woensdag 17 februari 2016

Postcolonial Comparisons

George-Henry Bousquet (1900-1978) is a famous scholar on Islam in North Africa, as well as on Al-Ghazali and sexual ethics. In the mid-1930s he made a comparative study of colonialisms, especially their policy towards Islam. The British were lazy and ignorant according to him: through indirect rule they allowed all kind of old traditions. Shari'a courts could continue as such, without interference. The Dutch were over-active. They had taken over the authority of most indigenous rulers and in the field of marriage and family law, as well as inheritance. They created but also controlled facilities for islamic courts. Snouck Hurgronje even started the practice to examine candidates for penghulu or high mosque officials who also presided the shari'a courts. The French were most perfect according to Bousquet: they imposed their own culture in public life. I have written elsewhere on this subject.

The director of KITLV  since about a decade, Gert Oostindië was mostly known as a specialist in the Caribbean colonialism of the Netherlands, but he is now working more broadley, including Indonesia as well. Only recently I read his book of 2010: Postkoloniaal Nederland (Postcolonial Netherlands: a history of 65 years of forgetting, of memorial days and repression).
Oostindie included Portugal in the comparison, but as to Muslims there are very few from the former Protuguese colonies. France and Britain  have large Muslim communities: in France from Algeria, Tunesia, West Africa. In the UK from Pakistan, India, East Africa and Nigeria. British migrants were much better educated than those who arrived from North and West Africa to France. This has for our generation made these Muslim communities quite different.
In the Netherlands Oostindië sees three major groups of migrants from Indonesia in the later 1940s and 1950s: Eurasians, Moluccans and Chinese. All three groups counted very few Muslims and therefore they are not the pillars for the Muslim community in the Netherlands. In the 1970s quite a few migrants came from Surinam: about one third of that colony (out of 500,000) opted for the European country. Among them were a quite strong group of Muslims who originally migrated from India to Surinam. There was also a smaller group of Muslims from Java who lived for about three generations and now form a small community in the Netherlands. But much larger groups of Muslims came after 1965 from Turkey and Morocco and therefore Dutch society considers Islam mostly as a Turkish and Moroccan religion.

Look at the green colour above: about one third of migrants to European countries is Muslim, but on the whole the number is only 6% and will rise probably to not much more than 8% in this generation.
Especially France has had a strong tradition of a secular society, laicité, not giving attention to religion as a cultural force and relating it to private sphere only. French society had a strong feeling of mission civilatrice, a cultural mission, without giving much attention to religion (pp. 213-6). In this way the colonial characteristic of Bousquet has been continued until now. The cruel attacks in Paris last year may have been partly caused by this strong secular sentiment in society.
In the United Kingdom there is still a feeling of Britishness and some continuation of pride: the colonial empire is still a reason of pride and glory for many British people and they resent that this glory has gone forever now. But instead, Britain itself has been turned into a multicultural society with a strong acceptance of differences between communities, as long as they do not interfere too much the other traditions. A national Commission on Integration & Cohesion published in 2007 a report on Our shared future and the colonial past was not even mentioned here. We should never exaggerate the burden of the past, surely not when it is once called the white man's burden!

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