Daisy Post 12 – Muslims in Scandinavian Countries & Final Thoughts

Muslims’ integration into Scandinavian societies has been both similar and different from the integration experiences of fellow Muslims into other European countries.

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Map of the Scandinavian Countries

Lief Stenberg, contributor to Islam, Europe’s Second Religion, explains four main levels of integration for Muslims into Scandinavian countries:

  1. The general integration in order to make Islam and Muslims an accepted part of the Scandinavian country’s way of life – so far, this has not happened due to remaining segregation in the housing and labor markets.  There are lingering bad views of Islam and Muslims, mainly among older generations – a view which I find similar to how some view other groups, like African Americans, in the U.S.  Stenberg notes that change can only come from both the Muslims and native Scandinavians.  Specifically, Muslims will have to reinterpret their religion to work it into existing Scandinavian society, and Scandinavians will have to change their laws to be more accommodating.  For example, Sweden is taking a step in the right direction by working towards making headscarves legal in the workplace for Muslim women.
  2. Political level – so far there is a low level of integration in this area.  Muslims generally have little to no involvement in Scandinavian politics, partially due to how the “average” Muslim male and female are portrayed in the media.  The male is often pictured as a middle aged guy, living every aspect of his life to Islamic standards; he is passionate about protecting and embracing Muslim culture, so far as to say his brand of Muslim is the right brand, and he is not interested or invested in Scandinavian politics.  The female, on the other hand, is portrayed as a convert who wants to be involved in Scandinavian politics and is generally much more secular in comparison to her peers and males (Stenberg, 2002).
  3. Level of religious rituals – the tension between Muslims and Swedes, specifically, is rising.  Stenberg writes, “… In Sweden, Muslims have attacked the Freedom of Religion Act from 1951 because of restrictions on the Islamic way of slaughtering animals” (Stenberg, 2002).  Slaughtering of animals is certainly a topic that is controversial in many societies today, but it adds depth to the situation as this activity is part of a religion, not just out of plain cruelty.
  4. Ideological level – generally, the situation for Muslims in Scandinavian countries is positive.  According to Stenberg, Muslims are active in the development of “Euro-Islam.”  In other words, generally, Muslims want to separate themselves from political unrest in the Middle East and their home countries, and they want to create a new, “true” Islam in Europe.

The integration of Muslims in Scandinavian countries is an ongoing process that is slow moving, similar to that of Muslims in Spain.  Surprisingly, despite the history between Spain and Islam, there is not such a great impact of Islam on modern-day Spanish society.  Contributors to Islam, Europe’s Second Religion, Contreras and Garcia, conclude that it is for two reasons: 1) Spain has only welcomed Muslim immigrants for the past 15 years and 2) Spain has no colonies in the Muslim world anymore.  They write, “The disparity of their ethnic origins, circumstances, and timing of their settlement in Spain coupled with the fact of the presence of a well-established Muslim community in Spain… have affected the way in which each Muslim community has lived its religious life” (Contreras & Garcia, 2002).  Naturalized Muslims and Spanish converts to Islam have a high level of integration in society, however, the majority, Muslim immigrants who have settled in Spain, have limited integration (Contreras & Garcia, 2002).  The Spanish government’s policies and acknowledgement of Islam is for the naturalized Muslims and Spanish converts, not for immigrants.  How is this fair?

I agree that these tensions between Muslims and European countries will likely improve, but also become more complex. I believe both Muslims in Europe and native Europeans will become increasingly more passionate about their stances on these complexities, which will likely bring new light to the situation. The Muslims in Europe will likely become closer and more bonded through their similar experiences in attempt to integrate into the various European communities. Additionally, I agree with Hunter’s perspective regarding the old notion where Muslims will one day return “home” is slowly diminishing. I think (and hope) Europeans are starting to take these immigrants seriously, accepting the idea that these people are in Europe with intentions to stay and create a better quality of life. One interesting point that Hunter makes in the concluding remarks section is about the assimilationists versus communitarians. According to Hunter, the assimilationists believe that it is up to the Muslim people to conform to the culture of their host country and keep their religious life completely private and hidden – creating new, hybrid forms of Islam. However, communitarians prefer to stay banded together as Muslims and either slowly integrate into certain parts of society or remain isolated from the rest of society as a whole. The idea of a combination of the two views, with the creation of a modified European Islam is a promising and exciting future for Muslims. I think this is a huge step for several European societies that hold their history, legislation, and tradition so tight. By making way for new religions and new types of people, specifically, the integration of Islam and Muslims, I’m hopeful that the fear of the unknown religion/person begins to fade away.

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Islamophobia Cartoon

References:

Hunter, S. (2002). “Islam, Europe’s Second Religion.” Print.

Daisy Post 11 – Islam in Italy & Why Islam Is/Isn’t Working in US/Europe

Islam has been present in Italy for years and years, thriving in Sicily from the 17th century on.  However, there was a decline in Islam popularity in Italy because the country did not hold any colonies in the Islamic world, so the Italian government did not feel the need to extend policies towards Muslims.  That was the case, until Fascist ruler Musolini came to power in Italy.  According to Stefano Allievi, contributor to Islam, Europe’s Second Religion, Musolini said he would make it a great priority of his to show that Italy was a friend, and even protector, of Islam.  These statements, however, did not go much farther than public speech from Musolini.  Though Musolini’s actions did not necessary go in line with his Muslim-focused promises, Italy still was considered unique in its assimilation of Muslims into their culture.  Allievi writes, “Regarding the emergence of Muslim organizations… the first mosques were created not by and for immigrant workers, but by and for an intellectual elite of students from the Middle East… only later did the number of workers exceed that of students…” (Hunter, 2002).  This, among other factors, distinguish Italy from other European countries in their integrating and engaging with Muslim immigrants.  Some other distinguishing characteristics of Italy, outlined by Allievi, are:

  1.  Diversity of countries of origin – no single ethnic group defines the number of Italian Muslims, therefore Muslim presence in Italy cannot be treated as foreign policy, since the group is so diverse ethnically
  2. Rapid pace of entry and settlement in Italy
  3. Higher number of irregular immigrants
  4. Higher level of geographic dispersion

All of these factors basically mean that there are no set, exclusive Muslim “ghettos” or communities.  Rather, everyone is meshed together and integrated as an Italian whole.  Additionally, Italy’s immigrants have been coming for as long as written history can recall, whereas other countries weren’t seeing waves of Muslim immigrants until the 1950-70s.  Immigration in general was easier before the 20th century, hence the large numbers of Muslim immigrants in Italy early on.

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Muslims Praying Outside Milan’s Duomo

Although it seems as though Italy does a wonderful job welcoming and supporting Muslim immigrants, there are still some difficulties with this integration.  Specifically, the “intesa,” legal recognition of the religion as part of Italian policy, is proving to be quite difficult for Islam.  This is due to several factors, according to Allievi:

  1. Most Muslims are not Italian citizens – they are immigrants who may or may not hope to return to their country of origin someday
  2. The number of Italian converts to Islam and other Muslim citizens is still relatively small, and therefore, they aren’t a powerful political group yet
  3. The alien image of Islam is still quite strong, especially with the use of Arabic (a foreign alphabet AND language)
  4. The financing of some Muslim institutions still comes from outside Muslim countries, rather than Italy itself, further enhancing the “outsider” image
  5. The recent character of Italian Islam is not so great – weak levels of organization, lack of cohesion, lack of adequate public awareness, and the constant “alien” image of Islam/Muslims

Allievi writes, “To overcome these barriers, it is necessary that the question of the juridical (and political) treatment of the presence of Muslim minorities be de-Islamized” (Hunter, 2002).

The next article I read was Why the U.S. Doesn’t Have a Muslim Problem, and Europe Does by Naveed Jamali.  As the title clearly states, Jamali argues that the U.S. does not have a Muslim problem, but that Europe definitely does. Jamari’s father and uncle left Pakistan at a young age, his father moving to the US and uncle moving to Germany. Based on his uncle’s immigration experience compared to his father’s experience as an immigrant, Jamari explains how the issue with Muslims in Europe stems from European countries’ inability to welcome and assimilate immigrants. As of 2015, the population in Europe is 743.1 million. In contrast, as of 2014, the United States population is 318.9 million. The significantly larger population in Europe might be a contributing factor to the unwelcoming and impersonal attitudes that Muslims may feel as they enter. The smaller population might set the scene for a more personal and warm welcome for immigrants that came around the same time as Jamali’s father.  However, Jamali may have some biases in his opinion. For one, Jamali’s father came to the U.S. with an incredible amount of knowledge and success, therefore, his livelihood was likely extremely fulfilling and well-financed. That could set the tone for how Jamali feels about the way of life for all Muslims coming to America, which may not be accurate. Additionally, the article was published just over a year ago. Since then, America has seen a huge amount of change, beginning with the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the country. Since Trump’s election, we have seen several policies and efforts towards pushing the immigrants and non-American citizens out of our country. The immigration ban was just the start of these topics that continue to circulate in the White House and all over the country. Seeing where our current president stands on immigration policy and how he views Muslims, Jamari might not feel the same way about why the United States doesn’t have a Muslim problem.

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Protesters of Trump’s Immigration Ban

 

References:

Jamali, N. (2016, April 3). “Why the US doesn’t have a Muslim problem, and Europe does.” Retrieved from: https://bblearn.missouri.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-3161668-dt-content-rid-31263459_1/courses/SP2017.GERMAN.4810.01/fpri.org-Why%20the%20US%20does%20not%20have%20a%20Muslim%20problem%20and%20Europe%20does.pdf 

Hunter, S. (2002). “Islam, Europe’s Second Religion.” Print.

Daisy Post 10 – Islamic Fundamentalists and Feminism

Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies are the authors of the mini-handbook for Islam called The No-Nonsense Guide to Islam. This book is incredibly helpful to students like myself that are not well informed on the ideologies and beliefs of various sects of Islam. For example, they introduce Islamic fundamentalists in chapter 8 in regards to contemporary issues. In terms of the historic foundation of the current fundamentalist “jihadi” movement, it dates back to the 1950s. In the fifties, Muslim countries gained their independence but still ended up being ruled by Westernized elites. Because these leaders were not reformists or traditionalists, the Muslim people felt like their values and attitudes were suppressed. Since then, there has been deep-seeded conflict between the West and those who felt oppressed as Muslims. Sardar and Davies suggest that after the ‘Islamic revolution’ in 1979 traditional scholars were motivated by their success and taste of power. Militant jihadis wanted to create an ideal Islamic state, and the Taliban was an effort towards accomplishing that goal. Now, there are militant jihadis in all Muslim countries and they create uneasiness and fear among their communities. The authors also mention that although this is just the history of the fundamentalist jihadis, 21st century fundamentalists are actually rooted in fear of innovation. These people strive to practice Islam exactly as it was in the medieval times, in hopes that others’ perceptions of Islam will reflect that past time as well.

islamic fundamentalist

These fundamentalists take the Islamic law, sharia, very seriously and literally. In their eyes, “everything must be rejected; and everything must be based on the sharia… it is ‘Islamic law’ that makes an Islamic state Islamic” (Davies & Sardar, 2007). Such avid followers of this sharia law are known as puritan fundamentalists because of their belief in following the word of sharia law literally and with little to no context. (Note: Sharia law is not the word of the Qur’an.) Puritan fundamentalists are mainly concerned with the crime and punishment aspects of the sharia law – especially the hubud laws, which are the most extreme punishments possible for a given crime. They prefer to practice the hubud laws “as demonstrable proof that the state is enforcing the whole of Islam” (Davies & Sardar, 2007).

I personally believe that Islamic law has not always been consumed with punishment. Of course, there are aspects of every religion that address conflict management and “punishment,” but I strongly believe it is up to the individual to determine how literally to take these ancient words. As Sardar and Davies explain, even the sharia cannot be taken as “Divine” because it has little to owe to the Qur’an (Davies & Sardar, 2007). Additionally, when Sardar and Davies discuss hubud, they mention that, although cutting off the hands of a thief is part of sharia, it is only applicable and justifiable in an environment in which there is no need to steal and any effort to do so is of evil intent – and we simply do not live in such a world. Therefore, I believe it is the Islamic fundamentalists, who deem certain crimes as worthy of hubud law on their own terms, that have made Islam so centered around punishment in today’s world.

Another interesting aspect of today’s Islam is the concept of “Islamic feminism” which is different from “Western” or “Secular” feminism. The differences between Islamic feminism and Western feminism are clear. Western feminism focuses on separating religion and government and stresses the importance of women’s rights as individuals. Something worth noting is that there seems to be a pattern of Western women arguing for equality in the public sphere but utilizing gender roles in the home (Badran, 2011). Islamic feminism, on the other hand, is built upon the idea of women analyzing and acting on the Qur’an by their own interpretations of the text. Trailblazers for Islamic feminism do not actually like the term itself, they prefer to be recognized as Islamic scholars. It was not until recently that the term Islamic feminist became more widely accepted. Unlike Islamic fundamentalists, Islamic feminists are not hostile when fighting for what they believe – they are activists but lack the militant nature. A group of women in the 1980s in Malaysia started a community called Sisters in Islam. Women in this community were dedicated to investigating the word of the Qur’an, as it is commonly used to justify violence and oppression to women. They have found that several common acts upon women in Muslim families, such as wife beating, are not condoned whatsoever by the Qur’an. The effort to prove such inequalities is now known as scholarship activism and it has become central to the Islamic feminism movement, sparking change in communities and treatment of Muslim women worldwide.

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Feminism Illustration

References

Badran, M. (2011).  From Islamic Feminism to a Holistic Muslim Feminism.  Retrieved from: https://blackboard.missouri.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-3161660-dt-content-rid-31263463_1/courses/SP2017.GERMAN.4810.01/From%20Islamic%20feminism%20to%20a%20Muslim%20Holistic%20feminism.pdf

Davies, M. & Sardar, Z. The No-Nonsense Guide to Islam. New Internationalist Publications, 2007. Print.

Daisy Post 9 – Syrian Refugees & Differences of West and Islam

As someone who does not know very much about Syrian refugees and the lives of those escaping their countries, I found this week’s sources quite interesting and informative. The article The Dispossessed was one that I thoroughly enjoyed. The visuals and graphics that inform readers about refugee numbers in various countries were shocking. The problem is that Lebanon, in addition to several other countries, do not have the room or resources to continue housing these “dispossessed” folks. The large numbers of migrants to these countries are affecting their economies’ development and political stability, and the affects can only become more burdensome. In general, I believe this article does a good job of highlighting the issues and conflicts about these refugees. The comic is helpful for visual learners, as it shows the tribulations the refugees had to overcome. However, after watching My Escape, I feel a bit differently.

My Escape is a compilation of stories and personal experiences shared by several Syrian refugees. These stories and interviews are augmented with videos and pictures taken on the cell phones of the refugees themselves. Being able to see the real, raw, and uncut videos of the journeys some of the refugees experienced was eye-opening for me. I learned that there are smugglers who are paid by refugees to be trafficked out of the country. While this sounds helpful in theory, it appears that most refugees are actually scared of these smugglers due to their controlling, “sinister,” and threatening dispositions. Some refugees are transported via overcrowded boats and some are crammed into fuel tanks of busses with little to no flowing air supply. Additionally, some hiked through mountains and deserts to flee their countries in hope of a better life elsewhere. The smugglers essentially saw these refugees as a source for potential cash – if they disobeyed or fell behind, they could be sold back for money. One refugee even claimed that dealing in organs of refugees was common. In this sense, I feel that the comic did not really accurately reflect the true torture these refugees undergo. Regardless, after watching My Escape and reading The Dispossessed I am truly moved by the incredible journeys many refugees experience, hoping they can live freely and be respected in another country.

File photo of displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walking towards the Syrian border
Syrian Refugees Hiking Through Desert

The article Islam and the West: Narratives of Conflict and Conflict Transformation by Nathan C. Funk and Abdul Aziz Said discusses the issues of intercultural confrontation and intercultural compatibility and how they affect conflict transformation. The authors begin by discussing intercultural confrontation and the dimensions within this topic: images of the “other”, the construction of differences, and the supposed hatred of the West by Muslims. The images of the “other” is explained further as the self vs. other perspective – similarly to the articles from last week. “… habits of selective perception in which negative interactions are remembered while more positive encounters are forgotten” seems to be common and is something that should be addressed. The self vs. others concept was one that particularly fascinated me when we discussed aid for Africa in the first part of the semester. This type of outlook is one that is not progressive and will continue to contribute to divisiveness in the future. The authors write “… Islam has come to represent the ‘irrational’ for Westerners – a symbol for that which cannot be understood, and must therefore be distrusted and controlled. The Muslim world is reduced to a set of forms and images that appear in essence to be antithetical to Western ideals, goals, and values. This generates a temptation to recoil from all things Islamic, and to project a self-image of superiority….” (Funk & Said, 2004). All in all, these stereotypes, images of “other” and general self vs. other perspectives must be changed for there to be any real progress in the relationships between the West and Islam.

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Recent Illustration of Statue of Liberty (West) Hugging Muslim Woman (Islam)

After discussing intercultural confrontation, Funk and Said explain the idea of intercultural compatibility in terms of: affirmation of shared values, differentiating between revivalism and terrorism, and fundamentalism as a shared problem. To start, it is important to note the shared values that those of the West have with Muslims, such as, a respect for learning, desire for peace, esteem for toleration, and partisanship on behalf of human dignity (Funk & Said, 2004). It is also important to distinguish between revivalism and terrorism. According to Funk and Said, Islamic revivalism is “a movement to renew the Muslim communities from within through public reaffirmation of Islamic values… [it] manifests a constructive concern with matters of social justice, political participation, and cultural authenticity…” (Funk & Said, 2004). This is different and not to be confused with terrorism, “the use of indiscriminate violence for political purposes… channels feelings of crisis, besiegement, and despair into acts that are intrinsically destructive in character” (Funk & Said, 2004). Once these two concepts are understood by Westerners, the perspective on Islam and Muslims may change and be better accepted. Finally, the authors encourage readers to understand that fundamentalism is a shared problem – not something that only Westerners disagree with. They write, “Fundamentalism implies a closing off of the ability to listen to the ‘other.’ Yet a return to the larger frame of a culture and its humane values, always present if sought for, can open up the space for understanding, cooperation, or at the very least, mutual respect” (Funk & Said, 2004).

In general, I agree with this type of conflict management. I think it is important to rid of the “self vs. other” perspective and try to focus on positive encounters and common ground between different groups. Once this can happen, positive changes and developments can happen between the West and Islam.

References

Caryl, C. (2015). Refugees are flooding countries that can’t protect them. Will the levies break? The Dispossessed Issue. Retrieved from: https://bblearn.missouri.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-3161662-dt-content-rid-31263792_1/courses/SP2017.GERMAN.4810.01/The%20Dispossessed.pdf

Funk, N. & Said, A. (2004). Islam and the West: Narratives of Conflict and Conflict Transformation. Retrieved from: https://bblearn.missouri.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-3161661-dt-content-rid-31263465_1/courses/SP2017.GERMAN.4810.01/Funk%26Said_91IJPS.pdf

Daisy Post 8 – Islam’s Integration in Europe & Gender Differences

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.

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Muslims Fight Back and Tensions Rise in Europe

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.

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Muslim Women Completely Covered

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.

References:

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.

 

Daisy Post 7 – Islam in Europe: An Introduction

The term “Muslim” generally has a negative connotation throughout the world today.  People have formed negative opinions of Muslims and Islam in general for several reasons, true and untrue.  However, there are several myths about Muslims that are common misconceptions about the group.  Justin Vaisse, author of Muslims in Europe: A Short Introduction, explains the following significant myths:

  1. Being Muslim constitutes a fixed identity, sufficient to fully characterize a person.  Vaisse is stating that Muslims are treated as though their only identifiable trait is their religion, not their ethnicity, race, background, etc.  Viewing one’s religion as their only defining trait is quite limiting.
  2. Muslims in Europe are, in one way or the other, inherently foreign, the equivalent of visiting Middle-Easterners who are alien to the “native” culture.  This is incorrect because, in fact, aspects of Muslim culture have been present since the 8th century.  Additionally, there are about 15-17 million Muslims living in the European Union.  This group is made up of citizens of EU member states and non-citizens.  The non-citizens, however, are of EU member states nationalities.
  3. Muslims in Europe form a “distinct cohesive and bitter group”.  This cannot be true because there are several different sects and divisions of the Islamic faith.  According to Vaisse, on a national level there are profound divisions between: countries of reference and their specific brand of Islam, visions of religion and affiliation, social status, ethnicity, and political views.  He writes, “to speak as a ‘Muslim community’ is simply misleading (Vaisse, 2008).
  4. Muslims are demographically gaining on the ‘native’ population.  Vaisse notes that “the assumption is that Muslims form a distinct demographic bloc defined by religion that will never blend into the rest of society” (Vaisse, 2008).  He further explains that this is misleading due to the number of intermarriages and conversions both two and from Islam.  Additionally, there are significant amounts of Muslims that live a law-abiding, patriotic life in their non-native country.

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These myths and misconceptions about Muslims must be addressed and brought up so the ever-negative connotation associated with the word “Muslim” can be explained and possibly changed.  Especially because a lot of people don’t really know much about Muslims or the Islamic faith to back up the sour taste many individuals feel about “Muslim”.

It is important to make a distinction between the religious and political dimensions of Islam.  Firstly, the dimensions of Islam are so different in thought and action that they need to be clearly separated and understood as independent of one another.  The views of each dimension of Islam are indeed quite conflicting.  It is important to make these distinctions between the different dimensions of Islam so that statements/feelings about Muslims can be more specific to the sector of Islam in which they fall, rather than making a blanket statement/feeling about “Muslims” as a whole.  According to Shireen Hunter, author of Islam, Europe’s Second Religion, explains, “from the early beginnings of Islam, in the theoretical categorization of the various fields in Fiqh, the ‘ulama drew important distinctions, not with regard to the main sources, which are the Qur’an and the Sunna, but in respect to the methodologies of their interpretation” (Hunter, 2008).  Hunter concludes that by ignoring these distinctions in different dimensions of Islam is to say it is not possible for Muslims to be open and integrate into a secular society (Hunter, 2008).

There are several challenges that the specific topics of education and social rifts in Europe bring to Muslim communities.  According to Hunter, “School is no longer what it used to be and ‘everything is wrong'” (Hunter, 2008).  He argues that everyone in a given society are players in school life and education of that community.  He says that currently, “respective duties and responsibilities are hard to define and discussions often lead to transferring responsibility to others” (Hunter, 2008).  His main idea is that we, as a unified group, must define what it is we want out of an education system.  That is up to the people of a society, regardless of their faith.  In terms of social rifts, there is a big presence of xenophobia, the intense fear of foreigners, among Europe and other places around the globe.  Similarly to the education topic, Hunter argues that we must all come together to combat these issues as a group.  He also mentions that in addition to local, short-term goals, long-term goals must be established for a sustainable effort towards reform.

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Muslim Percentages in Europe *note the pattern of how the public’s estimate is higher in all countries*

References:

Hunter, Shireen T. Islam, Europe’s Second Religion. Westport: Praeger, 2002. Print.

Vaisse, J. (2008, September). Muslims in Europe: A short introduction. Retrieved from: https://bblearn.missouri.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-3161664-dt-content-rid-31262538_1/courses/SP2017.GERMAN.4810.01/09_europe_muslims_vaisse.pdf

Daisy Post 6 – Poor Economics Reflection

Economist Jeffery Sachs, from Columbia University, is commonly known for his opposing views from economist William Easterly, New York University.  Specifically, the two hold different positions on the topic of foreign development aid.  The last couple chapters of Poor Economics discuss these different viewpoints.  My stance would be a combination of the two economists’ viewpoints, I personally agree with bits and pieces of each of their arguments.

In regards to Sachs,  I agree with his idea of corruption as a poverty trap: poverty causes corruption, and corruption causes poverty.  According to Banerjee and Duflo, Sachs’ suggestion is to break the vicious cycle by focusing on making people in developing countries less poor – he believes aid should be given for specific goals (such as malaria control, food production, drinking water, and sanitation) that can easily be monitored.  He believes that raising living standards would empower civil society and governments to maintain the rule of the law (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011).  The idea that an accumulation of small gains can make a huge impact in a community is something I truly believe.

However, on the opposite end of the spectrum we have Easterly.  In regards to this economist, I agree with his concept of allowing countries to be free (economically and politically) and organically creating their own growth without the “takeover” of outside countries.  Easterly believes we, as outsiders, should “stop pushing education and health care on an indifferent populace, but rather allow them the freedom to find ways to get themselves educated and healthy, through their own collective action” (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011).  I also believe the people receiving aid must be interested and committed to making their livelihood better. If the people are indifferent, the aid money, time, and effort is wasted and countries will not be able to sustain any development.  Both men bring up valid points in their arguments, but I stand in the middle of the two – agreeing with certain aspects of each.

These two are clearly not the only individuals who have formed opinions about the topic of aid, there are many others that have shared their voices online.  For example, writers of povertyeducation.org bring up another important point.  Aid, for the most part, is going toward corrupt governments that embezzle more than we may believe, and “rich nations have yet to fulfill their promise.”  The aid money goals (numbers) that several countries have promised to provide for needier countries have not been met.  It makes me question how seriously these developed countries even want to help out these impoverished communities.  It’s easy for a country (and its leaders) to promote the goal to end poverty, but it’s not as easy to make a sustainable effort towards this goal; several supporting countries have made this apparent.

Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 2 aim to end poverty in all forms everywhere and end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.  I think Banerjee and Duflo have addressed these issues sufficiently in Poor Economics, in terms of understanding and explaining them to readers.  Their deep thought, research, and analysis of these goals is apparent and impressive.  However, because there is still poverty and hunger in the world, they haven’t totally eradicated these issues as the Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 2 strive to do.  I think it is fair to say they have presented several methods to work towards these goals, but it is nearly impossible for two individuals to achieve these goals in their entirely. There has definitely been progress in all these categories, but there is still progress that has to be made, by worldwide contribution – not exclusively by two individuals.

Banerjee and Duflo have plenty of supporters and critics.  It’s important to read what others have to say about the policies and concepts presented in Poor Economics.  Supporters say their method of using randomized trials is groundbreaking and helpful in the search for solutions to these problems of hunger and poverty.  An article in The Economist notes, “They promised to sift nuggets of truth from the slurry of received wisdom and wishful thinking that characterises much aid-talk. The hope was that once a trial proved the worth of a project or programme, governments and donors would back it and prescribe it more widely.”  Although some people are optimistic about the impact of these randomized trials, others believe they are limiting and degrading to the intelligence of the impoverished.  One online critic expresses his opinion on his blog: “This approach limits the extent to which poor people are allowed to be clever. The extent of their intelligence is reduced to rats in a maze, figuring out what works under the … supervision [of Banerjee and Duflo]. If there are ways that poor people want to change their relation to power, we’ll never know. These are not subject to randomized controlled trials.”  Every author and economist has supporters and critics, however, I believe the authors of Poor Economics truly have more supporters (including myself!).  I think Banerjee and Duflo have sufficiently addressed and presented solutions to the issues raised in Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 2.  I would like to see more adoption and implementation of these policies and solutions by governments in order to facilitate more progress toward ending poverty and hunger worldwide.

References:

Banerjee, A. & Duflo, E. (2011).  Poor Economics.

Daisy Post 5 – Micro-finance Institutions and Micro-credit

Micro-credit is a hot topic among developing countries because of its great potential to lift families out of poverty. Micro-finance Institutions (MFIs) are located all around Africa and there are several arguments for and against the micro-credit/micro-loans that these MFIs provide. The authors of Poor Economics present both sides of the argument.

If used correctly, micro-credit and small loans can help individuals and their families become quite well off. For example, the authors describe a woman, Andhra Pradesh, who has used micro-loans and trash collecting to make more money than she ever imagined. By collecting trash and selling the trash to companies that then make money by selling to recyclers, Pradesh saw opportunity for growth. The micro-loan that she received provided enough extra money to give her some breathing space. Rather than paying an additional fee to have her collected trash sorted out by the company she sold to, she made some extra money by deciding to sort it herself. With these savings, she then was able to take out additional micro-loans and grow her business exponentially from there. “By the time we met her, she was at the helm of a large network of trash collectors, no longer a collector herself but an organizer of trash collection” (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011). These impoverished entrepreneurs of the developing world who are creating small business in their towns have the greatest opportunity with micro-credit. The authors also explain how businesses of the poor have high marginal return, meaning that growing these small businesses a bit would be worthwhile.

Although it may seem worthwhile to invest in small, local businesses run by poor people, there’s also the harsh reality that, although the micro-credit may be helping a little, these businesses are tiny and barely make any money at all (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011). “…Micro-credit does not seem to lead to a radical transformation in the clients’ lives. If the businesses run by the poor are generally unprofitable, this may well explain why giving them a loan to start a new business does not lead to a drastic improvement in their welfare” (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011). The authors present the idea that sometimes the poor feel like their time, energy, and little resources available are not worth the investment if they do not have a transformative outcome. It truly requires commitment, patience, and dedication to make a business grow large with micro-loans. Banerjee and Duflo question the commitment that poor people have in investing their every cent into the development of their business.

Although there are countries in which micro-finance has been less successful than others, Liberia is one of the countries that has greatly benefited from this banking system. According to the Central Bank of Liberia’s main website, there are currently 18 registered MFIs operating in Liberia. Most of the MFIs are located in and around Monrovia, Liberia’s capital.

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Liberia’s Top 2 MFIs

The African Development Bank Group published a newsletter in April 2014, highlighting the impact of micro-credit on the country and individuals of Liberia.  The newsletter introduces Pauline Thomas, who aspired to be an entrepreneur during her 5-year stay in a refugee camp during the civil wars in Liberia.  While she was away, she took classes and learned business fundamentals.  By the time she returned to Liberia after the war, she was ready to change her life.  Buying and selling used clothing was her business, but she soon realized this required much more money than she had.  She was lucky enough to be eligible for a micro-loan, which she received in 2009, and she quickly become a well-known, successful businesswoman.  Pauline sold an array of clothing, even wedding dresses.  “Having attained a good credit standing, Pauline emerged as a credible small-medium enterprise (SME) borrower, able to take bigger loans. She received up to five loans, allowing her to travel to China to import more products and increase her profitability” (Budri, Mbonampeka & Santi, 2014).  Now Pauline has enough money to send all of her four children to school and she is even starting up her own restaurant!  This is just one example of someone in Liberia that has developed and become self-sufficient, using micro-loans to create opportunity for herself and her family.

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Pauline Thomas

A way in which this micro-finance trend is growing, is by becoming more digital.  Micro-savings has become more digitally advanced with the creation of M-PESA, “M-PESA allows users to deposit money into an account linked to their cell phones and then use the cell phone to send money to other people’s accounts and to make payments” (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011).  M-PESA is similar to the popular American payment app called Venmo.  M-PESA is widely popular and the trend has incredible potential for the future of developing countries’ banking.  The idea of incorporating technology into micro-financing for developing countries seems extremely promising and I feel that this growth will only continue.

References

Banerjee, A. & Duflo, E. (2011).  Poor Economics.

 

Daisy Post 4 – Liberia’s Progress and Low Hanging Fruit

As mentioned in the previous post, the term “cheetah,” in regards to Africa’s leaders, refers to those who are future-driven and progressive in their actions.  Africa’s cheetah generation is generally known for being positive, optimistic, and determined to make great changes and developments to the entire continent.

One of the most prominent cheetahs in my focus country, Liberia, is the group called United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).  The organization was created in 2003 to help combat the issues of human rights and civilian safety that were especially devastating to the country during the civil wars in Liberia (1989-2003).  The two civil wars killed around 250,000 Liberian civilians and completely destroyed the country’s law and order and justice system.  The purpose of UNMIL is to establish groups of peacekeepers (military, police, and regular civilian volunteers) that set out to protect the law and the people, in order to uphold human rights and generally bring peace – something which Liberia’s government was not previously able to do.

The mandate of UNMIL is made up of four primary tasks:

  • Protect the civilians from violence (in co-ordinance with the Liberian authorities)
  • Support the reform of the justice system
  • Carry out the promotion and protection of human rights of Liberians, especially towards women and children
  • Protect the people and equipment of the United Nations

Once these UNMIL peacekeepers had been working for several years and created what looked to be a better community, the leaders of the group slowly transferred more power over to the Government of Liberia by decreasing the number of these peace-keeping individuals in the organization.  The transition of power from UNMIL volunteers to the Government of Liberia is supposed to have been complete by June 30, 2016, but no update has been posted yet on the transition.

Additionally, according to Freedom House‘s democracy and freedom rating scale, Liberia is doing alright compared to majority of Africa, but not great compared to neighboring countries.  Liberia scored 61 on a 0-100 scale, meaning the country is classified as “partly free”, similarly to surrounding countries (see figure below).  On a 1-7 scale, Liberia scored 3 in political rights, 3.5 in freedom, and 4 on civil liberties.  Although they do not score very high in political rights and freedom, the 4 in civil liberties is notable.  I am interested to know if this increase in civil liberties is a direct result of the work of UNMIL.

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Liberia is the area shaded in dark grey.

Additionally, according to the Polity IV Project conducted by systemicpeace.org, Liberia is ranked as a 6-9 (democracy) on the scale from -10 (autocracy) to +10 (full democracy).  The two sources seem to agree that Liberia is partially free and is considered a democratic society, but that there is still room for improvement in the country.

As mentioned in the book Poor Economics, there are some “low hanging fruit” health opportunities in Africa that are not being addressed.  Health is a major issue among poor communities, especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).  The authors of the book, in conjunction with some of Jeffery Sachs’ concepts, present some seemingly simple fixes to some health issues in these areas.

Firstly, Banerjee and Duflo discuss the incredible importance of bed nets to provide protection against malaria.  They mention that, according to Jeffery Sachs, “People would be sick less often and be able to work harder, and the resulting income gains would easily cover the costs of these interventions and more” (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011).  Additionally, the Poor Economics authors say that one study conducted several years ago in the southern US and some parts of Latin America concluded that a child who was raised malaria-free would earn up to 50% more per year in their adult life (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011).  An investment in a bed net that is effective for about five years costs just under $15 (PPP).  The return on this investment over a child’s entire work life can be enough to buy a lifetime of bed nets and still have money left over!

In addition to the bed net distribution, another great health investment is the general access to clean water and sanitation.  Banerjee and Duflo write, “A study concluded that the introduction of piped water, better sanitation, and chlorination of water sources was responsible for something like three-fourths of the decline in infant mortality between 1900 and 1946 and nearly half of the overall reduction in mortality over the same period” (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011).  Diarrhea is a huge issue that is prevalent and potentially fatal among children, and this investment in proper water piping and sanitation practices (ie. toilet usage, bathing rooms, etc.) could reduce this condition by 95% (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011).  It is assumed by most poor families that the cost of such a household system is exponentially high, but in reality, the cost is only about $4 per household – a number that is quite easy to manage for most.  However, even if some impoverished families argue that this price is too much to pay for their basic health, cheaper methods of sanitation are available, such as the use of chlorine to sanitize water sources.

The usage of chlorine for sanitation, bed nets, and even simple vaccines, medicines, and breast-feeding are all considered “low hanging fruit” opportunities simply aren’t taken advantage of by communities as much as they should.  Even with reductions in prices for some of these already cheap solutions, poor people have other priorities and intentions when spending their money.  The authors conclude, “the ladders to get out of the [health] poverty trap exist but are not always in the right place, and people do not seem to know how to step onto them or even want to do so” (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011).

References

Banerjee, A. & Duflo, E. (2011).  Poor Economics.

Daisy Post 3 – Africa’s Generational Differences + Liberia’s MDG Progress

Part 1

As mentioned in the previous post, Steven Radelet is the author of Emerging Africa, which is a piece of writing that inspires readers to focus on the countries in Africa that are the continent’s trailblazers for future success.  In one chapter of his book, he discusses a powerful Ghanaian man named Patrick Awuah.  Awuah grew up in Ghana but attended college in the United States, and upon his return to Ghana after completing his degree, he was surprised at the state of his home country.  He immediately decided that the poor government structure, weak economy, and general lack of resources was no place to grow and develop his career (and little ones on the way!)  Awuah went back to the U.S. and worked successfully at Microsoft, where he soon realized he wanted to help reform Ghana to a country that would breed successful leaders and inspired citizens – an environment where he wanted his children to be raised.  He established his own college in Ghana called Ashesi University.  Radelet writes, “Patrick Awuah and the students of Ashesi University represent a new generation of African leaders – people determined to revolutionize governments, institutions, and communities through innovative thinking, wise leadership, and hard work, rather than through connections, corruption, and force” (Radelet, 2010).  Soon enough, these students became national leaders that were looked up to and recognized greatly for their efforts – so much so, that they started being known as the “Cheetah generation.”  According to Radelet, they are referred to as “cheetahs” because of their similarity with the animal in approaching situations quietly yet aggressively and confidently.  “They have begun quietly and quickly to move into Africa’s government bureaucracies, political leadership, private sector, and civil society groups, replacing staid practices with innovation and accountability” (Radelet, 2010).

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George Ayittey TEDTalk on “Cheetah” vs. “Hippo” Generations

It is important to note that the “Cheetah generation” is specifically in contrast with what is known as the “Hippo generation” of the past.  Radelet mentions that the “Hippo generation” is widely criticized for its slow-moving nature and the generation’s general complaints about colonialism and imperialism (Radelet, 2010).  In terms of democracy and civil society, the “Cheetah generation” is much more empowering, optimistic, inspiring, and unifying for Africa as an entire continent, whereas the “Hippo movement” is stuck in the past, dwelling on the negative aspects of African governments and social issues rather than being proactive in moving forward.

Part 2

In the book Poor Economics, by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, the first chapter focuses on the issue of poverty on our planet and the different perspectives people have on aid efforts and addressing the issue.  The second chapter, however, is more specifically narrowed in on nutrition as a major problem for the poor.  The authors bring up the concept of a hunger-based poverty trap, where poor people are barely able to work for enough money to feed themselves, resulting in less strength to do more work in order to make money.  This creates an increasing gap between the rich and poor.  The rich can work more due to their ability to eat three full meals per day, and consequently make more money to keep the cycle going.  The poor have less to eat and have less strength to work more and make money.  Additionally, the authors found that the priorities of the poor were to buy better tasting food versus food with the most calories per monetary unit spent.  Overall, we need to rethink food policy because there are several assumptions being made about the reasons why the poor are poor in the first place.  This chapter raises several specific questions such as “Are there really a billion hungry people?  Are the poor really eating well and eating enough?  Why do the poor eat so little?  Is there really a nutrition-based poverty trap?” (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011).  The idea that small gains can accumulate to large differences in the future is the main reason the authors argue we need to rethink food policy.  For example, providing a child with excellent nutrition in their youth can lead to them being more successful in their future. “Small investments in childhood nutrition… can make a huge difference later on” (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011).  Simply giving the poor large amounts of cheap, ill-tasting grain will not solve the issues of a hunger-based poverty trap.  Reflecting on these concepts and questions should help readers understand why we need to rethink food policy.

Another important issue brought up in Chapter 2 is witch-hunting.  “The pressure of just getting enough food to survive seems to have driven some people to take rather extreme steps: There was an epidemic of ‘witch’ killing in Europe during the ‘little ice age’… when crop failures were common and fish was less abundant” (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011).  Although the “little ice age” was years ago, the practice of witch-hunting has not completely diminished.  It is somewhat common in some poor communities, with the idea that individuals would have more to eat with one less mouth to feed.  Somehow, the logical solution these people have come to is to kill off someone in the community who is less deserving of the food (by the community’s standards).  Tanzania, for example, is known for having witch-hunts during times of drought or limited food availability.  Elderly women are often targeted as the sacrificial person in order for the rest of the people to become less hungry.  This is just another example of why food policy needs to be reconsidered – the consequences are becoming more dangerous.

Part 3

This week, I have been assigned to reflect on Liberia and its progress in regards to the original Sustainable Development Goals.

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Location of Liberia

To begin, according to the World Bank Data, Liberia’s GDP has had an incredible increase since 2000 when the goals were established.  In 2000, the GDP was around $529 million, and in 2015 it was recorded at over $2 billion.  Additionally, the overall population in Liberia experienced a bit of a spike after the new millennium.  In terms of environmental issues, Liberia’s CO2 levels have been at some of the country’s all time low numbers since the year 2000.  Gross national income (previously referred to as gross national product) has also increased in the country.  Despite a slight drop in GNI from 2000-2004, the GNI increased overall from $150 to $380 – which is the highest GNI Liberia has seen since the 1980s.  Finally, the life expectancy of Liberian citizens has steadily increased and hopefully will continue to climb in the coming years.

The Sustainable Development Goals are often criticized for being too broad and not specifically focused, however, the before and after comparison of statistics from Liberia (and Kenya’s results discussed in my previous post) are not just coincidences.  There has to be a connection between the development of these countries and the implementation of the SDGs.

References:

Banerjee, A. & Duflo, E. (2011).  Poor Economics.

Radelet, S. (2010).  Emerging Africa.