Eclectic Grounds

conflicts and conversation

Archive for the ‘Imagined communities’ Category

Cultural traditions as instruments of opposition

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On TED, yet another interesting talk on one of the main themes of this blog: how to embrace religious and cultural traditions while at the same time remaking them as instruments for opposition and empowerment.

Kavita Ramdas tells three stories of quite remarkable women who do just that.

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Written by henrik

April 29, 2010 at 11:05 am

Some ideas never get old…

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I know I am way late with a post on Avatar but this is just too good not to share it…

The minaret vote and public symbols of Islam in Europe: a sign of progress?

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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.

Why did Switzerland decide to ban minarets?

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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.

C. Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story

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Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie shares her thoughts about how popular stories may create one-sided, single, images about places and individuals. These ‘single stories’, she argues, lead to misunderstanding the complexity of the lives of others; it emphasises difference and robs people of their dignity.

She beautifully illustrates this with stories of her own life and argues that we need a balance of stories between the culturally and economically powerful and those whose stories often remain unheard.

Tony Blair: More American than the US President

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The Situationist‘ recently featured research by Mahzarin Banaji and Thierry Devos on the connection between being white in the US and being regarded American. It’s a sensible addition to the “birther” conspiracy on Barack Obama’s citizenship (if you have not heard of it, watch this Daily Show segment that presents the debate with the scrutiny and mock it deserves).

Here is what Banaji found out:

Amazingly, white Americans did see a white European like Hugh Grant as being somehow more American than the Asian-American Connie Chung. And similar research in 2008 found that whites thought of ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair as somehow more American than Obama. So the mental framework to believe that Obama is foreign probably was, to use a health care term, a preexisting condition. [emphasis added]

Written by henrik

August 24, 2009 at 12:36 pm

I know my team is better than yours because…

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You might say that that in-group bias isn’t necessarily a bad thing – after all, it’s what keeps us together with the ones that are closest to us. Except, it makes us think that all our problems are despite out efforts, while all their problems are because of their inability, which is a real problem once we try to talk to a person outside our in-group.

That’s why it is good to be reminded sometimes of how random group identities are anyway.

pep_rally

Cartoon by xkcd.
Thanks to lisa.

Update: You can find a good social psychological overview of “the rules that govern groups” here.