WASHINGTON, February 27, 2015 – Young Muslims from Europe are traveling to the Middle East in growing numbers to join ISIS. They have been involved in the beheadings of Western hostages and are busy urging others to leave Europe and the United States as well to join their ranks.
There is, if seems, at least some level of support for this extremism within immigrant communities. A poll of British Muslims found that 27% had some sympathy for the motives behind January’s Islamist attacks in Paris against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket. Eleven per cent agreed that those who publish images of the Prophet Mohammed deserve to be attacked. The poll was conducted for BBC between Jan. 26 and Feb. 20.
There are about 2.8 million Muslims in Britain, about 4.4% of the population.
“These are, as far as I’m concerned, worrying statistics,” said Sayeeda Warsi, who was Britain’s first female Muslim minister, before resigning last year over the government’s policy on the war in Gaza.
In France, as the nation reeled from the terrorist attacks in Paris, reports filled the newspapers and t.v. newscasts of young Muslim students refusing to honor the dead, highlighting the sharp divisions in French society. Young Muslims in France live largely in a separate, segregated world. A 2012 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that France leads Europe in educational inequalities stemming from social and ethnic origins.
France’s National Council for the Evaluation of the School System has spoken of “school ghettos,” referring to districts where dropout rates are high and performances exceptionally weak.
Starting in the 1950s, immigrants from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia began arriving in France. They were often sent to isolated housing projects that bred alienation. The expected smooth integration never took place. Despite a high unemployment rate, approximately 200,000 immigrants have arrived in France every year since 2004. Muslims now make up about 8 percent of the country, constituting the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.
Four out of ten French recently surveyed said they considered Muslims “to be a threat to our national identity.” Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s increasingly popular National Front, referred to Muslims praying in the street as an “occupation” of France.
The failure of France and other European countries to assimilate their growing Muslim immigrant population into the larger society is sowing seeds of future turmoil. The exodus of young recruits to ISIS from the immigrant neighborhoods of Paris, London, Brussels, Copenhagen and other European cities is a indication of further turmoil to come.
These young people with British, Danish and French passports are likely to return and emulate the terrorist attacks we have recently witnessed.
Americans are not immune from this phenomenon. The attack upon the Boston Marathon is one example. The numbers of young American Muslims who have joined ISIS are, thus far, small, but efforts to recruit in immigrant communities, as among Somalis in Minnesota, are growing. But our own society has some experience with assimilating immigrants from around the world, integrating them into our society, and making them Americans.
As Herman Melville said in the 19th century, “If you shed a drop of American blood, you shed the blood of the whole world.” For its own survival, Europe would do well to study our melting pot experience,
Some time ago, Prof. Seymour Martin Lipset of the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, criticized those who were promoting bilingualism and multiculturalism in American public schools:
“The history of bilingual and bicultural societies that do not assimilate are histories of turmoil, tension and tragedy. Canada, Belgium, Malaysia, Lebanon—all face crises of national existence in which minorities press for autonomy, if not independence. Pakistan and Cyprus have divided. Nigeria suppressed an ethnic rebellion. France faces difficulties with its Basques, Bretons and Corsicans.”
Remembering the way American public schools served to bring children of immigrants into the mainstream, Fotine Z. Nicholas, who taught for 30 years in New York City schools and wrote an education column for a Greek-American weekly, notes:
“I recall with nostalgia the way things used to be. At P.S. 82 in Manhattan, 90 percent of the students had European-born parents. Our teachers were mostly of Irish origin, and they tried hard to homogenize us. We might refer to ourselves as Czech or Hungarian or Greek but we developed a pride in being American…There were two unifying factors: the attitude of our teachers and the English language…After we started school, we spoke only English to our siblings, our classmates and our friends. We studied and wrote in English, we played in English, we thought in English.”
Successive waves of immigrants have assimilated into the American society. They entered a United States which had self-confidence and believed in its own culture, history and values and was determined to transmit them to the newcomers. And the immigrants themselves wanted to become Americans. Our traditional response to the problem of assimilation, The Economist points out,
“…was to treat each immigrant as an individual…The essential American promise is that individuals will rise or fall on their own merits…Waving the banner of diversity, opponents of the melting pot are in danger of promoting ethnic division as a matter of public policy…The government should not only oppose legal distinctions between ethnic groups; it should also do more to build a common American culture through education…If children are taught to see themselves as members of an ethnic group, rather than as Americans, the U.S. will rapidly become disunited.”
If some in the U.S. have retreated from our melting pot philosophy, the countries of Western Europe have never properly embraced it. They seem not to know how to make their Muslim immigrants French, British or Belgian. Perhaps they should have considered this dilemma more carefully before they opened their doors to these immigrants. They now have a lot of catching up to do.
It is important to remember that by coming to the U.S. and Western Europe, immigrants are voting with their feet for our system and our way of life. They should be helped to assimilate into our societies, not to recreate here and in Europe the very systems they have escaped at such high cost.
In his Wriston lecture on “Universal Civilization,” V.S. Naipaul, the son of immigrant Indian laborers who grew up in post-colonial Trinidad and was educated in England, contrasts some of the static, inward-looking, insular, backsliding “non-Wetern” cultures with that spreading “universal civilization” that he finds to be based on Jefferson’s idea of the pursuit of happiness.
Discussing the essence of Western civilization, which sets it apart from others, Naipaul characterizes it in these terms:
“The ideal of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system nor generate fanaticism. But it is known to exist and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away.”
The American society traces the rights we take for granted back to the Magna Carta. The idea of trial by jury, due process of law and limits upon government power come from this ancient English charter.The fact that the majority of present-day Americans cannot trace their individual ancestry to England bears little relationship to the British nature of American culture.
In “America’s British Culture,” Russell Kirk argues that,
“Two centuries after the first U.S. census was taken, nearly every race and nationality in the world had contributed to the American population, but the culture of America remains British…The many millions of newcomers to the U.S. have accepted integration into the British-descended American culture with little protest, and often with great willingness.”
The challenge for Western Europe is to assimilate its growing Muslim immigrant population into the French, British and other cultures and societies in which they now live. The American experience provides a model of how this might be achieved.
If these immigrants remain isolated and alienated, Europe will face increasingly stormy days ahead.
New Banksy – Gaza pic.twitter.com/FBEWAtFvaq
— banksy (@thereaIbanksy) February 27, 2015
Editors Note: Follow @youngmuslims (http://ymsite.com) and @MuslimMatters (http://www.muslimmatters.org) to see two Muslim youth groups that might surprise you