Multiculturalism is sometimes a tricky thing. Even a country like Canada, which prides itself on a thriving multicultural society, has not escaped controversy.
Things are often more complicated in Europe where centuries of tradition have come face-to-face with open borders that bring with them people, cultures, religion and traditions that sometimes conflict with the status-quo. Recently, Islam has been at the centre of controversy. Last fall the Swiss voted in favour of a complete ban on the construction of minarets. Belgium voted to become the first country in Europe to make the wearing of Muslim clothing illegal. And French President Nicolas Sarkozy just can’t stop talking about his dislike for the burqa and how there is no place for it in France.
Poland too has faced many challenging dilemmas. Just last week demonstrators for and against a new mosque in Warsaw took to the streets in protest. Islam has been present in Poland since the 14th century and a new wave of Muslim immigrants from Chechnya has increased the number to as many as 40,000. Currently about 13,000 Muslims live in Warsaw and there are already five mosques in the country, including a prayer room in Warsaw.
The new mosque or “Centre of Islamic Culture” as it is currently being called, has been designed by KAPS Architects and is due to have a small minaret as well as art gallery, library, restaurant and a space to host classes for children and religious dialogue meetings. The new building is said to be financed by an unnamed Saudi investor.
In opposition to the planned structure, some express concerns about it being a potential source of radicalization while others decry the hypocrisy surrounding the fact that in Islamic nations such as Saudi Arabia non-Islamic places of worship are illegal and that those who have openly practiced other religions have faced persecution and in some cases, even death.
One female protester said,“I lived in a town in Poland where there were Catholic churches, a synagogue and a mosque and that was fine. But if I go to Saudi Arabia, I cannot wear my medallion and churches where I could pray are banned.”
Those in favour of the Mosque argue that as any modern country Poland needs to be tolerant and embrace differences in all shapes and sizes. During the recent protests they carried banners reading “Warsaw is for everybody” and “Stop Islamophobia.”
Despite the demonstration, Poles by and large have been tolerant of the debate and have conducted it in a civil and peaceful manner. Polish Radio reported that the demonstrations for and against the planned mosque attracted only a couple hundred supporters.
Adding to that a PBS DGA telephone survey conducted in March indicated that while 48% opposed construction of a mosque with a minaret in their neighborhood, 42% had nothing against it.
Perhaps the level of concern is proportional to the numbers of Muslims in the country and ethnic frictions could rise as do the numbers of newcomers. In a recent article Professor Zbigniew Mikolejko of the Polish Academy of Sciences explained that “the problems seen in France, Germany or the Netherlands will come to Poland as it is modernizing…and becomes more attractive to migrants from poorer parts of the world.”
Time will only tell what happens but one thing is certain, it is extremely interesting to see how a country like Poland copes with the realities of the modern world. After all, just over two decades ago Poles were completely closed off from the rest of the world and now the country seems to be facing the same ethnic dilemmas that are perplexing its neighbours.
Which begs the question: how is Poland doing so far? Has the government and the people taken the right approach with regard to multiculturalism? And more specifically – what do you think of this whole debate? Are you concerned about Mosques in Poland?