One of the most important shortcomings of "political correctness" is its ability to overwhelm ordinary concerns in a tidal wave of condescension. In the process, it often drives gut-level grievances underground and makes them more explosive.
Last week's shootings in Paris have understandably provoked outrage and prompted a French re-discovery of the principles that have defined the Republic. Statesmen, intellectuals and ordinary citizens in Europe have confronted the challenges to free speech (including the right to offend) by flaunting the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo that caused offence to the murderous Kouachi brothers and the Al Qaeda cell. At the same time, despite a deafening 'liberal' silence on the subject, there is a strong feeling that a large number of Europe's first and second generation immigrants from the erstwhile colonies do not share the same ideals of citizenship with their host societies.
In blunt terms, the potential security threat posed by Muslim immigrants influenced by extremist ideology has become a political talking point in Europe. The issue of free speech and blasphemy may have begun with the fatwa against Salman Rushdie way back in 1989 but the issues have snowballed after the rise of Islamism as a political force after 9/11. What was once seen as an issue of integration and supporting the national team in football or cricket-the so-called Tebbit test-has now touched upon fundamental questions of security. The London Underground bombings, the targeted murders of writers in Holland, and the enrollment of British and French Muslims in the ISIS army form a backdrop to the murders in Paris. The concerns these have aroused have fueled the rise of ultra-nationalist forces that seek a reinforcement of a defined national identity.
There is a larger question that is implicitly being posed in Europe: what is the obligation of immigrant groups to their host societies?
The US, a nation built on immigration, has (or used to have) a 'melting pot' philosophy that propelled immigrants to dilute their distinctiveness within a generation or so.
The experience of Europe has been different. A draconian Republican ideal has meant that France has a rigid doctrinaire approach to the separation of faith from the state. The burkha has been outlawed as public apparel and even Sikhs have encountered problems over wearing the kara, a symbol of their faith. But this has not succeeded in dissolving differences that stem from ethnicity, religion and culture. In Britain on the other hand, multiculturalism involving the celebration of cultural and religious diversity has become a fetish. Consequently, there have been belated-and occasionally laughable-attempts to impose a standard of Britishness that is neither exclusive nor offensive.
Yet, far from social cohesion being established, the problems have multiplied and become ugly. A large part of Europe is now engulfed in competitive distrust, victim-hood and even hatred. The multiracial consensus based on idyllic brotherhood and common citizenship is breaking down faster. Worse, mainstream politicians have been paralysed into either denial or squeamishness, thereby ceding political space to players such as Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage who claim to represent the robust common sense of the indigenous people. 'Enough is enough' is an expression that is now commonly heard from the lips of people who don't otherwise fit the bill of being extremists.
Part of the exasperation is due to the impression that European Muslims aren't doing their bit to put their own house in order. It is in this context that the intervention by Britain's Culture Secretary Sajid Javid acquires importance. Speaking on a TV programme in the aftermath of the Paris killings, Javid felt that "it is absolutely fair to say that there is a special burden on Muslim communities because whether we like it or not these terrorists call themselves Muslims. It is no good for people to say they are not Muslims, which is what they call themselves."
Javid's comments may, in the short run, attract the ire of fellow Muslims. They may well accuse him of trying to appease the Islamophobes. However, a more detached view would inform us that the genesis of extremism is to be located in some of the inflammatory and hateful sermons in local mosques.
Yet, the 'special burden' is not on Muslims alone. In the end, all minority immigrant groups must recognize that respecting and adapting to the dominant cultures of their adopted countries is an obligation of citizenship. Paris isn't Peshawar.
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