Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Muslim activist critical of "Multicultural Mistake"

I ran across this on NPR

In 2005, Seyran Ates was named Germany's woman of the year for her work in defense of Muslim women in immigrant communities.


Ates blames the rise of political Islam in Europe in great part on what she calls excessive tolerance, both by the left and the right, of repressive traditions of minority cultures — and a widespread unwillingness to integrate immigrants into mainstream society. She calls it the "Multicultural Mistake," also the title of her recently published book.

Forced marriages, she says, are locking up German-born Muslims in separate Islamic enclaves.

There are tens of thousands of women so isolated from German society that they're unable even to call an ambulance.

"We have in the third generation children who do not speak very well German," Ates says. "They cannot speak very well their own language — they are not integrated in the culture, they do not even know how big is the city in which they live in."

Domestic violence and even honor killings take place behind walls of silence.

To be honest, I'm not sure what to make of this story. Ates doesn't seem a likely candidate for a reactionary, and I can understand her frustration. Germany, perhaps like all Western societies, is relatively open. So long as you don't hurt anyone else, you're free to do just about anything.

Including isolate yourself from the larger society.

Forcing others to isolate themselves would seem to be illegal, although one could conceivably convince someone they were better off isolated without using force.

So, how does one solve this? Forced integration into the larger society? If so, who gets to decide what's "normal"?

On the other hand, education alone doesn't strike me as particularly effective. Sure, if the children of first generation immigrants make it to public school there's a good chance they might decide to look beyond their upbringing. On the other hand, if the society is closed enough, children could be born at home with the aid of a midwife; the kids wouldn't have so much as a birth certificate.

Perhaps thats an extreme example; still, if a subset of society refuses to integrate with that larger society, that doesn't seem to bode well for the health of either society.

Previously, it's been a bit rocky but integration has happened. Look at the history of the Irish or the Italians in the US, for example. Perhaps this situation, in a few generations, will be the same... but I can't help thinking such hopeful thoughts are just whistling in the dark.

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