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 The Challenges of Globalization and the Muslim World    by Professor A. R. Momin

Muslim diasporas

Large-scale transnational migration is one of the defining features of globalization. According to an International Labour Organization analysis of migration patterns in 152 countries, between 1970 and 1990 the number of countries classified as major receivers of labour immigrants rose from 39 to 67. It is estimated that some 175 million people live outside of their countries of origin. About three out of five international migrations are located in Western countries. According to the United Nations' 2000 International Migration Report, one person out of ten living in the industrialized nations is an immigrant. In France, which greatly emphasizes cultural homogeneity, fourteen million French citizens-nearly a quarter of the country's population-have at least one immigrant parent or grandparent. The majority of Australia's population consists of immigrants from over a hundred countries.

Large numbers of expatriate Muslims, including their second and third generation descendants, live as citizens or residents in Europe, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and some of the African countries. The number of Muslims living in Europe is estimated at 33 million. The largest concentrations of Muslims are to be found in France, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Belgium. The number of Muslims in the US, Canada and Latin America is nearly ten million. The first generation of Muslim immigrants in most European countries was recruited as cheap labour required for the post-War reconstruction of European societies. Initially, European states believed that migrant labour would be a transient phase and the immigrants would return to their countries after the expiry of their contract. However, the demand for cheap labour in the rapidly developing European economies continued unabated. Meanwhile, various European states allowed family reunion for immigrants. Consequently, the first generation of immigrants decided to stay back in their adopted homelands where their descendants were born and raised. In France, for example, more than 30% of immigrants belong to the second, French-born generation. Muslim immigrants, like immigrants in general, have made a highly important contribution to European economies. For example, France's rapid economic expansion after World War II owes much to the sweat and toil of Muslim immigrants from the former French colonies in North Africa. A substantial proportion of the labour force across Europe and in other industrialized countries is aging, resulting in a falling supply of labour and skills. The immigrants fill in this lacuna. A UN study points out that Europe will need 1.6 million migrants a year for the next 45 years to maintain its work force at current levels to replenish aging populations and falling birth rates.

The experience of Muslims in Western countries and the record of Western states in addressing their concerns and in integrating them into mainstream society present a mixed picture. On the whole, Western societies offer Muslims as well as other immigrants a fairly good package, comprising better economic prospects, opportunities for higher education and professional training, civil and political rights, personal autonomy, and religious and cultural freedom (which, incidentally, is scarce in many Muslim countries). Muslims in Europe and North America have their own mosques (Paris alone has nearly a hundred mosques), burial grounds, religious schools (which are funded by the state in some countries), enjoy the freedom to celebrate their feasts and festivals and have the facility for halal meat. Muslim women move about freely in their traditional attire, including the hijab. Nearly all European countries provide facilities for imparting instruction to the children of immigrants in their national languages. Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, are now supporting imams brought from Turkey, Morocco and other Islamic countries to provide Islamic instruction to Muslim children.

On the other hand, Muslims in Western societies are faced with a host of problems and challenges, including xenophobia and institutionalized racism, unclear citizenship, lack of legal security, discrimination, exclusion and stigmatization. Laws, policies and procedures in many European societies betray bias and discrimination against Muslims and other minorities. The 2005 Annual Report of the European Monitoring Centre on Xenophobia and Racism reveals that Muslims, as well as other immigrants and national minorities (such as Gypsies), regularly experience exclusion, discrimination and racism in respect of employment, housing and education. This is reflected in discriminatory housing advertisements and outright refusal by landlords, real estate agents and housing associations. As a result of this exclusion and discrimination, Muslims and other immigrants are forced to live in overcrowded flats and under unhygienic and poor conditions. Segregation and ghettoization along religious and ethnic lines is prevalent throughout Europe, particularly in France, Spain, Sweden, Portugal and Cyprus. The report refers to a research at the University of Paris which found that job applicants with a disability, followed by those of North African background, were the main victims of discriminatory treatment.

France swears by the republican ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. In reality, however, Muslim immigrants from North Africa (including their descendants born and raised in France) experience widespread discrimination, exclusion and marginalization. French society is differentiated according to class, religion and ethnicity. Mainstream jobs and positions remain largely with the white, upper class, Christian majority. The suburbs, where the majority of Muslims live, are characterized by poverty, high unemployment rate, crime and drug addiction. Faced with this gloomy situation, many Muslim youths are forced to change their names and to conceal their local addresses for fear that that the revelation of their real identity will jeopardize the prospects of getting a job. In November 2005 North African youths indulged in large-scale rioting and vandalism on the streets of Paris (where nearly 1400 cars were torched in a single night). The rioting was triggered by the accidental death by electrocution of two North African youths who were being chased by the French police.

There are indications that things are getting increasingly difficult for Muslims as well as for potential immigrants in Western countries. The far-right political parties in Europe, which make no secret of their antipathy towards Muslims and other immigrants, are growing in popularity. Thus in Belgium, the right-wing, anti-immigrant Vlaam Belang Party won nearly a quarter of the national vote in the 2004 elections. In Sweden, the Office of Multicultural Affairs was closed down and funds for the welfare of immigrants were substantially curtailed in the face of growing public hostility towards immigrants. There has been an increase in racist attacks on Muslims in many European countries. The 2005 Report of the European Monitoring Centre on Xenophobia and Racism revealed that there were as many as 52, 694 racist attacks in Britain during the period 2003-2004, followed by Germany with 6,474 incidents. Some European countries have devised subtle methods of discouraging potential immigrants. In the Netherlands, for example, would-be immigrants are shown a film which depicts a topless white woman cavorting on a beach. Another shot focuses on two white men engaged in a passionate kiss in a park. This is meant to provide snapshots of the culture of the host country (which may shock the potential immigrants and dissuade them from migrating).

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