How to think about groups

In Sweden, urban-dwelling, liberal-minded ethnic Swedes opposed organizing a gay pride parade through Muslim areas. They wanted to keep the march in the ethnically white areas of town, claiming that purposefully making the pride march through Muslim areas would be insensitive to Muslims. (Oddly, the very same people also claim that there’s no basis for discriminating between Muslim migrants to Sweden and ethnic Swedes, but I digress.)

Anyway, the point here is that public discourse in Sweden held that making the gay pride march through Muslim areas was racist and insensitive to Muslims. But Muslims are not one group. And in fact, what happened in Sweden was that gay and/or liberal-minded Muslims who were being oppressed by their own community spoke out against these misguided attempts at tolerance. In their eagerness to get along with Muslim migrants, ethnic Swedes fell into the trap of thinking that all Muslims have the same interests, likes and dislikes, simply because they are Muslims. In fact, the Muslim community in Sweden has its own internal fights over acceptance of homosexuality and Western values vs. Sharia values. If you as a liberal-minded Westerner want Muslims to integrate successfully into Western society, you might think you’re doing Muslims a favour by respecting what you perceive as their beliefs, but in fact, you are not respecting the beliefs of the group, only of the dominant, Sharia-conservative forces within the group. In this way, you’re actually making things worse for the Muslims in your country who share your values and who could otherwise have been part of a coalition between liberal-minded ethnic Swedes and liberal-minded Muslims living in Sweden.

The same point could be made about Denmark and the Danish Muhammed cartoons. When the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published them, many liberal-minded ethnic Danes accused the paper of bullying Muslims. Few read the thoughtful op-ed that accompanied the cartoons. At any rate, the logic was the same – a minority of Danish Muslims welcomed the cartoons as a challenge to Sharia power within their community. And the conservative clerical powers within the Danish Muslim milieu saw the cartoons as a challenge to their status within the group. They undertook lawsuits against the free press and cried offence on behalf of all Muslims. They didn’t want to see their power base challenged like this.

So again, the liberal-minded ethnic Danes who sympathized with what they perceived to be the whole of the Muslim community were actually helping an extremely conservative and intolerant minority within that community retain its power base. It would have been better for secular Muslims if the liberal-minded Danes had supported the cartoons.

A third variation on this point can be found if we look to Switzerland. Last year the Swiss voted on legislation that would have automatically deported foreigners who committed major crimes, drug trafficking, or social security fraud. The legislation was rejected, and one argument on the no side was that it would be harsh on Muslims, since Muslims in Europe commit more crime. But would it really? If you are of the mind-set that you want to see immigration to your country succeed, letting criminal migrants stay is likely to cause your countrymen to associate migrant groups with crime. But if you deport offenders, you will – all else being equal – have more law-abiding migrants in your country to represent the group. In other words, you might think you are helping the migrants as a whole by not deporting the criminal elements within their group, but you are actually helping the criminal migrants at the expense of the migrant group as a whole.

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