The furore over Mohammad cartoons a few years back did clearly show the direct conflict which does exist between the permissive and open-minded societies and the mentally closed Islamic countries that do not allow any criticism of their ruling ideology. This controversy just did bring up to the open view the sky high walls that the fundamentalist Islam has been building around it for a long time.
The cartoons themselves did not of course create those walls and the basic differences between these societies. The ingredients for this conflict were inbuilt in the basic nature of societies that are based on hideously old-fashioned ideology.
The main problem here is that this religious ideology has not adjusted itself to the changes that are going on in the world outside its realm. This problem is not solved if we simply would try to avoid hurting the feelings of the members of this religion at all costs. We will never know what would eventually be offensive to them. We can't know what would the things be we would be forced not to say or do in the future.
This route leads to a situation where there is one religious ideology that could not be criticized or even analyzed in any meaningful way. A situation like this will never be compatible with the ideals of freedom of speech that are so central to our own societies.
The leaders of this old-fashioned religion should just learn to live in the modern world, as well as leaders of all the other modern religions have already learned. In an open society, there just can't be a situation where an common and very influential ideology cannot be criticized at all.
However, the criticizers of fundamentalist Islam should naturally at the same time be able to criticize, for example, the bombings of the civilian population that are done by the USA or Israel. We should be able to criticize all the violence that is targeted on civilians and the crimes that are committed in the name of any western ideology also.
A very basic fact is that all human beings are at the base strikingly similar. Of course, religions and other ideologies can alter peoples minds so that this basic similarity is not always discernible. However, a fundamentalist movement operating freely and unopposed can, in fact, lead to a situation where some part of the population wants to segregate itself from all the other people in that society.
Fear of such self-imposed segregation is very real in a western Europe. Members of a religious community in a foreign society are constantly told by their own community leaders that the culture and political system of their adopted country are fundamentally wrong.
Fundamentalist Islam orders ultimately even the death penalty for apostasy. Leaving this religion is more difficult than leaving any other major religion in the world. However, we have countries like Turkey where Islam has been happily transferred to the back seat even in a basically still an Islamic society.
Supporting all modernizing and reformist movements among the Islamic communities should in my mind be of paramount importance just now. By supporting real change inside Islam, we could hopefully avoid a situation where the members of some communities would renounce some very central aims and goals of for their new host societies.
On the other hand, a wholesale acceptance of even the most negative aspects of Islam does not give incentive any kind of inner reforms in the Islamic communities. It has been clearly seen that the accommodation of the newcomers coming to western societies from the Islamic world is often a very difficult task. It just could be that the Islamic lifestyle and attitudes that are embedded in that religion do have a much more profound impact than, in fact, any other religion among the immigrants has had.
The Islamic culture has in many ways developed to be a direct opposite to the western way of life. The western culture where differing from other people is allowed, all cultures are respected and also the human rights of women are valued highly is often quite foreign to the people coming from a culture where only one way of thinking and doing things is allowed.
The assimilation of Islamic people to their new adopted homelands would be much, much easier if they just could drop even the most backward parts of their inherited religion. A reformed and more modern 'light' version of Islam would benefit mostly the Islamic immigrants themselves even greatly. After that very many current obstacles in the road in accommodating oneself to a new kind of society would be removed.
A fact of life is that more and more Islamic people will want to live a better life in the western societies. This is the more so as closed Islam continues to hold back the development in their own home societies. The contrast to the open western societies just grows all the time.
A heavily modernized 'light' version of Islam really could be the answer here. On the other hand, the life of Islamic people living in the western would be greatly eased, as the conflict of cultures would be lessened. If a modern version of Islam could take root in the Islamic world also, the now continuously widening gap in development with more open societies could vanish someday.
Of course, these are only pipe dreams, as the main strength of Islam has always been its ability to deter change. Only by rejecting all change has it been able to retain its extremely strong hold of the minds of its followers. This has happened in a world where many other religions have been already pushed out of the limelight in a society.
(This little piece was completely refurbished on 10th of May, 2012)