Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I have this sinking feeling

You know that scene from The Godfather after they've gone to the mattresses and Michael's exiled to Sicily, the one that's like a time lapse of the mob war where there's the kind of ragtimey piano music playing, and the newspaper keeps spinning out into the foreground with headlines like "POLICE HUNT COP-KILLER" and "CITY CRACKS DOWN" and "THIRD MONTH OF GANGLAND VIOLENCE" and whatnot? You see the same device used in like the Time-Life documentary series about THE RISE OF THE THIRD REICH, this foreshadowing with "HITLER ELECTED TO LEAD GERMANY" and "JEWS FORCED TO REGISTER WITH GOVERNMENT" and "WEHRMACHT ROLLS INTO SUDETENLAND" to build your sense of drama and anxiety about events you already know took place.

Am I the only one with the weird sense that we'll one day see this same sort of documentary montage, replete with headlines like "Sarkozy Says Burka 'Not Welcome' in France" and "Belgian MPs Vote to Ban Islamic Burqa in Public" and "French Parliament Codemns Full Islamic Veil" in the buildup of Time-Life's 2050 offering "THE CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS: the European Tinderbox in the Great West-v-Islam Culture War"?

Oh, I am? Well, don't mind me.

(So long as we're on the subject, I should link to this interview in Globalia Magazine with the brilliant Olivier Roy. His first answer, which I'll reproduce here in full, deals with precisely this subject.)
The debate in Europe has shifted in some 25 years (a whole generation) between immigration and the visible symbols of Islam. Which creates a paradox: even people who were opposed to immigration acknowledge now that the second and third generation of migrants are here to stay and that Islam has rooted itself within Europe. So now the debate is about the status of Islam. And here we have a strange phenomenon: while anti-immigration feeling is mainly associated with the conservative right, anti-Islamic sentiment is to be found on both the left and the right, but for two very different reasons. For the right, Europe is Christian and Islam should be treated as a tolerated, albeit inferior religion. There is (unfortunately) no way to ban it (because of the principle of “freedom of religion”, inscribed in our constitutions, international treaties and UN charter), but there are means to limit its visibility without necessarily going against the principle of freedom of religion (for instance the European Court of Human Rights did not condemn the banning of the scarf in French schools). For the left, the issue is more generally secularism, women’s rights and fundamentalism: it opposes the veil, not so much because it is Islamic, rather because it seems to contradict women’s rights. Hence the debate on Islam
disguises a far more complicated issue: what is a European identity, and what is the role of religions in Europe; and of course, on these two issues the left and the right take very different positions. But we are witnessing the rise of new populist movements (like Geert Wilder’s In Holland) mixing both approaches, basically siding with the right but using leftist arguments.
Take a look.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Who has the stronger horse, the burqa wearers or the decadent Prada wearers?

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  4. I think Roy captures the essence of the issue, as it is unfolding in peoples' minds, but I think this is ultimately going to be decided in the courts. I'll be curious to see what various states argue.

    Is the ban on the burqua about forcing the integration of an influx of non-secular immigrants and/or a belief that such displays of one's faith are often inappropriate?

    Is it about a perception that the burqua is oppressive and degrades the dignity of women who might feel pressure to wear it?

    Is it about public safety, so that law enforcement can identify people?

    I think the latter two would carry significant weight in the ECJ. And if the ECJ were to acquiesce to either of those, I think you will see more states begin to adopt similar measures, because they will likely anticipate a shift of the Muslim population into their countries and fear the impact upon their labor markets and welfare systems.

  5. I disliked what I wrote above so much that I asked Gulliver to delete my two comments - if he wanted to and if it wasn't too much of a bother.

    I dislike them because they are too impressionistic, too quickly "put up" and because I already said everything I wanted to about this topic on the previous post dealing with the subject.

    I'll add only one small thing: it all seems a bit like not dealing with various problems head on, and instead, picking up on one visible symptom of the problems of immigration and assimilation, and latching on to that.

    What evidence is there that the bans will accomplish any of the stated goals? A technocrat, or politician, or advocate, may want to start with first principles first.

  6. Madhu, it's absolutely about dealing with visible issues rather than behind-the-scenes issues. Realistically, Europe's declining replacement birth rate and the opening of immigration between EU nations, as well as Asian and African nations, have acted as a stopgap towards population decline. Fundamentally, as Gulliver notes by pulling that quote from Roy, we're talking about a generational shift that has already happened, and how cultures who are only just coming to understand how their populations have shifted are reacting to that (now, evidently, permanent shift).

    So it expresses itself in banning minarets, or banning burqas, banning physical signs of a change that has already occurred; because, at this point, such governments can't ban people to whom it has granted citizenship (without losing a whole lot of credibility, industry, and populace).

    Schmedlap gets it in one, albeit less about the display of faith and more about the display of immigrants, period: Is the ban on the burqua about forcing the integration of an influx of non-secular immigrants and/or a belief that such displays of one's faith are often inappropriate?

    I think it's foolish to try and champion such bans, from whatever reasoning. The people whose lives it affects can vote; or if they can't, their children usually can.