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Commentary by Professor Alan Draper: EUROPE NEEDS MORE ALTERNATE SIDE OF THE STREET PARKING HOLIDAYS

Europe needs the equivalent of alternate
side of the street parking holidays in which car owners are granted a reprieve
from having to move their parked cars so the streets can be cleaned.  The problem is not that Europe’s drivers
are overburdened, but that such holidays would help a foundering Europe meet
the challenges of an increasingly diverse immigrant population. 

Alternate side of the street
parking holidays are a subtle, yet meaningful way in which the state publicly
recognizes the diverse religious values of its citizens. In New York City, for
example, parking regulations are suspended out of respect for different groups’
most sacred holidays, such as Yom Kippur for Jews, Diwali for Hindus, and Eid
al-Adha for Muslims.  Significantly,
religious holidays for specific groups that warrant suspending parking
regulations exist alongside secular anniversaries and Christian holy days that
the majority celebrates for which schools are closed or workers are given the
day off.   In other words, New
York City has multi-level holidays permitting different types of exemptions that
recognize the values of particular groups as well as those of the broader
community. 

Europe should adopt this model as
it seeks to manage the challenges of diversity.  The number of foreign-born citizens in many European
countries now approaches that of the U.S. Immigrants from Africa, the Middle
East, and South Asia have transformed formerly homogenous European societies
into racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse ones.  Their presence has also precipitated
cultural clashes over customs and practices, social accusations of racism and
discrimination, and political conflicts over immigration levels and
undocumented workers, which are all too familiar to Americans.

Initially, Europe did not believe
that it had to accommodate diversity, such as providing land for mosques,
because it assumed immigrants would assimilate or stay only temporarily.   Once it became apparent that immigrants were intent on retaining
their religious and ethnic identities and settling permanently, Europe’s response
changed from one of ignoring difference to recognizing nothing but
difference.  In the name of
multiculturalism, there was little effort to integrate immigrants into the
larger community.  An assumption of
equality based on uniformity was replaced by a presumed equality of difference.

Today, Europe is groping towards
a new approach in which the state simultaneously recognizes the particular
identities of its citizens and tries to integrate them into the larger
community.  The values of diverse
groups are being accommodated, such as insuring that school lunches are
available to children who abide by Islamic dietary laws, at the same time citizenship
tests to ensure new immigrants know the language and culture of the receiving
country are being implemented.

A liberal state needs to
recognize and even celebrate the various identities of its citizens at the same
time it needs to reflect and even promote what unites them.  This is a difficult balancing act.  Liberal societies need to tolerate
difference if they are to remain liberal. 
But liberalism also requires respect for broader, universal values on
the part of all those who want to enjoy its privileges and protections.  Freedom for Muslim girls to wear
headscarves in school goes along with freedom for those who want to mock the
prophet Mohammad in cartoons.

Negotiating this tension between
what divides and unites a community is not easy.  Holidays and other aspects of the public sphere are debated
and contested as groups struggle for symbolic recognition by the state. That is
why a multi-level approach to the public sphere—where some holidays are devoted
to recognizing particular groups while others recognize more communal
anniversaries—is so attractive.  It
can acknowledge both diversity and unity. 

Europe is already familiar with
multi-level governance in the form of the European Union where some issues are
resolved at the supranational and others at the intergovernmental level.  It needs to meet the challenge of
diversity similarly, in which some parts of the public sphere recognize the
diverse identities of its citizens while others celebrate broader, national
values. 

Even those holidays devoted only to
particular groups can have salutary, binding effects. Groups know they have made
it, are acknowledged as part of the New York community, when alternate side of
the street parking holidays are designated for them. When all groups seek recognition
in this fashion, the streets can get awfully dirty. But everyone believes the streets
belong to them.