This is the result of a recent study by Pew Research Center (July 8,2010). It highlight a stark contrast in attitudes about the issue on both sides of the Atlantic. Does this come as a surprise? Not really. Western European democracies merely tout their secular values but repeatedly fail to put them into practice. The ban on the veil is not the sole contentious issue that continues to alienate the Muslim population residing in Europe. It is thus no small surprise that most of the controversial issues between the West and the Muslim world stem from Europe.
This study just mirrors the mindset of the majority of European population. The roots of major controversies – “Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie, the ban on the Hijab in public schools in France, the Jyllands-Posten cartoon controversy, the provocative film about Islam by van Gogh, the Swiss government’s ban on the minarets and now the wide-spread banning of the veil, all emanate from Europe.
There can be no justification for the violent reaction of the radical Muslims that ensues in the aftermath of each controversy. They just exhibit their ignorance and fail to act in accordance with the true spirit of their faith. There is no room within Islam for violent and bloody protests. It requires its adherents to practice extreme restraint even in the face of extreme hostility.
Muslims living in Europe are often blamed for their unwillingness to assimilate and adapt the Western code of life. But it must be noted that the attitude of the majority population towards them (as reflected in this study), also do not contribute positively. In fact, they just further alienate and widen the rift between them and the immigrant Muslims. The failure of the European governments’ to safeguard the rights of their minorities will only fuel the resentment of its Muslim population and deepen the schism. If they do indeed believe in safeguarding their secular traditions, they must proceed with caution and guarantee liberties to their citizens irrespective of their faith. Choice of ‘dress’ must be left to the individual. If France does vote to ban the Burqa later this month, it will open the floodgates of further restrictions and other segments of the population might have to compromise their liberties one day in the future.
The French government needs to be addressing real issues to better the life of its citizens- improve its economic situation, lower unemployment and better the law and order condition. The veil ban, rather than integrating its Muslim population, would just have the opposite effect. Do a few thousand veiled women pose such a grave danger that it warrants the energies of the entire French government’s machinery to curb them? If President Sarkozy believes the ban will liberate the Muslim women who are forced into the veil, he is mistaken. Government legislation is never a cure for such matters and history is rife with instances where such measures proved counter-productive and caused further polarization in societies.
Why does France not learn a lesson from the biggest democracy in the world- the United States. Why is it that the US is generally immune from such contentious issues? It has a sizable Muslim population, but why does it not seek to legislate measures in an effort to assimilate them into the mainstream? This has a simple explanation. The US laws are designed in such a manner that they protect the rights and freedoms of each and every citizen, irrespective of their faith, color and creed. This is one reason why a Black man sits as the President in the White House today.
Arizona’s effort to revamp its immigration policy is facing stiff opposition nationwide -even though it is an attempt to curb illegal immigration. The attempt to repeal the Citizenship rights of children born to illegal immigrants will probably not succeed in Arizona. Such attempts face resistance from the majority population as they go against the priciples on which the foundations of this country rest -the principles of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’.
As reflected in the Pew study, the American attitude towards the veil is just a mere extension of these fundamental principles which every American holds dear for himself/herself and their fellow citizens. Such attitudes grant the US a unique position. It is the melting pot for a diverse population; its citizens are able to retain their identity and individualism while remaining threaded to the national fabric. Commonality of purpose is the thread that holds every American together in the national fabric. When they are pursuing their ’American’ dream, they utilize their potential to the fullest, without having to compromise/shed their core identity. They are assured that the law guarantees their personal freedom and liberty.
July is the month when Americans celebrate Independence and pay homage to their founding fathers. As Europe continues to impose restrictions on its Muslim population, American Muslims have greater reasons to be thankful that the founding fathers of their country laid down the framework whereby they can practice their faith freely.