Archive for the ‘A Pluralist Society’ Category
Following the Swiss anti-minaret referendum, I quoted Tariq Ramadam who argues that the referendum reflects a rejection of public symbolics of Islam in Europe. The contested symbols, he says, are different in each European country but the mindset behind it is essentially the same.
Nilüfer Göle believes that these symbolic battles mark a new stage in the process of immigration to Europe:
Just like the other silent symbol, the veil, minarets reveal the presence of Muslims both pious and female in public life. This visibility certifies the presence of Muslims in European society and their desire to remain there, demanding freedom of conscience, freedom to practice their religion and also the freedom to dress according to their personal interpretation of their religion. Paradoxically, Islam becomes a political and cultural source for identifying immigrants, their quest for acknowledgment. They in turn manifest their particular citizenship within the European public arena. This visibility marks the end of a stage in the migratory phenomenon, that of integration, as well as experiences and ways of appropriating the public sphere in Europe. It is the difficulty in acknowledging this passage from foreigner to citizen that lies beneath the controversies surrounding Islam.
Might the Swiss minaret rows be seen in a positive light in the end? Is it the last mobilisation of the ignorant and fearful against a changing public sphere; one that accommodates Islam as a component of European civil society? Is it a futile attempt to undo the development of a more inclusive concept of citizenship? Let us hope for it.
In the Guardian, Tariq Ramadan gives his perspective on the question I posed here yesterday:
There are only four minarets in Switzerland, so why is it that it is there that this initiative has been launched? My country, like many in Europe, is facing a national reaction to the new visibility of European Muslims. The minarets are but a pretext – the UDC wanted first to launch a campaign against the traditional Islamic methods of slaughtering animals but were afraid of testing the sensitivity of Swiss Jews, and instead turned their sights on the minaret as a suitable symbol.
Every European country has its specific symbols or topics through which European Muslims are targeted. In France it is the headscarf or burka; in Germany, mosques; in Britain, violence; cartoons in Denmark; homosexuality in the Netherlands – and so on. It is important to look beyond these symbols and understand what is really happening in Europe in general and in Switzerland in particular: while European countries and citizens are going through a real and deep identity crisis, the new visibility of Muslims is problematic – and it is scary.
At the very moment Europeans find themselves asking, in a globalising, migratory world, “What are our roots?”, “Who are we?”, “What will our future look like?”, they see around them new citizens, new skin colours, new symbols to which they are unaccustomed.
Over the last two decades Islam has become connected to so many controversial debates – violence, extremism, freedom of speech, gender discrimination, forced marriage, to name a few – it is difficult for ordinary citizens to embrace this new Muslim presence as a positive factor. There is a great deal of fear and a palpable mistrust. Who are they? What do they want? And the questions are charged with further suspicion as the idea of Islam being an expansionist religion is intoned. Do these people want to Islamise our country?
Some reactions by the victorious camp in favour of the ban on minarets after the referendum on Sunday, 29 October:
“Forced marriages and other things like cemeteries separating the pure and impure – we don’t have that in Switzerland and we don’t want to introduce it.”
Ulrich Schlüer, co-president of the Initiative Committee to ban minarets.
“Society wants to put a safeguard on the political-legal wing of Islam, for which there is no separation between state and religion.”
Oskar Freysinger, member of the Swiss People’s Party and a driving force in the campaign
“People who settle here have to realise that they can’t turn up to work in a head scarf or get special dispensation from swimming lessons.”
Toni Brunner, president of the People’s Party
(all quotes from SwissInfo)
If one listens to its initiators, yesterday’s referendum was not about the construction of new minarets in Switzerland at all. The organizers of the campaign admit quite frankly what was really rejected: their image of a Muslim religion and culture and what they perceive as an assault on Swiss values.
With only four minarets existing in the country is hard to argue that the referendum is justified. Yet, the campaign poster speaks a clear language where minarets are used symbolically for a hostile attack: missile-sharp minarets riddle a Swiss flag. The rationale behind the campaign is “a” culturally pure Switzerland and “a” hostile culture of Islam.
So as of Sunday, the Swiss have joined the exclusive club of Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan as the world’s only countries that have laws which to prohibit the construction of towers on religious buildings (In S.A. and Afghanistan, it’s Christian churches though). With the outcome and implementation of the ban, Switzerland breaches the European Convention on Human Rights and is likely to face expulsion from the Council of Europe.
Just to be clear: a debate concentrated on issues (dispensation from swimming lessons, head scarfs, etc) is necessary for communities as a negotiation of shared communal values. However, in such debates the majority often drifts of to racial and cultural stereotyping of minorities. It looks as if the anti-minaret campaign is the most extreme example of this in a European country to date.
The question that the organisers of the winning side will have to ask themselves is whether their success will really help their goal of driving back “traditional Islam” and the construction of “parallel societies”.
The campaign has highlighted a massive stigma of Muslims in Switzerland as culturally inferior and ultimately unwanted. On top of that, Muslims will now be more marginalised than ever before. Discrimination will no longer be limited to the social level but also reflected in the legal structure as soon as the words ‘the construction of minarets is prohibited’ will enter article 72 of the Swiss constitution.
With this decision, the liberal and integrated majority of Muslims in Switzerland is under attack and extremist groups will gain momentum. If the initiators of the referendum were genuinely interested in the integration of religious and ethnic minorities they would see the outcome of their campaign as a catastrophe.
A new study by by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation and University Bielefeld compared levels and nature of prejudice against immigrants, ethnic-cultural minorities, Jews, Muslims, women, gay men and lesbian women, homeless and disabled people in several European countries. Eight countries were selected for the study: Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Poland and Hungary. The results are alarming.
These are some results of the study:
50,4% of the Europeans somewhat or strongly agree that “there are too many immigrants” in their country. This statement indicates a generalized and blind rejection of immigrants.
24.5% supposes that “Jews have too much influence in [country]“. Here, a traditional facet of anti-Semitism appears that mirrors anti-Semitic conspiracy myths.
54.4% of the Europeans believe that “the Islam is a religion of intolerance.” This makes obvious that many Europeans share a generalized negative image of the Islam (and of Muslims as the agreement to additional statements reveals).
Nearly one third (31,3%) of the Europeans somewhat or strongly agree that “there is a natural hierarchy between black and white people”. Thus, they agree to a very blatant and direct statement indicating the belief in ethnic hierarchies legitimised by implied natural differences.
A majority of Europeans of 60.2% stick to traditional gender roles that result in economical and power gender inequality as they are demanding that “women should take their role as wives and mothers more seriously.”
42,6% deny equal value of gay men and lesbian women and judge homosexuality as ‘immoral’.
Download the press release and short report here.
Reminding individuals of a negative stereotype about their social group decreases their confidence, their performance, and ultimately creates a situation where the stereotype becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is suggested by Allen McConnell’s and Sian Beilock’s research, which they present in the video below.
While the research presented here focuses mainly on steretypes against women, the results also add to the debate on the educational achievements of other social groups. The German weekly Der Spiegel, for example, remarks in a report on a recent study on the educational attainments of immigrant groups in Germany that:
If your name is Ümit rather than Hans or Gülcan rather than Grete, you’re less likely to climb the career ladder. Some 30 percent of Turkish immigrants and their children don’t have a school leaving certificate, and only 14 percent do their Abitur, as the degree from Germany’s top-level high schools is called — that’s half the average of the German population.
The study draws a complex picture, yet “low prestige, negative stereotypes and lack of role models” are central features in the explanation of the results.
Negative stereotyping and its ugly consequences are not easily fought off. An example: last week, a prominent social democratic (!) politician stated that “a large number of Arabs and Turks in [Berlin] have no productive function except selling fruit and vegetables”. A sad state of affairs…