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The Problem of Muslim Integration

The issue of Muslim integration is not exclusively a European problem, but is also an issue in many Muslim-majority countries. Over the last two or three decades, media and political talks have addressed the matter as if it is a specific problem of Western countries.

Recent cases of atrocities committed by Muslim criminals such as the murderous attack on the editors of Charlie Hebdo in Paris have reignited the endless question of Muslim integration.

What is important to underline here is that many scholars and experts believe that Muslims have failed to accept European values. They give various explanations for this failure, which we can sum up into three arguments.

First, the failure results from an unjust social and political system. In France, for example, the system has caused multiple insecurities among the marginalized Muslims.

They endure the lowest education levels, often have the lowest paid jobs and are more prone to unemployment than the French majority.

Second, the failure is mainly due to the incompetent policies that the European governments have taken with regard to Muslim immigrants. The right wings, who have long been behind this argument, blame Western governments for being too tolerant toward Muslim immigrants.

They argue that welcoming Muslim immigrants was the first mistake the Western governments committed.

Granting migrants’ quest for their religious rights was another blunder. The current rise of Muslim extremism, so the argument goes, is mainly due to this over-tolerant policy, which has been in place since the 1970s.

The third argument is similar to the second with a different tone. They blame the government’s policy over Muslim immigrants, not for its tolerance (let alone over-tolerance), but rather for its inflexible and intolerant approach toward Muslims.

The bill that bans the use of headscarves in France, the regulation on minarets in Switzerland and the restriction on halal food in the Netherlands do not reduce Muslim fundamentalism, but rather increase distrust and inconvenience among Muslims.

Looking at these three arguments and putting them in a different context, we will find that the issue of Muslim integration is not characteristically a European problem. In most Muslim majority countries whose constitutions are secular, Muslim integration is equally crucial. Indonesia is not an exception.

If by “integration” we mean the process by which people (citizens) can live and work together under shared national values, Muslims are the most anxious religious groups who try to cope with this process. I am talking about Muslims in their own land, Indonesia.

In Europe, Muslims’ attitude in expressing their religious identities and their demand for more Islamic regulations in public spaces is often considered a form of disengagement from the national (Western) values; hence their process to disintegrate from the nation.

In Indonesia, such an attitude can be found in various groups of Islamic fundamentalism.

Organizations like Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) clearly call for an Islamic caliphate and denounce the Indonesian Constitution. The group has been campaigning against the state and its political fabric. In the past 15 years, the group has actively recruited members, particularly from university students, and indoctrinated them to disobey the republic.

There are other groups that share the vision of HTI, particularly in terms of the will to Islamize the country. These groups disagree with HTI’s bid for a caliphate but fully agree with its Islamization agenda, such as the implementation of sharia in a wider scope of the country.

Islamization in the sense of imposing Islamic values in people’s public life is not only an Indonesian phenomenon. It can be found in other predominantly Muslim countries whose constitution is not based on Islamic law. Turkey is a clear example in point.

If disintegration refers to the process of disassociating people from the bigger group, what Islamists have been doing in all over the Muslim world is unquestionably an act of disintegration. Like in Europe, Muslim fundamentalists are trying to disengage from nations not merely because of the failure of policies set by secular governments, but mainly due to the failure of Muslim themselves.

It is ironic for anybody, whether in Europe or in Muslim countries, to keep blaming government policies but fail to understand the complexity of Muslim communities.

The failure of Muslim integration might be shaped by the discrepancy of social and political system in secular governments. But it should not be ignored that disloyalty and the spirit of disengagement are inherent in some Muslim groups.

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