Neal is, I think similarly conflicted over the European Muslim issue as I am. (Neal, please see the link I provided in my first comment regarding the Danish cartoons.)

Here is something else I wrote in one of the comments on the same discussion. Can it be that the Muslims are behaving exactly as the Europeans did through their centuries of colonialism where they did not assimilate with the local populace? It is a matter of power as also a value judgement on which culture is worth preserving and promoting.

"What is ironic here is that a mere fifty years ago, the Europeans were in Asia and Africa and for hundreds of years had been trying to impose European ways by force and fiat on the natives in their "own" homes. No European tried to behave like "them" in "their" lands. And now many of those natives have washed up on European shores and are again being asked to do the same.

..[you] may have also come across a few references to east Asian immigrants being more compliant with local norms (obedient!) than the Muslims. What is funny in this is that the Muslims are actually more like the "proud" Europeans in their tenacity to cling to their own ways amidst a foreign culture!

Another thing I remember during my two years living in Germany is the pride the German diasporic community in South America takes in preserving their "pure" culture amidst the natives. They also sneered at the loss of German culture within Germany. These were all loaded observations and the underlying racism was not all that hard to recognize.

My point is the same as Neal's. There has to be a give and take. Not rolling over in the name of diversity. Neither a blanket condemnation of everything foreign. But a debate without denigration. It is hard but it is the only way.

No European tried to behave like "them" in "their" lands.

ruchira, have you read "white mughals"? obviously the assertion is trivially false insofar as "going native" is not unknown, but prior to 1850 assimilation to brown ways (e.g., practice of hinduism or islam) was much more common among the british administrative class of the east india company. but in any case, i don't think the analogy is apropos, europeans came and conquered by force. their arrogance was won through force of arms (or through manipulation of local elites). similarly, with the germans, they were invited to places like chile or brazil to "develop" lands (as they were in russia on the volga), so i'm not sure if the relationship is analogous either. the fundamental issue with muslims in much of europe is that the rise of the welfare state and the decline of unskilled labor as a sustainable option (i.e., generation to generation perpetuation of employment as opposed to 1st generation toil and second generation idleness) is problematic because the attitude of moral superiority from those who are not economically productive on average vis-a-vis the majority is going to result in a backlash which will, i suspect, surpass the problems of middlemen minorities.

I know about the White Mughals. Mostly of Scottish descent. Few in number and highly romanticized by Dalrymple. Their little "going native" experiment was cut short summarily, once the English got a whiff of it. Why? Because if they got too cozy with the natives it would become impossible to harness the local wealth and resources to benefit the "home" country across the nation. Overwhelmingly, the Europeans did NOT assimilate in Asia and Africa. Conquest was not the reason. Colonialism was. The Mughals too were conquerors but they were not sending the revenues of the conquest back to Samarkand. They did go native. Read my book review "The Man Who Would Be King" to find out what happens when conquerors go "native" - colonialism fails.

It is a question of power. If you want to argue that "to the victor belongs the spoils," fine. However, in the twenty first century, in what one hopes would be a move toward a global civilization, such considerations ought not to be the guiding principles of dialogue or diplomacy. And why are those second generation Muslims sitting idle in joyless tenement blocks? Because of the generous government dole or because Mohammed does not get hired as readily as Pierre? I don't know. But it is worth looking at.

BTW, the Germans I met from Brazil? They were not invited. They fled there to escape the wrath of the victorious Allies. Their technical expertise was welcome in those countries and hence they found easy asylum. So they were asylees, not conquerors, given shelter by the host countries. Why were their noses up in the air - resistant to assimilation? And of course, we all know who they were.

Overwhelmingly, the Europeans did NOT assimilate in Asia and Africa. Conquest was not the reason. Colonialism was. The Mughals too were conquerors but they were not sending the revenues of the conquest back to Samarkand.

no, they couldn't, because they lost their "homeland." they spent nearly two centuries trying to reconquer their "homeland" (e.g., aurangzeb's costly wars to conquer/hold khandhar, and the fruitless battles against the uzbek warlords). in fact, the wars to reconquer glorious balkh from the uzbeks were funded of course from rents from their indian possessions. also, the a great number of ashraf (mughal) muslim families do not intermarry with those who are descended from converts. so i think you have some of the same attitude of europeans here (my understanding is many of the native terminologies for skin color date from the mughal period when the new muslims distinguished themselves from the "black" converts).

And why are those second generation Muslims sitting idle in joyless tenement blocks? Because of the generous government dole or because Mohammed does not get hired as readily as Pierre?

it is probably both. but the latter argument works with non-muslim immigrants, and the problems is mitigated in their case (less so for blacks in france, but generally masked in the the case of east african indians or chinese in england, who surpass native whites by a good margin in socioeconomic performance). the fact is that my understanding is that europe did not receive the cream of muslim immigrants that the USA did, some turkish customs that have died out in turkey persist in germany (see sons of the conquerors), and the moroccans who come to europe are not the francophone elite or upper-middle-class, but the rural peasantry. so of course they have a hard time assimilating modernity, they never even made the rural-urban transition in their native cultures. and, these aren't the folks who bring enough capital to buffer themselves very well. but, in the end i think the comparison of ambonese (eastern indonesian, nearly melanesian), hindu surinamese vs. moroccans in the netherlands is the most instructive. though the other non-white groups do not perform as well as whites in the netherlands (e.g., standardized test scores) they do not present the great social problem that the muslims do.

BTW, the Germans I met from Brazil? They were not invited. They fled there to escape the wrath of the victorious Allies. Their technical expertise was welcome in those countries and hence they found easy asylum. So they were asylees, not conquerors, given shelter by the host countries. Why were their noses up in the air - resistant to assimilation? And of course, we all know who they were.

the vast majority of germans in latin america are of course not nazis. e.g., the german community in chile and argentina predates the nazis (well, many of the germans in argentina were in fact german jews who went there because the USA was blocked to them). the attitude of germans in south america isn't surprising, they are socioeconomically more advanced. the jews viewed illiterate poles in the same way, and the chinese view southeast asian bumiputras in the same way. it is interesting that you bring up latin america. this is a case of brutal european colonialization for 500 years, and yet amalgamation and synthesization. i think that is the main problem i have with narratives about european colonialization and post-colonialism, it changes the narrative into a black and white when there is a lot of grey.

also, to reiterate, i'm not defending racism or xenophobia. but, as a pragmatist i hold that it is far easier for a minority to change (abandon illiberal customs and folkways) than for a majority to change (eliminate racism and bias). and the downsides of lack of integration are going to be hard particular in individuals of the minority, and to a less extent the majority (which is the majority after all). we should fight racism and bias, but that is a long war that won't be won this generation. on the other hand, many minorities have changed and assimilated the world over. jews, chinese in thailand, etc.

Razib:
I understand. I too am not promoting the kind of post colonial narrative which claims that Asia and Africa would have been lands of milk and honey absent their colonial past (they wouldn't have). That all the woes of the third world are due to European occupation (they aren't). That Muslims have faced more racism and discrimination than other non-whites (they haven't). I do however believe that the harm done due to colonial oppression was much greater in its psychological impact than all the material exploitation it entailed.

I invoked the bane of the colonial past in relation to the race issue in Europe now because indeed it has much to do with that unsavory legacy. I believe that Europe has not dealt with its colonial role honestly, just as the US has not fully acknowledged the fate of the American Indians. (Slavery, on the other hand is under much better scrutiny because of the presence of African Americans in mainstream American society and their personal narratives that have found the rightful place in American history and literature.)

I am not a historian but I have suspected all along that the events of WWII - ie. the Holocaust and Hitler's aggression against European neighbors, helped put a lid on the racist and exploitative history of France, England, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and Holland OUTSIDE Europe. The defeat of the Nazis and the disintegration of European colonies were simultaneous events. The cataclysmic nature of the former overshadowed the more insidious and gradual process of the latter. The rest of Europe heaved a sigh of relief by pointing fingers at Germany as the fountainhead of racism, discrimination and all other human ills thus deflecting attention from their own less than sterling conduct.

Germany was made to expiate its sins largely due to the defeat of its Nazi ideology and glittering war machine, America's presence among the Allies and the breathtakingly gruesome and methodical killing apparatus that Hitler's regime had put together. However, even today, while Germans are careful about anti-Semitism, other forms of racism do not raise many eyebrows.

I lived in Europe more than twenty five years ago. Things had not boiled over then. But I witnessed the humiliation that the Turks faced in Germany, the North Africans in France and to some extent everyone of Asian and African descent did in many other places. The European born immigrant school kids I saw then, are adults now. They went to school in Europe. They don't necessarily want to dig the ditches, do heavy lifting in the ship yard, collect garbage or clean toilets in airports like their parents willingly did. (I am sure if they had complied with that caste system, there would not be riots or Danish cartoons today.) The trouble started when these kids began demanding a modicum of dignity. Not finding it from their European neighbors, they turned to mosques and lent their ears to the poisonous messages of the Islamic rabble rousers. And now the terrorized have become the terrorists.

As I said, nothing short of an honest debate is going to bring this problem to an end. Not pandering, not iron fisted foreign policy and above all, not exploitation. The first one doesn't work, as we know from the role Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Taliban (post Soviet invasion of Afghanistan when we aided and abetted them) have played in the global mischief. The second two don't work either as we know from the hideous condition in Iraq today and the festering Israeli-Palestinian saga.

The west ought at last to face the skeleton in its closet and figure out a game plan which does not involve ghettoization, isolation or carving up other nations for geo-political relief. That does not mean that Muslim mischief should go unpunished. The problem was always a two way street of racism and fundamentalism. It just happens that the Muslim side of the street is gathering more traffic at this point in history. Burying our heads in the sand or sticking our noses in the air is only to result in more of this.

The European born immigrant school kids I saw then, are adults now. They went to school in Europe. They don't necessarily want to dig the ditches, do heavy lifting in the ship yard, collect garbage or clean toilets in airports like their parents willingly did. (I am sure if they had complied with that caste system, there would not be riots or Danish cartoons today.) The trouble started when these kids began demanding a modicum of dignity.

i think an important point is the social capital + attitude of immigrant groups. indians and chinese surpass whites easily on GCSE in england. in the united states muslims and and asian americans have bettter SES profiles than the median. when you are ensconsed in the white color world unemployment and rioting is less of a serious possibility. the problem is the coupled correlation between race, religion and class in europe. as i said:

1) they brought people of a uniform religion
2) from primarily one country
3) who were unskilled laborers by & large

e.g., north africans in france, turks in turkey, moroccans in the netherlands, mirpuris and sylhetis in england. this results in a synergy of resentment as multiple variables concurrently make this particular incipient underclass distinct from the majority. the poor and working class have always existed in europe, but they shared values and historical continuuity with the majority, and looked no different physically. the problem is that the physical difference (i.e., you look at someone and ascertain their class origins, religious background, etc.) induces separation and the religious Zeitgeist offers an opportunity for oppositional attitudes toward society. the same dynamic does not happen in the united states with muslims, and i think the reasons are manifold

a) the socioeconomic origins are diverse, muslims are more likely to be professionals than unskilled laborers

b) they come from multiple countries so that islamic and ethnic identity do not necessarily converge

c) the USA is less racist and exclusivist in its attitude toward minorities

so what do we do? i do not believe that the poor muslim underclass of europe will disappear with greater inputs or social programs, just as the white working and poor class has persisted. i think the best solution is a) enforcement of rules against low skilled immigration b) hope that intermarriage does the trick in absorbing the underclass into the general population.

I do however believe that the harm done due to colonial oppression was much greater in its psychological impact than all the material exploitation it entailed.

well, the turks, for one, were never colonized, and arguably colonized. this could be part of the issue, but i doubt it is a principal component of variation....

Like immigration reform in the US, a few years back even broaching it was enough to get called a racist.

That was very unfortunate. Certainly many of those calling for immigration reform were racist, it's one of those topics (such as Israel's foreign policy, or socioeconomic differences between the "races" in the United States) that draws racists like flames draw moths. But it is not healthy to have forbidden topics, and IMNSHO it is very dangerous to be unclear on what racism is. I would urge all who participate in such discussions to be particularly fastidious in including provisos and qualifiers. Unfortunately it's generally not enough to simply assume your audience isn't composed of idiots.

By Andrew Wade (not verified) on 17 Nov 2006 #permalink