Wednesday, 20 June 2007
European societies v. Muslim minorities: between ‘cultural awareness’ and Orientalism
Published by Dr. Egdūnas Račius
Though Muslims are not a novelty in Europe, it is the post-WWII period when they started coming in great numbers to the ‘old’ continent. Most European states then designed and launched integration programs falling into one of the two broad categories, the assimilationist and multiculturalist. However, with time it became obvious that European liberal values, freedoms, social and economic welfare do not impress many Muslims in Europe – physically living on the European continent they are mentally living in another dimension – in resignation permeated by dismay, resignation, which more and more often spills into violence against wider society. The uneasy coexistence nurtured policies of isolation and isolationism, which ensued in a new kind of ghettoization in the urban conglomerates of Europe.
The images of Islam and Muslims entertained by most Europeans throughout the centuries have been far from positive. Though by now many of those images were bogus stereotypes and have already been cast off, others, however, are still clung to with xenophobia and racism at play. It is therefore worth addressing the issue of the perceived failure of integration of Muslims in Europe in the light of two opposing (in inverse proportionality) perspectives – ‘cultural awareness’ and ‘Orientalism’. The article argues for the need of ‘cultural awareness’ and concludes that, so far, ‘cultural awareness’ has been one of the most neglected elements in cross-cultural communication between Europeans and immigrant (especially Muslim) communities. Its lack might be seen as one of the major obstacles to integration of Muslims in Europe. Moreover, without ‘cultural awareness’ one can hardly hope for any sort of new, wider and inclusivist, European identity, the part of which Islam and Muslims would be. The recent events (‘Submission’ and ‘cartoons’ scandals), sadly, point to majority of Europeans considering a contrary direction, the trend that might revive and strengthen Orientalist feelings in Europeans.