Post 12, Week 14 — “Division, Both Ways”

Islamic peoples are a growing demographic all across Europe, including the northern regions a little farther from the Muslim world. Scandinavian countries have seen immigrant populations raise as well, and have seen their own unique culture evolve from this. In Lief Stenberg’s chapter of Islam: Europe’s Second Religion, Lief takes the time to analyze the unique aspects of Muslim immigration in Scandinavia, and what happens once the people have moved there. The first dimension of this integration, as Lief puts it, is “The general integration of Muslims, in order to make Muslims an accepted part of the country’s everyday life. Yet, so far, Muslims have not been integrated at this level.” Two reasons for this, he says, are the “communalism among Muslims plus segregation in housing and in the labor market.” By separating themselves from the surrounding culture, these immigrants maintain a border between the two peoples. On the other side, by forcing immigrants into certain neighborhoods and industries, the Swedes are further radicalizing a growing percentage of their population. Tove Lifvendahl, writing for UK’s The Specter, says “Over the past 15 years, some 650,000 asylum-seekers made their way to Sweden. Of the 163,000 who arrived last year, 32,000 were granted asylum. Sweden accepts more refugees in proportion to size of population than any other nation in the developed world — when it comes to offering shelter, no one does it better. But when it comes to integrating those we take in (or finding the extra housing, schools and healthcare needed for them), we don’t do so well.” The second dimension of this integration has to do with political activism. Lief says “Integration at this level is very low. Very few Muslims are active in the Scandinavian political life at a national level, and these are few who can be characterized as leaders or representatives of Islam and Muslims.” Political division can easily sprout up in these communities between observant and secular Muslims, and how they approach political issues. This leads into Lief’s third dimension, “The level of religious rituals.” These rituals are a serious dividing line between both practicing Muslims and secular Muslims, as well as with the surrounding nation’s social landscape. Finally, the fourth dimension is “The ideological level. At this level, the situation for Muslims in Sweden is quite positive. Today, Muslim individuals and organizations more than express the idea that they are a part of the development of what they call Euro-Islam.” So while integration may be taking extra time or experiencing setbacks, there is at least some optimism for attaining a happy medium in Sweden. Often shifts in perception have to happen before cultural changes can come about, so I think that time is a critical factor in shaping how native Swedes see their new neighbors and countrymen.

The thing about immigration in Spain is that for many years, there has already been an established Muslim population. Originating from military conquests long ago, descendants of these Moors from Africa still inhabit certain areas of Spain. They are a community with an established culture and place in Spanish society, but little political voice. One would think that having this community before the refugees arrived would have helped them, but that isn’t always the case. Laws and customs in Spain favor the established Muslims and their traditions, but often do not assist the immigrants much. Garcia and Contreras, again writing in Hunter’s Islam, Europe’s Second Religion, say “The level of integration is very high in the case of naturalized Muslims and Spanish converts. However, the majority of the Muslim community in Spain consists of immigrants who have settled in Spain only for economic reasons and who have achieved a more limited level of integration.” One main problem that they run into is that because of their fragmentation as a group, they struggle to appoint one figurehead to represent them to the state. Divisions between immigrants and native Spanish Muslims cause their political voice to be divided, and because of that, often unheard. Finally, the social institutions put in place have been outgrown, with the addition of large amounts of immigrants into the society. As Spain moves forward with a different demographic profile, it will have to push for new ways to address their population and integrate these immigrants. “In sum, the Muslim community, with its growing numbers and varying degrees of integration in Spanish society, is characterized by lack of cohesion.”

I think that one thing that stands out, in many cases involving immigrants and political voice, is that these people are divided. Whether it be between secular and practicing Muslims, or between natives and immigrants, the community is always divided. I think that if they could come together as one voice, their people could create a lot more change for themselves at the political level. It doesn’t have to be in compromise of their beliefs, more in a sense of working together for common goals. I think this would help them communicate in their new European countries and also create legislation that works best for everyone involved. At the base of it, I think it all comes down to cooperation, and recognizing that people are different from each other. And that’s okay.

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