Integration and tolerance

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Quite a controversial topic frequently discussed in last years is the position of Islam and Islamists within the European society. The fact is that Europe has not yet been able to deal with this issue in a satisfactory manner and its importance is rising. The number of European inhabitants who profess this religion has been increasing rapidly. Public opinion remains divided on this trend. Considerable part of the citizens and even some intellectuals describe this situation in a very negative way, they find accepting these different people as spoiling our culture and speak about a danger or threat. With regard to the cultural heritage some voices talk about, professor Sami Zemni stresses the necessity of defining our European identity, thus what exactly is to be preserved, since a specific demarcating is very difficult. In the terms of their non-supporters, Islamists mostly deserve to be isolated (most of the Muslim immigrants live at the edges of cities in ghettos) because they are neither able nor willing to assimilate. The question is whether this lack of mutual understanding is entirely their fault. If they do not imitate our habits and mentality, they are often perceived as less developed intruders without any right to make demands and should not be treated as equal. Because of this xenophobia and prejudice, immigrants feel deceived and come back to their roots disappointed, disgusted and less disposed to adapt than ever before. All the declared ideals of religious liberty, respect for all human beings etc. look like a shifty lie to them. That is why many academics speak of a great challenge for our democracy emphasizing the need of integration and tolerance. According to Savage: “Even though they (Muslims) may be third-generation citizens, they often are not viewed as fellow citizens by the general public but are still identified as foreigners and immigrants instead”.

In fact, the presence of Islamists in our continent is not new at all. What is new is just the fear spreading around, since their number is growing and the real integration is not progressing very well. To an uncommitted observer, it may seem as if democracy in our countries was a privilege for a certain group of chosen-ones. But then it would not be a democracy any more. On the grounds of several scholars' works I will try to outline where the problem is and the possible causes.

What is the European identity?

When speaking about European identity, one really important question arises. How should it be defined? The first soliciting definition is geographical. But European Union contradicts this by incorporating some countries and rejecting others. These proceedings suggest that the concept of modern Europe is not supposed to be based on geographical aspect. It has been tried to characterize Europe on the grounds of Christian roots. Nowadays it is just an example of wishful thinking. Despite the role of Christianity in the history of Europe was significant, now there are many religions in this area and the count of atheists and seculars is also rising. The language criterion does not come in question either because of many different languages in use. Quite a universal characteristic gives us “Charter of European Identity”, which Zemni cites in his essay: “Europe is above all a community of values. The aim of European unification is to realize, test, develop and safeguard these values. They are rooted in common legal principles acknowledging the freedom of the individual and social responsibility. Fundamental European values are based on tolerance, and fraternity. Building on its historical roots in classical antiquity and Christianity, Europe further developed these values during the course of the Renaissance, the Humanist movement, and the Enlightenment, which led in turn to the development of democracy, the recognition of fundamental and human rights, and the rule of law.” Zemni comments on the mentioned ideals rather skeptically: “This normative definition of the European identity is used to mask the uttermost economic logic behind the Union and its extension. After the breakdown of communism, it was the economically interesting countries (e.g. Hungary, Poland, Slovenia) that were eligible for inclusion in the Union.” The description of the ideals in the Charter might be supposed to mask something, but there is no reason why it should not work, if honestly practised.

Multicultural Europe

The aforementioned extract from The Charter of European Identity actually declares the concept of multicultural Europe, which is another interesting topic to discuss. The adjective multicultural can be heard in media often because many politics and state representatives have it on their list of frequently used words. No one wants to be considered xenophobic and hostile. But some people misunderstand this. “Multiculturalism is much more than the de facto acknowledgement of the living together of people with different religious traditions, ethnic loyalties or national affiliations. Multiculturalism is the basis of a (supra-national) societal project with universal aspirations.” (Zemni 1). Simply let the members of another cultures live in a country and ignore them is not enough. It means to include them into the process of modifying and changing our culture (which would happen without them anyway) and let them be a part of our culture. If this works properly it can be tremendously enriching.

Natural fear of unbeknown

Despite the issue is understood correctly by many Europeans, it remains a theoretical concept, a phrase from politics and it doesn't work in praxis. The fact is that tolerance in an average citizen has boundaries. It is not urgent to erase them completely, just shift it so that it does not remain irrational. A spark of intolerance and fear of the unbeknown smoulders in everyone and it is easy to turn it into a flame by calling: “They are taking your jobs! They live in houses that could be yours!” If they do not violate the laws and are a contribution to the society they deserve the same treatment as any of the locals. The truth to be told, the immigrants may be often deprived from a chance to contribute, so their situation is worse.

Uniformity of Muslim communities

What is also important is to apply the universal concept on a concrete situation. “It is nearly impossible to say anything on 'Islam in Europe' without taking into account the structural context of the debate. (...) Simultaneously, this context is, in a period of globalisation, breaking out of the geographical boundaries of the European Union. With the advent of Islamist movements in the Arab world and the synchronicity of Muslim demands in Europe, several observers have concluded that we are witnessing a worldwide 'resurgence of Islam'.” (Zemni 1-2) Europeans should understand that an Islamist does not equal an extremist. The problem is that mainly the loudest and most extreme voices are being heard, but these are only a few percent of the whole and they are by no means typical representatives. Therefore the loudest voice is usually not the one that should be listened to. In a similar manner, if you say that Christians burn the Harry Potter books, it is not true. It was only one preacher on the other side of the world. The problem is that almost everyone knows about that and those who do not think it through carefully could easily generalize and make a snap judgment about all the confessors. Some cherish a paranoid scheme that if an extremist leader commanded, the European Muslims would come out of their homes ready to fulfill his orders. When you think it over it is nonsense. “It is misleading to see these (Muslim) communities as unified, single and homogenous entities that are trying to secure their rightful place within a seemingly monolithic European Union. (...) In overemphasizing communities, and in our case Muslim communities, the danger subsides that some sort of 'communitarian cage' is built in which all Muslims have to fit. The thousand and one ways to be a Muslim can clearly be integrated in the framework of a pluralistic multicultural project as long as the communication between persons and within communities and institutions is based on mutual understanding that bypasses feelings of superiority.” (Zemni 13).

Violation of personal liberty

Another subject to be mentioned is the conflict in France considering Muslim girls wearing a scarf on their heads at schools. Realizing there has been said a lot about this issue, let me try to be brief. Despite our not knowing the local mood and situation, the core question might be whether they demand wearing it because of some respect to their traditions and endorsing to it or to separate themselves from the rest. While the first mentioned does not seem so wrong, the second actually contradicts the endeavors to integrate. Nevertheless, it seems undesirable to wear a veil that covers a face in contact with a non-Muslim. However it may appear a violating personal liberty, hiding one's face would be violating the right for a decent communication of the other.

Possible solutions

So what is to be done, so that Europeans would be more disposed to accept individuals from a totally different social background? To learn more about the regularities and values of this background might be a step in the right direction. Most of people would not be able to tolerate anything without knowing it properly. Of course that a commoner has neither time, nor sources to study the immigrants' way of life after coming home from work. There should be some kind of discussions and meetings with Islamists so that people could learn about their attitudes and ask a real person about something they are interested in. Also some programs on TV or radio exploring other cultures would be helpful. The problem of intolerance is not a one shot event, neither is it caused only by one factor. It is a complex issue without a swift solution. European identity in fact does not consist of something that can be stolen or destroyed, so there is no need to use it as an excuse for breaking the laws established by ourselves. One of the crucial things is to realize, that in a democracy the same rights and commitments are intended for everyone, otherwise it is not a democracy. The Europeans should admit their xenophobia and try to do something about it and internalise immigrants whenever circumstances allow it. In this case a hint of idealism and altruism cannot do any harm. On the other hand, all the immigrants should try to assimilate as much as possible without exploiting their own identity and beliefs. If a high degree of equality is achieved, there is no need to blame cultural or racial differences for our own problems.


Savage, Timothy. Europe and Islam: Crescent Waxing, Cultures Clashing. Retrieved 1.12.2009; Available from: <>

Zemni, Sami. Islam, European Identity and the Limits of Multiculturalism. Retrieved 1.12.2009; Available from: <>

Creative Commons Author: Josef Nový. This article was published under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. How to cite the article: Josef Nový. (17. 05. 2022). Integration and tolerance. VCSEWiki. Retrieved 16:47 17. 05. 2022) from: <>.