Muslim Political Participation and Human Rights: Basic Assumptions

First, liberal societies today are hosting, along with national citizens, the people with different legal status such as guest workers, long-term residents (or denizens), asylum seekers and undocumented migrants under the same democratic roof. All these groups of people, because of their legal status, are subject to different sets of rights and obligations. The Muslim immigrant can belong to any of these groups. I assume that human rights can positively affect political participation of all of these groups, but especially those who are more vulnerable because of their legal status.

Second, by “political participation”, I mean a broad range of activities which give voice to societal concerns and may include both conventional/electoral (voting, running for election, campaigning for a candidate) and less conventional/non-electoral (voluntarism or participation in interest or civil society groups, engagement in policy development through activism, public consultations or lobbying etc.) types of political activities.

Third, political participation depends, to a certain extent, on migrants’ backgrounds[1] and on the political opportunities[2] provided by the host society.[3] However, recent research challenge the conventional wisdom about the defining impact of the political opportunity structures and introduce new factors, such as culture, threatening circumstances or adversarial politics, influencing the level of immigrant political mobilization and participation.[4]

Fourth, when I use the term “Muslim”, I refer to an individual who religiously, culturally or otherwise have no problem in being identified as “Muslim”, even if he/she may not personally see the Muslim layer of her/his identity as the dominant one. Studies on Muslim immigrants find significant diversity, plural views and identities in flux. “Muslim” is also a salient political category around which political mobilization takes place.

Fifth, most of the basic challenges and opportunities citizens face in political participation are also applicable to the Muslim immigrants, except for cases in which they are denied participation such as voting or eligibility at the national level. In other words, recent research no longer supports the long-time dominant theory of “political apathy of immigrants”.[5]

Finally, by “human rights”, I mean the law, the practice and the policy of human rights. I am aware of the fact that for some Muslims residing in liberal societies, “human rights” may represent a political agenda with which they refuse or are reluctant to interact. My main concern here is to identify possibilities of interaction with the Muslim immigrants who emphasize “change through religiosity and rights”.[6] Understanding their experience which allow for the practice of human rights without abandoning religion can contribute to both theory and policy development in order to address the challenges faced by today’s multicultural liberal democracies.

[1] Such as political ideas and values, previous involvement in politics, institutions of immigrant community, identification with the host society, knowledge of the political system and its institutions, social capital and density of immigrant associational networks, education, linguistic skills, socio-economic status, gender, age or generational cohort.

[2] Such as voting rights, access to citizenship, freedom of association, representation of migrants’ interests, institutions for consultative politics, presence of laws and policies related to equity, anti-discrimination or inclusion.

[3] Marco Martinello, “Political participation of immigrants in the EU”, Equal Voices, Issue 20, December 2006, p.15.

[4] Özçürümez, Saime. “Immigrant Associations in Canada: Included, Accomodated, or Excluded?”, Turkish Studies, Vol. 10, No.2, 195-215, June 2009

[5] Rainer Bauböck and Marco Martiniello, Ed., “Migration and Citizenship: Legal Status, Rights and Political Participation” State of the Art Report for IMISCOE”, pp: 56-8.

[6] Bayat, Asef, Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn, Stanford: Stanford University Pres, 2007