On the issue of poverty and immigration, which Robert J. Samuelson raised, I would ask, "Where would you prefer that people be poor?" That is, do we want to insist that poor Hispanics should remain in their native countries, because we want to make our own national statistics on health insurance coverage and poverty look better?
But particularly in Europe, some Islamists are beginning to see the woman question as their Achilles' heel. The influential Swiss Islamist Tariq Ramadan recently warned Muslims that they were going to have to change their attitudes. "We are going through a reassessment," he said, "and the most important subject is women. Our experience in Europe has made it clear that we must speak about equality." In Austria in April, a meeting of 160 imams called for equality between men and women.
But talk may not be enough, at this point. In Human Visas, a new book that probably points in the direction Europe is going, Norwegian journalist and human rights activist Hege Storhaug argues that strict controls on immigration are the best way to protect European values and Muslim women's rights.
Immigration restrictions are a great way to make sure that Muslim women are not oppressed in Europe. But that does less than zero to improve the lives of Muslim women. The regulation simply forces them to stay back in their home countries where conditions are worse and far harder to escape.
Admittedly, Storhaug has a more sophisticated argument:
Older men in these communities prevent integration by controlling marriages. "The families are under tremendous pressure to bring relatives from the home country to Europe," she said. "Relatives are willing to pay a lot for those residency visas. Especially with young immigrant brides, they become completely dependent on their husbands and in-laws. Young women who are born in Norway are forced to marry cousins who can then come to this country."
Once again, though, if you think it's hard for a Muslim woman in Norway to leave her husband or refuse to marry her cousin, imagine how much harder it is in Saudi Arabia.