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Web Letter

Laila Lalami’s timely essay on the intolerance faced by European Muslims gives reason to wonder if Europeans have really learnt from their bloodstained history.

A few years back, as a resident physician, I came across an affable Frenchman whom I asked why a disproportionate number of immigrants in France found it hard to succeed in French society. He replied in a quite matter-of-fact manner by saying that many of them lacked the necessary skills to contribute to the French workforce. Lalami’s mention of the dismal unemployment rate amongst French Arab graduates--27 percent, contrasted with a mere 5 percent for the population at large--is arguably the most powerful rebuttal to that flawed notion. If immigrants in France with advanced degrees are routinely barred from employment positions on account of their heritage, surely discrimination rather than a lack of skills is what prevents them from being genuinely empowered.

By the same token, if the French openly exclude and discriminate against their minorities, then how can they realistically accuse them of not "integrating" into their host societies?

The apologists for racism in all its forms, on both sides of the Atlantic, who smear immigrant newcomers without fully understanding the multifaceted risks, benefits and responsibilities of immigration certainly have plenty to answer for.

Suhail Shafi

Ozark, AL

Dec 20 2009 - 10:04pm

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The thing is, we are gifted with short memory, meaning our memory erases all not welcome in our minds. I remember how fond we all used to be of ourselves, here in the Netherlands, when the struggle of the ANC against apartheid and white power wasn't won yet. All my fellow countrymen used to walk in demonstrations against apartheid, which was, of course, a rather homegrown phenomenon.

Nowadays we can see this more clearly, for our parliament is infested with the PVV-party, a anti-Muslim party with only one goal: get rid of all the Muslims in Europe. What Ms. Lalami tells us is right on the nose--worse even, it clearly shows we desperately need some other voices, public voices, meaning we need to reform our opinions though literary and political voices. Why is this so hard to achieve; 9/11, that used to be one of them, pretty soon we are entering a new decade... Dictatorships in some of those Arabic countries then? As if democracy with the likes of Berlusconi and Bush were democracies. Maltreatment of women: take a good look at YouPorn, for God's sake...

Pretty soon we are in the trenches, hitting each other with arguments and non-arguments. Perhaps we should look different to our pasts: yes, Arabic countries do have a bad track record, but hey, who used to colonize the Middle East, Africa, the Americas, Asia...

Who/where originated the (so far only two) world wars, if we leave the Japanese out of the equation for the sake of argument (they were among the first to prove the whites weren't invincible!)?

What we need is a true and hard look upon ourselves, Westerners and Arabics: neither "sub-species" is free of blame, free of guilt, although one of those has been richer then the other for a considerable amount of time.

Wouter Krijbolder

Den-Bosch, The Netherlands

Dec 14 2009 - 1:12pm

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Caldwell's arguments are certainly based on fallacious and racist premises. However, he is not wrong that increasing Islamic influence is to be viewed with alarm. My context for stating this is that any increase in religious influence at the societal level is alarming.

In its best form, spirituality is an intense personal experience, and houses of religious pursuit (churches, mosques, etc.) serve as places where one can get instruction on how to directly effect contact with the spiritual being in which one believes. Treating one's religion as a public matter is destructive to separation of church and state, a separation that I see as one of the greatest needs in modern society. People like Rod Parsley, who began the "Patriot Pastor" movement, scare the heck out of me. They don't understand that theocracies (whether brazen or subtle) are abusive regimes, because there is no way to challenge the power structure since the authority in such governments is God-given.

Regarding Ms. Lalami's criticisms of Caldwell, she is spot-on about the spotty scholarship, which is detestable. However, she has likely not plumbed the depths of what truly drives the marginalized groups in Europe. Without having visited Europe, it is hard to speculate exactly what is occurring within the crania of second-class citizens there. Still, heaven forbid that such difficulty of accuracy should prevent me from trying.

I think that the majority of Muslims in Europe are just trying to get by. Unfortunately, like minorities in the US, by birth European Muslims are in a group that is politicized (whether they like it or not) and they must either behave exceptionally or they will "fall between the cracks" in society. I think that having so little room for error tends to make people open to radicalization, and so a few of these people become open to the idea that there is a war on between Islam and Western culture. This notion is reinforced by the similar (but different in crucial aspects) fact that there actually is a war on within Western culture between religion and secularism. Anyway, the few who become radicalized then are open to committing criminal acts in the name of jihad.

I think that a significant part of the concern of Europeans toward Muslims is not simple racism--it is a concern that people are living among them who are not invested in their society, for reasons of class, culture and religion. When I see a hijab or burka, I react not because I detest Muslims but because I view the veiling of women as a symbol of their (unfortunately internalized) control by traditional patriarchal culture and religious dogma. Choosing to veil in public in a society where the significant majority of women do not do so is a political act (whether one intends it to be so or not), because it shows one's disregard for the values toward which Europe has been trending in the recent past. Thus, the suspicion of "white" (for lack of a better term) Europeans towards Muslims is understandable, while not entirely justifiable. White Europeans must do the internal psychological work to maintain the validity of their concerns. They must reject people like Le Pen and Caldwell, and they must look within themselves to determine that what they are feeling is a relatively pure desire to preserve secularism, and not a convenient cover for racism.

Alexander Wilson

Centennial, CO

Dec 14 2009 - 12:51am

Web Letter

As a Canadian who returned last year after three-and-a-half years in Paris, I can attest to the fact that you can't walk about Paris for more than an hour or so without seeing French police stopping young men "of colour" and asking for their papers. The three young men who tried to avoid this arbitrary police "attention" while rushing home from a soccer game for an end of the day Ramadan meal with their families in November 2005 and were electrocuted in a transformer station are but one glaring example of how many immigrants are not welcomed by French society. The subsequent riots that saw thousands of cars burnt all across France were testimony to the frustration felt by young immigrants who face this daily discrimination. Pierre gets a job interview while Mohammed doesn't, even though they may have exactly the same academic credentials and grades and come from similar middle-class families.

At the same time, many French citizens at Paris City Hall for the Olympic torch ceremony on April 7, 2008, expressed their indignation to me at the violation of civil rights of the many carrying Tibetan flags who were denied entry to the plaza by French police, while people waving huge Chinese flags were allowed to take positions front and center. France, they said, is after all the originator of the concept of universal rights.

Paris is a big, dirty city of 11 million people, with some of the worst social problems in the world. But it is also a centre of fascinating diversity and enormous richness, not only in its museums and galleries but also on the street, where you can "taste" the fruits of the entire world in a few blocks.

These contradictions rarely get adequate attention in the mainstream press or in tourist literature, with the result that the stereotypes fostered in the public, as well as in "intellectual" and political circles, run rampant. They undermine and threaten to destroy the cultural (as well as bio-) diversity that we will need to survive the coming climate and economic crises generated by our mad, globalized, industrial overconsumption.

Bob Thomson

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Dec 8 2009 - 10:18am

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My heart goes out to the Muslims being left out of the conversation about Muslims in Europe. Seems to me many do not want to participate in Western civilization. Many just want to migrate to a depopulating land where they can transfer their Stone Age, desert ways.

Perhaps they should repatriate themselves to the lands of their fathers and grandfathers. Because there they can be unwanted by their own bloodlines.

Tell me again, how many non-Muslims are permitted to live peacefully in Muslim lands? Especially Arab and Southern Asia areas?

Why is tolerance a one-way street?

mike flynn

New York, NY

Dec 1 2009 - 7:58am

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