A Looming "Disaster" for European Muslims?

Unless the countries of Europe figure out how to accommodate Muslim immigrant populations, there will be increasing numbers of riots, and increasing divisions along economic, religious and ethnic lines.
  • Transcript


Question: Where do you think Europe’s Muslim assimilation issue will stand in 2050?

Joan Wallach Scott:  Well two things I can always plead, right?  One, I’ll be dead by 2050, so it won’t matter to me and second, as a historian I always look back rather than forward, but those aren’t fair excuses for this.  I think that unless the countries of Europe figure out an accommodation with these populations it’s going to be disastrous.  It’s going to be increasingly... increasing numbers of riots, increasing divisions, not only along economic lines, but along religious and ethnic lines and it will be a disaster.  I mean I think for me the most interesting thing I’ve seen and it is not a perfect document was the Bouchard/Taylor report that came out of Quebec.  Do you know about this?  It’s a report.  Charles Taylor the philosopher and Gerard Bouchard, I can’t remember what he does, were asked to write a report about the accommodation of Muslims in Quebec and there it was a particularly hot issue because Quebec is secular, although there is a large Catholic population that wants to press very hard for control or political influence in certain ways and they came up with a report about what accommodation and where to draw the lines and what mattered and what didn’t matter and I thought it was the most sensible document I’d seen in a really long time because it requires adherence to the political principles of the nation and of the region—democratic ones, republican ones—at the same time that it is pluralist in its tolerance, in its…  Tolerance is a wrong word because as one of my friend keep saying, “Tolerance means that you abide by something you don’t really like.”  I think "recognition" is the better term. So you recognize that there are certain kinds of practices that need to be respected on the part of Muslim populations, praying five times a day for those who do, places where you can wash your feet and your hands before you pray.  On the other hand you say "We draw the line here." If you’re at a hospital and the only doctor on is a male doctor and you’re a woman you take it—which in fact many of the interpreters of the Koran will tell is already there to be or of Hadiths that come out of the Koran is already understood to be a practice and so on. But so you know "Here are the lines.  Here is what constitutes respect and recognition.  Here is what constitutes the limit that can be placed on the kinds of demands that can be made of a more general public and of a more multicultural public.  You can’t impose your will, your truth on all of us." So it seems to me that that’s the kind of accommodation.  That is the kind of policy that has to be developed.  Whether or not it will is another question. 

There is also a group of feminists in France who are Muslim feminists who wear the hijab and French feminists, that is we would call them "white," but you know, French, French, Francais [...] they call native French.  I mean all of these terms are loaded and it is very difficult to use them, but okay, so there are secular French women and headscarf Muslim French women and they came up with a statement of principle which seems to me to offer some of the answers and it is: "We are for equality in all realms. We are against the subordination of any groups or individuals. No forced wearing of headscarves. No forced removal of headscarves."  And that seems to me to sort of be pointing towards the kinds of accommodation that Bouchard/Taylor offered in Quebec and that needs to be really addressed and thought through not only in France, but in the countries of Europe.  I think if they don’t do it, it’s... one doesn’t even want to think about what the future, the difficulties, the tensions, the humiliations, the riots.  You know think of the 2005 riots.  I mean I think more and more of that will be the case unless there is some really serious effort to pick up some of these suggestions that have been made and work with them.

Recorded April 26th, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen