Muslims in Western Societies

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Lisa Helps

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Abstract

“There is no ‘Islam’ and there is no ‘West’,” boldly proclaimed the program
of the Trudeau Foundation’s conference held in Vancouver, BC, Canada on
16-18 November 2006. Rather, the premise was that there are numerous
Islams (religious, political, and geographical) and many Wests. Given this
context, some 160 scholars, activists, and policymakers came together under
the more general heading of “Muslims in Western Societies” to discuss,
debate, and make sense of the complex interactions among and manifestations
of these many Islams and many Wests.
The event was organized around five themes: “Religious Belief, Secularism,
and the State”; “Immigrant Societies, Cultural Memory, and Cultural
Change”; “The Multicultural Challenge”; “Muslim Women in
Western Societies”; and “Muslims, Political Violence, and the Security
Establishment.” Plenary sessions were held on each theme. In addition,
because it was a working conference, attendees participated in discussion
groups organized around these same themes and presented summary
accounts of their two-day deliberations in a closing plenary.
Perhaps because of the Canadian setting, multiculturalism was one of
the concepts that received much attention and served as a touchstone during
many of the weekend’s discussions. During the panel on the challenge of
multiculturalism, Will Kymlicka (Queen’s University) outlined the history
of multiculturalism in Canada and argued that in order to accommodate the
current concerns of Muslims and other religious minorities, Canada must
update its multiculturalism policy. In the early 1970s, Canada officially
became “multicultural” at the behest of Ukrainian Canadians who wanted to
protect their language and culture within the framework of official biculturalism
and bilingualism policies. In the 1980s, the logic of anti-racism
entered multicultural debates, and now, Kymlicka insisted, religion has
arisen as a cultural element in need of protection. He urged that we update,
rather than abandon, Canada’s multicultural policy.
In “Muslims, Political Violence, and the Security Establishment” (and in
the working group on the same topic, in which I participated), Rex Brynen ...

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