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Islam in Europe
     
  Leah Seppanen Anderson  
  OPINION is divided on the future of Europe. Books with titles like Why Europe Will Run the Twenty-first Century claim that Europe will (or already does) supersede the United States in global economic or political power. But for every book championing the European way, there are multiple volumes that assert Europe's economic decline, political irrelevance, and cultural collapse. A key factor in the critics' case against Europe is the negative impact of immigration, especially Muslim immigration.

Christoper Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West is one of the more recent and articulate expressions of the pessimist's view on the future of Europe. Although Caldwell does not offer new research, he repackages existing data in insightful ways and presents his ideas provocatively, but without fear-mongering rhetoric. For all Caldwell's research and nuance, his argument is quite simple: a change in Europeans will lead to a change in Europe. He explains that "Europe's basic problem with Islam, and with immigration more generally, is that the strongest communities in Europe are, culturally speaking, not European communities at all .... Islam is a magnificent religion... But all cant to the contrary, it is in no sense Europe's religion and it is in no sense Europe's culture."
According to Caldwell, European culture is about to be extinguished by Islamic culture.

Caldwell's grim assessment rests in large part on his understanding of the two communities he sees in conflict. In his view, Europeans are weak. They are weak culturally because they no longer have a coherent, defensible culture. Appeals to "European values" are meaningless: "you cannot defend what you cannot define. There is no consensus, not even the beginning of a consensus, about what European values are. A united Europe would have nothing to fear from Islam, but Europe is not united."

Moreover, Europeans are politically weak, explains Caldwell, because their leaders have capitulated to political correctness and ideals of diversity, which render them unable to criticize any aspect of Islam. Rather than critically engaging with the Islamic culture of many immigrants, Europe has "bent over backward" to accommodate Islam: "For the first time in modern history, European societies were taking pains to allow residents -- and, increasingly, citizens -- to lead their entire lives in a foreign culture."

In contrast to Europeans, Muslims are a strong cultural force. Caldwell's primary concern about European Muslims is that they do not integrate sufficiently into their host cultures and that young Muslims, many of them born in Europe, are less integrated than their parents. Caldwell points to the high rates at which European Muslims marry foreigners and concludes that this is "an 'ethnic minority'... waiting patiently not until it is welcome enough to assimilate, but until it is strong enough to separate." This increasing separation signals to Caldwell that Islam is developing an adversary culture that intentionally works against European culture.

He dismisses arguments that Muslims in Europe are diverse and divided among themselves, calling such claims overstated. This assertion remains largely unsupported, which is unfortunate because it is crucial to his thesis. The book provides no catalogue of "Muslim values." Caldwell himself implies a range of views among European Muslims when he despairs at meeting their demands because they're so diverse. If Muslims in Europe are in fact anywhere near as quarreling and inchoate a group as non-Muslim Europeans, Caldwell's thesis won't stand.

Caldwell is careful to acknowledge that, "[i]n general, Muslims participate with extreme decorum in the established political systems of the countries they have settled in," but he cautions that "[a]s long as a few influential imams and freelance crackpots believe in enforcing their theological understandings through intimidation, no Muslim or ex-Muslim, however well assimilated, can write or speak without the sense that someone dangerous is looking over his shoulder." In this sense, perhaps, diversity would not matter if it is true that those who wield violence have a unified agenda to promote Islam against the West.
His book, Caldwell emphasizes, is not "about the difficulties faced by immigrants and ethnic minorities" but instead examines the "difficulties immigration poses to European society." Treating the two issues as distinct is a questionable approach. Caldwell argues that we should give Muslims agency to act in the world rather than patronizingly explaining their behavior as mere responses to European governments and citizens. But surely it is possible to acknowledge that Muslims make choices while also recognizing that they do so in a context not entirely of their own making.

Two slightly older books on Islam in Europe offer a helpful corrective to Caldwell's bracketing of the immigrant experience. Zachary Shore's Breeding Bin Ladens and Jytte Klausen's The Islamic Challenge both base their conclusions on extensive interviews with Muslims living in Europe.

Zachary Shore grounds his assessment of Islam in Europe on the opinions of young Muslims he gathered from London to Ljubljana. Shore's thesis is captured by his awkward neologisms: ambi-Europeanism and ambi-Americanism. Most European Muslims, Shore contends, are not anti-Western; rather, they are ambivalent about the West. So, for example, they might not like America's "perceived lack of social justice, consumerism, sexualization of women, and putatively hypocritical foreign policies," but they are attracted to many of the freedoms and opportunities they find in the United States. This very ambivalence makes young Muslims susceptible to extremist rhetoric encouraging violent acts against Western countries. Muslim opposition to U.S. foreign policy needs little exposition, but it is worth noting the near ubiquitous belief among Shore's Muslim informants, even the well educated ones, that the CIA planned the 9/11 attacks to discredit Islam. (Shore's book is concerned with Islam and the West but oscillates, sometimes without explanation, between a focus on Europe and on the United States.)

Shore argues that Muslims in Europe have divided loyalties that make them potentially dangerous to European states. Although he never discloses the methods that guide his travels or selection of interviewees, he justifies his focus on Muslim youth by asserting their centrality to the future of Islam in Europe. He repeatedly characterizes the choice young Muslims face as one of two extremes: "one trail leads them to Western integration, the other sets a course for alienation and possible extremism." He holds out the possibility for a Muslim "third way," but only if European and American governments make policy changes.
A recurring weakness of Shore's analysis is that—unlike Caldwell, who perceives the divisions among Europeans—Shore speaks too confidently of a coherent "European identity." But Shore also blames European governments for failing to integrate Muslims, with potentially disastrous consequences. He offers a series of "modest proposals" to avoid this dystopian future. For example, he recommends encouraging young Muslim participation in democratic politics, to give them a stake in Europe's political system. Since Shore's basic argument is that Muslim ambivalence about the West stems from American and European policies, it is surprising that most of his initial proposals focus on changing Muslims. His recommendations to the West are largely changes in rhetoric, such as an end to "war" terminology in public discussions of Islam, renewed efforts to avoid the "perception" that the West perpetuates poverty and injustice, and more thought to how U.S. policies will be received abroad. Shore's proposals do not aim to change European attitudes or policies toward resident Muslims, nor does he suggest the United States should revise its foreign policy.

Jytte Klausen immediately departs from Shore's and Caldwell's arguments when she attributes conflicts over Islam in Europe not to Muslim separation or Muslim ambivalence but to Muslims' desire to belong to Europe. In her telling, as Muslims push for greater inclusion in Europe, "this puts European governments on the spot. There can be religious pluralism only if European governments change existing state-Church policies and public philosophies, and that generates controversy and political conflict."

Klausen's "political anthropology" of Muslim leaders is a systematic investigation with careful documentation of how and why she interviewed and surveyed about 300 Muslim élites (political officials or leaders of civic organizations) in seven West European countries. She focuses on the élite, rather than the young, because she believes that the future of Islam in Europe rests "on the ability of a Muslim elite to obtain influence and to be recognized as representative voices when it comes to debates on policies having to do with the position of Islam and Muslims within national institutions."

Her interviewees reveal some possible reasons for Muslim detachment from European culture. Muslim élites cite negative media coverage of Islam, lack of economic opportunities for Muslims, and xenophobic political parties as barriers to their integration. Klausen also examines, in great detail, zoning laws that inhibit mosque construction, laws that prohibit Muslims from practicing traditional burials or ritual slaughters, discrimination against Muslims in public funding of religious education of children and the training of Muslim clergy, limits on where women may wear the Muslim veil, and the inability of Muslims to apply Islamic religious law, or Sharia.

Klausen recognizes that such a list of conflicts "lends credence to the perception that Islam and Europe are on the brink of a 'culture war' due to the unwillingness of Muslims to accept secular norms," but she argues that many observers "tend to ignore the fact that European established norms and policies are not necessarily secular, but may reflect long-standing practices that were instituted in order to appease national churches."

Because Klausen believes that "[p]ost-Christian religious pluralism is a social reality that has to be faced," she supports reforming church-state policies to create a more level playing field for all religions in Europe. She warns, however, of the complexity and potential loss of rights that might result if plural legal jurisdictions allowed application of Sharia law to Muslims living in Europe. She is also aware that altering church-state frameworks will meet resistance from not only Christians but from some Muslims, too. In fact, one of the most helpful contributions of Klausen's research is the detailed documentation of the diversity of views among Europe's Muslim élite. To speak of the Muslim position on the appropriate role of religion in democratic politics would be as silly as claiming one could offer the Christian perspective on faith and politics in the United States.

While a majority (57 per cent) of Klausen's informants agree that Islam and Western values are compatible, they disagree about the appropriateness of incorporating Islamic institutions into existing church-state structures in Europe. Some devout Muslims worry that formal relationships with the state will leave their communities as lifeless as the national Christian churches. Others view affiliation with the state as key to Muslim legitimacy in Europe. Other, often secular, Muslims believe the state should not support any religion, Muslim or Christian. The debate about religion and the state, then, is not a simple "confrontation between Western governments and Muslim populations. There is a four-way conflict, with secular, and sometimes anticlerical, Christians and Muslims on the one side and, on the other side, religious Muslims and Christians."

Klausen's snapshot of Muslim élite views is fascinating, but it is difficult to gauge to what extent these views are representative of the general Muslim population, a claim Klausen is careful to avoid. Perhaps Europe's Islamic élite is a self-selected group; they are involved in politics and civic institutions because they want to belong to Europe, but most other Muslims are less committed to integration. Or, if Caldwell is right about the power of intimidation from radical Muslims, then it may not matter that most European Muslims want to support liberal democracy, because they will be bullied out of that position. Still, if European governments—as Klausen suggests—work with a broad spectrum of Muslim representatives to resolve some of the difficulties that frustrate Muslims in their daily lives, the results are likely to be beneficial all around.

All three authors agree that Europe will be changed by its new Muslim immigrants. Shore hopes to reduce conflict by solidifying Muslims' European identity, while Klausen wants to change the church-state policies of European governments. Caldwell, more pessimistically, offers little in the way of suggestions for improving the situation. Can European states gain legitimacy in the eyes of their Muslim residents and citizens? Can Muslims affirm convincingly their commitment to the state and nation and more broadly to a European identity? The authors suggest that these are the key questions. Predictions for Europe's future depend, in part, on your faith in the democratic process to adjudicate conflict and your willingness to expand the definition of "European." (Courtesy: Christianity Today)
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Leah Seppanen Anderson is assistant professor of politics and international relations at Wheaton College.
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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