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Raphael Israeli is a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of numerous books including The Third Islamic Invasion of Europe (forthcoming); Green Crescent Over Nazareth; Islam in China: Religion, Ethnicity, Culture, and Politics; The Iraq War: Hidden Agendas and Babylonian Intrigue: The Regional Impact on Shiites, Kurds, Sunnis and Arabs; and Palestinians Between Nationalism and Islam.
The Muslim world includes 57 Muslim-majority countries spanning Asia and Africa, comprising about 1.5 billion believers, making it the second-largest faith after Christianity. Since its inception, Islam spread, as did other faiths, by conquest, missionary work, or through expanding trade from the core areas of Islam in the Middle East to the Far East and the coasts of Africa. While Islam was extending its rule into others' territories, it necessarily came into armed conflict with the prevailing cultures, like the Berbers in North Africa, the Hindus of the Indian subcontinent, or the Christians of the Middle East and Europe.
But since the Europeans halted the Muslim Ottomans at the gates of Vienna in the late seventeenth century, and the British defeated the Muslim Moghuls in India in the nineteenth century, a reversal in the fortunes of Islam has unfolded. Thenceforth, Islamic was in descent and the European and Western powers were on the ascent. As Islam withdrew, independent Judeo-Christian and Hindu nations emerged in the Balkans, in India, and in Palestine, and the remaining Islamic world was colonized by Europe, until its reemergence as independent nation-states after the world wars.
The Attraction of European Society
Colonization had its long-term effects nonetheless, inasmuch as modernization, both in thought and in effect, set in and began gnawing at the monopoly of Islam in those societies. As a result, the elites of those emerging new nations took to Western culture and learned the languages, the mores, the civilizations, the institutions, and the thought of their occupiers, and remained tied to them long after their emancipation from foreign rule. So, after attaining independence, many formerly colonized populations moved to the metropolis of their previous occupiers and established Muslim communities there.
Some of the newcomers were more at home in the ambiance of their newly adopted cultures than in their original homes where they had become alienated. Others went in search of better economic opportunities. Still others came for study periods or to seek political asylum, but then were reluctant to relinquish the freedom, prosperity, and tranquility of the West and to return to the poverty, oppression, and turmoil of their own countries. Compared to the immense populations of their original homelands, these were tiny trickles of privileged individuals or families who were intent on adapting to their new environments, to adopt their new countries and cultures as their own, and to take the necessary steps to merge into the host-cultures of their choice. Their limited numbers, on the one hand, and their dispersion among the general population, on the other, was a built-in guarantee that in no time they would integrate into the mainstream and assimilate completely.
The rapid economic growth of Europe in the aftermath of World War II - due to both reconstruction of the ravages of war and the economic and technological revolutions that those societies underwent, coupled with the very slow pace of reproduction of European populations, where both men and women were seeking careers rather than raising families - brought about an acute shortage of manpower. Former colonies, where manpower was available that required relatively limited cultural adaptation, became the plentiful sources for unskilled laborers who slowly at first, and then in droves, would lavishly replenish the dwindling pool of workers in Europe. In addition, vast countries like the U.S., Canada, and Australia, which had been founded as immigrant societies, would also absorb much of this massive immigration from Muslim countries to the West.
Abusing European Generosity
This growing movement of populations now came to encompass not only adventurers and seekers of new economic opportunities, but also increasing numbers of "political refugees," some of whom were genuine asylum seekers from their oppressive regimes at home. Many others, however, abused the generosity, concern for human rights, and openness of the West to escape "justice" in their own countries or to use their countries of asylum as launching pads for political struggle against their home regimes. Eventually, some of these immigrants would turn against their adoptive countries and launch terrorist campaigns against them.
These new immigrants, who for the most part gained local citizenship after the requisite period of residency, which varies from one country to another, soon began to have an impact on their adoptive countries in different areas:
A Population Explosion in the Muslim World
Generally speaking, the billion and a half Muslims of the world are distributed into three major blocs: about one-third in the Middle East and Africa, with the Arabs constituting over half, with another 150 million in Turkey and Iran (75 million each), and the rest in black Africa, principally Nigeria and the Horn of Africa. Another third encompass the Indian subcontinent with its three major components of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh with about 150 million in each country, and smaller Muslim populations in Afghanistan and Central Asia. The rest are concentrated in East and Southeast Asia, with about half in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, and the rest in Malaysia, and Muslim minorities in Thailand, Burma, the Philippines, and in Russia and China (about 25 million in each).
The growth of Islam in the Western societies of Europe, America, and Australia is quite a new phenomenon, and as its numbers increase, either via immigration (legal or illegal) or by natural growth, the awakening of a Muslim identity discourages integration and gives rise to problems. There are already areas in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Britain where Muslim children constitute the majority of the school population, a situation that is pregnant with disaffection and can potentially lead to unrest and terror.
Beyond its expansion into new areas, such as Western democracies, the Islamic world has sustained a consistent internal growth of 3 percent for many years, that is, a doubling of the total population every 25 years. This means that with this high birthrate, a result of tradition, prohibitions on birth control, and the general trend in the developing world where the rich get richer and the poor have more children, and decreasing mortality due to health improvements, there is a virtual population explosion in the Islamic world.
Countries like Iran, Turkey, and Egypt, which boasted populations of 35-40 million in the 1980s, have each doubled since then. Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, where the Muslim populations were already high in the 1980s, have also doubled since then. Smaller countries like Saudi Arabia, Syria, Morocco, and Algeria have also doubled their populations, as have the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. So, in general, the three-quarter billion Muslim population of the 1980s has soared to one and a half billion, that is, 25 percent of the estimated world population of six billion. Moreover, since most of this population is young, the rapid demographic growth in those countries will continue apace as the children in this population come of age.
While demographic statistics in those countries are not always reliable, there is little doubt about the trends. Moreover, while European statistics on incoming Muslim legal immigrants can be relied upon, the countless illegal migrants remain uncounted. A lack of statistics from the Muslim countries of emigration further complicates the calculations of demographers. Yet one thing is certain: an immense surplus of Muslim manpower has been migrating into Western democracies, either as "political refugees," as welcome manpower for manual jobs that Europeans are reluctant to do, or as illegal migrants who easily slip through porous European borders.
Muslims in Europe
When Europe changed the rules and began to tighten its border control following major terrorist attacks in Madrid and London in 2004-5, the 25 million-strong Muslim population of Europe was already difficult to supervise due to the liberal freedom of movement allowed Europeans across the entire expanse of the European Union. An additional source of demographic growth for the Muslim population in the West is domestic proselytization, which produces some of the most devout and radical Muslims, like the Black Muslims of America, and potential recruits for terrorism like Richard Reed in the UK. In France alone, it is estimated that in the decade between 1995 and 2005, some 50,000 Christian French converted to Islam.
These figures amount in their aggregate to a Muslim population of about 6 percent in the European Union today, with France reaching 10 percent (6 out of 60 million), and 7 percent in the Netherlands and Belgium. In Germany, Britain, Italy, and Spain, Muslims can be counted in the millions, and Muslim visibility and public prominence seem out of proportion to their real numbers for a number of reasons:
Factors Limiting Growth of Muslim Identity in Europe
On the other hand, several factors militate against an even faster rise of Muslim communitarian identity and demographic growth in Europe, as discussed in Amitai Etzioni's seminal work:1
Muslims Confront European Host Societies
As long as Islam lived within its traditional boundaries, its tensions and frictions with the West remained outside the domain of the Western public; it was remote and lay beyond the horizon. But with the rise of fundamentalist Islam and the increase of Muslim immigration to the West, Muslims learned to face up to their host societies and even to confront them in debate. Their growing self-confidence and self-assertion taught them that they could debate the West without being imprisoned or executed, as they would be in their home countries.
For the Europeans, the clash of civilizations, which had taken place for centuries on the borders of Christendom, moved into their own heartland and they were unprepared for it. Convinced that their open and democratic societies would prevail and lead the new immigrants to abandon their roots and identity, Europeans were shocked to discover that over the years the gaps had widened, the differences grew into clashes, and the complaints had grown into demands. The Westerners began to realize that they were obliterating their traditionally homogeneous societies in favor of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and at times even multi-linguistic ones. Europeans began to see their goodwill and hospitality towards Muslims "rewarded" by violent demonstrations.
This European reaction will not make it easy for Turkey to enter the European Union. Bringing Turkey in would mean not only freedom of movement of Turkish labor and nationals throughout Europe, but also spreading the message of Islam into all corners of the continent. With some 6-7 percent of the EU population Muslim today (25 million out of 380 million), frictions are already difficult; how much more so if 75 million Muslim Turks would join, raising the rate of Muslims to 20-25 percent (100 million out of 450 million). The rapid growth of the Muslim population, on the one hand, and the shrinkage of the European family unit, on the other, would mean that in the next generation Europe may become half Muslim. Britain, the most ardent proponent of Turkish integration into the EU, agreed to suspend the talks between the parties when it realized that Turkish oppression of the Kurds continues unabated, that women are still discriminated against in Turkish society, and that Turkish school textbooks, which are monitored by the EU, contain thousands of cases of racism and human rights abuses, notably negative portrayals of Greeks, Jews, Kurds, and Armenians.2
The Behavior of Muslim Minorities
Demography has a long-term effect on the chances of coexistence in countries where Muslims are a minority because of the built-in contradiction between the requirement of Muslims to live under Islamic rule, since only there can the Law of Allah can be brought to bear, and the grim necessity for many Muslims to escape from the persecution of their Muslim regimes in order to seek refuge in the West. Believers who live in non-Muslim lands must either regard their stay there as temporary, and in the meantime do their best to live their Muslim life undisturbed, or return to the Abode of Islam as soon as they can, or try to turn their country of residence into a Muslim one by seizing power in it. For this reason, Muslim minorities have pursued states of mind varying from quietist acceptance of permanent minority status to violent rebellion.
The response of the Muslim minority depends in no small measure on the perceived threat posed to it by the majority host culture. Whenever coexistence with it seems feasible, as was the case with Muslim minorities in the West before the rise of fundamentalism among them, they could always say that as long that they could perform the obligations of their faith without inhibition, they could consider themselves as living within enclaves of the Abode of Islam, a state of affairs they could bear indefinitely. But as soon as perceived oppression made their lives as Muslims untenable, and they diagnosed their position as dwellers in the Abode of War, they were set on a collision course with their hosts, and conflict ensued.
Additional variables have an impact, including the general Muslim environment, which when embracing the road of militancy can draw behind it Muslim minorities who are fascinated by its power, which compensates for their feelings of oppression, underprivileged status, and hopelessness in tackling the requirements of modern life. Furthermore, the larger the minority, to the point of constituting local majorities in certain areas, the more it feels self-confident to challenge the majority. In areas where large concentrations of Muslims are clustered together, they feel strong enough to advance demands and to resort to violence or to threaten the use of violence if their demands are not fulfilled. Finally, if the regime under which they live is as oppressive as their own countries of origin, they would be less inclined to rebel, knowing what their punishment would entail, but under the liberal democratic rule of the West, it is easier for them to act to undermine it and paradoxically seek its destruction because it gives them more leeway.
There was a time when Muslim minorities were quite limited in numbers and scope of dispersion, usually as a result of interaction with the colonial powers who encouraged a certain amount of "natives" to tread their cultural ways in their own metropolitan centers, and some of them intermarried and stayed. However, the large waves of Muslim immigrants since the mid-twentieth century to the Americas, Australia and Europe, and more so the opening labor markets in the West to Muslim "guest-workers," coupled with important movements of conversion to Islam as a result of intense Muslim da'wa (mission), has dramatically increased the numbers of Muslim migrants to those countries. Moreover, the "guests" have come to regard themselves as permanent residents with all attending privileges of citizenship and social benefits. Not only do they not any longer regard their presence outside the realm of Islam as temporary, embarrassing and calling for justification, but with the birth in place of the second and third generations, who grow to learn the languages, cultures and ways of their new habitats, the process of their acculturation into their new homelands has accelerated.
As Muslim Populations Grow, the Illusion of Integration Fades
As long as their rate in the general populations of their new countries was negligible, and the socio-political environment was liberal (like in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Israel and Europe), then social pluralism and individual freedom of worship were advocated by the Muslim minorities. Under oppressive regimes like the Soviet or the Chinese, the Muslims were quick to adopt material acculturation into their host society, with all the trappings of language, dress, education and participation in the elites and social customs. The core of the faith was kept almost intact however, with the Muslim calendar, festivals, dietary laws, worship, and places of prayer preserved to the extent possible. This was easier in areas where Muslim minorities were more sizeable and commanded the critical mass necessary to entertain communal life, and much more difficult when the Muslim population was so sparse as to render any public display of Muslim identity impractical.
When Muslim minorities become frustrated by the unworkability of a pluralistic society, either because they believe they are discriminated against or their expectations are not met, they become antagonistic to their host society. This is so much more so when they perceive the majority as having transgressed the limits of previous coexistence and encroached upon their freedom of worship or conduct. In such cases, they use Western vocabulary (freedom, tolerance, democracy, human rights, etc.) to impress upon their hosts that while they wish to play by the rules of their adoptive countries, it is the latter that violate them. In more extreme cases, like with some Muslim fundamentalist leaders (religious actors par excellence) in London, they claim that they came to Europe in order to change it, not to be reshaped by it, or they reject Western attitudes altogether. This sets the Muslim minority, and especially the fundamentalist elements in its midst, on a collision course with the host authorities. Militant elements among this disaffected minority may seek political or cultural autonomy (such as the London Muslim "Parliament").
In India, Muslims had conquered the land and subjugated Hinduism, but when Muslim power was eroded by the British, Islam sought and achieved separation from the Hindus for the most part, rather than submit to the democratic rule of modern India that would have allowed the Hindus to exercise political domination over the Muslims. When the majority of Indian Muslims established their own state (Pakistan), their 'ulama spoke of the reinstitution of the Shari'a as their state law. There was no alternative to this arrangement if one bears in mind the fact that Islam is incompatible with other political ideologies.
As Orthodox Muslims see it, and much more so the fundamentalists among them, Islam is ideally an either-or affair. Either Islamic law and institutions are given full expression and dominate state life or, failing that, if the state is non-Islamic, Muslims should try to reverse the situation or leave.
Despite the initial naïve days of Muslim immigration into Europe, when it was assumed that Muslim minorities would integrate painlessly into the much more prosperous nations where they made their new homes, difficulties began to emerge from the outset, which were dismissed as pangs of acculturation. But as the years passed, the Muslim communities grew, their Muslim radicalism came to the surface, and the illusion of integration began to fade, replaced by the illusory vision of multi-cultural societies, which made cultural concessions to the immigrants in order to accommodate them and make them partners in the system. But far from satisfying the Muslims of Europe, whose growing numbers gave them the necessary self-confidence to defy the system, that only further increased their sense of alienation from their host countries. The Europeans, in turn, sensing that their liberalism had turned against them, began to try to back-pedal, but it was too late and the collision became inevitable.
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1. Amitai Etzioni, From Empire to Community (New York: McMillan, 2004).
2. Anthony Browne and Suna Erdem, "Education Clash Holds Up EU Talks," The Times (UK), April 8, 2006.
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