TCS Daily

Facing Europe's Islamic Challenge

By S. Enders Wimbush - July 27, 2005 12:00 AM

The continuing London bombings starkly highlight the homeland security implications of Europe's growing population of disaffected Muslims. Despite the prominence of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, Islamic extremists have long identified Europe as the weak link in their putative "Crusader-Zionist" adversary.

Al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups have relied heavily on recent Muslim immigrants to Europe to conduct attacks there and provide support networks for extra-European operations. More recently, they have sought to circumvent strengthened anti-terrorist measures by recruiting members from among Islamic converts and second-generation Muslim immigrants. Besides the London bombings, this strategy's effectiveness became evident in 2003, when two second-generation British Muslims (also of South Asian descent) carried out a successful suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. As EU citizens, these operatives can more easily travel within Europe and to Israel, the United States, and other EU partner countries.

The terrorists' strategy for generating additional European recruits is simple: launch vicious attacks and count on the resulting harsh government crackdown to alienate the local Muslims.

Dealing with this threat requires European leaders to address directly a series of difficult policy challenges. Historically desperate for labor, European governments have been importing workers from North Africa, South Asia, and other predominately Muslim regions for decades. At present, approximately 15 million Muslim immigrants live on the continent, with large concentrations in Britain, Germany, and France. Unfortunately, Muslim immigrants to Europe and their children do not integrate well, often clustering into crime-ridden ghettos. Exploiting popular perceptions of crime as a "Muslim" problem, right-wing parties have gained support by attacking lax government policies. Mainstream European leaders have responded by restricting the use of asylum and other legal mechanisms that facilitate Muslim immigration. They also have exerted greater control over Islamic religious, charitable, and educational institutions active in Europe. After London, efforts to control and exclude Muslims are likely to appear more attractive than trying to assimilate them: a distant goal and uncertain process.

Ideally, access to local, national, and EU-wide democratic political institutions could make Muslims feel more assimilated as well as more influential. In practice, however, since existing institutions or cultures typically do not welcome them, some European Muslims become attractive, often willing, targets for radical Islamic activists and clerics. Non-Muslim voters have responded to the growing Muslim presence by resisting further European integration, especially proposals to offer Turkey EU membership. Stricter immigration and travel controls, however, could antagonize Europe's Muslims and deny law enforcement authorities valuable intelligence and other assistance

Europeans periodically express interest in learning from the U.S. experience with immigration. There is a widespread belief in Europe that a distinct American "melting pot" model exists that might provide insights for their national or EU-wide policies. Europeans, however, often fail to appreciate its complexity. Some American best practices might transfer well to Europe, but they likely would require major changes in several important European policy dimensions. For example, the U.S. political system is typically more accessible than its European counterparts, and American federalism gives local authorities greater influence over educational requirements (including language instruction). The less generous U.S. social welfare policies also promote integration because immigrants need to learn English to earn a decent living-thereby becoming economic stakeholders in the process.

Many Europeans would reject such far-reaching restructuring as a cure worse than the disease. Others, however, might consider Europe's changing ethnic mixture as an occasion to revitalize its political, economic, and social institutions, whether through EU-led actions or other initiatives. Another view is that Muslim assimilation simply will not occur even if European governments make unprecedented efforts to promote it. If this is the case, then a very different set of policies should ensue. In any case, the London bombings demonstrate that European leaders can no longer continue to duck this issue.

S. Enders Wimbush is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Future Security Strategies at the Hudson Institute. Dr. Richard Weitz, a former NATO Research Fellow, is the Center's Associate Director.


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