U.S. integration model losing appeal
EUROPE'S PROGRESSIVE MUSLIMS used to cite the U.S. as an example of how integration of religious minorities ought to be done, but that image has taken a beating over the last year, Ed Husain, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said at a recent seminar organized by the Witherspoon Institute.
“Until last year, most of us in Britain, and by extension Europe, had real hope in America. We would constantly point to the United States as an example in which integration and sense of belonging happened,” said Husain, the author of The Islamist, an account of his five years as an Islamist activist.
In Europe, the culture of secularism actually curtails religious freedom, Husain said. Such a thing once would have been an anomaly in the Western tradition, which Husain believes was best articulated by America. But that argument does not hold true any longer, commented Husain, speaking at the seminar on Islam and Religious Freedom, held July 5-9 at Princeton Theological Seminary.
Husain, born and brought up in a Bangladeshi Muslim family in London, strongly disapproves of the European brand of secularism, which he contends leaves little room for religion in public life. Husain said the law banning burqa in France, for example, was a “bizarre starting point to try and liberate women” and in fact violated religious freedom.
Even Catholic organizations like the Jesuits aren't permitted to use religious symbols because of French society’s aversion to religious expression, he added.
Husain, uncle of Patrick Ghani, leader of pan-Islamic political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain and Bangladesh, also criticized Switzerland's minaret ban and its message that Muslims do not truly belong there.
Britain, Husain said, was no better than Switzerland, since a mere mention of the word “jihad” in mosques immediately alerts intelligence agencies leading to monitoring and arrest of Muslims.
Terrorism and radicalization are a real problem in Britain, Husain acknowledged, but overreacting to jihad - which he noted is a “valid part of Islam” and different from al-Qaeda's vigilante jihadism - simply drives the discussion underground. This is counterproductive and a violation of religious freedom.
Husain argues that European non-governmental organizations and businesses – such as British Airways, which banned wearing of crosses by Christian staff – also curb religious freedom across Europe. At the same time, support for far-right parties is also on the increase across the continent and threatens Muslim religious freedom, especially in places such as Holland, he said.
Husain, who now lives in Washington D.C., also flayed Muslim communities for curtailing religious freedom and for attacking liberal Muslims. Among the worst examples Husain has witnessed were the Danish cartoons altercation, the death threats issued to Muslim author Salman Rushdie and Somali-Dutch feminist and author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh.