EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Professor Mona Siddiqui, University of Edinburgh, UK
EUBULLETIN talked in an EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Ms. Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies at the University of Edinburgh, about the challenges of the integration of Muslim immigrants in European societies particularly in the light of the protracted migration crisis and a string of terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris and other European capital cities.
EUBULLETIN: A string of terrorist attacks across Paris in November last year and the more recent bomb blasts in Brussels have again raised concerns all across Europe about the Old Continent’s long and complicated relationship with the Muslim world and its own immigrant population, many of whom have been in France, the UK and other European countries for generations. While one of the policemen killed in the Charlie Hebdo attacks was Muslim and so is the famous soccer player Zinedine Zidane, the sad truth is that large segments of the Muslim community remain excluded. What’s wrong, in your view, either with the European societies or with the Muslim immigrants?
Professor Siddiqui: Whenever talking to what appear to be less integrated Muslim immigrants, my first question has always been: ‘What do you want from Europe if you don’t see it as your home?’ Because that will have an impact on their children and on their children’s children, and I think we are seeing some consequences of that. I think lots of the relative attraction to terrorism doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that you can read about it on the Internet but it is a direct effect of what people hear at home, people hear in their communities and how they tend to talk about it. The integration for Muslims is not always easy when they always hear it’s ‘us’ and its ‘them’.
EUBULLETIN: And what about the idea of multiculturalism in Europe – is it already dead?
Professor Siddiqui: Well, the thing is that the West has for so long said that diversity is a good thing but nobody has ever said why diversity is a good thing. You need to convince the people that diversity is a good thing. I do think that diversity is a good thing but we have never had a public debate about why diversity is a good thing. Because I think that people now, let’s say in the UK, feel more and more that their way of life is being undermined or changed because of diversity.
EUBULLETIN: It looks like a vicious circle – we are again where we started. It’s again about the integration…
Professor Siddiqui: Of course, you could say that your whole way of life was going to change anyway because of the evolution of new ideas and so on. But the whole immigration dialogue has now been driven by fear. You know we have got these migrants who came decades ago who have not got assimilated. How you are going to have new migrants coming in who are not going to assimilate either, do you know what I mean? And there is a fear and for me – and I see myself very much as a European, confident enough as being a European – surely I feel a little bit unsettled by this, by this uncertainty about our future.
We are the Muslims who have been living in Europe for generations – we are the Muslims who have been here with the full security of being based in the West. So, what is it that causes them not to feel to be part of the environment. I think that lots of it is just that they are becoming unsettled that they are not sure about their identity – and you have know your own identity before you can fit in anywhere. Most of us have multiple ways of thinking about life, about everything – this is my identity.
EUBULLETIN: But do you think that ‘assimilation’ is the right word here because, for example, in Australia, the word ‘assimilation’ would be considered highly inappropriate and not politically correct. ‘Assimilation’ would mean that, for example, Muslims would have to start drinking beer and eating pork simply because this is what an average Australian in the mainstream society would normally do.
Professor Siddiqui: In a way, I think that how we think about our identity and about the integration of migrants has been reduced to ‘I don’t want you to be different, I want you to be like me’. And, of course, where is the limit of being like someone else. Talking about integration or assimilation, when it comes down to people’s fears and hopes, when people drink or eat this or that or act in a different way, that makes me frightened. Frightened of what, though? That’s not what frightens people – what frightens people in different sets is if you are different and you will not hold on to your values that the white native Europeans hold on to.
And I think there is a real concern there and I can understand that concern. But there is not necessarily a correlation between people’s education level and their integration level – just look at how many jihadists were fully integrated, they were working professionals. So, what happens to them that they become a problem for their societies? You could be very modern and very integrated, but still not feel that the UK is your home! You still buy into the global imaginary of Muslim Al-Ummah (community) brotherhood. The two are not wholly opposite but I don’t know where they are going to meet because there is no space to reconcile the two ways of thinking. There is the global Al-Ummah I buy into, but I am also very modern and integrated. You can’t have those because all loyalty, all citizenship is local.