December 2, 2013
Across Europe, the general feeling is that integration of Muslim immigrants has failed and that multicultural policies are responsible for this failure.
However, a closer look at data on integration of Muslims reveals a more nuanced reality, writes Jocelyne Cesari, Senior Research Fellow at the Berkley Center of Georgetown University and Director of the Islam in the West programme at Harvard University.
First, it is important to distinguish between socio-economic, cultural and political integration.
On the economic front, the results are daunting. Despite the emergence of a Muslim middle class, the high number of Muslims in lower socio-economic groups is reaching the point that some talk of a Muslim underclass.
This means that Muslims are affected by lower social mobility and persistent discrimination, even when their levels of education or resources are comparable to other immigrant groups. In other words, discrimination seems to exist for immigrants or citizens with a Muslim background.
When it comes to political integration however, data gathered across European countries show that Muslims do participate politically and on some occasions even more so than their ‘non-Muslim’ peers. They also present specific features. For example, they tend to participate less in formal politics (vote/party membership) than in informal political activity like civic action or voluntary work.
Muslims also display higher left-leaning political identification than their non-Muslim fellow citizens.
The most striking finding is that they not only identify themselves highly with Islam, but also to European citizenship. The opposite is true for non-Muslims who do not express the same attachment to their religious tradition. This difference does not exist in the United States, where Muslims perform at the same level as other religious groups when it comes to religious self-identification.
Therefore, the alarming political discourse on the lack of cultural and religious integration of Muslims is ill-placed.
The perception of Islam as a threat is one reason for this gap between the social reality of Muslims and the political discourse on Islam. Anti-terrorism and security concerns fuel a desire to compromise liberties and restrict Islam from the public space.
The outcome is an increasing securitisation of Islam that includes a number of actions through which the normal rule of law is suspended in favour of exceptional measures. This is justified by extraordinary situations that threaten the survival of the political community.
This securitisation aims to respond to Islam as if it were an existential threat and therefore justifies extraordinary measures to contain it. Securitisation of Islam is discernible in speech and rhetoric, such as the justification for the War on Terror and the persistent linking of Islam with political violence.
Our research shows, however, that securitisation not only encompasses speech acts but also administrative and political measures not directly related to terrorism. For example, limitations on Islamic practices (minarets, the hijab, the burqa, male circumcision) as well as the restriction of immigration and citizenship. In this regard, these measures reinforce the perception of Islam and Muslims as ‘others within the West’.
Consequently, Muslims are under increased political scrutiny and control, especially those who assert their religious affiliation through their dress and engagement in public religious activities. Furthermore, the signs of these activities, such as mosques and minarets, have become highly suspect. In these conditions, not only radical groups are seen as a threat but also all visible aspects of the Islamic religion.
Securitisation of Islam regards Islam as a monolithic ideology spreading from Europe all the way to Iraq and Afghanistan. According to this perception, Muslims are determined by history and fit a mold from which they cannot escape. They are defined by their so-called conformity to the past and their inability to address the current challenges of political development and liberal religious thinking.
This perception justifies the imaginary creation of an insurmountable boundary between modern and pre-modern times, between secularism and Islam, and therefore supports exceptional political measures to fight against supposedly anti-modern and anti-Western forces. It leaves very little space for Islam in liberal democracies and it fuels the extreme polarisation of Islam versus the West on which European and Muslim extremist groups thrive.
One way to overcome the exclusion of Muslims in the West would be to include Islam in the narratives of European countries through a reframing of national history textbooks to locate this religious tradition and its diverse cultures within the boundaries of each national community. Another proven way to increase the legitimacy of any given group is through greater political representation in mainstream institutions (political parties, assemblies, and governmental agencies). Concrete action on these ideas has yet to materialise.