Monday, November 20, 2006

When in doubt, err on the side of freedom

Europe has a growing Muslin population and many Europeans are becoming less comfortable with that population. Conformity is always an issue in any society with a large immigrant population and most recently the specific issue of dress for women (the scarf, the veil, and the burqa) closely associated with Muslim culture has become a bone of contention most recently in France, Holland and the United Kingdom.

But how important is dress and culture to citizenship? Not very. In a democracy, what is important is loyalty to that democracy. Issues of culture v. citizenship can be tricky but the easiest rule of thumb is when in doubt; err on the side of freedom

Ian Buruma put it this way in yesterday’s London Times:
Imposing cultural conformity, or claiming that Islam is incompatible with European values, or denigrating it as “an inferior civilisation” is the best way to stoke up more defiance or, worse, to create more sympathy for the Islamist revolutionaries.

It would surely be better to rethink multiculturalism by saving the best bits of it and rejecting the cant. The United States has many flaws but one thing that works is the idea of the hyphenated citizen: the Chinese-American, the Iraqi-American. Being a devout Muslim does not stand in the way of being a patriotic American. This works because citizenship is not a matter of culture but of loyalty to institutions, the law, the constitution, the political system. This to me is the best legacy of the enlightenment.

Europeans, even those living in the most liberal societies, still find this difficult to accept. But Islam is now part of the European landscape. It is no betrayal of “our values” to be flexible towards habits and beliefs that not everyone shares.

Let people wear headscarves if they wish. Islam as such is not incompatible with citizenship of a liberal democracy. The violent imposition of a revolutionary faith is, but it will only be contained only if mainstream Muslims feel accepted as fellow citizens. The single demand we should make on immigrants and their offspring is respect for the law, including laws that guarantee the right to free speech. This is not a surrender to the Islamist revolution. On the contrary, it is the only way to combat it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From what I have gathered, the objections arise not to the diffirent cultural taste in clothing, but to what the veil is seen signify.
Islam is seen as a religion that takes the most basic freedom from its women, you might claim that this perception is wrong, but please don't accuse all the cultural objectors of being uncaring about freedom, for them the fight against islamic historical traditions is a fight for the freedom of the muslims themselves.