In his paper, Muslims in Europe: A short introduction, Justin Vaisse brings up four myths about Muslims in Europe.
Myth One: Being Muslim constitutes a fixed identity, sufficient to fully characterize a person.
Myth Two: Muslims in Europe are, in one way or the other, inherently foreign, the equivalent of visiting Middle-Easterners who are alien to the “native” culture.
Myth Three: Muslims in Europe form a “distinct, cohesive and bitter group,” in the words of a 2005 Foreign Affairs article.
Myth Four: Muslims are demographically gaining on the “native” population.
I will not go into details about each one, but I would like to highlight a couple of the myths. To start with, I love the fact that Vaisse addressed myth number one. Often times, without thinking, we group people into certain cultures and define them solely on that culture. Vaisse points out specifically a survey that listed Muslims along with Eastern Europeans. That is similar to comparing oranges and fruit. It is more comparable to group Muslims with Catholics or Orthodox which are other religious groups. We do not look at Catholics as simply Catholic, so why do we separate Muslims so that is their only identity.
I would also like to highlight the ideas to disprove myth number three. The article, and myths, focus on Europe, but as an American I will bring this home. There are many people who hear the that an individual is Muslim and jumps to several conclusions based on what they have heard on tv or other interactions. Most of the views are negative especially after the events of 9/11. Following stereotype judgments is a slippery slope with any group, Muslims included. Vaisse points out that the Muslims in Europe are quite diverse. They are split by country differences as well as country of origin, social status, affiliation, and political views. In other words, the Muslim community is just as diverse as any other large group of people shoved into a single characteristic.
It is important to make a distinction between the religious and political dimensions of Islam because they are two separate aspects. The religious aspects are universal across the religion, for the most part, it is what unifies the culture. The politics however can change. It is similar to how a christian could be against welfare programs while he holds a luxurious position in his company. Then he loses his job during the recession and his political views swing a bit more liberal now that he relies on the welfare programs. Political views change and if we do not acknowledge that, then we deny that muslims can assimilate into new cultures.
Education has changed quite a bit in the past century. The system is often blamed for many of societies shortcomings. Part of this is due to the fact that the curriculum tries to force the backgrounds, beliefs, and personalities into a rather inflexible agenda. In an attempt to keep things equal and not discriminate, the school systems leave religion out of their teachings. Because of this, students do not understand the fundamentals of the other backgrounds in their communities. Without guided discussions, the next generation will learn to believe possible lies or incomplete truths. This leads to a less inclusive and hostile community.
Lack of education also leads to social rifts. How so? Well immigrants often get pushed to the outskirts of town with little assimilation into the native culture. The natives have little knowledge about their new countrymen and begin to develop their own ideas and prejudices. The cultures never mix perfectly and the immigrants are left with the less profitable jobs. Immigrants often become part of the lower class leading to more judgments about their sense of character. Of course, this tragic chain of events is not true for every case. It does, however, apply to several different Muslim communities that struggle to fit into their new homes. Once again it cause struggles for the Muslim community, many of whom are immigrants into their European country.
Ramadan is a holiday celebrated by Muslims, marked by a month of fasting and prayer, to draw closer and humble themselves before God. In other words, this holiday is a time that the Muslims set aside their differences and celebrate their suffering. We often view the religion as one of aggression and hatred. If we were to look closer and educate ourselves on the true beliefs, we would see a much more loving side.