AJ Naddaff is an Arab Studies and Political-Science major, a French Assistant Teacher and a Research Assistant for the Arab Studies Department at Davidson College. This summer he will be conducting a project documenting the intersection of Syrian exile art, the lives of the artists, and their intellectual response to crisis of varying kinds throughout Europe. Follow his website here: ajnaddaff.com
Europe’s Muslim population draws an inordinate amount of attention given they comprise roughly six percent of the overall European population. Nonetheless, the string of terrorist attacks committed under the banner of Islam, and the refugee crisis have placed Muslims under intense spotlight, while bolstering the strength of anti-Muslim and anti-immigration groups. A growing sense of fear has further alienated Europe’s Muslim population and created a polarized environment. It is no surprise then that some analysts claim Western Europe’s Muslims are poorly integrated into society.
Coming hot off the press, the overall poor integration of Muslims has forced many to assert a fundamental incompatibility exists between Muslim values, tied to the doctrine of Islam, with Christian-Heritage Western European values, linked to a credo of liberalism. The belief goes as follows: Islam’s inextricable marriage with politics coupled with Muslim’s illiberal beliefs makes Muslims unable to successfully integrate into a secular tolerant Europe. Ultimately, we can and do see how one argues the exact opposite: that the rise of terrorism is an epiphenomenal response not to an incompatibility between Islam and liberalism but to the West’s failure to embrace its Muslims. These impressions have state and societal implications. A Pew survey found that for every European country polled the prevailing view held by Europeans was that Muslims strive to be unique “from the rest of society rather than adopt the nation’s customs and way of life.” While there are libraries sensationalizing Muslims’ lack of desire and inability to integrate, what role have various European states, the arbitrators of integration, played in addressing this two-way process?
Throughout much of Western Europe, Islam took form following a massive labor migration that involved mainly Muslim populations (especially from North Africa, Turkey, and South Asia), in the relatively short period between 1960—90. The implications of integration have been different for countries where immigrants descended from colonial ties. Nonetheless, for various countries across Europe, the “guest worker” agreement with poorer Muslim nations had been meant only as short-term expedients. When workers decided to stay often times the state facilitated bringing their families along. Some Muslim “guest-workers” self-segregated. These neighborhoods became low-income and troubled, taking on names like banlieus, ghettos, or “dish cities,” linked to the Arab world by satellite TV and the internet.
Western European state histories towards handling their Muslim populations and their respective attitudes of integration have varied from a French assimilationist approach that places onus on the immigrants’ ability to integrate to Sweden’s multiculturalist attitude, which focuses more on cultural pluralism and co-existence. While assimilationist policies have been known to assert an unjust decision between choosing state loyalty or heritage, multiculturalism has also been viewed in many circles as a glossy veneer for inadequately fostering integration, brewing fear and racism beneath its surface. Precipitated through the murder of filmmaker provocateur Theo Van Gogh in 2004 by a second-generation Moroccan-Dutch jihadist, the Netherlands have experienced a radical shift from multicultural to coercive assimilationist policies, which impose penalties to those deemed as not wanting to integrate. In part, this is a reaction to grievances and anxieties. Even Sweden, the birthplace and archetype of European multiculturalism, has recently experienced qualms regarding their multicultural project in large part because of large influx of Muslim refugees they initially welcomed in the wake of the Syrian crisis. Yet they never introduced a formal guest-worker modus operando, receiving a far fewer percentage of Muslims than other European countries, like France and the Netherlands, as a result.
Muslim segregation into poorer communities, though unfavorable to successful integration, makes sense. After all, when a new demographic arrives to a country, they are likely to desire the comfortableness of remaining within their community. In the long run, however, self-segregation has significantly stifled the process of integration. Across Europe, state policies did little to nothing to thwart this process. The 2004 Muslim riots about lack of job and economic opportunity in the Parisian banlieues demonstrate a stark sense of accumulated marginalization. In one banlieue, La Grande Borne, roughly half of the 13,000 residents live below the poverty lines, and one in two children leave school with no qualifications. Yet the main grievances are discrimination against Muslims that permeate throughout Western European countries in the labor market spheres. Through a résumé test, with the dependent variable set as call back rates, Clair Adida, David Laitin, and Marie-Anne Valfort provide the most rigorous study of quantifiable religious discrimination in the region. The implications of this discrimination trace back to a socio-economic context, exhibiting Muslim families earn significantly less income than their Christian counterparts. Another study conducted in Sweden demonstrates evidence for recruitment discrimination against men with an Arabic sounding names, finding that every fourth employer discriminates against the minority. Once again, it is a state’s responsibility to prevent discrimination if they aim to stay to true with the guiding principles of liberalism that assure equal rights and liberties for all.
Muslim stigmatization expressed through state policies that facilitated self-segregation en masse and have done little to prevent discriminatory societal attitudes in the labor-market perpetuate a vicious cycle that makes Muslim populations feel unwanted, and less likely to successfully integrate. It is important for the state to deconstruct a notion that Muslims and national Europeans are hermetically sealed and entirely different populations. Integration implies, by nature, a two-way process. One can not expect Muslim migrant populations to do all the heavy lifting alone. Therefore, it is important for the state, and societies to embrace a notion of complexity which simultaneously accepts the differences and the overlapping similarities between Muslims and non-Muslims. After all, until states extend open arms and at least provide Muslims with an equal chance in successful integration through more equitable domestic spheres, the questions of whether “Muslims” can successfully integrate into Western Europe will never be assessed fairly. Perhaps, then, the successful integration entails re-envisioning the conception of Sweden, the Netherlands, and France as nations, and an effort to shift prejudice societal attitudes towards its Muslim constituencies. There is a longshot of this becoming a reality in the future, for it appears that Europeans may never want to confront the realities of an Islamic face in Europe.