Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Europe and the Scarf

Prodi, the italian Prime Minister, thinks that the Muslim veil is a question of reasonableness. Women can wear it, but they should remain visible. If only certain issues were so easily solvable...

The veil saga is taking incredible proportions in Europe. Last week, in Britain, Jack Straw declared that the veil created an unbridgeable barrier. Muslim women responded that the veil made them free.

The point is that the veil would be a simple pragmatic issue of reasonableness if we were not facing a much deeper politico-religious issue of identity. European Muslim do not feel very European. They have a point as many Europeans of birth do not really want to consider Muslims as European as well.

In this kind of political climate, the veil issue becomes a political act of identitity definition. First, Europe has to try to show that its values are worth being embraced for what they are. Then, it can quibble about the veil being a pragmatic issue or an issue of reasonableness.

But the real issue is deeper and should never be overlooked. We want and we must create an image of Europe which is distinctive and positive. At the same time, such Europe should be able to assimilate all the 'others' in a way that becoming a European Muslim or a European Jew or a European Buddhist or a European Christian or a European secularist would be a matter of pride, not a question of rejection.

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