The Bureaucratic Solution

The Dutch are seriously considering a tough new law to make it quite difficult for a migrant to become a Dutch citizen. According to this UK Times article:

A DRACONIAN new law is expected to force immigrants to the Netherlands to sit a tough exam on Dutch history, geography and culture or face heavy fines.

The rules, drafted by the countrys hardline immigration minister, Iron Rita Verdonk, and likely to be approved this autumn, will set a challenge for up to half a million mainly Muslim immigrants, including some who have lived in Holland for 30 years.

Draconian is no exaggeration. It requires 600 hours of of classes and the exam is really tough

Failure to attend the course or pass the exam within five years will trigger an annual fine of almost 700, cuts in benefits or the termination of a residence permit.

The problem of the integration of Muslim migrants into a host country is a worldwide one. This kind of approach strikes me as excessively bureaucratic and indirect in a way that may backfire. I presume it’s ultimate purpose is to discourage Muslim extremists from staying in Holland and attempting to impose their values on the host culture. However, I suspect it may just end up expelling the less determined and fail to distinguish those unprepared to integrate into the larger society from those who are just having difficulty. Extremists are by their nature determined. Still I don’t think tolerance – even world famous Dutch tolerance – has any obligation to put up with a group of immigrants who have little or no regard for Dutch culture and who instead demand that the Dutch adopt their ways – sometimes violently.

I think its fair to say that multiculturalism has only softened or partly modified what is basically a policy of assimilation in the US, while in Europe multiculturalism has become the prevailing ethos. Australia is probably somewhere in between because it had a backlash against multiculturalism well before 9/11 which had little to do with Muslims. Its not surprising then that the Europeans are having the most difficulty dealing with a culture that often aggressively rejects multicultural values. If Holland passes the legislation in its current form and it isn’t rejected by the EU court system it will clearly have the immediate effect of making Holland a much more difficult immigration destination. If it becomes a model for other European governments it might reduce immigration in general and Muslim immigration in particular. Still, I have to wonder if it will increase actual integration or just resentment for having to jump through bureaucratic hoops.

In contrast to the European situation, the US has a long history of migrants making a fresh start and being transformed by the experience of participation in the American socio economic process. The biggest single cause of transformation is economic opportunity which involves not just individuals but entire communities. I have observed in the DC area how new Muslim immigrants are given jobs at the bottom of the heap by relatives who own businesses. At the top I met the Imam of a large Mosque who had a highly successful contracting business that had made him a rich man as well as a community leader. I saw a very similar pattern among American Blacks in Chicago built around Black churches and in the 60s. I think this process of transformation is quite apparent in the story told by this NY Times article. It is the story of two moderate homegrown American Muslims – Sheik Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir – who seem to be making a real attempt to be both very American and resolutely Muslim.

Both men are converts to Islam who spent years in the Middle East and North Africa being mentored by formidable Muslim scholars. They have since become leading intellectual lights for a new generation of American Muslims looking for homegrown leaders who can help them learn how to live their faith without succumbing to American materialism or Islamic extremism.

“This is the wealthiest Muslim community on earth,” Mr. Shakir told the crowd, quickly adding that “the wealth here has been earned” unlike, he said, in the oil-rich Middle East. As the audience laughed at Mr. Shakir’s flattery, he chided them for buying Lexuses with heated leather seats they would never need in Houston and Jaguars, and made them laugh again by pronouncing it “Jaguoooaah,” like a stuffy Anglophile.

And then he issued a challenge: “Where are the Muslim Doctors Without Borders? Spend six months here, six months in the Congo. Form it!”

Most American mosques import their clerics from overseas some who preach extremism, some who cannot speak English, and most who cannot begin to speak to young American Muslims growing up on hip-hop and in mixed-sex chat rooms. Mr. Yusuf, 48, and Mr. Shakir, 50, are using their clout to create the first Islamic seminary in the United States, where they hope to train a new generation of imams and scholars who can reconcile Islam and American culture.

That sounds like a much more healthy mix of the two cultures. And these men sound serious about their commitment to moderate Islam. Elsewhere in the article it is clear that both have moderated earlier more radical views. Too often we discover that apparently moderate Muslim clerics preach a very different message in Arabic than they do in English. Genuine moderation, not deception, seems to be the case here.

They say that Islam must be rescued from extremists who selectively cite Islamic scripture to justify terrorism. Though Mr. Yusuf and Mr. Shakir do not denounce particular scholars or schools of thought, their students say the two are challenging the influence of Islam’s more reactionary sects, like Wahhabism and Salafism, which has been spread to American mosques and schools by clerics trained in Saudi Arabia. Where Wahhabism and Salafism are often intolerant of other religions even of other streams within Islam Mr. Yusuf and Mr. Shakir teach that Islam is open to a diversity of interpretations honed by centuries of scholars.

Mr. Yusuf told the audience in Houston to beware of “fanatics” who pluck Islamic scripture out of context and say, “We’re going to tell you what God says on every single issue.”

“That’s not Islam,” Mr. Yusuf said. “That’s psychopathy.”

That is truly encouraging to hear. That said, it would be unfair to give the impression I am in total agreement with this moderate American brand of Islam.

He said he still hoped that one day the United States would be a Muslim country ruled by Islamic law, “not by violent means, but by persuasion.”

“Every Muslim who is honest would say, I would like to see America become a Muslim country,” he said. “I think it would help people, and if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be a Muslim. Because Islam helped me as a person, and it’s helped a lot of people in my community.”

It should go without saying, but I appreciate the words ‘not by violent means’. To speak for myself directly, I am dead set against making America a Muslim country or a country of any single religion. As an American and an Australian I support freedom of religion but I have no use for claims by any religion that they posses the one and only truth. That idea was totally repugnant to me by the time I was 16 when I rejected the the Roman Catholic notion that all my non-catholic fellow Americans were condemned to eternal damnation because they were not of the one true faith. In fact I think successful immigrant cultures like America and Australia owe a great deal of their strength to freedom of religion precisely because they allow immigrants to practice their religion freely along with exercising their natural desire to make economic progress. Nor is Islam the only religion in America that wrestles with the contradictions between economic success and religious practice. Indeed there is a great deal to be said for wrestling with these contradictions when compared to the alternative of poverty and depending on one’s religion for consolation.

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