MOSCOW. (Deacon Andrei Kurayev for RIA Novosti) - A Muslim woman appearing in the Dutch street in a yashmak may soon find herself a public offender - the government of the Netherlands is discussing the possibility of banning face-covering headgear in public for security reasons.
There are great apprehensions about it: mass Muslim protests against the new act threaten to sweep the country, re-enacting last winter's Prophet Muhammad cartoon controversy.
But then, what else are the Dutch authorities to do? Covered faces create major security problems, since numerous offences are prevented or detected thanks to mimic and behavior observation in the street and public places. There is only one way to keep watch on women in yashmaks, planting microchips on them for police gadgets to scan - something Muslims may find insulting and harassing, as would any Christian if treated as a kind of cyborg.
Believers and secular authorities should display some common sense and meet each other halfway on this predicament. France was certainly too prompt to ban hijabs and other religious attributes in public. It overstepped the limits of official intervention in ethnic and religious customs. If we seek to level off outward religious differences, we can go one step further and make facial surgery compulsory to do away with racial features, and make everyone wear unisex clothes for gender equality's sake. That will certainly bring us all into a deadlock. In that sense, Muslim and other religious communities were surely right to protest. Covered faces are another matter. Here, the prospective ban reflects genuine and well-grounded concern for public safety. After all, Muslims are exposed to danger as much as everyone else.
There is something else underlying believers' rights debates. We Europeans must be brave enough to bluntly say to Muslim immigrants: "Ladies and gentlemen, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. When you came to Europe, you knew it was not part of the Muslim world, so you shouldn't impose your ways on Europeans. If you want to follow your traditions to a T, stay at home. That is only natural. Once you settle in another country, you have to reckon with its laws and customs. The same certainly applies to Europeans outside Europe."
True, there is a generation of Muslims who have grown to regard Europe as their homeland. But then, they live in Europe because of a choice made by their parents, who should make sure their children adapt to the new country and have as few problems as possible in the future.
Preserving ethnic and religious identity in a globalization-swept world is one of the most acute problems today. It is all the more acute for immigrants. The experience of Russia and some other European countries, where Christian and Muslim communities have peacefully coexisted for centuries, deserves attention and emulation in that respect. Take Turkey, which is at the European Union threshold to prove that there is a way to combine European and Eastern traditions, especially if we rely on several past generations' achievements. In that, we need mutual confidence and consideration more than anything else.
Deacon Andrei Kurayev is a Moscow Theological Academy professor.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.