Is “Islam,” at least the version practiced in the West, compatible with Western values, democracy, traditions and history? This issue is largely avoided in the United States, under the rug of “diversity” and “multiculturalism”? If not, are “Islam” and its never-challenged “representatives” to be seen as a danger? What is to happen when freedom of expression and religion conflict with democratic rule, separation of religion and state, and with the more important but less legally defined concept of national identity? Do nations and their voters have a right to a distinct cultural identity and history of their own, or are they forced to give up that identity for the sake of “diversity, “ multiculturalism” and “anti-racism”? Americans, or at least American business and cultural elites, in a strange alliance, are still sleep walking around these issues? However, Europeans – especially the French, Germans and British; that is to say, the largest powers – cannot do so anymore, as a number of cases in France and Germany are proving.
On October 10 Lila, age 18, and Alma Lévi, age 16, were expelled from their high school at Aubervilliers, in the suburbs of Paris, after repeatedly refusing to remove their Islamic head scarves. At about the same time, Germany’s highest court in Karlsruhe decided that an Afghan-born teacher cannot be denied employment for wearing the scarf because there is no state law against it. The court also invited German states to pass laws in that respect. Six of those states, including Bavaria and Berlin, already expressed the intention of doing so by banning the head scarf. Some of these states are led by Christian Democrats, some, like Berlin, by Social Democrats and Communists.
But it is in France where the debate is more serious, protracted and, considering France’s significant, albeit declining cultural influence in Europe, most significant. The issue of the Islamic scarf, everybody agrees, goes far beyond the whims of two impressionable teenagers, to the very fundamental issues of laicité (secularism) as a fundamental aspect of the French Republic. It also reflects the ability, or lack thereof of the country’s millions of Muslims to integrate in or accept the values of the French society. In a larger context, the issue raises some fascinating dilemmas for the Left, inasmuch as it conflicts between its historic hostility to religion and religious symbols and its beliefs in “multiculturalism,” with a promiscuous definition of tolerance.
A case in point is the League of Human Rights (LDH), an organization typical of the ”progressive” nature of most such groups everywhere. Founded in 1898, it is older than most. It reacted to Alma and Lila’s expulsion by “affirming its attachment to the laïcité in schools, and the society as a whole,” but, “precisely because it considers laïcité one of the fundaments of the Republic,” it has taken the position, since 1989, that excluding girls wearing the scarf is a denial of their right to education. This contorted and ultimately unintelligible argument is prevalent on the Left – the very Left that, until last year, was in power. Not surprisingly, the same “logic” is used by the two girls, no doubt under the combined coaching of their father, a self-described “atheistic Jew, a man without religion” and lawyer of an “anti-racist” organization. (Their divorced and dissenting mother is an Algerian Berber Catholic convert.) The girls’ recruiters to Islam, the Union of Islamic Organization of France (UOIF), is the most fundamentalist Islamic organization in France.
Not all the Left is on the girl’s side. SOS-Racisme, an NGO linked to the Socialist Party, approves of the expulsion. Meanwhile, the ruling center-right government is openly split between those, including the Prime Minister, who want to legislate the ban on scarves, and the popular Interior Minister, Nicolás Sarkozy, who does not. What is interesting is that the Left couches its condemnation of Alma and Lila, not in the name of secularism, but of feminism. The scarf is seen by these leftists as an insult to women, women’s rights and feminist ideology, not as its far more important status as a recent symbol of an attack on Western culture and civilization from a revanchist trend of Islam.
The problem is that UOIF, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood (which is heavily subsidized by Gulf money), is adept at manipulating existing law and prevailing social mores to promote its own agenda – an agenda that includes Islamic schools, the first of which opened in September. Where the state refuse to accept Muslim students wearing Islamic symbols, it would strengthen UOIF’s call for more private Islamic schools – soon to become the equivalents of Pakistani madrassas and Indonesian pesantren: recruitment centers for radicals in the country of the Enlightenment. It is indicative that UOIF’s very name, “of France” rather than “French,” suggests “exile” in the Islamic sense of the word.
While France, with some 5 million Muslims – or, more precisely persons originating in Muslim states (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, etc.), approximately half of whom do not practice Islam – is now forced to face the issue of Muslim integration. So is Germany with its 3million Muslims. But the United Kingdom (2.5 million Muslims), and other European countries seem to believe that this is a non-issue, considering it politically incorrect to even discuss the matter. Thus, a Muslim girl wearing a scarf in a British school has no problems whatsoever. For that matter, an educated Pakistani Muslim businessman who speaks no English after years of living in Britain on an uncertain immigration status, had no trouble being elected to a local city council and demanding the taxpayers pay for a translator in order for him to do his job. That explains why counter-terrorism analysts coined term “Londonistan.”
But the UK is not alone. In Belgium, Italy and Netherlands, as well as in Scandinavian countries the scarves are accepted, although the all-covering, Taliban-style burka led to controversy in Göteborg (Sweden). The Danish People’s Party also pushed for a ban of the scarf, thus far without success. On the other hand, a group of Gulf-funded Spanish converts recently opened a mosque in Granada – the last place Islam ruled in Western Europe – clearly a provocative and ultimately revanchist act, tolerated by a conservative government. To make its intention clearer, the same group is lobbying hard to stop the local annual celebrations of the 1492 conquest of Islamic Granada by the Catholic Christians, much like “Native American” activists trying to throw Columbus out of history in the name of political correctness.
From Aubervilliers to Karlsruhe to Göteborg to Granada – and perhaps soon, Detroit - the issue appears to be more or less the same. It is not nearly as confusing or “complex” as the liberals would make it. Are Western values like freedom of religion and secularism to be sacrificed as “outdated” in a “multiculturalist”? How ironic that the same people who applaud the prohibition of any church or synagogue in Saudi Arabia support a “democratic right” to build Europe’s largest mosque very close to the Vatican.
One the positive side, just as half of French “Muslims,” like Alma and Lila’s mother, are “non-practicing” (or more accurately, practicing their religion at home). Muslims in the West need not lose their faith. But perhaps the nations of the West need to restrain its immigration policies, and beyond that, to discuss the broader question of national identity and laicité.