Thursday, January 24, 2008

The View is Dark from Europe

NPR, or National Public Radio, currently has a series playing in regards to Muslim women, mainly those living in Europe - a continent in which Muslims are notorious for poor integration. The series, entitled Exploring the Status of Muslim Women in Europe, begins with an introductory story about the integration of Muslim women in Europe explaining how their integration is being seen as integral to the integration of Muslims in general.

The first story in the series in on Muslim women in Germany who are mostly of Turkish descent. The majority of these women are uneducated and isolated from German society. Fearing the degradation of their community, Muslim men encourage such isolation to curb any Westernization among Muslim women. Many of these women, 49%, face sexual or physical violence from their homes. Many are forced to marry men from the home-country. They also face discrimination from mainstream German society.

The next story in the series is on a Turkish-German human rights lawyer/activist Seyran Ates who explains how threats from Islamists and ultra-conservatives have forced her to close shop in Germany. Angry husbands of Muslim women she has defended have threatened and even physically attacked her. Ates blames multiculturalism for supporting Islamists and not denouncing their patriarchal and sexist attitudes and behaviours, and therefore for the poor status of Muslim women in Germany. Herself having run away from such a home as a teenager, Ates recognizes that Islam is not the problem but rather those who use Islam to justify for selfish political agendas. Ates paints a very bleak picture for Muslim women in Germany - being oppressed and isolated by their own community, and neglected and ignored by mainstream German society.

The third story in this series focuses on young, South Asian descent British Muslim women who have placed their religion above being British. They have found their identity to be the political form of Islam. Feeling discriminated against after 9-11, many are isolating themselves from British society by not voting until there is Shariah law. Many have started to don the black niqab, discarding their traditional colourful dupattas in an attempt to make a political statement and asserting their identity. Writer and researcher Muneera Mirza calls this new identity a confrontational identity. Such Muslim women have become more Islamic and anti-West, yet take on the Western values of female individuality and being publicly vocal. However, some female Muslim university students, although still advocating sex segregation, have hopes of taking over mosques as they recognize the patriarchy and sexism inherent in the institutions so far.

With the exception of the final points of the latter program, it appears from NPR's series that things are very bleak for Muslim women in Europe. From painting a desperate picture of Muslim women in Germany to a scary one in Britain, it would appear that Muslim women in Europe are extremely dysfunctional. Where were the moderate, educated and progressive voices? Where were the women who were integrated and proud to be Muslim? Perhaps there are none, but that seems unlikely. Or perhaps there were not enough for a story. Are things really this bad in Europe? The series did throw in a few voices like that of Ates and Mirza, but they seemed to be the exception to the rule commenting on the situation, almost as outsiders.

Going back to the introduction of the series in which it was stated that Muslim women's integration reflects the integration of Muslims in general, it would seem that our Muslim community in Europe is doomed to isolation and dysfunction in some form or another. If we were to believe the stories being told by NPR (as well as most of the media stories about European Muslims) we would want to curl up in a ball and cry. I'm not saying we should not believe what we have heard. After all, these problems exist. However, a balanced view would have been appreciated. I'm sure the other side exists. I'm sure they're around. The media has yet to find them and show their story. Or maybe things really are that bad.