Immigration Politics, European Style
Europe is engulfed in an immigration debate that resembles America's in many ways.
Just as President Bush sent National Guard troops to reinforce the U.S.-Mexican border last month, so the European Union last month dispatched military units to Spain's Canary Islands to head off a growing numbers of Africans trying to enter Europe through the islands, which lie about 100 kilometers off the coasts of Morocco and Western Sahara. (See Post reporter Kevin Sullivan's recent piece on Africans attempting to reach the Canary Islands via Mauritania.)
While the U.S. Senate recently took a largely symbolic step to make English the national language, Dutch lawmakers established civic-integration tests that require new residents to speak Dutch and know Dutch customs. In Germany, the Bundestag is debating proposals to require immigrants to learn German or face penalties.
But there's one big difference between the immigration problems of the United States and Europe. While the heart of the U.S debate concerns what to do about illegal immigration of Hispanics, the European debate centers on the integration and assimilation of Muslims.
"According to the best estimates, Muslims currently constitute approximately 5 percent of the European Union's 425 million inhabitants," says Islam Online. "There are about 4.5 million Muslims in France, 3 million in Germany, 1.6 million in the United Kingdom, and more than half a million in both Italy and the Netherlands. In smaller countries, such as Austria, Sweden, and Belgium, Muslim populations do not even number 500,000, but still represent significant minorities."
European Muslims are much more alienated and European public opinion is increasingly polarized and pessimistic about their presence.
A conference on Islamphobia in Brussels this week likened anti-Islamic feeling to anti-Semitism before World War II. In Italy, Oriana Fallaci, perhaps the country's most famous journalist, went on trial for allegedly defaming Islam in a recent book.
Tariq Ramadan, a Geneva-based university lecturer, argues that European countries "have to rethink how they cope with their Muslim citizens" and that European Muslims have to adapt to Europe.
"The mind-set prevalent among some second and third generation Muslims makes no sense," he writes in Islam Online. "It's as if they live in a bubble. They ignore the societal context of their surroundings and haven't even mastered the language of their home country."
The result is a backlash seen in the increasingly "populist approach" to immigrants from European parliaments. This populism that threatens to undermine a long history of giving refuge to those in need, Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said last week
"In an increasing number of countries, asylum seekers - and the refugees among them - have become a tool for political demagogues, or have been turned into faceless bogeymen by an unscrupulous popular press," he said.
The problem is not demagoguery but "victimology," counters, Flemming Rose, the culture editor of Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published the controversial carticatures of the prophet Muhammed last year.
"Europe today finds itself trapped in a posture of moral relativism that is undermining its liberal values," he wrote last month in Germany's Spiegel Online. An unholy three-cornered alliance between Middle East dictators, radical imams who live in Europe and Europe's traditional left wing is enabling a politics of victimology. This politics drives a culture that resists integration and adaptation, perpetuates national and religious differences and aggravates such debilitating social ills as high immigrant crime rates and entrenched unemployment."
Rose noted the fundamental difference of the debate on either side of the Atlantic.
"Europe's approach to immigration and integration is rooted in its historic experience with relatively homogeneous cultures. In the United States one's definition of nationality is essentially political; in Europe it is historically cultural. I am a Dane because I look European, speak Danish, descend from centuries of other Scandinavians. But what about the dark, bearded new Danes who speak Arabic at home and poor Danish in the streets? We Europeans must make a profound cultural adjustment to understand that they, too, can be Danes," he writes.
All around Europe, however, there are signs of public resistance to the idea of accepting foreigners, especially Muslims.
A survey of 1,020 "native Dutch people found half the respondents said they are afraid of Islam and its influence on Dutch society, regarding Islam as a non-peaceful religion at odds with modern life in Europe, according to Radio Netherlands. Their story reports that "some 58 percent of Europeans regard ethnic minorities as a threat. Italy, Belgium and the Czech Republic score above the European average in their dislike of foreigners."
Sweden's Integration Board boasts the Scandinavian country is one of the world's best at incorporating newcomers into its economy. A poll released earlier this month still found 48 percent of Swedes believe it would be better for their country to accept fewer refugees, the lowest figure in five years.
Tariq Ramadan, in the same Islam Online essay, says it's time for Europe and its Muslim immigrants to break with the past and embrace a common future.
The problem with European countries, he says, is not only that they view Islam as "a looming source of instability," but also that their governments "prefer to quietly deal with the regimes of the Muslim world, many of which do not observe the law, although they give Europe security and protect their interests."
"The future of Muslim presence in Europe will come from "a truly 'Islamo-European Culture' disengaged from the Arabic culture of North Africa, Turkey, and Indo-Pakistan," Ramadan predicts.
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