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Thought Experiment - A Muslim Europe?
Thought Experiment - A Muslim Europe?
I was actually joking. “These Muslims don’t have any respect for British mainstream culture. They walk around drenched in black, covering their faces, wearing their niqabs. If they’re going to come here, they should at least have respect for our values!” A statement like this would have inspired confusion among those who know me, since I am Muslim, but not British. My conversation partner,
Sunday, December 23,2007 03:56
by Shadi Hamid Democracy Arsenal

I was actually joking. “These Muslims don’t have any respect for British mainstream culture. They walk around drenched in black, covering their faces, wearing their niqabs. If they’re going to come here, they should at least have respect for our values!” A statement like this would have inspired confusion among those who know me, since I am Muslim, but not British. My conversation partner, who I had met just minutes before, apparently thought I was serious and began nodding vigorously. It perhaps helped (or didn’t help) that he was somewhat intoxicated, this being a late-night party with a surprising presence of Tories, some of whom might otherwise be susceptible to the neo-fascist lure of the British National Party. "The Muslims," he insisted to me, were a big problem, and he was angry about it. I felt like I was on a National Review cruise. I decided to play along because I wanted to hear more, not to mention that it can occasionally be amusing to indulge anti-Muslim hysterics. “Yes, the Muslims are invading Europe, aren’t they?” I evinced fake outrage.

Of course, the Muslims aren’t invading Europe, but that doesn’t mean the “Muslim problem” is an imaginary one, a phantom conjured up by right-wing mobs. Because in Britain (where this party took place), unlike in the United States, there really is a clash of cultures. Something is at stake. But if there is a problem, perhaps there is also a solution. “So what should we do about this?” I wondered out loud, probing my newfound friend further. He had a confused look on his face as he pondered the possibilities. He hesitated for a moment, and then smiled “We can outlaw being Muslim.” I countered that this probably wouldn’t be very “practical.”

But what to do? Even if he gave the wrong answer, it was still the right question. I was talking to a good friend of mine the other week, and the conversation veered into the thorny question of demographics. Even if immigration is halted 100% (which is impossible), the number of European Muslims will still continue to grow more rapidly than the rest of the population. Muslim birth rates are significantly higher than non-Muslim ones, the latter being quite low (this, after all, is Europe). So where Muslims are something like 8% of the population in France (and nearly 25% in cities like Berlin), these percentages will rise. What happens in 50 or 100 years (math is not my strong suit) when Muslims are coming close to, say, 40% of the population in some countries and are the clear majority in Europe’s largest cities?

My friend offered that this could very well mean the end of Europe as we know it, not because Muslims would try to impose shariah on their neighbors, but rather because the fear of Muslim ascendancy would trigger a return to full-blown fascism. And this would mean the end of the liberal idea. Civil liberties would come under sustained attack, the idea of ethnic cleansing would become fashionable in some quarters, and there would, again, be violence in the streets. This isn’t too farfetched. It probably would be comparable to the ideological polarization that Europe experienced in the late 60s and early 70s, when the socialist revolution threatened to overwhelm Western democracies, only this time the right – not the left – would be ascendant. But, still, I had to disagree with my friend. Is it possible that liberalism is that weak? In Europe, it often has been. It is of course hard to recall it now. Let’s not forget, though, that Srebrenica happened in the heart of Europe. It can happen again.

Still, it is unlikely for a variety of reasons. If Muslims are, say, 30% of the population, the leading mainstream parties will be increasingly dependent on Muslim electoral support. A major party, if it wanted to win, couldn’t afford to alienate the country’s largest minority group. By this time too, Muslims will presumably be playing a larger role in state institutions. Public institutions, being as strong as they are (at least in Western Europe), will likely temper, harness, and otherwise channel Muslim grievances, to the extent that those remain as salient as they are now. By definition, if you believe in imposition of shariah or do not respect the authority of British or French law, then you probably won’t get involved in French or British politics (which is precisely why there are no Hizb al-Tahriri MPs and likely never will be). So, these institutions are self-selecting in that they facilitate the rise of relatively moderate Muslim leaders (which is why British Muslim MPs are more moderate and "integrated" than the leaders of organizations like the Muslim British Council).

In any case, in 50 years, there will be more Muslims in parliament, more Muslims in the judiciary, more Muslims in civil society, and so on. And, at that point, it would be very difficult for “the state” to turn around and erase Muslim civil and political rights, or even go so far as to consider ethnic cleansing, because, by this time, Muslims will already have become an integral part of “the state.” This scenario, however, assumes a certain level of Muslim integration in the coming decades. There are other scenarios.

If Muslims continue to have considerable trouble integrating and find themselves more isolated, living in economic and political ghettos, then you may very well see a further development of parallel societies, where Muslims nurture their own “Islamized” institutions – Islamic schools, Islamic restaurants, Islamic music, Islamic media, Islamic law. This is already happening. Not all of this is bad in a “multicultural” society, but too much of it certainly is. Parallel societies, where different ideological groupings refuse to mix with each other, or fail to be exposed to each other’s ideas (akin to Europe’s left-right divide in the early 70s, or perhaps bearing some scant resemblance to America’s red-blue divide today, which some like Andrew Sullivan have termed a nonviolent civil war), then the future of liberal Europe will be very much in question.


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