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The politics of meat and Muslims in election-year France

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A half-century ago, many European countries encouraged the immigration of laborers from the Middle East and South Asia. The loss of so many working-age men during World War II meant that Europeans had to turn elsewhere for the laborers to help man their factories and rebuild their economies. The assumption had always been that these laborers would return home; but like American soldiers after World War I, many Muslim laborers didn’t want to go back to the farm back home after they saw Paris.

Jonathan Laurence, a political scientist at Boston College and author of the book “The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims,” says that France is not alone in its concerns over its growing Muslim minorities.

“The big picture is that in the last 20 years how much things have changed, and how governments have realized that people are here to stay,” says Professor Laurence, in a recent conversation with Monitor editors. But now, as the European economy is shrinking or staying flat, European politicians have “realized there is election gold in undoing the little they got done” in changing their laws to accommodate Muslim minorities.

You can see it in France's 2011 ban on Muslim head scarves for women, in Switzerland’s 2009 ban on the construction of minarets at mosques, and in the bans of a northern Spanish region against the public calls to prayer at local mosques. All of these moves reflect growing concern among some Europeans that their culture is being eroded by recent immigration of people with different cultural practices and religious beliefs, says Laurence.

Such practices may be legally justifiable, Human Rights Watch says, but in practice they are discriminatory toward religious minorities.

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