Saturday, June 24, 2006

Eurabia (2)

The Economist rightly explains (here) that notion summed up by the word ‘Eurobia’ not only gets Americans scared but also a lot of Europeans. In the last 2 years a number of events have also fueled those fears of a dangerous Islam taking hold in Europe: the riots in France's banlieues, the uproar about Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, or the murder of Theo van Gogh, a Dutch film-maker, and the virtual exile (to America) of his muse, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. On top of those is the fear of terrorism often associated with arguments concerning the alienation of the Muslims from the rest of the wealthy Europe.

That may be why more Europeans have a negative view of Muslim-Western relations than Americans. Here are the numbers of people (Pew Research Centre) who see Muslim-Western relations as:

  • Bad: 55% Good: 32% in the US
  • Bad: 70% Good: 23% in Germany
  • Bad: 66% Good: 33% in France
  • Bad: 61% Good: 28% in Britain

So contrary to common belief, Europeans are mostly more negative than Americans. This can also be explained by the way most Europeans usually view religion in their secular societies. It must mostly remain private and they are deeply suspicious of those who express their beliefs publicly. That may be why the Americans are more optimistic. Then again, this is the perception in a period of great changes and turmoil. It is likely that things will be perceived differently in a decade or so.

The Economist also makes a point in showing that, despite the negative perception; the reality is more complicated than it first appears:

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.

It is true that what they actually want is a future in Europe rather than the destruction of Western values. They certainly express their needs in violent ways and may not put their needs in actual words, but at the core of the French riots were jobs, education and more acceptance by the rest of society. They had no demand for more Islam. Their violent behavior was a sign of anger at being left out, checked by the police and living in ghettos.

The numbers used with regards to Islam in France are also only estimates. The French secular authorities never ask a religious question on a census form. Even though not everyone agrees, the general consensus is that France has 5 million Muslims, which make up for 8% o the population. As far as Europe is concerned:

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. (.../…) 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.

However two points must be made even if they add more complexity to interpreting those numbers:

- there are many intermarriages between Muslims and non-Muslim French.

- many people called ‘Muslims’ have become either atheists or secular in their views. Islam is often an element of identity, more likely to be strong among those who feel excluded and among teenagers (who go through identity crisis of their own).

It is also undeniable that most European Muslims have a very moderate vision of their belief:

The secular French state has given mosques and clerics a privileged role as representatives of Islam; yet France’s Muslims are a lax in attending their mosques as Catholics are about going to church (though there are better at private prayer and observing religious fasts).

So while the picture may be somewhat gloomy, there is reason for hope:

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.

A middle way will probably be found between French strict integrationism (France's head-scarf ban was surely harsh) and British multiculturalism (Britain is now reining in its Muslim schools).

Who knows if in 50 years' time, the solution may not have come from this new generation of European Muslims for leading the enlightenment that some Muslims desperately need outside Europe and for building bridges.

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