Friday, November 15, 2013

Odd Bedfellows. On Muslim Immigration to Europe and Reactions To It.

A few nights ago I somehow drifted onto various far-right European sites.  They are very explicitly against Muslim immigration (and immigration of Africans).  But if you read among the dregs long enough, you also find that they are, miracle of miracles!, quite opposed to feminism.  Many of them argue that it is the effeminate culture of Europe (some women in Parliaments, I guess, and too many girls getting college degrees) which has made Europe such an easy peach to pick for incomers.

Those two trends are odd bedfellows, from a purely neutral angle.  This is because the same sites employ arguments about the position of women in the strictest interpretations of sharia laws in Islam to justify their opposition to more Muslim immigration: female genital mutilation (not religiously sanctioned), burqas and niqabs, the inability of women to be judges, that a female witness's statement in court is worth less than a male witness's assertion, the near-impossibility of ever finding a man guilty of rape (because of the requirement of four male witnesses) and the consequent treatment of many rape victims as adulterers who deserve severe physical punishment.

But all those things should be like whipped cream on top of a cake for the kind of anti-feminist who is worried about the state of heterosexual  men's relative standing in the current European society!  "False" rape accusations  would be history under such a scenario!  Women wouldn't be competing for jobs that much anymore!  Men would be the kings of creation!  Converting for the sake of all that wouldn't really change how the heterosexual man must dress or behave.  The perks of modernity and the perks of patriarchy!

The second set of odd bedfellows in some ways is on the other side of this issue.  Some multi-cultural interpretations of how immigrants should be treated in their new host countries look to me like a juggler trying to keep fifteen balls in the air simultaneously.  These interpretations argue for equal human rights for all but also for equal rights for all religions and cultures within the country. The problem with that combination is that the two sets of rights, human and religious, offer formidable contradictions in the case of women in general and in the case of LGBT people, too.

That is because the three large Abrahamic religions in their writings tell women that men are their superiors, that committing homosexual acts or adultery (for women, at least)  is punishable by stoning to death,  that women have more restrictions on their behavior (women must be silent in the congregation, say) than men and so on and so on.

A literal interpretation* of a fundamentalist type of any of the three religions results in a female Catch-22 for feminist multi-culturalists** simply because very few (if any) cultures are truly feminist and many cultures of the recent immigrants to Europe are very patriarchal.  Supporting the right of religions to tell their flocks that men are superior to women and that women should restrict their behaviors more than men clashes directly and openly with the idea of gender-equality.  At the same time, supporting gender-equality clashes directly with the traditions and mores of many cultures and religions,including some of those of recent immigrants to Europe.

Do you see what I mean by "odd bedfellows?"  Of course all that is because the angle I adopted is not the one that is actually used by the two sides here.  To simplify a bit, the far right in Europe seems to be largely supported by white men.  They will fight anything that they regard as an attack on their position as the top roosters (whether real or imaginary) on the rubbish heap.  Both immigrants, Muslim or not, and women threaten that top position.  Thus, it's not illogical that the views on those sites manage to accept both a certain type of misogyny and explicit Islamophobia,  partly justified as a response to the misogynist streaks in Islam.

Turning to the other side of the equation, the reason for those fifteen balls being juggled in the air is a kind of a mirror image to the previous argument.  The feminist multi-culturalists want to improve the position of the oppressed, those who are marginalized, those are who are treated poorly and discriminated against.  Both women and recent immigrants qualify in some of those categories, so both groups deserve their support and promotion.

But the fact remains that the two motives can result in mutually exclusive choices***.  At least one of the balls in the air must fall.

What is the solution to these contradictions?  It obviously depends how a particular person weighs religious rights and human rights.  But one interesting proposal is something that is called "liberal multi-culturalism" in Finnish.  It seems to be a concept which supports, say,  religious freedom as long as that religious freedom does not infringe on equal rights of individuals.  When it must make a choice between gender justice (or justice for LGBT people, say) and religious rights it will choose the former.
*How common literal interpretations are varies with religion and within religions.  It is my impression (based on all I've been able to read, hear or watch) that Islam is interpreted more literally and also somewhat more politically than, say, Christianity, except for the Christian right in the US.  But this interpretation varies widely, from imam to imam, almost.  Some countries with the sharia law apply it strictly, others more liberally.  But I know of no such application where, say, women and men have exactly the same divorce rights.
**The definition of this term isn't terribly clear, if it even exists.  I use it to denote those institutions and individuals who believe both in gender equality and in the equality of cultures and religions.
***Obvious examples are religious practices which explicitly discriminate against women (or men) on the one hand  and gender-equality on the other hand.  You support religious freedom and the former, you then don't support the latter.  And vice versa.