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Op-Ed

Experiencing Insecurity

Manuela Paraipan, Bucharest, Romania, November 1, 2006

Muslims are not a minority that needs special rules, or privileges.

A Muslim friend of mine from the U.K. wrote to express his dismay at the newly-hostile attitude of the authorities toward the Muslim community. He feels that there is an organized campaign to defame the good name of Muslims in general. While on a personal level, I am sorry for how he feels, the truth of the matter is that there is no need to maliciously accuse Muslims of any wrongdoings. Their actions speak louder than any slander campaign instrumented by the West.

London Muslims take to the streets to condemn the so-called crusaders and Zionists who conspire to conquer the world and the Middle East's oil, but they never condemn Hezbollah's or Hamas' terror tactics. Is it because they agree with blowing up innocent persons? Do they agree with the policy of annihilation preached by Hamas? Is it, maybe, that they do not care about others except themselves?

Here and there we hear or read about a moderate Muslim imam or Muslim intellectual supporting a multicultural environment and the secular values of the state, but these people do not attract the masses. They are largely marginalized by their own. As a matter of fact some of them are constantly warned by their 'brothers' to either change their discourse or face the consequences, which usually means that they are walking targets.

The Muslims living in our midst distance themselves from the secular mainstream. It is not the poverty, social injustice or the lack of jobs that pushes them away. After all, many non-Muslims face the same hardships. It is their rejection of secular values that created today's rift.

Islam is a religion, but it is also a system of social, economic, and political principles. Just to better illustrate this reality, note that Christianity does not claim to be an all-encompassing philosophy/religion which embraces personal and public morality, as well as government and culture. Islam lays claim to all these things, and that's what makes it peculiar and potentially dangerous. There is no "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and render unto God that which is God's." In Islam, there is no distinction between the mundane and the divine.

Moreover, the Islamic traditions do not encourage Muslims to be loyal to non-Muslim states. In practice you cannot serve two different allegiances or in more religious terms, to serve two Gods. Thus, for some Muslims there is no middle ground acceptable enough to follow. It is either one respects the secular values or the religious laws and century-old Islamic traditions. Compromise tends to be seen not as a sign of civility, but rather as a sign of weakness.

In the U.K., as in the other European countries, there are extremist Muslims - individuals who would do everything, and will hurt anyone just to reach their goals. And here intervenes the state mission to protect all its citizens. How can it do that? Most likely by closely watching the mosques, the Universities that have proven to be a place of recruiting for the fundamentalists, and the places where Muslims gather.

What if a Muslim extremist puts a bomb in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood? The Muslims themselves will then point to the state, and ask why they weren't better protected. It is the need to protect ourselves that convinces us to give up (to a certain extent) our right to privacy, hoping that in exchange we will be better protected.

On the other hand, how tolerant must a free society be of those who are intolerant of the values it holds dear? This question is at the heart of a controversy that has flared up in Britain over the past days concerning Muslim women who wear niqabs, burkas and other face coverings that allow little more than the eyes to be seen. This controversy revealed the fact that some women in the U.K. follow this Islamic tradition* because they want to make a statement about what they consider the Western oppression of the Palestinians, or of the Iraqis, etc. On the other side of the spectrum, the veil (as the niqab) can be worn as a mark of superiority that makes women who dress less modestly by the standards of the veil-wearer seem less moral.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to be assimilated into a society when you actively hide yourself from it, and simultaneously from the responsibilities one holds as a citizen of that particular country. Muslims are not a minority that needs special rules, or privileges. They are citizens and thus share the same rights, liberties, and limitations as any other group of individuals.

The dialogue became a challenge, because the very premises are different. There are issues: Jihad; the uprising (Intifada) witnessed in France, and to a lesser extent in Australia, Holland, but also in Arab and Muslim countries; freedom of conscience; women's rights; political rights; the relationship between Islam and the state; and the ever problematic issues of gender, sexuality, and apostasy that need to be continually addressed. Perhaps a lack of integration leads to the veil rather than vice versa. But that is precisely why the Islamic perspective towards these important matters needs to be further clarified and elaborated upon. Frankly we are at a crucial point in the history of mankind where an openminded approach on both sides is a must.

* Niqabs, burkas and the veil are mostly worn in Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf area countries because of the patriarchal system. The Quran does not state that a veil is required or that women have to completely cover themselves, just that a woman should dress modestly.

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