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Sunday, February 02, 2003

European Citizenship and Discrimination

Some thought provoking - if somewhat controversial - suggestions from Jonathan Stevenson in a NYT OP-Ed. Some of the ideas are definately runners and worth exploring much more: first and foremost among these the situation with Europe-wide immigration. Things at present are little short of chaotic, with Brussels and the various national governments on the one hand in a continuing state of denial about the absolute necessity for substantial long term immigration into Europe, and on the other effectively turning a blind eye policy to the large numbers of irregular immigrants entering by the back door. Obviously if the vast majority of your immigrants are entering illegally then it's difficult to know who they are.

So we need a much clearer and more welcoming front door policy, one which recognises that the majority of immigrants come to work, and that while there is work they will inevitably keep coming. At the same time attitudes and policy towards the immigrant communities that are created in the process then becomes of the utmost importance. The disaffection of sections of the British-Asian community which has attracted so much attention recently certainly needs addressing, in particular by emphasising the positive virtues of a multicultural and open society among newcomers, whilst at the same time ensuring some minimal level of understanding of the common language and of the beneits and responsibilities of British citizenship. An early fast-track admission procedure for Turkey to enter the EU is also a winner, in my view. This would emphasise the implicit universalism of the Union, and not its particularist ethnic nationalism.

On the negative side of the balance sheet, the positive contrast between France and the UK has to be much more questionable. There is no evidence that Islamic terrorism is any less rooted in French society, in fact quite the contrary. The rigidly secular character of the French schools has also produced its own attendant problems, especially in areas of apparell. My own view is that the French attitude to their own 'exceptionalism', and the lack of comprehension for their 'national minorities' - the Bretons and the Catalans among others - makes France NOT an example to follow. The French identity seems unyielding to change. 'British', in contrast, is an identity which has become much more malleable of late, with the Black British and the Asian British sitting much more comfortably alongside their Welsh, Scottish and English 'British' counterparts.

It is no surprise that the 15 million Muslims in the European Union should be ripe for recruitment by Al Qaeda. They live on the margins of European society, socially, economically and politically. More than 100 British Muslims joined the Taliban in Afghanistan to try to repel American and allied forces, and up to 3,000 British Muslims have undergone military training at terrorist camps in Afghanistan since 1996. Radical clerics preach war against the West in Europe's mosques. European citizens like Richard C. Reid of Britain, who just received a life sentence for trying to ignite a bomb in his shoes on a trans-Atlantic flight, and Zacarias Moussaoui of France, described by prosecutors as the would-be 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks, were converts to militant Islam.

For the sake of the United States, Europe needs to tackle the root causes that make young Muslims resort to terrorism. But it needs to act to protect itself as well. So far, there have been no Al Qaeda attacks carried out in Europe, but officials say they have thwarted several plots. Over the last six weeks, the police in France, Spain and Britain, as well as Italy, have arrested more than 50 terrorism suspects, some in possession of the deadly poison ricin, disrupting what was apparently a Qaeda network.

The obvious first steps are tightened border security and a Europe-wide immigration policy that would allow for better monitoring of who is applying for visas where, and expanded intelligence and law-enforcement links. But in the long term they won't be enough. Europe also needs to resolve the economic and political problems that could make Al Qaeda attractive to a young Muslim. The tough question is how to do it.

Aggressive anti-discrimination policies in employment and education may help. The most rigorous fair employment laws in Europe, verging on affirmative action, are in effect in Northern Ireland. Workers there are entitled to damages even if they have been only indirectly and unintentionally discriminated against. Such provisions have probably kept young Catholics from joining the Irish Republican Army.

More focused government subsidies for Muslim schools that follow a moderate form of Islam would also be salutary. Britain has begun limited subsidies to Muslim schools, but has made no effort to encourage moderate Islam education as opposed to fundamentalism, whose support by wealthy Wahhabi Muslims gives it an advantage. Another possible remedy could be government benefits for businesses operated by Muslims. Such economic and education policies would be conducive to participation in politics, in which Muslims are seriously underrepresented.

More broadly, European nations like Britain need to end reflexive multiculturalism — for example, lax language and cultural education requirements for naturalization — that perversely discourages Muslims from learning the ways of their new countries, thus isolating them from the mainstream and fueling radicalization. Stricter requirements for citizenship may also dissolve racial or religious biases among majority populations.

In theory, France, which wants its five million Muslims to think of themselves as Frenchmen, provides a good model. It encourages a secular view of French citizenship by promoting a strict separation of church and state. It requires candidates for naturalization to speak serviceable French and know basic French history and culture. Though criticized by some orthodox French Muslims, the new government-endorsed Council for the Muslim Religion should help secure a position for Muslims in the civic mainstream and produce an indigenous, moderate version of Islam.

Politically, the European Union could soften Muslims' views of the West by moving ahead on Turkey's bid to join the union — for instance, by setting a definite date for talks on membership. That would send the message that secular Muslim countries are considered partners of Western nations. Further, the union could emphasize the economic links between Europe and the Persian Gulf nations and its financial support for the Palestinian Authority. It should also revitalize the 27-member European-Mediterranean Partnership, which was established in 1995 with high hopes of deepening ties among the countries of the Mediterranean but became enervated because of the second Palestinian intifada and Sept. 11.
Source: New York Times

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