Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Muslim Non-integration

French laïcité has arguably advanced a specific kind of intolerance for Muslim identity. The tradition of keeping "ostentatious" religious symbols out of sight while in the public sphere (a sphere that includes pretty much all of France) has translated into a ban on the hijab.

To my mind it's a reasoned objection, even if it can get a little hysterical and xenophobic. I have a Parisian woman-friend who says she feels "violated" when she sees a veiled woman. As an American, I instinctively feel that curtailing personal expression in deference to "national identity" is a bummer. But of course it's complicated--veils mean stand for more than just modesty.

Switzerland has recently taken the attitude a bit farther with a ban on minarets. Carlin Romano seems to understand that fashion and architecture traffic in symbols, and this backlash to Islamic co-existence is more than just symbolic. Immigration restriction and societal exclusion are daily realities for Europe's millions of Muslims.

Hence that without policy change, building codes mean little more than that, and just end up inflaming opinion. It reminds me of when American Indian activist Russell Means stealthily installed a response plaque at Little Big Horn as a means of symbolic terrorism. Means wanted a more truthful memorial than the existing paean to Custer. It wasn't an assault on a source of power, it was an assault on a symbol.