Sunday, August 23, 2009

Islam’s Immigrants

August 23, 2009

Islam's Immigrants

To the Editor:

In his review of Christopher Caldwell's "Reflections on the Revolution in Europe" (Aug. 2), Fouad

Ajami writes his own essay on the question of Islam in Europe. He agrees with Caldwell that Islam
"is in no sense Europe's religion and it is in no sense Europe's culture."

There are now about 15 million people from Muslim countries who reside in Europe, about 3 percent of the population. They are a highly diverse population, both ethnically and religiously, and very few are Arabs. By most estimates, fewer than half are practicing Muslims, although this varies by ethnic group and by definitions of "practice." About half of them are citizens of the countries in which they reside,
and that proportion will grow over the next decade or so, as citizenship laws change, and as more children of these families are born on European soil.

At the risk of being accused by Ajami as espousing "elite opinion," I think that it is important to point
out that these "strangers" are increasingly European and that, on balance, the challenge is far greater
for them than by them. These second and third generations are not doing so well in terms of educational, economic and political integration, although there are real success stories as well. The young people
who rioted in the suburbs of Paris in 2005 (and who have since) were not demanding "their right to
wear the burqa in Paris" (they have this right — and generally don't), but rights that are more familiar
to American readers: education, jobs and dignity.

The attacks in Madrid and London also demonstrate the emergence of a homegrown Islamic radicalism
in Europe. Ajami implies that these movements have been brought to Europe by these unwanted immigrants, but they are reminiscent of equally violent class and nationalist movements that preceded them in Britain and that still coexist with them in Spain, Germany and France.

Ajami's short history of immigration in Western Europe is also misleading. It is true that European
publics did not vote to admit immigrants from Islamic lands. However, there was very little political opposition to immigration in Western Europe before the 1980s, when most of these immigrants were arriving. No European government sought immigration from Muslim countries (most of them former colonies). Indeed, during the first phase of postwar reconstruction, European governments actively sought immigrants from European countries that had traditionally exported labor — Spain, Portugal,
Italy, Ireland and (in the case of West Germany) East Germany. Well into the 1990s, the largest single immigrant population in France was from Portugal, and the largest in Britain was (and is) from Ireland. Only when the economies of these countries began to grow (and when the fertility rates in labor-exporting countries in Western Europe began to drop) did Europe reluctantly accept immigrants from their former colonies. Until very recently, European governments saw Islam as a way of keeping immigrant workers away from unions and political radicals, rather than as a challenge to European culture.

There are now tens of millions of Americans who are a second and third generation removed from immigrants who arrived before World War I. Their parents and grandparents were also unwanted immigrants, against whom there was a huge political reaction. They, however, are Americans, even when they disagree with their government. Their counterparts in Europe are European.

New York
The writer, a professor of politics at New York University, is the author of "The Politics of Immigration in France, Britain and the United States."

Education for Liberation! Venceremos Unidos!
Peter S. Lopez {aka:Peta}
Sacramento, California,Aztlan
Yahoo Email: 
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