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Event report: How to Integrate Europe’s Muslims

23 February 2012

The event, How to Integrate Europe’s Muslims, took place at the Brookings Institution on February 17. Moderated by Omer Taspinar, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and hosted by the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings (CUSE), the event’s intention was to discuss the integration of Muslims in Europe, including the progress that has been made as well as areas that require improvement.

Jonathan Laurence, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Associate Professor of Political Science at Boston College, began the discussion with an overview of the recent history of state-Islam relations in Europe. Laurence referenced his new book, The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims: The State’s Role in Minority Integration, in which he argues that increased concerns about immigration and fears about terrorism among the European people have led to governments allowing their respective Muslim communities to become more engaged in political decision-making and cultural understanding. Laurence emphasized that “European” and “Muslim” are not mutually exclusive, yet in recent years, Muslims in Europe have felt more victimized and stigmatized as a group, a group in which some individuals identify with Islam more than others. In the last thirteen to fourteen years, state-Islam relations have been definitively moved out of Europe’s foreign ministries and into national interior ministries. Laurence believes that this reflects a growing sense of ownership of the new minority both in nationality law and in terms of the exercise of religious freedom. This shift also coincides with the rejection of the notion that migrants will eventually return home. Laurence defines the time between 1998 and 2011 as the period before, during, and after the major growth in state-Islam relations. Europe has struggled to domesticate these relations by freeing Muslims from direct foreign government oversight from either their countries of origin, or major powers of the Islamic world. Many Muslims residing in Europe are beginning to use native European languages, one of several efforts to become fully integrated into European society. While Laurence recognizes that great progress has been made in the past decade, he believes that “today, the real danger exists that these modest accomplishments of emancipation will be undone before Muslim incorporation has been allowed to fully take place.”

Erkki Tuomioja, Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs, prefaced his discussion with a disclaimer: as an atheist, he supports a strictly secular society, state, and state-religion relations. Tuomioja described Finland as one of the most culturally homogenous countries, with only one percent of its population consisting of Muslims. When the Muslim minority known as the Tatars migrated to Finland years ago, they were able to integrate without a problem. Muslims in Finland struggle with social issues as well, but they are not always at the bottom of the social ladder. Tuomioja has found that social mobility and social harmony are a prerequisite for Muslim immigrant success stories. When asked about Turkey’s initiation into the European Union, Tuomioja stated that Finland favors Turkey’s membership, and he sees no negative effects. Tuomioja emphasized universal human rights and the fundamental right of freedom of speech. Europe must embrace the new voices in its society, and demonstrate a tolerance for new and old minorities, without also showing prejudice.

Peter Mandaville, Associate Professor of Political Science, Founding Director of the Center for Global Studies at George Mason University, divided his argument into three parts. The first section surrounded the issue of the “fiction of Europe’s Muslims,” which involved three clusters at work: immigration, religion, and security. The immigration issue involves the question of who is allowed access to the social welfare of the state, as well as employment and social mobility. The religion cluster entails regulating religious life of citizens, and integrating religion into public life. While the three clusters intertwine, Mandaville has seen a shift over the last ten years from immigration and religion, to the last cluster of security, one that predominates today. Mandaville worried that it has become commonplace to refer to the “Muslims of Europe.” For example, when riots broke out in France in 2005, many outsiders identified the rioters as strictly Muslim, as many of the protesters were North African Muslims. However, very few were rioting under the pretext of Islam; rather, they were protesting unemployment and a lack of jobs. We have fictionalized Europe’s Muslims because we have identified them as a group, rather than as individuals, many of whom are struggling in a new and unfamiliar place. Additionally, grouping Europe’s Muslims has perpetuated the security issue, because funding for programs that benefit these individuals are simply efforts to prevent violent extremism, as we see them as potential terrorists. As a result, European countries are withholding funding from other groups who may need it. The second and third sections of Mandaville’s argument were the “rise of the phenomenon of the governance of European Muslims” and the “differences in generations in European Muslim communities.” State-Islam relations can be improved if the government treats Muslims the way it treats everyone else. If one compares immigrants in Europe, Mandaville argued that one will see enormous parallels between Muslim immigrants and other immigrants. The differences in generations of immigrants in communities can also be compared cross-culturally. Instead, Europe has become involved in a broader debate about its own identity, and what “European-ness” means. Like Laurence, Mandaville is equally concerned for progress. Those involved in protest movements are well-educated individuals, but they are hindered by their belief that, in the words of Mandaville, “even though I’m doing all the right things, they still don’t let me belong.”

Historically, all minorities had to be governed to be integrated. They must be under the law in order to follow the law. If the economic gap between Western Europe and North Africa consistently remains large, people will undoubtedly continue to enter Europe, with the United Kingdom seeing the most rapid growth in their Muslim population. While individual rights should be accompanied by group rights, the group in question is not necessarily “Europe’s Muslims;” it is immigrants in Europe, lower-class individuals, and religious minorities facing similar persecution. The panelists emphasized omniculturalism over multiculturalism, so that universal rights and a shared understanding of each other’s needs become a basis for arbitrating minority issues. In order to do that, European minorities, including Muslims, deserve a seat at the table, and participation in decisions that affect them.

For a full audio of the event, click here:

Jaclyn Escudero
SPSSI Spring Intern

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