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RANYA KHALIFA: "Democracy Digest"...


"Reflections on the Niqab & "Clash of Civilizations"

Posted on April 17, 2011 at 8:10 AM

Dear Readers,

On Monday, April 11, 2011, France became the first European country to formally ban the wearing of the "niqab/burka" in public.  Any woman found wearing it in public will face a fine of up to 150 Euros or will have to take lessons in French citizenship.

A big question arises here: aren't lessons in French citizenship, tantamount to lessons in "French secularism"? On the other hand, some of the 2000 Muslim women who are believed to actually wear the face veil in France believe that "the street is the universal home of freedom and nobody should challenge that so long as these women are not impinging on anyone else's freedom" (guardian.co.uk, April 11, 2011).   Since this is the Muslim view of every woman's right to wear the niqab if she so chooses, then it should conversely and logically also apply to women in "Islamic" countries who are not veiled and who choose to walk freely in the street (the universal home of freedom) without being harassed, hassled or threatened.

But, how can one reconcile the views on both ends of the spectrum, especially when we refer to Article 18 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." In essence, the fact that France has banned the niqab could be considered an impingement on a Muslim woman's human rights!  On the other hand, France wants to strictly separate church and state as this is deemed central to maintaining a peaceful civil society....

How then could this ideological dilemma be resolved? Clearly, Muslim immigrants in France (about 5 million) are not integrating into the French secular culture as the French would like them to!  This brings to mind Samuel Huntington's theory on the "Clash of Civilizations" where "the primary axis of conflict in the future will be along cultural and religious lines"....as "the people's cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world".

But why are most of the clashes occurring between Christianity (upon which the Western civilization is based) and Islam?  Huntington made a number of very plausible factors which contribute to this conflict.  First, Christianity and Islam are both missionary religions, seeking conversion of others.  Second, they are both Universal, "all-or-nothing" religions, in the sense that it is believed by both sides that only their faith is the correct one.  Finally, they are both  Teleological religions, that is, that their values and beliefs represent the goals of existence and purpose in human existence.

This reality could be the cause of the stalemate between the Western and the Islamic worlds.  So, what could be the solution to resolve this cultural deadlock? In my opinion it would be that both parties learn to co-exist under the protection of constitutions whereby all citizens are treated equally regardless of race, gender,religion or ethnic background.  School curricula must enforce the rule that students are given classes in Human Rights so that children are "socialized" and accustomed to the equality of all citizens in the eyes of Constitutional Law.

Tolerance is the only path that the East and West could ever take to co-exist in today's world, as we share increasingly limited land and resources.  The niqab controversy is a case in point that clearly highlights the dilemma that the West faces in trying to integrate Muslim beliefs, traditions and culture. Differences between both cultures will always exist and both the East and the West should continue to preserve their unique identity, but in an inclusive rather than in an exclusionary framework...

Equality has to be enforced by the law, now more than ever, as the Middle East Revolutions will likely create an influx of immigrants to Europe thereby giving the issue of "assimilation" an even more urgent reality.   


Categories: International Affairs / Impact on Egypt...

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