Finnish expert: “The Minaret ban or passing laws against headscarves was pushed by people fear of change” – INTERVIEW

Finnish expert: “The Minaret ban or passing laws against headscarves was pushed by people fear of change” – <font color=red>INTERVIEW </font>
# 11 January 2010 08:23 (UTC +04:00)
- How is the attitude of the European people to ISLAM?

- It is not possible to generalize in any way, not only are we talking about 30+ countries (the EU alone is 27 states), there are also tens of millions of European people who are Muslims themselves. So firstly you have countries – particularly in south east Europe where significant Muslims minorities have been part of those societies for many years. With states like Bosnia and Albania you have states that are Muslim majority. Then you have the big western European states with large Muslim populations through immigration. Britain and France are the most obvious examples where immigration came from their former colonies, but Germany also has a very large Muslim population from Turkish guest-worker immigration. But in all these cases many of the Muslims are not immigrants – they are the children (or even grand children) of immigrants and have therefore become part of those societies with differing levels of success. Finally you have other countries with differing levels of more Muslim recent immigration – Sweden is an example that has in the last 20 years taken in many Muslim refugees, whilst Finland is an example of a country that has taken much smaller numbers of Muslim refugees and immigrants.
Therefore the experiences of different European countries of Islam are so different it is really impossible to generalize. The one are where you can see a trans-European attitude forming about Islam is amongst racist far-right political parties and groups who are all starting to use the same rhetoric about “the Muslim threat”, but whilst interesting this is not anything close to a majority view.

- What is the main challenge for Muslim community in Europe ? How Muslim people could integrate in other communities in Europe ?

- I don’t know much about Eastern Europe, but in western Europe Muslims tend to be poorer than national averages, have higher rates of unemployment and lower rates of educational success. This is not something particular to Muslims, but rather the normal problems of immigrants and children of immigrants. Of course there are problems of social marginalisation, prejudice and even radicalisations but I think to a great extent these are symptoms of socio-economic problems, not causes of them.
The American Muslim experience is an interesting contrast as American Muslims are slightly better educated and slightly richer and slightly more likely to have professional jobs than the average American. And although there have been problems of radicalisation etc. there it has been much smaller an issue than in Europe.

- In some counties people criticize Islam, like in Switzerland people voted against the minaret? What is the reason of this? Why Christians and Muslims cannot find dialog?

- Firstly many Europeans aren’t Christians – or not in any real sense. In fact in many countries churches have done very good work building contacts and links to Muslim communities and there is lots of inter-faith activities and dialogue. So this isn’t a religious issue really, rather a social one. In Switzerland it seems that the Minaret ban was pushed by various right wing parties and groups and exploited peoples fear of change. Muslim immigration to Europe is part of globalization, and many people fear globalization and the sense that their world is changing around them in ways that they have little or not control over. Voting to ban minarets (or passing laws against headscarves as another example) is a way of exerting control – even if immigrants become the scape-goats to some extent.

- What do you think how the minaret issue will affect Switzerland relation with muslim countries, and the economy of the country?

- I don’t really know, but the cartoon crisis definitely had effects on the Danish economy when political actors within Muslim countries started a boycott of Danish goods.

- Several European leaders insisted to forbid women to cover themselves. Can all these things also accepted as the violation of the rights of Muslim community in different Europe countries?

The headscarf issues is very symbolic and shows how very different European political and cultural systems can be. In the UK, liberalism is taken to mean that the state does not tell adults what to do as long as it does not harm others. A hijab is therefore just a type of hat, and the state has no role in telling people what they can or can’t wear on their head. As a result British Muslim women police officers, if they wish, get official police uniform hijabs to wear. The state actually supports them in wearing a headscarf by providing them as part of their police uniform. In France this would be unthinkable: the state is meant to protect the tradition of secularism – that religion is part of only private life, not public life. Therefore in state schools they ban the wearing of the headscarf by teachers and students.

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