In the recent film, The Children of Men (based on the 1992 P.D. James novel), illegal immigrants in a futuristic UK are rounded up and caged like animals. That is one way to deal with the problem of foreigners. A more usual – and humane – approach in the West has been that of multiculturalism and assimilation. But those approaches have not always been hugely successful.
Indeed, the questions about immigration, assimilation and national identity are many. For example, how does a free and democratic nation seek to assimilate various people groups which may not share its core values? While some nations – the US especially comes to mind here – have been very successful as a melting pot, many others have not. The influx of large numbers of Middle-easterners and North Africans into Western Europe is a case in point. Most of these immigrants – mainly Muslims – have never settled very well into their host nations.
As no nation can long survive without a set of commonly-agreed to values and ideals, and without some social cohesion, the problem of opening one’s doors to foreigners while maintaining some kind of national soul or identity is a difficult one.
When France several years ago decided to ban religious symbols and clothing in its schools, there was a mixed reaction. Fred Nile in Australia, for example, thought it was a good thing, forcing Muslims to declare their real allegiances, and so on.
While I concurred with this line of thinking to an extent, I also had my concerns. The truth is, an attack on one religion by a secular state is also an attack on all religions. Thus it is not just Muslim headgear for example that is outlawed in French schools, but Christian crosses as well. Thus the problem is complex and multifaceted.
But certain points can be made. Some groups have managed to maintain their unique identity while living peacefully in a host culture. But quite often, Muslims living in the West have had some difficulties settling in. Christopher Orlet, writing in the April 4, 2007 American Spectator, offers a helpful discussion of these issues.
He begins by citing a case in Montreal, Canada, where an 11-year-old Muslim soccer player was kicked off the field because she was wearing an Islamic headscarf. Interestingly, the referee who kicked her off was a Muslim as well. Uniform regulations and safety issues were given as reasons for this decision.
Predictably, a huge debate ensued, with both sides weighing into the battle. One side shouted racism and Islamophobia, while the other side said there must be limits on what is allowed on the field, and argued that religion and politics must be kept out of sport.
Asks Orlet, “A tempest in a teapot? Perhaps not, since this story can be seen as a microcosm of the larger ideological struggle of identity politics being played out each time Middle East meets West. In the beginning the West proved extraordinarily accommodating. For example: in 1990 a Canadian Sikh member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police won the right to wear a turban with his police uniform. But 9/11 changed that. Since then there have been numerous bans on Islamic headscarves and burqas in public spaces across Western Europe, Canada and Australia. Last year Dutch Prime Minister Rita Verdonk announced a ban on burqas in public places and canceled a meeting with Muslim leaders when one refused to shake hands with her because she was…gasp…a woman.”
Part of the way to understand all this is to explore the issue of such religious/ethnic clothing in more detail. “Lost in this debate is why Muslim women are required to wear the veil. Traditionally Arab men differentiated the virtuous lady from her immoral sister by her dress. The prostitute showed skin, which stirred up the animal lust in the male. The male’s excitability was considered the women’s fault, therefore the female was ordered to keep her body under wraps. In Islamic societies this is deemed preferable to teaching young men to respect women and control their apparently insatiable animal lusts.”
He continues, “Today Muslim girls are told only that their religion demands their unquestioning acceptance of the veil; that they will be beaten if they do not wear it. In other words the concept of the veil is based on a primitive, misogynistic attitude toward the sexes, the antithesis of Western, rational thought, in which the young are encouraged to be skeptical and to question antiquated notions. Is this mindset something the West should accommodate? Or is such accommodation just another instance of creeping Sharia?”
Indeed, accommodation or dhimmitude? “Obviously there are limits to how far a culture should go in accommodating religious customs. Honor killings and widow burning (suttee), would not go over well in the West. The Canadian village of Herouxville recently passed preventative legislation that bans the stoning of women and female circumcision just in case its Muslim immigrants get any ideas of importing their bestial traditions to Canadian soil. If assimilation is the goal, we should certainly allow (if not encourage) veil-wearing Muslim girls to play soccer or to attend public school. Better that than they should be left to attend madrassas run by radical imams. But draw the line when any religious or political class demands the government provide women-only separate but equal hospital wings, swimming pools and pre-natal classes, that pork be removed from public school menus, and that Dante’s Divine Comedy be removed from the school library because of its depiction of Mohammed in hell.”
And many will argue that multiculturalism has not been terribly successful in places like Western Europe. “Of course not everyone agrees that assimilation is a worthy goal, or even that it is likely to succeed. (It has been a colossal failure in France.) After all no one encouraged the Amish to assimilate – so why not leave the Muslims and other religious minorities alone? Then again, the Amish may find American culture decadent, but they have shown little desire to blow up skyscrapers. Nor are they likely to rampage through the streets when someone publishes editorial cartoons of their prophets. Assimilation wouldn’t even be under discussion if Islam were not deemed a threat, and only masks the real issue: that the West has yet to decide whether Islam is a religion of peace – like the Old Order Amish – or a totalitarian ideology.”
Concludes Orlet, “In the end we must hope that all religious minorities will assimilate at least to the point where they accept Western values of equality and separation of church and state. Those who insist on remaining culturally distinct, who wish to remain ghettoized risk becoming radicalized. When 11-year-old Muslim girls want to play soccer with French Canadian girls, it is folly to refuse them no matter what they wear on their heads.”
In this country, the debate over multiculturalism, Australian values, and assimilation continues to bubble along. The questions are not easy, and require clear thinking. But such questions need to be addressed, before the kinds of out and out ethnic and racial warfare as described in The Children of Men become reality here.