Wednesday, April 13, 2011

France becomes the first country to ban the burka.

France is officially the first European country to ban the Islamic face cover gowns for women, the burka and the niqab.

Protests are almost sure to happen, not only in France but in many other countries, both European with a significant Muslim population and of course the Islamic nations.

Was the decision right and what is the French leadership trying to achieve? France has the largest Muslim population in Europe of about 6 million people. What are the messages that are trying to pass to its youth?

Humans are creatures that communicate with their facial expressions and eyes, so making a woman to wear those two garments is certainly dehumanizing and limiting her in every social interaction, apart from those with her fellow sisters in Islam.

Of course that is the whole purpose of it, because according to the Islamic teachings women should be modest and "liberated" in this way, from being preyed on by men. The disturbing thing is that in 2011 there are still women that feel that this is a social norm.

Europeans have liberated their women decades ago, although the fight is still on for a full equality between the two genders. We have also loosen the power of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, freeing our spirits from any moral enslavement and limitation that Christianity has tried to place upon us.

Should we allow certain conservative doctrines of Islam to spread in Europe, keeping European citizens under their archaic influence? Either you are European by birth or by the naturalization process, you are a citizen of this continent. You can be Muslim and European, but only if you share some basic values with the general population.

Turkey can be a leading example of a more secular version of Islam. Perhaps we could even encourage the various secular Islamic elements or communities in our continent, to work for a European version of Islam. One that would be compatible with the overall values that identify us as Europeans.

Of course not all Muslims support such extreme forms of their religion. We can not brush them all with the same brush. They come from many different countries, that themselves follow very different versions of Islam and have their own distinctive cultures.

The solution would be to encourage them to explore their "Europeaness" through education, intercultural dialogue and more participation to the "commons," eradicating any radical elements among them. Thus giving them a greater say and involvement in our societies.

But do they really want to integrate, or see themselves as Muslims first, then anything else?Also do we want them to do so and have them as more engaged, vocal members in our society?

No matter what, a total ban of those garments can not be part of the solution. It will harden the stance of the Muslim communities in Europe, as they will feel they are being targeted and discriminated against.

Banning any signs of any religious expression, attracts more attention to the cultural differences and in fact it feeds any radical elements. It  provides them with more arguments to turn the Islamic community more defensive of such practices and identify them as inseparable elements of their identity.

Education is a key tool to tackle the more conservative practices of Islam, but it will be also necessary for the Muslim communities to be engaged and mobilized in this effort. It is also up to them and in their interests to become integrated and an active part of European society, not limiting themselves by doing the jobs that the natives do not want to do anymore.

They can leave their mark in our continent in a more constructive way, that being just a labor force. But that will need some change in their overall mentality. In Italy they banned recently any crucifix idols from their schools. The Catholic citizens of the country did not protest or threatened anyone in such extend, that the Muslims often do.

They can't understand that if they want to live in Europe and call themselves Europeans, they will have to leave some cultural aspects of their countries of origin behind. If not, they will always be "guests" in our continent, no matter what their passport declares.

It is simply a rejection of the European values and way of thinking, to staunchly resist any kind of modernization. The fact that everyone is free to practice any religion in Europe, does not mean that it should be accompanied with practices that clash with our secular society.

On the other hand, the difficulties that European countries are having when it comes to integrating its immigrant communities offer some clues. Do we really want to integrate our immigrants into our societies, or we are just covering our labor needs with immigration?

 But then why allow a population of 6 million to enter your country, if you do not wish to integrate them and why allow an increasing flow of immigration from Muslim nations?Perhaps we should be looking elsewhere, in regions like Latin America that culturally is closer to us, to cover our labor force needs.

Can there ever be a successful multicultural model that does not segregate the various communities? One solution would be to allow everyone to practice what they want, just like in America. But then what would be our own, distinctive European identity and what will it mean to be a European?

You do not become European citizen just so you have a passport and the right to stay in the country. One of the obligations you have when holding a European passport, is to make an effort to integrate and be a constructive member to your community.

You do not have to convert to Christianity just to fit in, but you certainly need to understand and accept certain values of your host country.Blend your values and traditions of your country of origin, with those of your adopted country and you won't feel an outsider ever again.