Quote: 'It's Much Better If Things Are Discussed Openly'

Quote: 'It's Much Better If Things Are Discussed Openly'

Muslims aren't integrating as well as many Europeans would like to believe. American political journalist Christopher Caldwell, author of a recent book on Islam in Europe, argues that taboos and wishful thinking prevent an honest discussion of the issue.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Caldwell, Switzerland recently banned minarets in a referendum. What was your first thought when you heard the news?

Caldwell: The most stunning thing about it is the gap between the clear rejection of the ban in public opinion polls and the clear approval given in the actual vote. It means there is an official discussion of Islam and that there is a subterranean discussion. That should worry Europeans.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you suggesting there is no open discussion about Islam in Europe?

Caldwell: I think these things are getting much more openly debated than a few years ago. In the Netherlands and Denmark you do have a contentious debate. I think a lot of Danes and Dutch aren't really proud of the way their populist parties are discussing the issue of immigration, but it's generally much better if things are discussed openly.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Where, in your opinion, is it not possible to speak openly about it?

Caldwell: In countries like France there are laws against all sorts of speech. That has a very chilling effect. Many people are frightened about negative consequences if they say how they really feel. Sometimes even to the pollsters, as the Swiss example shows.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In your book, "Reflections on the Revolution in Europe," you cast a skeptical light on Europe's relationship with its Muslim immigrants. In your view, do Muslim immigrants pose a threat to the Continent?

Caldwell: I don't speak of a threat, exactly. This is a very important distinction. The debate up until now has been marked by two extremes. On the one side you have the doomsayer extreme, the people who say Islam is "taking over" Europe. On the other, you have people with the point of view that there's no problem at all, except racism. I think both positions are wrong, and I have tried to set a new tone.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Nevertheless, when reading your book, one leaves it with the impression that you think Europe will have real trouble integrating its Muslim immigrants.

Caldwell: Islam poses difficulties that other immigrant groups do not. Part of it is the growth of political Islam in the world in the last half-century. A large minority of European Muslims feel solidarity with the Muslim community abroad, and they feel at the same time that the West is at war with this world. That makes the transition into a European identity more difficult. But I think the problems at the cultural level are more important.


Caldwell: A lot of overly optimistic people expect Muslims to give up, or to modify, their religion over time. They're going to change in some way, but we don't really know how. And attitudes around religion provide a lot of potential for conflict -- the attitudes towards women, towards family relations, sexual freedom or gay rights.


SPIEGEL ONLINE: There are intellectuals like Bassam Tibi and controversial Tariq Ramadan who are calling for a Euro Islam and say that Muslims have no problem adopting European values.

Caldwell: Islam will definitely take on a European cast. That's exactly what happened to Islam in every place it has ever gone. And Muslims can certainly be good Europeans. But non-Muslim Europeans will be the judge of that, too. The Swiss referendum shows that Muslims arrive at a way of being European and believe that they've met the Europeans at the halfway point. But that does not mean non-Muslim Europeans feel the same.


Source: Spiegel

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