Why Muslim Political Participation should be a concern for Liberal States?

Democratic legitimacy argument

Democratic legitimacy requires equitable participation of all groups in public life. The contributions of legally residing Muslim immigrants, at least as taxpayers, to a country’s prosperity justify their right to influence public debates and political decisions in the country of their residence. Participation in political movements, trade unions, NGOs, representation by media and access to national human rights institutions are a part of Muslim immigrants’ ability to influence decision-making processes at political and societal levels.

Democratic security argument

Social tensions arising from the exclusion of Muslim immigrants from the benefits of society exist in many countries. Failure to deal adequately with these tensions can lead to further isolation and deprivation, which can in the end provide a breeding ground for crime and violence. A policy based on integration which respects the Muslim immigrants’ right to maintain their own identity, as distinct from policies based on assimilation or separation, is likely to be the best way of avoiding tensions. The aim of integration should be a State which all groups consider their common home where all have equal opportunities to participate.  Participation, therefore, is a key pillar of integration. 

Securitizing Islam or Empowering Muslims?

Growing immigration flows and resulting cultural and religious diversity in society have been posing serious challenges to the liberal nation-state. One of these challenges is to reconcile the need to preserve national cohesion with the commitment to universal human rights and respect for diversity. These challenges have become more visible and more complex to deal with in public discourse and policy, ever since the security dimension gained prominence.

Since 9/11, the States in Europe embarked on a dual-track policy of hardening immigration and asylum procedures on the one hand, while actively engaging with Muslim immigrants to accelerate their integration on the other. The need for an urgent dialogue has both facilitated political mobilization of Muslims and opened up new avenues for their political participation. Due to lack of mainstream channels for non-citizen participation, consultative bodies and migrant-led organizations have emerged to serve as alternatives. However, political interactions between Muslim immigrant organizations and State authorities have yet to yield mutually satisfactory forms of dialogue. Among other problems, Muslim migrant representatives are often misplaced and boxed into a “religio-security” context. The new polarization in society along religious/cultural lines, coupled with trivialization of intolerant public discourse and acts of racism and xenophobia, has unleashed dynamics that can potentially undermine the spirit of tolerance necessary in a democratic society.

The core challenge remains whether the Liberal State can and is willing to accommodate the political demands expressed by the Muslims in Europe despite the fact that they were not a part of the historical compromises made with the religious establishments. These demands are widely perceived as running counter to the “depolitization of religion” that had been occurring in Europe for nearly a century. Therefore, a genuine dialogue with Muslim communities in Europe at the level of civil society is a crucial task for the 21st century.

This collaborative blog will aim to explore whether human rights can facilitate the political interactions between Muslim organizations and host country authorities in Europe by providing a common language and framework. Can human rights framework empower Muslims in this dialogue?

Originally published by Morten Morland in July 2005, “Mind the Gap…” satirizes the kind of paranoia prevalent in some countries during a period in which public perceptions of British Muslims were significantly affected by the attacks of 7 July.