Islam is widely considered Europe's fastest growing religion, with immigration and above average birth rates leading to a rapid increase in the Muslim population. There has been much debate about solving the problem of "Europe's angry young Muslims." Since the terrorist bombings of London and Madrid, many fear that the anger and frustration of the new generation of young, alienated Muslims may grow into a new homegrown crop of radicalists. In the past year we have seen fierce protests throughout Europe over caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad, Berlin's Deutsche Oper's rendition of Mozart's opera, newspaper essays, veils and school customs. This begs the question whether such growth of the Muslim faith in Europe is compatible with Western European values? Or is Europe on the verge of a clash of civilizations?
Stephanie Giry says that assimilation of the Muslim population in France is possible and indicative for the rest of Europe. Thus, a so-called clash of civilizations is avoidable. Whether or not the necessary steps will be taken is entirely another question. "These events are evidence that the immigration and integration policies of several European countries have failed," writes Stephanie Giry in France and Its Muslims. While Giry maintains that the question of homegrown terrorism is a serious one, it obscures the fact that the vast majority of Europe's 15-20 million Muslims have nothing to do with radical Islam and are struggling hard to fit in, not opt out.
Muslims desire to assimilate has sometimes been met with a form of discrimination fueled by nativism and a deep distrust of Islam that has made it more difficult for them to find homes and jobs. But what has turned such vexing problems into crushing burdens is the economic stagnation that has afflicted the whole country and defied reform for three decades. The greater problem is that the debate over how to ease these difficulties is now ideologically polarized, having been hijacked by public intellectuals and politicians out of touch with the country's realities. The front-runners of France's 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections seem more interested in using the issue of Muslim integration for their own electoral ends. Some have resorted to scaremongering about security and immigration and have conflated those issues with Muslim integration (sound familiar?).
Despite fears that Muslims would display less than complete loyalty to French values, Muslims have largely acted as independent citizens, keeping their religious beliefs in line with French republicanism. To the extent that they constitute a distinct community, it is only in the eyes of politicians angling for an edge or of those who stigmatize them for religion or countries of origin. If discrimination continues to go unaddressed, there is real danger that French Muslims might get used to being treated as though their religious and ethnic identity was decisive and then start resorting to a kind of defensive identity politics. Such a result would be a self inflicted one for France and an unnecessary one.
France could find a way to both expect and facilitate the full incorporation of French Muslims into national life while respecting both traditional French values and a modern Muslim identity. [In order to do this, the author suggests a bit of public education to demystify Islam, as well as abandoning inflated republican rhetoric].
Giry's article is an insightful look into the successes and failures of Muslim integration into French society with important implications of future integration in Europe as a whole. While I agree with her analysis that it is the political and intellectual elite who so often manipulate the Muslim population, as well as other minorities, for their own political purposes, I think the solution is much more complex than public education and abandoning republican rhetoric. Really, it is the whole of French society that needs to create avenues for reform in the private and public sectors. It is the minds and attitudes of the French people that need to change.
In A Clash of Civilizations in Europe, Patrick Sabatier takes an interesting view on the division between Islam and European secularism. He states, these controversies in Europe over the past few years move beyond the usual xenophobic and anti-immigration concerns of the far right about the perceived intolerance, aggressiveness and even incompatibility of Islam with European core values. They also feed a dangerous strain of "Islamophobia" throughout Europe. Patrick argues, however, that this result is a toxic byproduct of a globalized [and perhaps irresponsible] media system.
Instant information and misinformation, through satellite TV and the internet, tend to obscure complex issues, feed on widespread ignorance on both sides and pour oil on long-simmering fires of historical resentment, economic frustration and political conflict. The large and fast discrimination of extremist minority views on isolated events whip up collective passions, making a dialogue based on tolerance and rational criticism more difficult. To that extent, it might be argued that globalization plays in the hand of the Islamists who preach jihad against the West, and those who dream of Europe walling itself against Islam.
Conflicts between a fundamentalist version of Islam and European societies based on secularism, liberal democracy, individual rights and non-discrimination of the sexes reawaken in European minds ancient fears, steeped in centuries of wars and invasions - all the more so since the phenomenon takes place under the persistent threat of Islamic terrorism.
Muslim furor is often staged for media consumption by small groups of extremists while the vast majority of Muslims remain indifferent. Over 70 percent of Muslims in Europe, according to a 2005 European wide study, describe themselves as hostile to Islamists. Most practice a peaceful, more tolerant brand of Islam. But a daily diet of violent news, images, and threats hides to European eyes the extreme diversity of Islam and its deep divisions along sectarian, ethnic, or theological lines. The silence of tolerant Muslims ends up making militant Islam the only message of Muhammad heard by Europeans, the very aim of proponents of jihad and xenophobes.
The dire prediction of Andre Malraux, made half a century ago, might one day become true. "The political unification of Europe would require a common enemy," said the author and Gaullist minister of culture in 1956. "But the only possible enemy would be Islam."
Many had hoped that Turkey's inclusion into the EU would evidence Europe's acceptance of Islam and perhaps ease integration measures indirectly. However, poor relationships between Turkey and the EU / US reflect a growing concern over Turkey's inclusion into Europe. In Troubles Ahead, The Economist reports that a rupture between Turkey and the EU could have effects both within and beyond the borders of Europe. It would certainly confirm suspicions across the Islamic world that the union is Christian club. The trigger for the most recent derailment is Cyprus, which joined the EU as a divided island in 2004. The EU insists that Turkey must honor its pledge to open its port to Greek-Cypriot ships and aircraft. Turkey retorts that part of the deal was to end the economic isolation of the Turkish-Cypriots. If the row is not settled by the year's end, talks on Turkey's EU membership are likely to be suspended. It looks unlikely that Turkey's inclusion will in any way ease the tension between Islam and Europe any time soon, which is just fine for some among the European community who have not made it easy for Turkey to accede to Europe's command. (See French law making it a crime to deny Turkey perpetrated a genocide against Armenians in 1915-17).
Nonetheless, if Europe is to avoid future tension, they will have to rise to the challenge to better integrate the Muslim population. By mid-century, at least one in five Europeans will be Muslim. Such a change, unlike other waves of immigration, calls for defining a Judeo-Christian-Islamic civilization. The West must decide how its law and values will shape and be shaped by Islam. Evan Osnos of the Chicago Tribune reminds us that it is from the Paris suburbs 25 years ago, Shiite Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini planned a revolution that ultimately overthrew the Shah of Iran and, in turn, helped inspire a global Islamic revival. Could another such plan devised in Berlin, Paris or Amsterdam by disenfranchised European Muslims be used to start a revolution within the boundaries of Europe? Europeans certainly hope not.
Perhaps the answer for better Muslim integration lies in the writings of Tariq Ramadan, a controversial Swiss born philosopher, who advocates using the political process, instead of violence, to win Muslim rights and recognition across Europe. While this tactic is preferable, the problem is getting the Muslims to the polls. As Giry points out in her article, 23 percent are not registered to vote, in comparison with only 7 percent of the French population at large. "Perhaps French Muslims votes less because they do not recognize themselves in the political class. Only two out of 908 members of the French parliament are Muslim and they were only elected in 2004. Many worry that this void in the political system could be filled by violence or religious radicalism. Indeed, analysts suggest that Islamist organizations (albeit nonviolent) that preach strict scriptural adherence, personal ethics, and withdrawal from Western societies, have made headway in Muslim-dominated banlieues.
The bottom line is that while the more moderate version of Islam being developed in Europe may very well be compatible with Western values, the continued feeling of exclusion by Muslims living there has emerged as a central issue in the struggle to integrate Islam and Europe. "Whether its Turks in Germany, Indonesians in the Netherlands or Pakistanis in Britain, polls show that Muslims feel they live in a parallel world within Europe," says Osnos. He goes on, "For ethnic Europeans, the Muslim migration amounts to a world upended: The continent that for centuries exported its people, culture and religion to the Third World is now being shaped by its former colonies." So how do the Europeans bring Muslims into European society without changing the foundations of secular democracy?" It's a difficult balance to strike.
The Economist even reported in June 2006 that many Muslims find it easier to be American than to feel European (though I raised my eyebrow when I read this, it appears somewhat true, at least up until June 2006). Daniel Fried, the State Department's top official for European affairs, stated that "Europeans are still too inclined to see Muslims as "unwanted foreigners. In facing a challenge like Muslim immigration, exclusionary nationalism will not help."
"Yet the ironic thing is that for Europe's angriest Muslims, their host countries gravest sins lie precisely in their alignment with America. So the suggestion that America may have something to teach Europe about Muslim integration looks rather odd. Nonetheless, whatever the defect in Muslim eyes of American foreign policy, the US has a substantial Muslim population which on the whole seems pretty comfortable there, and has produced some of the world's best Islamist thinkers. When America scolds Europe for its "exclusionary nationalism" it is partly because they feel that their country has been more successful at embracing a variety of religions, including Islam."
Some Muslims would disagree as polls show a rising percentage of Americans have a negative view on Islam. But freedom to practice and preach Islam is protected by the American justice system. The Economist suggests that if America is indeed better at absorbing our Muslims, it may be only a matter of luck. The majority of Muslim Americans are either upwardly mobile migrants from southern Asia or Iran or black American converts who lack links to Islam's heartland. On the other hand, European cities contain an exceptionally volatile Muslim under-class which is poor, alienated and intertwined (by family ties) with the hungriest and angriest parts of the Muslim world.
But perhaps it's not luck at all. "The difference between America and Europe in dealing with Islam reaches down to some basic questions of principle, such as the limits of free speech and free behavior. America's political culture places huge importance on the right to religious difference, including the right to displays of faith which other might consider eccentric. So America is open to religious arguments in a way that Europe is not."
One merit of the American system is that, even when hard questions arise about the trade off between freedom of speech and security, there is a robust legal culture which enables people to fight back if their rights are infringed. Though this view seems a bit less optimistic then it did in June, as the President and Congress think it justified nowadays to usurp the power of the judiciary. Nonetheless, the writer of the Economist article thinks that American free-speech culture may better foster a debate on Islam than European political correctness.
Europe is indeed at a crossroads and which direction they will take remains unclear. One thing is certain, if better attempts are not made by European governments and European society to integrate the large and growing Muslim populations, a violent and true clash of civilizations could be imminent.