Global Growing Pains

Muslim protests over Danish caricatures of Mohammad are, I am sure, confusing for Americans.

The media babble tends to center on Freedom of Speech vs. Religious Tradition and Belief. But I think that is a veneer of sorts. The real issue at hand is post-colonial cultural friction infused with a healthy dose of new globalized reality. What do I mean by that? Let me break it down:

All over Europe and the US there are immigrant populations from 3rd world countries and former colonial states. Post-war, mid-century European economies needed to modernize and did so by having workers from all over the world migrate and take those jobs deemed undesirable. I am sure that it was assumed that those foreign workers would go home eventually. But the reality of it is that many didn't. The result is a large Muslim influx throughout Europe and immigrants becoming citizens. Whether Europeans want to admit it or not, they now have growing populations of Muslims that want to be integrated without losing their Islamic identities. As I mentioned before, in regards to the Paris riots, when those populations of disenfranchised Arab youths (for example) are considered neither European nor from their parent's native culture then they have a comfortable built-in Islamic identity.

There is profound discomfort and a feeling that the original European cultures are rapidly being influenced, transmogrified, or otherwise being challenged by the growing ranks of Muslims within their own populations. It would be far too simple to suggest that the Danish, in this latest incident, are pushing back and saying, in essence, this is our culture, this is how it works here, and if you don't like it, leave.

The problem with this idea (beyond it being more than bit puerile) is that it does not take into account how utterly useless and antiquated the notion of nation-state is in the global economy. Denmark needs the rest of the world to survive economically and a big chunk of the globe flies the crescent and believes that Mohammad is a messenger of God. We in the West may value our free speech and want to defend it at all cost. But in other parts of the world some things are still sacred and beyond parody.

The riots and discontent are certainly being fomented by religious leaders and even governments now but I am sure that the ignition point started right in country, right in Denmark. The Muslim identity rises above borders here as well, fuelled by the internet, global news, and even international air travel.

The lessons to be learned from this, I suppose, are that we in West seriously need to listen to the cultural anthropologists and start to realize that there are other cosmologies flourishing in the same national garden. For things to change and get better we need to accept difference and, in the least, give some consideration to how we are all influenced by one another on a global scale and, in fact, really do need each other.

As I am sure we will find out, the cost (and I mean literally costs as in economic effects as well as socio-political) of failing to do so will be enormous.
gregory turner-rahman