Opinion Integrating Islam into the West
For all its good intentions, European multiculturalism fails to make a place for religion.
The central mosque in Birmingham, England.
However, the archbishop's apparent suggestion that Muslims could opt out of secular common law for separate arbitration and judgement in Islamic religious courts created the impression of one law for Muslims and another for everybody else.
This incendiary idea (subsequently corrected by the archbishop) provoked a furor about states within states and a widespread fear that any license granted to Shariah law would also license its more extreme aspects. Unfortunately, the media storm masked the real message of the speech, which concerned the authority of the secular state and its impact on religious minorities in general and Muslims in particular.
For the genuine target of the archbishop's lecture is the increasingly authoritarian and anti-religious nature of the modern liberal state. Militant secularism has forbidden head scarves and wall-mounted crucifixes in France. It has also banned Roman Catholic adoption agencies in Britain for not selecting same-sex couples as potential foster parents. Under the banner of free speech, secular Italian leftists recently prevented Pope Benedict XVI from addressing La Sapienza University in Rome on the subject of rational enquiry.
Williams' legitimate religious concerns with freedom of conscience tie in with wider Western worries about the consequences of failing to integrate a growing, devout and alienated Islamic minority within a relativistic and increasingly aggressive secular culture.
However, the solution proposed by the archbishop repeats the errors of 1960s liberal multiculturalism. In conjuring up the idea of communities sharing the same space but leading separate lives, he unwittingly endorses a scenario that entrenches segregation and fractures any conception of a common good binding all citizens. Despite this, Williams at least recognizes that Britain is struggling to find a way of accommodating its increasingly ghettoized and radicalized Muslim population.
Clearly, the integration of Islam into secular democracies is a challenge that confronts the Western world as a whole and Europe in particular. Regrettably, there are problems with all the existing secular models of integration. British and Dutch versions of multiculturalism hoped to ensure the equal rights of all citizens, but both countries -- in abandoning the cultural cohesion based around religion -- lost the very medium in which majorities and minorities could share.
Germany eschewed its own Christian legacy in favor of an ethnic account of its identity. Though it grants generous socio-economic rights, the German model still refuses Muslim "guest workers" citizenship and thus participation in civic life.
In France, the Republican ideal appeals to immigrants, but its secular reality denies the primary religious form of their identity. Moreover, the Muslim population is discriminated against in the labor market and tends to be confined to the banlieues. The French model's refusal to accommodate religion prevents France from broadening its concept of French identity.
- Part 1: Integrating Islam into the West
- Part 2: Has the US integrated Muslims more successfully than Europe?