May the arguments put forth in this thesis stand as my own manifesto for a better way forward.
It is with great pride that I continue to defend ideas that directly oppose those presented and promoted by several anti-immigration and right-wing European (and North American) politicians, writers, and religious fundamentalists that attempt to portray Islam as a threat to Western identity. I defend the view that these extremists – of various stripes – are manipulating their populations by promoting a Muslim “enemy” in order to deal with Europe’s (and to a certain extent the West’s) identity crisis. The decisions made as of late have been carried forward in a rather coordinated manner, aimed to foster social, cultural and political cohesion in the new Europe, and by extension, the entire Western world. In specific reference to Muslims in the West who are believed to be slowly changing the makeup of the continent, Tariq Ramadan points out that “hardly a Western society has been spared its own searing questions of ‘identity’ or its ‘integration’-related tensions.” As immigration continues to reshape Western populations, many countries unfortunately are beginning to believe that exclusion is a necessary solution in order to salvage the Western identity.
Canadian author, Marshall McLuhan, at one point championed the idea of a “global village” in which the movement of people and information from around the world would be faster and easier due to rapid advancements in technology. If we are to accept this theory, questions and concerns of co-existence will inevitably be raised and debated. These debates have occurred throughout our history and have often led to significant injustices. As suggested by Gil Andijar, the tendency in “the West” to eliminate “different” ways of life has not ended with colonialism or the holocaust. I firmly believe that this tendency continues today with the policy directions of several Western countries in the banning of headscarves, burqas, minarets, and limiting or eliminating the presence of Islam in the public space.
Today, Muslim women and men are choosing to, or have chosen to, make a life for themselves in rather secular and fairly open societies of the West. Muslims in Europe should be seen as partners with the capacity to contribute and enrich communities across numerous continents. Instead of fearing for our supposed national security (usually used as justification for reducing citizens’ rights) or protecting ourselves from a socially constructed “Other” (with the perceived capacity to alter “our values”), it would be prudent if Western governments committed to genuine intercultural and interfaith dialogue aimed at building a respectful coexistence. In fact, in November of 2010 in a Huffington Post article, 19 former foreign ministers co-authoured a public article entitled “Islam and the West: Reaching Intercultural Understanding.” Progressive and responsible voices (like the 19 former ministers) need to stand up and make themselves heard and counted. This understanding first and foremost needs to be built upon a mutual recognition of each citizen’s rights and responsibilities within a liberal democracy. More importantly, the will for a difficult and critical conversation needs to be cultivated among different generations, without settling on divisive, flawed and politically popular solutions.
The process of rendering another as dangerous and different, without legitimate motives, is indeed a form of prejudice. The September 11th attacks in the United States and the subsequent attacks in Spain, England, and Russia have scared new generations of citizens into believing that our Muslim neighbours are inadequate citizens. In spite of this, we all owe it to ourselves to unlearn and learn again, to engage in conversations, and to challenge ourselves. It may very well be the case that the desperate cries from public intellectuals and politicians – suggesting that our world is in a “war between cultures” or engaged in a “clash of civilizations” – are beginning to sound louder. However, continuing to argue from the margins will not bring about the change we all crave. We must never fall prey to the notion that religions and borders can stop the free exchange of ideas, pluralism, and democracy. The honourable and sensible answer to the Muslim immigration questions being asked today involves, first and foremost, a political and societal willingness to successfully integrate Muslim communities in the various liberal democracies around the world. Moving forward in this manner would not only be a just response, but it can serve as the ultimate attestation of what a functional, fair, and pluralistic civilization has the capacity to become.
Paulo Senra holds an M.A. in International Relations with the Muslim and Arab Worlds
His Masters dissertation can be viewed here.