Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Update to the Update

Scott replies to my comments in another very smart post. As he notes, our disagreement (which isn't great) is at least as much terminological as it is philosophical. He writes that he is "not actually opposed to the religious arrangements in Belgium," that "Belgium's compact with the Catholic church appears to me to be a functional and fairly satisfactory compromise, and that he "would like to see European Muslims reach a functional compromise of their own." I couldn't agree more. Then he goes on to write:

"However - and here is perhaps where we differ - trying to negociate solutions within the social and historical framework you actually find yourself in is not the same as having a national identity to which someone demands that you comply....I want to make a two-fold claim: First, the standards that a society imposes on its immigrants are the product of a political compromise that follows the refusal to simply integrate. Second, since people are sometimes going to refuse to accept the culture that they are expected to integrate into, and sometimes I think they are right to refuse, the standards that a society really ought to stand its ground on should be the ones that their defenders genuinely believe ought to be universal."

Scott notes that his comments lead away from the particular issue of Islam in Europe, and towards a more philosophical consideration of relativism and universalism. This is much too large a debate to get into so casually, so let me just say that while Scott and I may have very different ontological presuppositions in regards to what it is that is called "universal" (I think, for example, following the work of such thinkers as Herder or Gadamer, that universals as such are necessarily particularized: that is, they are solely manifest as particular cultural expressions, outside of which they lose substantive form), practically speaking we mostly agree: in this case, Islamic headscarves, as opposed to say female circumcision, should not be understood to be a fundamental threat to the articulation of ways of being fully human in any European context.

Scott also adds that "whatever is determined to be Belgian should not result in the interdiction of whatever isn't Belgian....I don't see a general argument for making impositions on immigrants beyond the dual obligation, both on immigrants and their indigenous neighbours, to try to find a way to coexist." Again, we would probably disagree on some of the mechanics of "complying" with a culture, or "co-existing" with one, but I can't dispute his ideal.

(Finally, also check out Brad's excellent comment on this thread, and his World Religion class's wise take on this issue.)