Friday, February 10, 2006

Some thoughts on why Europe has more problems integrating Muslims compared to North America

This was a originally a post at a friends website, but it became so long and involved I thought I'd post something similar over here. I was responding to some interesting comments he had made about the whole cartoon controversy, you can find it here. In his blog post he points out an interesting phenomenon, several European papers have published the cartoons while relatively very few have in North America. Why do so many Europeans feel the need to 'defend free speech', while major media outlets in the US and Canada are more concerned with 'avoiding provocation'? In general, it's hard to argue against the assertion that Europeans more readily come into conflict with their Muslim population compared to North Americans. Why the greater conflict between Muslims and native Europeans? My friend argues that the relative difference in integration is largely due to the more 'militantly secular' attitude of Europeans. Basically, he claims that Europeans are more hostile towards any strong religious belief because of a harsher and more complete history of secularization. Here's was my response:

The 'militant secularism' of Europe is an interesting point which I haven't given much thought too. I think you're right that most European countries are more secular-minded and openly critical of religion than the US, or even Canada. This is probably an aggravating factor in terms of Europe's relationship with contemporary Islam. However, I suspect there are other factors that are more relevant than 'militant secularism'.

Europeans define themselves by their ethnicity/race to a much larger degree than North Americans. This also applies to their national identities too- they are defined by ethnicity, race, and language. The US and Canada consist of a much more heterogenous population, and most of the population conceptualizes themselves as being a descendent of immigrants (since most people can find an immigrant among the last few generations of ancestors). It only makes sense that Europeans would therefore be more prone to viewing newcomers with suspicion and sometimes hostility.

I think another factor is the emphasis on preserving history and the old culture in the continent. Overall, North American society is simply more dynamic and adaptable. North Americans are more willing, and capable, of altering their culture in response to changes in their demographics and changes in technology. Since their culture is more fluid to begin with, North Americans are less likely to become apoplectic about immigrants having some influence on the character of the society they live in.

I think another cause behind the differences between NA and Europe is that the fight for the rights of, and inclusion of, various minorities has generally been more successful in NA- at least in recent history. As a result of these victories for a more inclusive society, the sensitivity of North Americans to racial/ethnic/religious minority issues is more acute. To put it in a less flattering way, North Americans are more likely to have 'Politically Correct' views; and to use my friends terminology- North Americans are more 'militant' when it comes to the toleration/acceptance of minorities.
Europe of course has a very different history. I think it is no exaggeration to say that the majority of largescale racial and ethnic conflicts in Europe in the 20th century have either led to the disintegration of multiethnic nation-states, or worse, the elimination of the minority prescence. In the US and Canada, most major racial, ethnic, or religious conflicts have been successfully addressed without resorting to the fragmentation of the state, or wide-spread massacre (the major exception being the Native population- however, the worst of that abuse occurred several generations ago). I believe these different historical backgrounds have produced very different cultures. In NA there are strong cultural norms and attitudes that decrease the likelihood of conflict between diverse groups (some examples: American historical 'amnesia'; downplaying of ethnic roots; optimism; an orientation towards the future rather than the past). Of course the emergence of the EU goes against the generalizations I've just made about Europe. I think the EU might have a very positive transformative effect on old Euro culture- particularly with the inclusion of Eastern Europe and possibly Turkey. The shock therapy of integration might breath some life into a somewhat fossilized culture.

Finally, I think Europeans are just less libertarian in their outlook. They're more likely to expect individuals to adapt to the community, and correspondingly less inclined to have a live and let live attitude. This inevitably leads to more hostility towards Muslims, or any other immigrants, who actively resists adopting the cultural norms of the native inhabitants. And yes- one of the most important cultural conflicts is the clash between the 'militant secularism' of most Europeans and the non-secular attitudes of many Muslims.

P.S. Yes this post is filled to the brim with sweeping generalizations. There are definitely large differences between the various nationalities of Europe. But most of what I said was pretty general and I do think the comparisons hold for most European countries. Of course, it should also be noted that there is a huge amount of individual variation and I'm only talking about the 'average' European and North American. Anyways, I'd appreciate to hear any comments, especially from any Euros out there- or better yet people who have some knowledge of both continents.

8 Comments:

Blogger I Hate You said...

unfortunatly its far too late and im far too tired to put a lengthy, thoughtful response to that post, but let me just say.
I AGREE.
Great job.
ps. plastic.com of course

2:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I also have to agree with much of what you wrote. The european mindset is still very feudal in a lot of ways in comparison to NA. Again, very general in terms.
I must correct one common misconception in your piece..as an aboriginal woman, the worst abuses were most definately not 'several generations ago'..much of that abuse both within the law of the land and in the treatment of my people is very recent, within my own lifetime and witnessed/experienced by me and mine. Just so y'all don't think this is something relegated to the history books,,,which by the way are mostly incorrect;) We are a dynamic community rising from the ashes of attempted genocide; culturally and literally and spiritually.
jihsgo

2:25 PM  
Blogger A. Shah said...

Thanks for the comment Jihsgo.
I didn't mean to trivialize the plight of the aboriginal population in North America at all. In my view, the destruction of Native American peoples and their various cultures is one of the worst episodes in human history.
Yes, a great deal of cultural harm has been done to Natives this century, and the lingering effects of the crimes committed in previous centuries have continued. But, I do think in recent history there has been a trend towards reconciliation and acknowledgment of past wrongs. Also, general support for Native rights and self-government has come a long way in recent history. Yes there has been ups and downs, but I think in the past century North America society has seen a fairly steady improvement in the status of various minorities. In contrast, Europe has seen the majority of it's multiethnic states collapse, and the extermination or 'ethnic cleansing' of many of its minorities. I think that is a pretty difference between Europe and North America. That's basically the point I was trying to make.
Thanks again for you comment.

10:20 PM  
Blogger Charlie_Six said...

Hello, saw this on Plastic.

After WW2, the Western European Left made great gains. This resulted in stronger social welfare systems, more democratically regulated economies, and a strong desire to establish multiculturalism, an ideology that has no support whatsoever in the USA.

From what I hear, the more leftwing a European nation is, the more it encourages its immigrant populations to maintain their culture, to prosper in their new lands while maintaining their cultures. I believe public education in many European nations will actually teach children in their mother nation's language.

In the US, the opposite is true. America actively encourages people to assimilate, and to my knowledge there are no public schools in the entire country that teaches in a language besides English. There are no public schools that teach in Spanish or Chinese or Arabic, etc.

In socialist governments, ethnonationalism is fueled because the native majority population feels that their political and economic power is threatened by minority groups. Especially those that don't perform as well in economic matters. So the Left-wing desire for a socialist multicultural world can backfire, increasing the strength of right-wing causes.

In a more capitalist society, such as the US, people have little connection to their fellow citizens. If a poor Muslim immigrant comes to America, this has little effect on your average rich Christian American, because of the relatively weak social welfare system. There's less tax burden.

In the past, the US South had more populist and progressive politics than the US North. But this all changed once blacks were fully allowed into the Southern social systems. Suddenly, socialist programs no longer appealed to the poor white Southerners.

So what I'm saying is that multiculturalism, when combined with democratic socialism, usually has terrible results. I think that's a big cause of cultural tensions in Europe. If Europe was less democratic and more capitalist, it'd have a much easier time pursuing multiculturalism.

This all being said... I'm a big fan/sympathiser of multiculturalism and socialism, but I do believe that both systems have a very difficult time coming together. Maybe something can fix this, but I have no idea what that could be.

11:12 PM  
Blogger Oleksa said...

To put it in a less flattering way, North Americans are more likely to have 'Politically Correct' views; and to use my friends terminology- North Americans are more 'militant' when it comes to the toleration/acceptance of minorities.
I actually tend to agree with the previous commentator, Charlie Six. Up to this point, Europe, and especially Scandinavia, has been almost much more PC than US and Canada. For example, they have been much more pro-Palestinian than the Americans (Lieberman would be considered a hardcore right-wing nut in Sweden or Norway).
But sometimes I think we're just splitting the hair by trying to find 'hidden' roots of the conflict. So we're missing the big picture here. It shouldn't be underestimated that European countries are
a) much smaller than the US so their capacity to absorb immigrants is much more limited (although it's often said that US has a different mindset when it comes to recent immigrants because it's an immigrant country I don't think it's that important due to what I have already mentioned - European public discourse is totally dominated by the Left which negates the differences between North America and Europe when it comes to previous socio-cultural patterns.
b) Europe's immigrants are a much more homogenous group than North American ones. In the UK they are predominantly Pakistani and Caribbean, in Holland - Moroccan and Turkish (the same in Germany), in France - mostly from Maghreb countries (Tunis and Algeria). Hence, they are much more likely to form a tight-knit group and don't assimilate.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Oleksa said...

In reply to the anonymous comment:
I really wish somebody could explain me what a 'spiritual genocide' is? What's the difference between 'literal' and 'non-literal' genocide?

5:19 PM  
Blogger A. Shah said...

OK, I think I'm beginning to understand why I don't see too many posts here. I spent about 30 minutes writing some big long post and it didn't go through and didn't save it anywhere. Unbelievably fucking annoying! I'm going to try to move this site off of blogger at some point. Blogger may be simple to set up but it does have some bugs.

7:32 PM  
Blogger A. Shah said...

Ok, I'm going to try this again. And this time I'm going to copy what I write before I try to post it ;-)

charlie_six
From what I hear, the more leftwing a European nation is, the more it encourages its immigrant populations to maintain their culture, to prosper in their new lands while maintaining their cultures.I believe public education in many European nations will actually teach children in their mother nation's language.
In the US, the opposite is true. America actively encourages people to assimilate, and to my knowledge there are no public schools in the entire country that teaches in a language besides English.


I'm not too sure about this, but I don't think there are many European countries that have a mulitcultural policy. Since they're nation-states are largely based on a specific ethnic group- there's a lot of resistance to the idea of other groups having 'equal' status. There may be some Euro countries that allow schooling in the mother tongue. But I'm assuming that if they do allow it, it's used for temporary workers who don't have full citizenship and are officially expected to go back to their home countries. I think the States demanding language assimilation isn't unreasonable since in the long run it's essential for any immigrants really planning on staying in the new country.

In socialist governments, ethnonationalism is fueled because the native majority population feels that their political and economic power is threatened by minority groups. Especially those that don't perform as well in economic matters...In a more capitalist society, such as the US, people have little connection to their fellow citizens. If a poor Muslim immigrant comes to America, this has little effect on your average rich Christian American, because of the relatively weak social welfare system. There's less tax burden.


I think you have a valid point here. Welfare programs do seem to work best in ethnically and economically homogenous societies. As you suggest, people will be more supportive of these programs if they trust the recipients and feel that they share their values. I think that ties in with my libertarian argument. Economic libertarianism does mean the state has less demands on its citizens, and allows them to live their lives as they please. When the government does dole out money it usually comes with certain preconditions and expectations in terms of what sort of lifestyle the person receiving them should have. Having said that, I think there are certain universals that all cultures can agree in terms of welfare (health care, old age security, food and shelter for the destitute).


Ilya

Up to this point, Europe, and especially Scandinavia, has been almost much more PC than US and Canada. For example, they have been much more pro-Palestinian than the Americans

I really wouldn't describe being pro-Palestinian as 'PC'. I don't know if you noticed but being critical of Israel and its supporters isn't the most popular position to take in the Western world. Being openly critical of Israel is pretty much the exception even in Europe- it's extremely controversial and infuriates a powerful minority group. People risk being labelled as 'anti-semitic' for expressing even mildly critical viewpoints on Israel. If that isn't the definition of 'PC' then I don't know what is. 'PC' doesn't just mean whatever some people on the 'left' think.
Anyways, I was specifically was talking about 'PC' in terms of racial/ethnic minorities. Bringing up the Scandinavian support for Palestine is a 'red-herring'.

European countries are
a) much smaller than the US so their capacity to absorb immigrants is much more limited


Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe the US and Canada have proportionally higher immigration levels than just about any European country. So you're argument doesn't really hold.

b) Europe's immigrants are a much more homogenous group than North American's

Yeah this is true to some degree, and I do think its a factor. First of all, in many cases this is largely a consequence of their colonial history. The specifically allowed in certain minorities because they were from the colonies. Often it was a matter of reluctance towards immigration, and only allowing the good obedient colonials to come. To some extent I believe they could have had more diverse patterns of immigration but didn't choose it. Furthermore, many of those colonials have already been inculcated in the Euro countries culture in their homelands, but for whatever reason that's still not enough. Most important of all, I just don't think reluctance on the part of the new immigrants is biggest part of the lack of integration. When I was in paris this summer, almost all the cabbies were north african arabs. They were all quite proud of the city and all seemed to be French patriots. Whenever I steered the conversation towards racial/ethnic issues they seemed pretty uncomfortable. This behavior doesn't strike me as being that of people who don't want to assimilate, quite the opposite really. It seemed to me that they very much wanted to be part of French society but felt like they would always be viewed as 'not really being French'. By the way, whenever I talked to an immigrant in Europe their faces always lit up when I mentioned I was from Canada. They had a very positive attitude toward Canada, and invariably started talking about how nice it would be live there (excluding the cold weather of course).

9:16 PM  

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