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Why Should Integration Be a Prerequisite?

by Hasan Abu Nimah

Article by Ambassador Hasan Abu Nimah, Director of RIIFS, in Jordan Times April 29th

Issues relating to communities immigrating to European countries were firmly on the agenda of a small workshop in Europe this week. That was dealt with within the framework of “basic values in the dialogue of religions and cultures”. The search, in fact, focused mainly on identifying common values amongst the three monotheistic religions and how adherence to such values would enhance people’s ability to live together in peace and harmony while, at the same time, reasonably preserve their original character, tradition and ways.

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There was no question that immigrant communities should adhere to the law of the land in which they chose to take as an alternative home. In democratic countries the law is the product of the public will, of which naturalised immigrants become part as equal citizens. Obviously that entails rights and duties. Under no circumstances should any citizen seek the privilege of taking the rights without shouldering the accompanying duties.

This, however, was confused with the parallel issue of integration. Should integration be a prerequisite for creating a harmonious society? And if it should, do we not need to have agreed-upon definitions of integration, how much of it would be required to ensure non or minimum discord in the society, or how much is desired to enhance constructive fusion?

But as in most similar symposia, more questions are often raised than answered. Instead, there were established principles.

Immigrant communities have to be prepared to abide by the law, and if that involves certain integration measures, they have to be strictly observed as well. Some of the practical problems brought to the meeting’s attention concerned families who kept their children away from school on the grounds that they did not want to expose them to conditions incompatible with their religious beliefs, such as co-education, or other parts of the school curriculum to which they objected.

That could not be accepted, not only because it violates the law but also because no progressive society would want any part of it left outside the education system.

To be part of any society requires proper education as well as adequate knowledge of the country’s language to communicate, participate and play the role required of any active citizen. Otherwise those uneducated citizens become a burden on the state. They are not able to find jobs, nor are they able to be constructive elements in their environment, or to serve their own needs. Worse is the possibility that they may end up in the street as trouble-causing misfits.

Since the reference here was specifically to Muslim Turkish immigrants, it can be rightly asserted that under no circumstance does Islam discourage learning. Nor would there be any specific Islamic religious ruling justifying parents’ reluctance to send their children to schools in a foreign country. Most likely, it is the poor judgement of the parent or his poor understanding of his own religion that creates such unreal contradictions.

There could be some contradiction however, in some countries, between law and religion, where one would have to choose between strict adherence to religious or to the worldly text, and that can be a problem. But Islam is known for its tolerance and its adaptability to its followers’ circumstances. There has always been room for reasonable compromises.

The required degree of integration, therefore, should not exceed appropriate limits: learning the language, preparedness to engage in the new society actively and constructively, and adapting to the new norms of life so that one should not keep an unhealthy distance between himself and his new social environment. That should reflect positively on the immigrant communities, as well as on the society as a whole.

The fear, often expressed, that integration risks loosing one’s own original character is not real either. Neither should any host community expect, let alone encourage, immigrants to ignore their past or their indigenous character.

Diversity is often an element of civilisational enrichment, and once nourished with the cultural experience of other people, it reaches higher levels of excellence. While acquiring new experience in an altogether new environment, people should never allow their tradition, their original language, their national customs and their distinct personality to fade. That is wrong under all circumstances. But what is equally wrong is the swing to the other extreme of resisting integration as means of asserting one’s own identity by resorting to exaggerating such identity’s superficial manifestations.

Host countries, on their part, should keep such factors in mind when dealing with their immigrant guests. Sometimes, and while integration is neither encouraged nor facilitated, immigrants are blamed for keeping to themselves. Worse are some host country’s measures that interfere with what can be considered strictly personal, such as the wearing of the headscarf. That creates the very kind of insecurity that provokes the need of over-reaction and exaggerated identity assertion.

These are but few illustrations of a far more complicated issue which needs intensive attention and careful handling. So far, many questions have been left not only without answers but often with the wrong diagnosis and, consequently, the wrong treatment.

It is not difficult to establish reasonable rules for organising a troubled relationship, sometimes? All that is needed is good faith, good analysis, removal of prejudgement and possibly prejudice.

Source: The Jordan Times, April 29, 2009

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