Jul. 3, 2004 23:55
Open up the Arab gates
By ARVIND KUMAR
Islamic societies around the world, Arab countries in particular, have reputations for being intolerant of non-Muslims.
They have become closed societies controlled by their religious leaders and, as a result, have slipped into a state of backwardness and become breeding grounds for violence.
As we know, religious fanatics from Islamic countries are responsible for many terrorist acts around the world. Though things may seem to be out of control, it is not impossible to change the situation.
The solution lies in converting such societies into tolerant ones by making them multicultural and pluralistic in nature.
A large number of people from other countries work in Arab countries and contribute to their economies, but they are not granted citizenship and do not enjoy political rights or other forms of civil liberties. Granting citizenship to these workers and allowing them to participate in the political process is bound to make the Arab societies more respectful of diversity.
While such a move would displace no one, it would be a peaceful start to the process of changing the homogeneous nature of these societies.
Islamic countries should also open their borders to immigration from other places, and end racial and religious discrimination. It is not enough that the Arabs ask other countries to open their borders; the Arabs must reciprocate by opening up to immigrants and sharing their land.
Many Muslims consider other systems flawed and see Islam as the only acceptable way of life. They do not see any inconsistency when they practice double standards in their treatment of different cultures.
A few months back, Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh, criticized women who did not wear a veil while speaking with men at an economic conference in Jeddah.
Within a week after that the mufti condemned a proposal by France, which has since become law, to ban head scarves in public schools as an "infringement of human rights." So apparently, Muslims have a right to control Muslim society, but Europeans do not have a right to control their own.
The Muslim world has never lost an opportunity when it comes to making demands from other societies, but it has never accommodated others.
Recently, debates over whether to allow the call for prayer over loudspeakers from a mosque in Michigan caused an uproar from Muslims. They claimed that disallowing amplified prayer calls trampled their religious rights. However, not a single Islamic country respects the traditions and religious rights of non-Muslims.
It is also not uncommon to come across Muslims who express a desire to see a change in the demographic composition of non-Islamic countries. Just as they wish to change the demography of other countries, they should welcome changes in the demography of Islamic countries, as diverse cultures can only enrich their societies.
Where Muslims are a minority, they have not integrated into the mainstream but have insulated themselves, sometimes creating violent conflicts with other groups. In some non-Islamic countries that have a substantial Muslim population, a segment of the Muslim population feels it deserves to secede to form its own theocracy.
(Continued from page 1)
In such cases, it usually looks to the Arab countries as the ideal. A change in the demography of Arab countries would be bound to change this attitude.
History has taught us that exposure to multiple viewpoints changes mindsets and nurtures tolerance. America is an example of a place that has made great strides in reducing racial tensions after abolishing segregation. For the large part, people who grew up interacting with people of other races find it hard to accept racism.
We often hear that Islam and liberty are incompatible, or that democratic systems cannot survive in Islamic countries. Voltaire, the French philosopher, was not too far off the mark when he wrote in his letter on the Presbyterians that England would have to fear despotism if it had just one religion, that they would cut each other's throats if it had two, but there were 30 of them and so the people lived in peace and happiness.
The international community should press the Arab states to open immigration into their countries and let immigrants integrate into their societies. Tempering the Arab societies is bound to contribute to a more peaceful world.
The writer is an immigrant from India who lives in the United States.