Muslim Intergation in Europe
Tales From Eurabia
The Economist/Candide's Notebooks, June 22, 2006
THIS week George Bush was in Vienna, doing his best to mend relations with his allies. The list of disputes between the United States and Europe remains long and familiar: Guantánamo, Iraq, Iran, the common agricultural policy. Less easy for Mr Bush to talk about, let alone fix, is the equally long list of different attitudes from which so many transatlantic tensions seem to spring—opposing prejudices on everything from capitalism and religiosity to Mr Bush's “war on terror”.
These underlying emotions—what a British historian, Sir Lewis Namier, once called “the music to which [political] ideas are a mere libretto”—occasionally converge around a particular issue, such as Guantánamo Bay or Hurricane Katrina. This can be unhelpful: Katrina made America look like a failed state, Guantánamo is not a typical example of American justice. Now a similar caricature—this time about Europe—is forming in America (see article). It is known as “Eurabia”, and it represents an ever-growing Muslim Europe-within-Europe—poor, unassimilated and hostile to the United States.
Two years ago, the White House's favourite Arabist scholar, Bernard Lewis, gave a warning that Europe would turn Muslim by the end of this century, becoming “part of the Arab West, the Maghreb”. Now there is a plethora of books with titles like “While Europe Slept” and “Menace in Europe” (see article). Stagnant Europe, goes the standard argument, cannot offer immigrants jobs; appeasing Europe will not clamp down on Islamofascist extremism; secular Europe cannot deal with religiosity (in some cities, more people go to mosques each week than to churches). Europe needs to study America's melting pot, where Muslims fare better.
Such advice gets short shrift from European leaders, who often blame Muslim militancy on American foreign policy. But something similar to Eurabia scares many Europeans too. Terrorism is part of it, thanks to the Madrid and London bombings (as well as September 11th). But it goes wider than that: the past two years have seen riots in France's banlieues, the uproar about Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, the murder of Theo van Gogh, a Dutch film-maker, and now the virtual exile (to America) of his muse, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Fears about “Londonistan” and so on have helped Europe's far right; on the other side of politics, a bizarre alliance has sprung up between the anti-war left and Islamic hardliners. But the respectable centre is split between France's strict integrationist approach (banning Muslim children from wearing head-scarves in state schools) and the more tolerant multiculturalism of Britain and the Netherlands. The debate about Turkey (and its 71m Muslims) joining the European Union is increasingly a Eurabian one. Meanwhile, at the centre of all this fuss Europe's Muslims are themselves riven by inter-generational arguments on everything from whether there is a European version of Islam to which cricket team to support.
Is Eurabia really something to worry about? The concept includes a string of myths and a couple of hard truths. Most of the myths have to do with the potency of Islam in Europe. The European Union is home to no more than 20m Muslims, or 4% of the union's inhabitants. That figure would soar closer to 17% if Turkey were to join the EU—but that, alas, is something that Europeans are far less keen on than Americans are. Even taking into account Christian and agnostic Europe's lousy breeding record, Muslims will account for no more than a tenth of west Europe's population by 2025. Besides, Europe's Muslims are not homogenous. Britain's mainly South Asian Muslims have far less in common with France's North African migrants or Germany's Turks than they do with other Britons.
Arguments about alienation are also more complicated than they first appear. Many European terrorists were either relatively well-off or apparently well-integrated. The Muslims who torched France's suburbs last year were the ones who seldom attend mosques. First-generation immigrants (with the strongest ties to the Muslim world) seem to be less radical than their European-educated sons and daughters. And the treatment of them is far from uniform either: for all the American charges of “appeasement”, the FBI is a downright softie compared with France's internal security services.
Give us jobs, education and a seat on the city council
Given these subtleties, perhaps the most dangerous myth is the idea that there is one sure-fire answer when it comes to assimilating Europe's Muslims. In some cases, integrationism goes too far (France's head-scarf ban was surely harsh); but multiculturalism can too (Britain is now reining in its Muslim schools). America's church-state divide and its tolerance of religious fervour are attractive, but its fabled melting pot is not a definitive guide either: many American Muslims are black, and many Arab-Americans are Christian. In some ways, a better comparison (in terms of numbers and closeness of homeland) is with Latinos—and nobody in Europe is (yet) talking about building a wall to keep Muslims out.
Yet amid all this hyperbole, two hard realities stand out. The first is the importance of jobs. In America, it is easy for a newcomer to get work and hard to claim welfare; in Europe the opposite is true. Deregulating labour markets is a less emotive subject than head-scarves or cartoons, but it matters far more.
Second, the future of Europe's Muslims, no less than that of America's Latinos, lies with the young. For every depressing statistic about integration—France's prisons hold nine times more young men with North African fathers than ones with French fathers—there are several reassuring ones: a quarter of young Muslim Frenchwomen are married to non-Muslim men; Muslims are flocking to British universities and even popping up in white bastions like the Tory party. In 50 years' time, Americans may be praising this generation of European Muslims for leading the enlightenment that Islam needed.
Europe's Islamic experience will be different from America's: geography and history have seen to that already. Integration will be hard work for all concerned. But for the moment at least, the prospect of Eurabia looks like scaremongering.