Multiculturalism and Islam: Sharia vs European constitutions
by Samir Khalil Samir, sj
Problems in Holland and Denmark. Great Britain as an example: decades of multiculturalism that have lead to ghettos, closure, radicalism of Islamic communities. Women ever penalized. Being European citizens involves having the duty to integrate. Third in a series of articles.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Multiculturalist ideology, i.e. the blind tolerance of any culture or tradition, is destroying Europe and standing in the way of any positive development of Islam. Such ideology has been condemned by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali intellectual and parliamentarian who, having received death threats from Muslims for her defence of women’s rights and tired of European multiculturalism, left Holland to go work in the United States at the American Enterprise Institute. She accused Holland of excessive acquiescence, of encouraging the immobility of Muslim communities and even of letting itself be conquered by Islam and Islamic law.
In making room for Sharia, there is the risk of conflict with European constitutions. An interesting thing is taking place in Denmark, a country which is at the forefront of multi-culturality. The SIAD Party has recently been founded and it proposes the following: anyone who cites Koranic verses contrary to the Danish constitution must be punished because the constitution is superior to all other laws.
And they quote articles 67-69 of the Danish Constitution which says, “We authorize freedom of worship, as long as it is exercised within the framework of Danish laws without disturbing public order.”
All this is a clear signal that people are beginning to reflect on the possible contrast that exists between the constitutions of European countries and certain laws of the Koran. In Demark too, there exist two trends: the “left”, or the “do-gooders”, who want to respect the culture of others, saying that ours is not an absolute, or suggest that we must be tolerant and give Muslims time to take this step; and those who make no allowances, and who say that if a person is not able to integrate, he is better off going elsewhere.
But the most significant and problematic case is that of Great Britain: here, after decades of multiculturalism, instead of integrating and coexisting, Islamic communities are increasingly closing themselves into ghettos, and fundamentalistic behaviours, dangerous for all society, are emerging.
State schools and Islamic morals
The most representative association of British Muslims, the Muslim Council of Great Britain, has asked that Muslims be recognized the right to apply Islamic morals in state schools. On February 21, it published a 72-page document and presented it to the government in the name of 400,000 Muslim students attending the country’s state schools. They ask that the government accept the demands of Muslim parents and youngster on the grounds of faith concerns.
Taking their cue from their concept of modesty, they say that female students:
a) have the right to wear headscarves or the hijab (there is no mention however of the niqab);
b) have the right to not take part in physical education lessons, because Islam prohibits contact between the sexes in public and because there is the risk of girls exposing bare skin, which is prohibited by Sharia.
They also demand separate classes for girls and boys; the refusal of dancing and of sex education (which is a family matter and not a topic for school); drawings and anatomy textbooks must not show genital organs. As for faith and history, they ask for a revision of the entire teaching system in the name of Islamic morals.
The Education Ministry has not yet replied officially, but has already said that these requests will be a step backwards in terms of the tolerance that already existed.
British and Muslim
The tendency towards closure – the fruit of multiculturalism! – is apparent also at another level. Last February 19, a public survey in the Sunday Telegraph shows that 40% of British Muslims are favourable to the introduction of sharia. This demonstrates the radicalization of a substantial part of the country’s Islamic community. Forty percent feels foreign to British society and deems that it is necessary and normal to lead a lifestyle in line with the most radical of Islamic ethics.
Another element which is emerging is the detachment of these people from British society. Asked “How do you feel about the victims of conflicts in the world?”, the reply was “compassion”, “solidarity” and even “anger” with reference to conflicts involving Kashmir, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. Simply put, they feel closer to Muslims than to Great Britain, which is directly involved in some of these conflicts.
From the sociological point of view, it should be said that they come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India and belong to traditional families, but it is also worth noting that they have been in Great Britain for at least two generations. It seems clear to me that the reactions to 9/11, instead of creating more global solidarity around the idea of the fight against terrorism, have instead radicalized Muslims who are siding with each other to defend their brothers in faith.
September 11 created or reinforced, in the entire Islamic world, an identity crisis: Islam and Muslims are under scrutiny. Faced with this situation, there are those who stop to reflect on what must be reviewed in Islamic teaching behaviour, and there are those whose reaction is closure and aggressiveness so as to affirm more forcefully the radical diversity of Islam vis-à-vis the surrounding culture. This second kind of behaviour is typical of many young people of second or third generation, who fully recognize themselves neither in Islamic nor in Western tradition (despite having perfectly assimilated the latter).
In any case, this study and the requests regarding schools show that Muslims in Great Britain are increasingly identifying themselves with their religion, more than with local society and culture.
Modesty for males and citizenship
The problems raised by Muslims, for example those in Great Britain, are real. There does exist a problem of ethics in society, and thus also in the school system. An exaggerated liberalism which allows young people everything, especially at the sexual level, on the grounds that they must learn to make their own choices, is certainly unacceptable to both the Muslim and Christian communities, as well as to the human community tout court. But preventing contact between boys and girls, or preventing the teaching of all things related to sexuality is an entirely different matter. Here, it is not a question of ethics, but of customs and traditions, and this is no longer acceptable. In any given country, the norms of that country must be observed, not those of the homelands of a few parents!
Furthermore, one might ask oneself why, on the question of the relationship between sexes, it is always the woman who must be hidden or “observe modesty”, as is still said. If modesty is a virtue – and in fact it is – it applies to males as it does to females. And since modesty seems to be more spontaneous in females, it would seem more necessary to impose it upon males! In other terms, despite the best intentions, Muslims tend to confuse customs with ethics. Customs are tied to determined groups (ethnic, geographic, religious…) and do not apply to the national civil society. Ethics dictate principles which are valid for every human person, independent of their sex or religion, and therefore are worth defending and fighting to defend. It is time that we learn to defend ethics that are respectful of the human person, by starting to teach and practice them in schools, to everyone. As for special treatment for a particular group, in the name of their different culture, this is a deformation of what should be “authentic multiculturalism,” which learns to evaluate different cultures and improve one’s own on the basis of comparison.
The question behind this problem is: what does citizenship mean? Is it a piece of paper, useful to acquire so as to have advantages and few obligations? Or is it a profound reality, the result of a pondered choice, which can also demand even big cultural sacrifice?
And more: what is the identity of an Italian citizen of Egyptian or Moroccan or Chinese or Albanian origin? If it is Egyptian, Moroccan, Chinese, Albanian, then I ask: what is the sense of having requested and obtained Italian citizenship? It is not perhaps to enjoy the advantages that a country offers and then return to live in one’s country of birth or that of one’s parents? In that case, I am just an exploiter. But if it means a conscious choice, which implies changes in behaviour, the desire to build with other citizens a more just society etc, then, yes, I deserve citizenship. I think that society must help each person to make such pondered choices, helping and facilitating efforts to integrate.