News

Europe's Muslims

France's worst civil unrest in decades was sparked by the accidental electrocution of two Muslim teenagers who fled into a power substation while apparently avoiding police. The ensuing weeks of unrest have forced not just France but other European nations to examine the alienation of their Muslim immigrant communities.

European leaders are watching with apprehension the violence spread across districts of France that are heavily populated by disaffected Muslims, in what European media call the "French intifada". The riots that have shaken France and stunned the continent have been carried out mostly by African and Arab teenagers who see themselves as victims of racial and religious prejudice.

Most of France's Muslims live in poor neighborhoods separate from the white Christian mainstream, in suburbs often rife with crime and seething anger. Unemployment in these communities is 20 %, double the national average. It's more than 30 % among 21-to-29-year-olds.

Alienated Muslim Youth

But to most observers, young Muslims from the slums outside of Paris, Lyon and Marseilles are no more alienated than those living on the outskirts of many other European cities. In 2001, riots erupted in several towns in northern England. The following year, Muslim neighborhoods in Antwerp, Belgium swelled with violence. Since the unrest in France, suspected copycat torching of cars have taken place in Berlin and Bremen, as well as Brussels.

Western Europe is home to roughly 20 million Muslims. The largest concentration -- about five million -- live in France. Belgium, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and Italy also have large populations of Muslims.

According to Charles Kupchan, Director of Europe Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, at the center of the problem is an uneasy relationship between primarily Muslim immigrant communities and the dominant white Christian populations. He says it stems from a long history in Europe of identifying nationhood with ethnicity.

Mr. Kupchan notes, "Even though in France on the books you have a civic definition of citizenship, there is still a tendency among the French and other European countries to believe that the national community has an ethnic component. And that has left immigrants feeling as if they are second-class citizens, somewhat isolated from the socio-economic mainstream. And you couple that sense of isolation with economic immobility and, I think, you get a huge amount of frustration that is now breaking out into violence."

Other analysts point out that unlike immigrants who flocked to resource rich continent-size America, Muslim newcomers to Western Europe risk crowding smaller, ethnically and culturally homogenous states.

Robert Leiken, Director of the Immigration and National Security Program at the Nixon Center in Washington, adds that the immigration of Muslims, which took place in the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s, created communities with customs, traditions and a religion that often did not fit seamlessly into Europe.

"It is usually the second generation that is really the key", says Mr. Leiken. "They are the kids who go to school and in the school learn to mix with other kids and become part of the French, or the American or the British nation. And that's not happening here. One thing is the schools are pretty much segregated. Not intentionally, but that's a result. The other is that sometimes the kids feel less of an identity than their parents. They often feel that they are not French, because the French society does not really accept them, nor are they Moroccan of Algerian. If they were to go back to Algeria, they would find a Third World country that they would not be comfortable in, that they would be considered a tourist in."

Polarized Society

Mr. Leiken contends that street-violence and intolerance threaten to further polarize immigrant Muslim and majority populations across Europe. He says, "It is a huge crisis because it is not a problem that is going to be solved in any foreseeable future. You have societies, which are not immigrant societies. Not nations of immigrants the United States considers itself to be or Australia or some other places that are not used to absorbing immigrants and you have an immigrant cohort that has resistance in integrating. So you have the gravitational forces moving in the wrong direction."

A recent public opinion survey shows 71 percent of French do not believe President Jacques Chirac can solve the social problems fueling the riots. However, nearly a quarter of the respondents say far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen can restore order.

Last year's murder by a Muslim immigrant of the controversial film-director Theo van Gogh -- a distant relative of 19th century painter Vincent van Gogh -- shook the Netherlands, which has an image as a tolerant, peaceful country. The incident set off a series of attacks on Muslim sites, followed by retaliatory attacks on Christian churches.

Although most analysts agree there isn't evidence that radical Islam is influencing the rioting in France, they caution that unintegrated and unemployed Muslim communities in Western Europe could become incubators of Islamic extremism.

Islamic Revivalism

Dieter Dettke is Director of the Washington office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation that supports education, research and international cooperation. He says European nations have failed to find the right immigration policy, which would focus more on integration and less on welfare programs. But he adds worldwide Islamic revivalism is a daunting obstacle and notes the rejection of western democratic values by Islamic extremists like Mohammed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States.

Dieter Dettke contends, "We have to face the reality of a revitalization of Islam that reaches out to European societies and wherever people of Muslim faith are. Let's not forget that Mohammed Atta and others planned what they did in Germany, in a democratic surrounding and were radicalized in a totally democratic environment. But can you blame Europe for this? I doubt it. You have a phenomenon here with roots that are more in Islam than in Europe."

Still, most observers hope that Europe will be able to borrow from the American model of tolerance and inclusion for the successful assimilation of immigrants into mainstream society regardless of their religious, ethnic or national origin.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs