As with several other cultures, religions, and immigrants in general, Muslims are finding it difficult to assimilate into European culture. In general, Muslims in Europe are having a hard time engaging in daily practices, norms, and standards of their new homes – and this is not a brand new phenomenon. According to contributors Zemni and Parker in Islam, Europe’s Second Religion, Muslims have been struggling to integrate into European culture since the 1980s. They write, “Migrants, whose ‘problems’ had been seen as a consequence of their low socioeconomic status during the decades, were perceived as ‘culturally different’ ” (Parker & Zemni, 2002). They explain that in the minds of the Europeans, by identifying Muslims with their cultural differences instead of their nationality was not prejudiced, it was just a defense of European values (Parker & Zemni, 2002). “The individual ‘other’ seemed to disappear, being revamped as a mere component of a community. Foreigners/strangers are repatriated into their group of origin whether they like it or not” (Parker & Zemni, 2002). Basically, the Muslim people are viewed as a collective unit rather than individuals with differing values, personalities, and experiences.
This perspective that the Europeans hold is quite problematic for Islam and Muslims in Europe. The entire perspective assumes that Muslim people are incapable of participating as “normal” citizens in European countries, regardless of their legal citizenship. Zemni and Parker add that it eventually forces Muslims to believe the same – that maybe they truly aren’t capable of being functioning, participating citizens in their new homes. “Methodologically, the real risk is that these assumptions can become self-fulfilling. For example, it is never asked whether the Muslim migrant, whose social and political engagement and awareness do not extend far beyond the horizons of neighborhood and family, is, in fact, fundamentally ‘less integrated’ than the Flemish inhabitant of a working-class neighborhood whose horizons, similarly, do not extend too far beyond the local pub” (Parker & Zemni, 2002). The struggle for Muslims to integrate into society like other immigrants is especially difficult when they are constantly in an environment where they are marginalized and not thought highly of. “The idea that Islam can actually contribute to the migrant’s potential for a constructive and peaceful social and civic life in the host state … is not even considered in the mainstream social and political discourse” (Parker & Zemni, 2002). It is apparent that Muslims have struggled for years to integrate and assimilate into European societies.
Part of this difficulty is likely due to the stark differences in Islamic thought and various European cultures. France, for example, has opposing views of the gender system than Islamic culture. Joan Wallach Scott, author of The Politics of the Veil, discusses these differences. She explains that while Islamic faith directly notes sex as a problem to address, the French prefer a display of a woman’s features to help show how problematic sex is for the republican political theory. In terms of Islam’s view of women, she writes, “modest dress, represented by the headscarf or veil for women and loose clothing for men, is a way of recognizing the potentially volatile and disruptive effects of sexual relations between women, and men, driven by impulses…” (Scott, 2007). However, in contrast in regards to the French culture’s view of women, “the demonstrable proof of women’s difference [from men] has to be out there for all to see, at once a confirmation of the need for different treatment of them and a denial of the problem that sex poses for republican political theory” (Scott, 2007). This French perspective is based on the republic’s ideal of “abstract individualism” and “laïcité”. In France, the male is viewed as being able to achieve “abstract individualism,” when abstracted from traits such as religion, ethnicity, values, etc. However, women are not really able to achieve this, therefore, they are left wondering if they can even truly achieve full citizenship. Scott writes, “Equality in the French system rests on sameness. The one obstacle to sameness for many years was sexual difference: women were “the sex” and so could not be abstracted from their sex; men could be so abstracted. Hence, abstract individuals were synonymous with men” (Scott, 2007). Therefore, Muslim women wearing headscarves and showing their female gender poses a threat to the French republic’s “abstract individualism” and “laïcité” ideals.
Personally, I believe this treatment to be ridiculous and unfair. With all efforts and progress toward women’s equality and rights globally, I’m surprised there are still cultures that blatantly marginalize women. Especially recently, where in America, women have been celebrated more and more each day. Women should be able to be individuals too – not just a collective group. Similarly with Muslims, they should be able to be identified as individuals and not simply grouped together based on their religious beliefs alone.
Scott, Joan W. The Politics of the Veil. Princeton University Press, 2007. Print.
Shireen, Hunter T. Islam, Europe’s Second Religion. Westport: Praeger, 2002. Print.