Dear Princess ‘Ishka,
Talking about Islamic culture in western societies is an extremely hard task, which needs multidisciplinary knowledge and can’t be settled by simplistic political standings. Still, Islam has grown in recent years as a major worry for many political parties, which catalyze fears and insecurities of the masses against what seems to be a clear and well defined enemy. The major worry of such parties is not Islam within traditionally Islamic countries. It is rather the process sometimes called “Islamization”, taking place, according to such politicians, in western societies.
But what is this so-called Islamization? To my understanding, the term is often understood as referring to a group of phenomena regarding the growing presence of people of Islamic faith and habits in western societies. I try now to sparsely list what I think certain people find most worrying about this presence:
- There is a neat incompatibility between “western values” and “Islamic values”;
- Islam, as a religion, has a higher potential to lead people to violence than other religions, especially the Christian one;
- Islam is intrinsically oppressive of women and lgbt people;
- Western populations have a lower birth-rate on an average than people of Islamic culture that, together with immigration, would result in the uncontrolled growth of Islamic population and a consequent negative influence of Islamic values on western institutions;
I know few or nothing about Islamic culture, but knowledge of Islamic culture is not necessary to analyze the four points I consider constitutive of the worry of Islamization.
Let’s start with point 1. How can we understand this incompatibility between western values and Islamic values? Is Ramadan incompatible with Christmas? Or the religious prohibition to drink alcohol incompatible with wine and beer culture? Such things are not incompatible, they can perfectly coexist in a multicultural society. So what does this incompatibility consist of? I see no answer other than connecting point 1 to points 2 and 3. Islamic values are incompatible with western values because they would have a higher potential of spreading violence and they would be oppressive of women and lgbt people.
The question is now: are western values innocuous and not oppressive of women and lgbt people? What do we understand as western values in the first place? If we think of western values in terms of Christian values we have a history of compatibility of Christianity with spreading of catastrophic violence and oppression of women and lgbt people, which goes on nowadays. If we think of western values as the evolution of the ideas of Enlightenment, feminism and progressive social phenomena, we must understand western values as liberal and secular values. But then, the contrast with Islamic values would be void, for liberal and secular values are overarching religious and cultural values, not exclusive of them. What gets excluded are archaic cultural and religious understandings of moral and scientific matters, but not cultures and religions themselves. If such incompatibilities were intrinsic to religions, there wouldn’t be place for Christians in secular societies.
We can think of the incompatibility of point 1 as the one existing between Christian and Islamic cultures, but then again, do we think western values are exclusively Christian? If this were the case, we would be blind to centuries of social, moral and scientific progress, which has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity, and was often condemned by religion. Instead, if western values are supposed to be those of culturally-inclusive secularism, then there is nothing intrinsic to Islam that would imply “neat incompatibility”. Of course, this doesn’t mean that integration is an easy process or that western societies are as secular as they should be. But the hardness of reality isn’t a good reason to draw false conclusions about Islam.
Finally, point 4 addresses the concrete issue of the growing number of people of Islamic faith in western societies. This has of course to do with very complicated migration policies as well as with the birth rate of different populations. Still, if we think about the true causes of migration and uncontrolled birth rates, we see that religion is just a contextual factor. Migration crisis are caused by wars, famines, but mostly by lack of opportunities and poverty. Uncontrolled child birth by lack of education and (guess what) poverty.
“Ok with that” might say the defender of the I-word, “Islamization is contextual, not necessarily depending on religion and not necessarily incompatible with western societies. But still it coincidentally takes place and we have to deal with that”. The problem now is one of definition: do we really think it is fair to label all the phenomena related to people who by chance happen to be of Islamic faith and/or customs “Islamization”? Isn’t this term putting too much weight on religion, when the big problems are actually to be found in the global history of economic and political inequality? Religion certainly doesn’t help simplify such issues, but does it give enough reasons to talk about Islamization?
I don’t think so and I’ve explained why. Not only is Islamization a simplistic myth about a much more complicated reality, it is also dangerous for it might easily hide xenophobia. Let’s hear the words of experts on the topic rather than those of politicians talking about apocalyptic “clashes of civilizations”, for we might start believing that we owe all our modernity to Christianity, and witches certainly wouldn’t cherish.