Ifrane/Cairo - In an increasingly globalised world, people are emigrating from one country to another for a variety of reasons, such as the pursuit of specific education or job opportunities, new experiences, or even to escape war-torn situations. There has been a steady movement of Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe, and conversely, there is also a significant number of Europeans who opt to live in Middle East. Faced with the diverse and sometimes competing identities in their new environments, these "dual nationals" share unique challenges and opportunities in their new home countries.
After World War II, Europe conscientiously placed increased importance on individual religious freedom, making its countries an attractive destination for Middle Eastern and North African Muslim immigrants. In recent years, however, there have been increased tensions between immigrants and nationals and restrictive laws, such as the educational system's ban of visible religious symbols on one's person in France, have appeared.
France and the UK are among the top two destinations for Arab immigrants; yet, they differ from each other in their integration policies. The French model is largely based on the principle of assimilation while the British model advocates multiculturalism.
When immigrants from a North African background in France were asked about belonging to French society many gave the same answer, "Even if we have French citizenship, we are still regarded as immigrants; French society wants us to give up our culture, which defines our identity, in order to fit the French model". Despite this sentiment, however, some North African Muslims in France, such as new Justice Minister, Rachida Dati, have found a way to contribute fully in French society. She both serves as an example and acts as a liaison between those who feel pressure to give up their identity through assimilation and the French government.
The experience in the UK is slightly different. One example can be found in the responses of those from an Indian background living on the other side of the English Channel who, when questioned, tended to say, "We are British and Indian at the same time."
The space in which both identities can be embraced at the same time allows dual nationals to benefit from the best of both worlds, and to offer the best of themselves to their local societies.
Dual nationals living in the Arab world also experience their identity in different ways and face their share of challenges.
Ahmed Rashed is a student at the American University of Cairo who has lived his whole life in Paris and Amsterdam and only moved to Egypt last year. He has found it difficult understanding some of the physical manifestations of culture, such as different greeting etiquette. "In France it is ok for a man to kiss a girl on the cheek while greeting her; however, he would greet a guy with a handshake. Here it is the other way round," he explained.
Yet despite such frustrations felt by newcomers, many also report experiencing the gratification that cultural fusion can offer.
Mariam Ghorbannejad, a 25-year old female who is half British and half Iranian, is one such individual. She is currently living in Egypt to learn Arabic and working as an editor for the Daily Star. Ghorbannejad has had little difficulty adapting to the culture. Having travelled much she has seen many different cultures and did not experience much "culture shock" when moving to Egypt. "The English are more reserved and they might consider the Egyptian attitude aggressive, but I have no problem with it," she said. She appears to be at peace with the differences between Cairo and London, saying: "Here it is never quiet, you have salespeople selling their products, and bakers shouting 'bread' all the time. And you can't walk much in the streets because the pavement is uneven; but it's easier to get a taxi here than in London."
Although many individuals who have called more than one part of the world "home" find themselves faced with identity crises at one point or another, not knowing exactly where they belong, these stories also demonstrate the unique advantages to dual nationality: the ability to feel comfortable – to belong – in societies where those who don't share this dual identity would struggle to feel at home, and the opportunity to share their unique perspective with others.
* Menna Taher is a sophomore student at the American University in Cairo majoring in journalism. Hanane El Hadi is currently fulfilling her MA degree in International Studies and Diplomacy at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. They co-wrote this article as part of the Soliya Connect Program West-Muslim World intercultural dialogue program. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 7 August 2007, www.commongroundnews.org
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