This piece originally appeared at Musings On the Right. It is published here in modified form.
In my last essay, I wrote about the value of cultural assimilation, as well as the role that culture plays in both negative and positive policy outcomes. Given these facts, it seems that Europe, and soon America, will face a major challenge. As the Near East becomes more unstable, the pressure to accept more refugees will increase. In addition the rate of immigration from Muslim-majority nations will likely grow over time. That leaves us with some difficult questions. How has the assimilation of Muslim migrants fared in Europe? What effects has this had on problems of terrorism and crime? How have Muslim migrants fared by comparison in the New World?
Islam in Europe: A Summary
In the last 25 years, the number of Muslims in Europe has ballooned by nearly 50% from 29 million to 44 million. Today Muslims make up 6% of the population of Europe, though is projected that Muslims will make up 8% in another 15 years. However, Europe’s Muslims make up only 3% of the world Muslim population.
We must note that Islam has existed indigenously in some parts of Europe. While some Muslim presence has been recorded in the Iberian peninsula, parts of Sicily, and Eastern Europe, greater numbers of Muslims live in the Balkans and a few other pockets due to past Ottoman rule. Once the view is restricted to western and central Europe, though, there are only 19 million Muslims, comprising 4.5% of the population.
But because of the relatively recent and massive influx of Muslim immigrants, Europe faces three major concerns. The first is obviously security. The savagery of ISIS has left many wondering if ISIS operatives could simply sneak in among the very people they have driven out as refugees. Secondly, there’s been a serious concern that Near Eastern, Muslim migrants cannot, or simply will not, assimilate to “European culture.” Lastly, there’s wide concern about crime. While increased crime rates can be associated with immigration in general, recently an alarming spike in sexual assaults has had many asking extremely pointed questions.
Terrorism & Security
Before the Paris attacks our chattering classes dismissed the very idea that an increase in Muslim refugees could pose a security threat. However after last November’s attack with over 500 casualties, and ISIS’ explicit threat to take advantage of the refugee crisis, the threat of terrorism cannot be ignored. When Europe’s terrorism trends are broken down, there are relevant facts that we should notice.
In the past, terrorism in Europe has traditionally come from three main sources: the far right, the far left, and violent ethnic separatism.
Religiously-inspired terrorism, however, is a new category. While jihadist violence in Europe is not a totally new phenomenon, most Islamic terrorism before 9-11 was sporadic. The first major jihadist attack on European soil was the 1985 El Decanso bombing, which killed 18 and was likely targeting American servicemen. In 1994 there were two attacks, one on France from Algerian Islamists and the other on London’s Israeli Embassy. In 1997, an Al-Qaeda affiliate attacked Croatia, killing several in a Mostar car bombing. It seems most of these were attached to specific grievances.
The real escalation began after September 11th. The early 2000s saw a series of dramatic Chechen-jihadist attacks against Russian targets which killed hundreds. But the first jihadist attack on the EU specifically came during the Al-Qaeda-linked 2004 Madrid bombings which killed 191 and wounded nearly 2,000. Since 2004, excluding attacks on Russia, which are connected primarily to the Chechen insurgency in the Caucasus, there have been roughly 38 jihadist attacks on European soil, killing nearly 600 and wounding over 3,000. Some of these appear to be direct attacks coordinated by either Al-Qaeda or ISIS. Others are lone wolf attacks, like the murder of Theo Van Gogh. The interesting change is, with few notable exceptions, most now seem to be motivated by a general hatred of Europe and the West for ills real and imagined.
These new trends, exemplified by this year’s March 22 attack on Brussels, are especially worrying given the relative proximity of Turkey and Syria. Since 2011, European law enforcement and intelligence professionals have been worried about European Muslims travelling to these warzones, only to return to Europe. In France alone, there’s been a 86% increase in French citizens volunteering for jihad in the Levant. Combined with an availability of arms and munitions from nearby conflicts, they worry most about the growth of attacks without logistical links to known terrorist organizations. Meanwhile, as these terrible last few months have shown, organized groups remain an extremely deadly threat.
Taking stock of this threat remains difficult. Compared to the Northern Irish Troubles one could argue that jihadist terrorism is miniscule, as six times the casualties were produced in a much smaller population in Ireland. It can also be argued that in an open society, terrorism and even the occasional mass casualty attack can never be fully stopped. Yet, unlike the north of Ireland, Europe is not divided by an ethno-nationalist conflict. Nor did Irish terrorism, be it republican or loyalist, seek to cause mass civilian casualties or seek to gain weapons of mass destruction to do so. Lastly, unlike political terrorism, religiously-inspired terrorism correlates to increasing immigration levels of a hitherto relatively uncommon cultural and religious minority.
Assimilation & Radicalization
Behind the issue of terrorism lies the broader issue of assimilation. I concluded earlier that culture can positively or negatively influence outcomes. There is a concern that Muslim immigrants, and their children, represent a cultural challenge that will lead to increased poverty, societal tensions and crime.
Compared to native Europeans, European Muslims are more likely to live in a state of poverty. European Muslims disproportionately live in consistently impoverished communities, with higher levels of unemployment, lower levels of education, and worse material living conditions. While this is also true for other immigrant groups in Europe, Muslims are some of the worst off. For instance, the unemployment rates of South Asian Muslim women in Europe are almost double their relevant counterparts. There are a number of potential causes of Muslim poverty, ranging from outright discrimination to simply less marketable skills.
This poverty means European Muslims often live an essentially separate life from their native European neighbors, leading to a building up of resentment that can reach its crescendo in violence. Complicating matters are the totally different cultural worldviews of Europe and the Islamic world. While Europe has undergone a systematic secularization, Muslims in the EU remain fairly devout, identifying primarily with Islam over their national identity. This chasm becomes even more troubling given the widespread prevalence of Islamic fundamentalism among Europe’s Muslims and the increasing calls for accommodation of illiberal cultural practices. Ultimately the heart of the issue seems to be different ways of viewing religion. Shadi Hamid explains:
[T]his brings us to the issue at hand: there is a clash of values, one which will make it considerably harder to find a path of compromise between Muslims and the rest of Europe . . . [Europe] allows all groups, including Muslims, to practice their religion as they see fit. This assumes that the practice of religion is fundamentally a personal, private act detached from public, political life. It is here that Islam and Europe’s traditional identity and culture find themselves at odds.
This pervasive attitude creates a cultural separation where social pathologies can go nearly unchecked by the state. It leads to inevitable clashes on issues like the role and place of women in public. I find it curious that proudly feminist friends of mine, courageous critics of patriarchal culture, find themselves at a loss to show how the explosions of sexual violence in places like Cologne, Sweden, and Rotherham were not, on some level, tragically inevitable. Sexual violence is all too common in every society and culture, but closing our eyes to the immense disparity between the West and the Islamic world when it comes to gender issues is downright shameful. While it’s easy to impose our American context on this problem, we are once again faced with the uncomfortable fact that culture can drive social outcomes.
Isolation in itself can breed discontent and social disorders, even when a community is not vastly different from the mainstream. But the main problem in the European Muslim community is how wide the chasm really is between the worldview Hadi describes and modern Europe. While Europe remains culturally liberal, the worldview of the Islamic Near East ranges from conservative, traditionalist, illiberal and all the way to what we could politely call, “utterly outside the realm of publicly acceptable thought.” Polling of the Middle East-North Africa region from Pew Research blows apart the notion that the cultural differences between Europeans and Muslim migrants are simply superficial. For instance, 58% of European Muslims believe that Islamic jurisprudence (sharia) is the “revealed word of God.” So far this might be similar to, say, a traditionalist Roman Catholic dogma about Church tradition. But half (49.5%) believe that there is only one valid interpretation of sharia. And 70% believe that sharia ought to be the criminal and civil law of the state (the consistent outlier is Lebanon, which historically is more liberal due to religious diversity and French influence). By contrast, only 22% of Muslims in the Balkans and Russia believe similarly. Nearly half (47.5%) of European Muslims believe that sharia should apply to all citizens, not just Muslims. Not great, Bob. 80% believe this law should be used exclusively in family and property disputes. Nearly half (48%) believe that petty theft should be punished by some form of physical punishment, ranging from whipping to mutilation, like removing a hand. 63% believe that women ought to be stoned, to have their head repeatedly bashed in, for the crime of adultery. 58% believe that those who leave Islam ought to be murdered. And 65% believe that the laws in their country need to more closely reflect sharia.
Lastly this culture of economic and religious separation, combined with an unhealthy dose of externalized blame, plays a hand in the correlation between crime rates and immigration in Europe. While immigrants to the United States actually commit less crime than the native population, the opposite is true in Europe. While various studies point to a lack of correlation between crime rates and the overall immigration rate, when broken down by country, we still find that immigrants to Europe commit a higher proportion of crimes compared to the population, whether or not they are Muslim. This is especially true in Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, and the Netherlands.
These facts may be difficult for many Americans to accept, given our experience of how immigrants are able to successfully assimilate into the American mainstream. It is odd that those liberals who so willingly chide Americans for our lack of understanding and tact are less willing to recognize the facts about European immigration and crime. Perhaps, then, America is not the world and our immigration experience is, in fact, quite different from the norm?
What the Future Holds
While Europe deals with its dual crises of refugees and Muslim assimilation, it behooves us not to descend into feigned hysteria and conspiracy-mongering. (If you have some time to abuse yourself, type “White Genocide” into Twitter and see what comes up).
For starters, warnings of a “demographic takeover” are overstated. While Europe will continue to wrangle with the economic, security and cultural fallout of having a sizable Muslim minority, projections of a future Eurabia will simply not occur. While Muslims are projected to make up 7% of Europe by 2030, Europe’s clear cultural majority is going nowhere. European Chicken Littles forget that once immigrants move to the developed world, their birthrates decline precipitously. Furthermore this prediction forgets that religious populations shift. Among American Muslims religious observance is on a course of attrition. Even the most stolid of cultures have a way of losing their edge by migration. Even more curious, and heartening, is the ongoing trend of European Muslim conversions to Christianity.
Nariman Malkari, a 25-year-old Kurd from Tehran, lives in temporary housing in the garden of the Evangelical-Lutheran Trinity Church in Berlin while he awaits a decision on his asylum application.
He moved here after Norway rejected his first asylum request. In May, the Rev. Gottfried Martens baptized the young computer engineer, who now goes by the biblical name of Silas and wears a silver cross necklace.
“I can never go back to Iran and I don’t want to,” said Mr. Malkari after Sunday Mass last week, which is held partly in German, partly in Farsi. “I live in a tent, but I have found Jesus.”
Elsewhere, there are green shoots as well. For instance recent polls of British Muslims find an extremely high level of patriotism and identification with British culture. The poll is also worthwhile as Britons broke the narrative by having relatively positive attitudes towards British Muslims. Blessedly, the favorability of ISIS remains at historic lows among Muslims from the Near East. Lastly, rates of entrepreneurialism among Muslims in Europe may offer a way forward out of les banlieues.
The New World
In contrast to Europe, the Muslim migration experience in the Americas has been positively peaceful. Her Majesty’s Canada, notably, leads the way:
Vigdor attributes Canada’s success in assimilating immigrants to three main factors: First our relatively easy three-year path to naturalization. Second, our wide tolerance for dual citizenship. But third, and most crucially, our points-based system for selecting immigrants based on workplace skills. That system is being widely studied and adopted by other countries such as Australia (who is putting its system in place this summer) . . .
The United States also does quite a good job, as the Economist points out. American Muslims not only are relatively economically successful, but are less likely to sympathize with jihadism, less likely to place religious identity over national identity, and more likely to value the culture of their adopted home. Metrics like job skills, criminality, civic participation and English acquisition are extremely optimistic.
As in Canada, much of this positivity is driven by the fact that that the United States attracts a more highly educated, more prosperous class of Muslim immigrants than Europe does, as well as smaller numbers and more diversity in countries of origin. America continues to outperform, say, France, even though French migrants are disproportionately well-educated. Maybe there is something something unique about the United States and how “American” as a kind of ethnic designation interacts with “America” as a propositional, immigrant nation. This is something I hope to explore more in a third essay.
In conclusion, leftists, such as our friends over at The Migrant Crisis Podcast, are entirely too flippant. Europe faces immense challenges that are fairly unique in its history. These policy challenges of economic integration, assimilation, law enforcement, and intelligence-gathering are not easy. Furthermore they are exacerbated by the ongoing migrant crisis. Meanwhile lost in the hyperbole of both the far left and right is the question of how to care for overwhelming majority of Near Eastern refugees who remain displaced in the Near East, to say nothing of what an immense population exodus bodes for Syria’s future prospects.
While it’s clear that the European immigration crisis is no Battle of Tours, the movie Brooklyn, it ain’t. Deep cultural and economic differences challenge the universal applicability of the North American immigration model. This leaves open the question of how Canadians and Americans can respond to the Middle East refugee crisis, and I hope you’ll watch this space for more to come.
For further reading:
- While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within by Bruce Bawer. More anecdotal and alarmist for my taste, but eye opening once you learn more about the author.
- Islam in “Liberal” Europe by Kai Hafez.
- Reflections on the Revolution: Islam, Immigration and the West by Christopher Caldwell.
- The Myth of the Muslim Tide by Doug Saunders.
- “Comparing Immigrant Assimilation in North America and Europe” by Jacob L. Vigdor, Manhattan Institute, May 2011.
- “Fundamentalism and out-group hostility: Muslim immigrants and Christian natives in Western Europe” by Ruud Koopmans, WZB Mitteilungen, December 2013.
- Arab and Jewish Immigrants in Latin America: Images and Realities by Ignacio Klich and Jeffrey Lesser. I didn’t have the room to get into Muslim immigration to Latin America but it is fascinating.
- The Apostates: When Muslims Leave Islam by Simon Cottee.
Featured image from Eurocom