Questions of Immigration, the West and Islam

As what one might term an immigrant, I am really interested in issues of integration and belonging. I’ve encountered these issues on a personal level but have also dealt with them in numerous academic situations. My thoughts at the moment are being driven by Alon Levy’s thoughts on Islam at 3 Quarks Daily. As with just about any opinionated post regarding religion, and more specifically religion in general, it falls short on one or two points, but at the same time I think it’s a very valid argument on the whole: Islam and Muslims are not treated well by the West. In particular, immigrants bear the brunt of hostility because they are accessible to Westerners who are continually exposed to an extremely negative media portrayal of Islam and Muslims. In an issue like this one, taking either side is problematic: neither the JudeoChristian West nor the world of Islam is without fault.

Nonetheless, people do take sides on issues of belief, with their opinions often based on beliefs and propaganda (as witnessed by one or two heated comments on the Levy post). Religion is an area where facts are rarely going to swing the tide of any argument; if people fervently believe in something, they aren’t likely to simply change their mind. Religion and religious institutions cloud the issues at hand. In this case, people in the West believe that Islam poses a threat to Western democracy and the reverse is true in Islamic countries. I suppose I am advocating humanism to an extent, but both sides need to practice some tolerance. The chances of hard-liners on either side coming anything close to real tolerance are very slim, but violence is only going to exacerbate the tensions that already exist between the two groups.

What got me most interested in the post, however, beyond the serious reaction that appeared in the comments, was Levy’s focus on the situation faced by immigrants. I commented on the questions asked by Hanif Kureishi in his short story, My Son the Fanatic. Kureishi uses a Pakistani immigrant family to show the pressures faced by immigrants in trying to adjust to British society. At one and the same time, the story manages to criticise the lack of meaning provided by modern British society and the problems associated with the Islam adopted by one of the characters in search of community and meaning. Kureishi’s perspective was visionary: he wrote the story before the British race riots of 2001, before 9/11, and before the planned multiple-plane detonation earlier this year. The story captures some of why Islam has an attraction for immigrants’ children in particular.

But I think I’ll stop my rambling thoughts there. I may add to this tomorrow, but for now let me get these thoughts out there.

Note, I found 3 Quarks Daily for the first time via Rex Sorgatz’s post, Best Blogs of 2006 that You (Maybe) Aren’t Reading.


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