Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The French Burqa Ban and Death of Multicultural Europe

Popular backlash in Europe against Islam is nothing new.  Since anti-Muslim satire led to vengeful violence at the Charlie Hebdo office in France a year and a half ago, confrontation between Muslim minorities and non-Muslim majority populations in Europe have only seen continued upward trajectory.  Cultural difference, manifested in apparent ways and interpreted in rather exaggerated and threatening fashion, trigger new rounds of popular discontent with increased Muslim presence, just as civil war in Syria continue to push more Muslims into the continent.

While stricter limitations against migrating refugees can still somewhat be justified by fear of jihadists hiding among their ranks, many countries in Europe have taken a much more cultural "us-vs-them" mentality in rationalizing their reflex to turn back the Muslim flow.  For instance, the stories of Muslim refugees sexually harassing women in Germany has quickly turned into an argument of how "Islamic culture does not respect women in everyday conducts."  Such statements cannot conceal an inherent "our culture is more progressive than theirs" way of thinking held by many non-Muslim Europeans.

But when such line of thought becomes the norm, the issue is no longer just limited to Muslim migrants escaping the Syrian civil war.  Instead, the negative cultural bias of the non-Muslim Europeans now encompasses any and all Muslims, including many who have spent generations in Europe, and have held nothing other than a European passport.  Many of these Muslim citizens, choosing to diligently remain "invisible" so as to not draw excess ire of the non-Muslims, are now forced to contend with new restrictions placed on daily lives without being consulted in any way.

The recent introduction of a comprehensive burqa ban at the French beach resort town of Nice is perhaps the most glaring and controversial of such "new restrictions."  Religious Muslims now must contend with essentially choosing a beach holiday or abandoning their religious beliefs.  Without a doubt, by legally restricting what religious Muslims specifically cannot do in public and making it impossible for them to adhere to their religious guidelines, Nice's municipal authorities are without a doubt infringing upon the religious freedoms of the city's Muslim residents and visitors.

There is also no doubt that many non-Muslim Europeans, both in France and beyond, are cheering and applauding Nice's "tough" line toward perceived Islamism on its own soil.  Leaders of countries on the geographical frontline of the Muslim refugee influx (e.g. Hungary, Poland) have made it clear that conservative Muslims (or even Muslims in general) and their beliefs have no place in their Christian societies.  Along with right-wing nationalist groups across all European countries, they will pressure refugee-friendly parts of Europe to reverse their course on "Islamization."

The issue is much larger than simple question of religious restrictions, however.  In a land with a perceived coexistence of modernity and tradition, a renewed focus on cultural traditions is eroding a modern ideology of tolerance toward other beliefs.  By designating proper garments for beachwear, the Nice authorities, and all those who support the new legislation, have in essence dictated that French laws is based on that of non-Muslim white mainstream society, and no exception shall be made.  Muslim citizens should have no choice but to assimilate to the customs of this white mainstream society.

The implication runs directly contrary to the reality of France (and most of Western Europe) as a multicultural society.  Conservative Muslim citizens of Europe, with little political leverage, are helpless in pushing back such directives targeting their lifestyles.  The result is disillusionment of Muslim citizens toward European societies and their consequent radicalization toward Islamic fundamentalism.  In place of multicultural ideals where citizens of every creed lives peacefully side by side, Europe now faces a growing issue, as Nice itself can attest to, of radicalized Muslim citizens killing their own fellow citizens in the name of jihad.

The greatest misfortune may be the detrimental effect to multiculturalism in other parts of the world.  Europe has in many ways been perceived as a beacon of social progressivism, and its commitment to respecting people of different backgrounds as equals gave it moral high ground in discussions of international migrations.  But if Europe can roll back tolerance for "foreign cultures," it would give less tolerant leaders in other parts of world even greater leeway to rob their minority citizens and foreign migrants of rights as equals.  The growing population of internationally mobile will surely suffer severe consequences over time.

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