Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Many Islam(s)   posted by Razib @ 7/04/2006 03:20:00 PM

Aziz has a post titled muslim citizens, not citizen muslims, where he attempts to address the source of the "Muslim problem" which seems to be a serious issue over the waters in Europe. He alludes to post-colonial legacies and relationships, but I do not believe this is fundamentally a main cause of the problem.

Let me look over the major nations.

1) The United Kingdom, most Muslims are from South Asia, former colonies, with a residual of Africans, Arabs, etc.

2) France, most Muslims from North Africa, former colonies, with a minority from the colonies of West Africa.

3) The Netherlands, most Muslims are of Moroccan origin, with a minority of Turks, Kurds, etc.

4) Germany, most Muslims are of Turkish origin.

5) Sweden, most Muslims are of Middle Eastern, often Turkish or Arab, origin.1

6) Norway, most Muslims are of Pakistani origin.

In some of these cases the nations which are the source of Muslim immigrants are not former colonial possessions. Norway is pillustrative of this, what does this nation have to do with South Asia? Its only "colonies" seem to have been desolated islands in the Arctic.

Additionally, in some of these nations non-Muslim minorities of colonial origin do exist. Britain and the Netherlands is an important cases in point, and in both of these nations the alienation by non-Muslims seems to be less pronounced than in the case of the Muslims. The Netherlands is particularly important because Christian Ambonese and Hindu Surinamese are juxtaposed against non-colonial Muslims, and the latter are the source of far greater societal tension than the former. In Britain, you have two communities which are of particular interest when set next to each other: the Muslims from the region of Mirpur are linguistically and racially very close to the Sikhs from Indian Punjab. Additionally, my understanding (ancedotal, I've not had time to find scholarly citations) is that the socioeconomic origins of these two groups did not differ greatly, that both were drawn from the broad "middle" of their societies. And yet the latter exhibit a far greater level of integration, or at least acceptance and rapprochement, with the greater British society than the Muslims from what became Pakistan (though Sikhs do not perform spectacularly, as to Indians who came via East Africa).

This is not to deny that alienation from the mainstream society is not a factor in the trajectory of separate and unequal which many European Islamic communities seem to be drifting toward (though there is less segregation in places like France than Germany or Britain), but, it is not a sufficient cause. The American Muslim community stands as witness to that, though there are clearly issues of integration the process has been relatively painless in comparison to what is the norm over the waters.

Here are the reasons why this is so:

First, the immigrant stream was of higher SES. The child of a scientist, expected to go to college and possibly pursue graduate studies is far more likely to be "corrupted" because by the nature of their lifestyle they are forced to face the "outside" on a day to day basis. Muslims who serve as doctors must see non-Muslims as patients who depend on them. High SES individuals are by their nature more mobile, and operationally more cosmopolitan.

Second, the immigrants are diverse and there is not a close connection between being Muslism and ethnicity. That is, there are black Muslims, brown Muslims, olive Muslims, Asian Muslims and white Muslims. This prevents the synergistic coupling of Islam with an ethnic identity, because by its nature American Islamic is multi-ethnic and fractured. This reality means that to some extent Islam must be fundamentally about religion as opposed to identity formation, because religion is the commonality between a Syrian, a Pakistani and a Nigerian. In much of Europe one ethnicity becomes identified with Islam, so that to be Turkish or North African is to be Muslim and vice versa.

Third, the American culture of confessional multiplicity is better equipped to handle the transformation of religious traditionalists than post-Christian European nations. Americans already have a Catholic-Protestant-Jew trichotomy to which Muslims can slot into. American religion, by its nature, tends to be spare and minimalist, but it allows one to keep an attachment to labels, all the while eating away at traditional assumptions. Reform Judaism is powerful and a force in America primarily because of its "Christians with curly hair" connotations. It is fundamentally an "Americanist" religion with ancient packaging. One can say similar things about American Catholicism, and some have argued that Americanism was one of the primary factors in driving Vatican II in the 1960s (that is, Americanist thinkers influenced the reformulation of Church practice and doctrine).

As an unbeliever and a pragmatist, what I'm alluding to above takes into account two facts:

1) Much of cognition is not conscious
2) Consciously chosen and professed markers and tokens of affiliation evoke great emotional attachment

A few years ago a Muslim columnist for Beliefnet wrote in a manner which seemed to clearly suggest that his views in regards to free will implied a rejection of predestination, which seemed peculiar in that the consensus in Sunni Islam holds to predestination. I pointed this out at the time as "inconsistent" with Islam. Today I wouldn't say such a thing because I've become a thoroughgoing nominalist in regards to religions, and I believe religionists basically reshape their religion to suit their circumstances. But, the key is that they are attached to markers, and all the while they change A to B, they will hold that B is still A.

By the very fact that American Muslims are a small minority, fractured along ethnicity, and of slightly above average socioeconomic status, they will reshape Islam to be more congenial to their lives and the realities they have to be face. Additionally, to maintain cognitive coherence they will claim that their interpretation of Islam is the "true Islam." Myself, I don't think there is a "true Islam," but a gelded and bourgeoisified religion is fine by me.

1 - Some will know that Sweden has a large Iranian Muslim immigrant community. You won't hear much about them because their relative affluence, education and secularism mean that they aren't problematic. So even within nations the character of immigrant communities in terms of from which segment of society they are selected is relevant.