Eclectic Grounds

conflicts and conversation

Archive for the ‘Migration’ Category

“we fought to get off the slave yard, now we fight to get us a green card”

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Written by henrik

April 9, 2010 at 7:11 pm

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.

Tariq Ramadan: Symbols of Fear and the Swiss referendum

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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?

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.

Negative group stereotypes: A self-fulfilling prophecy

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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…

Written by henrik

October 7, 2009 at 10:39 pm

Migration as conflict and reflection: Scheffer’s ‘The Unsettled Land’

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I recently saw a panel discussion involving Dutch sociologist and politician Paul Scheffer. In 2000, Scheffer published an influential article called “The Multicultural Drama“, in which he criticised the system of migration in the Netherlands and Europe in general. Indifferent ‘pillarisation’ of societies, he argued back then, leads to segregation and conflicts between migrants and settled society.

Now, Scheffer has published a book called “The Unsettled Land” which offers a comparison of the process of migration and its consequences in several countries of Europe and North America. He argues that, besides different systems and different responses in all these countries, the process of migration is quite similar. According to him, there are three steps that can be identified:

Step 1: Avoidance. Initially, the arrival of new immigrants causes “white flight” and segregation, until open conflict breaks out.

Step 2: Conflict. At this stage, the receiving society starts to question its own values and cultural identity to be able to cope with a reality that has outlived the society’s self-conception.

Step 3: Accomodation. Societies develop mechanism to cope with the new demographics. Examples of accomodation include symbolic politics and recognition (monuments, arts, etc) as well as more egalitarian social politics (such as role of religion in policy-making, etc).

What’s remarkable in my view is that Scheffer develops a very sober, almost mechanic, analysis that he deems to be generalizable. First, this perspective removes fear and hysteria from the debate. Migration is seen as a social change;  and while change naturally causes conflict which can be painful, it will eventually lead to a new social formation that is workable. On the other hand, it emphasises strongly our ability to manage this process by finding our ways to come to an accommodation, which, according to Scheffer, will necessarily happen.

In the process that he describes, conflict that migration causes will always lead to the receiving society questioning itself. If we want to integrate newcomers, we have to become clear into what they will be integrated. Migration can therefore also be seen as a reflection for a society

Scheffer’s book was criticised as banal in the discussion I witnessed, but I think it is useful as it sets a ‘frame’ to view the debates in that are fought daily in newspapers and discussions. Surely there are weaknesses, like overgeneralisation and a strong emphasis on the nation-state. Yet, it points to the importance of ‘management’ to be able to accommodate and emancipate newcomers within societies, and it gives a hint as to how societies benefit from it simply be reflecting upon its core values and by redefining what makes up the community that people live in.

 You can find Scheffer’s presentation of his thesis and the following panel discussion online. While the debate was in German, the presentation was in English. It starts at around 2:15. Since I still haven’t figured why I can’t embed external videos here within the blog, please click here for the video.

Despite crisis, more tolerance toward immigrants and Muslim citizens

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Contrary to the 2008 “Racism and Extremism Monitor” in the Netherlands which observed a hightening negative climate towards Muslims (see my post here), the latest quarterly survey by the Social Cultural Planing Office has revealed a changing attitude of the Dutch towards immigrants.

Over the last 3 months, the amount of people stating that the Netherlends would be better off if it had fewer immigrants sunk from 41 to 35%. The number of people who see a presence of different cultures as an asset increased  from 36 to 44%.

At the same time, a student initiative made headlines that handed out 5,000 headscarfs in orange, the Dutch national colour, for the Queen’s Day celebrations on April 30. Their goal was “to allow Muslim women to express loyalty to their faith as well as to the queen.

Source: Radio Netherlands [1] [2], via Crossroads.