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European Muslims, a Problem That Won't Go Away

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Woman_in_niqab,_Aleppo_(2010)USA Today is blasting a headline, More British Muslims fight for Islamic State than Britain, based on the fact that a conservative estimate suggests that 800 fighters for the Islamic State hold British Passports. It turns out that 600 Muslims serve in the British armed forces, which number 200,000. A separate article in The New York Times gives ballpark figures of 10 to 20 thousand as the number of fighters for the Islamic State overall. That means that 5 to 10 percent of the forces of the Islamic State are British.

There are about 2.7 million Muslims in the United Kingdom. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. That means 0.17% of the world’s Muslims are British. About 1 out of 600. Let’s say that 5% of the fighters for the Islamic State are British. 1 out of 20. British Muslims are represented at a 30-fold greater rate in the Islamic State than their world-wide representation among Muslims. Overall about 2,000 Europeans are believed to be serving in the forces of the Islamic State. About 20 to 45 million Muslims live in Europe (this is dependent on whether you’re talking about the European Union only, or include Russia). So at most 3% of the world’s Muslims are European nationals. But they make up 10 to 20 percent of the fighting forces of the Islamic State, depending on how you gauge the figures.

I review these numbers because I believe they are a place where we can start to grapple with the facts that confront us. It is easy to say “Islam is the problem,” but that is as informative as saying that all phenomena can be reduced to physics. That is true on some level, but it is useless in a practical sense. The gross over-representation of European Muslims is of interest, because if it was simply Islam then there wouldn’t be an over-representation. On flip side it seems hard to deny that Left multiculturalism which presupposes that accommodation and acceptance will serve as a balm against all separatist inclinations among Muslims simply is hard to support. Britain arguably is the most accommodating of European nations to Islam and the Muslim community, but it is contributing far greater than its quota to the forces of the Islamic State. These issues are complex, but they need to be confronted without qualms. The chickens are going to come home to roost soon.

Addendum: “European Muslims” includes a diverse array of individuals and populations. There are European ethnic groups which are historically majority Muslim, such as Albanians and Bosnians. Then there are the immigrant communities. And finally there are the converts.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Islamic State 

28 Comments to "European Muslims, a Problem That Won't Go Away"

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  1. Encourage assimilation? Prevent further immigration? What good options are there? It’s all well and good to say multiculturalism is failing, but what angle do you even begin attacking this problem from in an evidenced based way?

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  2. Question of the day: why are there so many Jihadists coming from Western Europe’s Muslim population, but not from America’s? What is America doing right that Britain is doing wrong? Or is it that the kind of Muslim immigrants coming to the U.S. simply less likely to be Jihadists? American Muslims are much less likely to be South Asian or North African than in Europe… what are the other (meaningful) demographic distinctions here?

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  3. They are coming back… only in TV reruns. They are going to be dead. You think MI5 aren’t glad to see the back of them?

    The UK Muslim probem is being solved, abroad. France may soon wish it had a foreign flytrap.

  4. says:
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    Western Europe produces so many Muslim Jihadists because:

    1. The generous welfare system allows Muslims the leisure to pursue jihad rather than work (in the US they have to work).
    2. A worse sort of Muslim migrates to Western Europe; the US tends to attract more professionals than Europe which receives all sorts, and the UK might be the worst as it attracts ex-colonials of all sorts.
    3. Second-generation foreigners have a romanticized view of their religion/home country as they did not directly experience how horrible it was; their parents did (which is why they left).
    4. The family unit is degraded by European culture. A family man who is embedded in a network of mutual obligations is not likely to become a jihadi. A rootless foreigner who associates with strangers at his local mosque and is not depended upon to provide for a wife, children, parents, other family members is good jihadi material.

  5. Chickens? Are you the Bangla Al sharpton?

    I think this is a sloppy post. As you well know, the approach to multi confessionalism varies greatly across Europe, as do European Muslim communities. Despite what you and tariq Ramadan would claim, there is no “European Muslim”. Your post does not support the elision from British to European.

    Second, the post could compare the proportion of British Muslims working for Isis with the proportion of other nationalities. Are educated / literate Indian Muslims also overrepresented? Is this a british problem or a south Asian problem?

    I’m asking a lot of a part time hobbyist blogger, but i think it is reasonable. You are making a large claim, which demands strong evidence. And you are now a blogger that gets quoted in the NYT, which leads to higher expectations of quality.

  6. I suppose American muslims are drawn from the wealthy, middle-class of muslim countries (economic migrants) whereas European muslims and especially british muslims are descendants of poor peasants from punjab.

    Another thing that comes to mind is, how many American “muslims” are actually practicing muslims, and not just people who show up in the census as immigrants from a muslim country (or people with a muslim background) . A lot of people from iran came as political refugees when the mullahs took over. They are still counted as American muslims? For some reason I expect they won’t be very muslim-y.

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  7. Because they make up a significantly higher portion of Britain’s population, and they concentrate that population in places like London and Birmingham to keep cultural cohesion. Imagine if there were at least forty Dearborn, Michigan’s in this country and you would start getting an idea of it. Now combine that with higher unemployment, and that would start making it worse.

    The only difference is that the US doesn’t have a deep colonial past like Britain’s that all but guarantees that the spigot of immigration from those countries can’t end. I don’t think it really has much to do with what we’re doing “right”. It’s sheer luck, and luck that we could throw away pretty easily.


    “There’s something about US muslims that is distinctive”

    But what is it? Better opportunity for political involvement? I’ve always thought it could be that Muslim immigrants perceive US citizens as less forgiving on this issue so the ones that come here are a self selected group of more moderate people. But Australians aren’t too forgiving either and I don’t think they have the same luck. Be interested to know.

  9. “The gross over-representation of European Muslims is of interest, because if it was simply Islam then there wouldn’t be an over-representation. ”

    Left-wing multiculturalists (and probably some Europe-bashing American conservatives too) will probably argue that it’s all the fault of “racist” Europeans who haven’t been welcoming enough towards Muslim immigrants, thereby alienating them and driving them to Islamic extremism. So perversely the response will probably be agitation for more multiculturalism and increased efforts to combat “Islamophobia” when returning jihadis manage to blow up some trains or commit some other kind of indiscriminate massacre in European countries.

  10. just to be clear, i wasn’t really entertaining a comparison to american muslims. i think the reasons for why this group is under-represented vis-a-vis european muslims is pretty straightforward in terms of a variety of reasons. primarily that it lacks ethnic cohesion and is relatively well integrated into the broader economy socioeconomically (though *transnational* jihadis often come from upper middle class backgrounds).

    the key is the over-representation in relation to the broad mass of middle eastern, african, and south/southeast asian muslims. the social surveys suggest that european muslims are more liberal than muslims in much of the world, *as a whole*. so i think what we’re seeing is that on the frontiers of a civilization (i.e., islam) you have two responses to interaction. cosmopolitanism, and this. the ottomans where ghazis on the perpetual frontier….

  11. #9, that’s why i point to the british example. of the european nations britain has been the most accommodating to muslims. but it has arguably had the least success in tamping down radicalism. this could partly be attributed to the source populations…

  12. ikram,

    1) readers should know you’ve been busting my balls in terms of sloppiness for 12 years now

    2) perhaps i’ve gotten better and that’s why i’m quoted in *the new york times*?

    3) though seriously, i wrote this post in the 15 minutes before i went to sleep

    4) i will have deeper thoughts when i am done with finishing a re-write of a scientific paper i am working on

  13. “but it has arguably had the least success in tamping down radicalism. this could partly be attributed to the source populations…”

    Yes, didn’t you have a post some years ago that dealt with this in detail? If I remember correctly, there were some pretty shocking results of opinion surveys concerning Pakistan (e.g. way above 50% of Pakistanis think “apostasy” should be punished with death), whereas support for such views was quite low in semi-westernized Turkey.
    Britain’s immigration policy (especially during the Blair-Brown years when the UK’s Muslim population doubled) has been insane, importing masses of people known to be prone to Islamist views – at a time when Britain’s armed forces battled Islamists in Afghanistan – was totally irresponsible.

  14. #13, yes, you are correct. but if you look at the guesses though british muslims are the most numerous, it looks like germans are just behind them. that’s one reason that germany is so alarmed. so going based on that model the gaps between european muslim contingents in representation should be greater than they are. i suspect part of the answer is that ISIS is skewing toward a radical segment which is isn’t representative of the underlying dynamics, but a particular phenomenon.

  15. #15, there are about 100 americans in ISIS. there are about the same number of muslims in the USA. they’ve always punched below their weight vis-a-vis brits. that’s a fact.

  16. I recommend John Updike’s novel Terrorist, an empathetic account of what goes on in the mind of a young Muslim high school student growing up in the burbs of New Jersey, for insight. Assimilation is a bitch.

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  17. says:
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    In New York City at least, you see many muslim womenbwearing various coverings, if that is any indication of being “real” muslims. There are some women at my university wearing full Niqabs, and many more wearing various hair covers of all sorts. I live in a very mixed neighborhood with many mosques, hookah bars and Arab restaurants… They seem quite Muslimbto me, and indeed the NYC police are known to spy on mosques and muslims relentlessly here.

    Further, the largest community of Muslims is Bengali here, Bengali is more spoken in NYC than Arabic. Are Bengalis less likely to be jihadists than other south Asians? I do not know.

    I know many Muslims here who are rather Americanized whie still fasting for Ramadan, celebrating Eid, do not eat pork, but otherwise do not follow Muslim rules, ie date non muslims, drink and smoke, etc.

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  18. Let me apologize if this seems a trivial point, but is this not a similar phenomenon to the pattern where revolutionary actors break out in countries in the generation after some reforms have begun to have some improving effect on conditions sufficient for them to have, even marginally, greater freedoms of movement and education, though in this case they are originating from within an emigrant group rather than the societies their revolutionary interest really focuses upon?

    As to American Muslims, is it that they have a much wider and more various origin, where in Europe they tend to be more homogenous, mostly from North Africa in France, mostly from Pakistan or India in Britain?

  19. This is very important. I live in a neighborhood in Austin, Texas, that has a lot of Muslim residents, including my neighbors across the street. Their son was in Cub Scouts with mine. ISIS is about as popular as Ebola among my neighbors. Granted this is not a representative sample, but there just doesn’t appear to be much sympathy for International Jihad among American Muslims. (My neighbors are mostly of Indian or Pakistani origin. None are converts.) I think the key difference between the US and European Muslims is that the US only became an occupying colonial power in a Muslim country in 2003; there is no lingering resentment of us as The Man, in the same way people from Pakistan feel about England or North Africans feel about France. There is also the fact that American Muslims are almost all highly educated and employed. My neighbors are all engineers, with good jobs, something which encourages assimilation. Finally, the US has historically provided a path for assimilation that allows immigrants and their descendants to feel both American and loyal to their culture. We like ethnic restaurants and having new holidays celebrated. (An Indian family I know puts up lights every year for Diwali and gives out cookies. How can you dislike a source of cookies?) My experience with Europeans is that they aren’t quite as open. They define being “French” not by “living in France and participating in French civic life” so much as “having the right accent, surname, and taste in food.” Granted that French food is one of humanity’s great achievements, but it’s still alienating.

  20. I understand that this wasn’t meant to be the focus of the post but I feel it’s relevant:
    Why Is Britain a Breeding Ground for ISIS Terrorists?

    “What we’ve done is to wade through the numbers of foreign fighters in relations to the Muslim population of those countries. When you do it like that, Belgium is actually way off the chart. But the Scandinavian countries feature very highly, and Britain as well.”

  21. I’ve always found it interesting among the nominally Muslim guys I know in the US that the taboo against eating pork is so strong. Gambling, fornicating, drinking alcohol are fine though.

  22. I think the key difference between the US and European Muslims is that the US only became an occupying colonial power in a Muslim country in 2003;

    sort of. barbary priates? also, the relationship with israel has entangled the US with mideast for a long time (since 68). before that it was the saudis (still) and iran (until the revolution).

    My experience with Europeans is that they aren’t quite as open. They define being “French” not by “living in France and participating in French civic life” so much as “having the right accent, surname, and taste in food.

    this isn’t entirely unfair. but, i think it is unfair to france, which is the one european nation which like the USA has been a ‘nation of immigrants’ since the 19th century. i think france has done a better job of assimilating non-europeans (no one even thinks much about the french of polish, italian, spanish, etc. descent, like sarkozy, what a gallic name! :-) than any other european nation except britain, depending on your definition/criteria. it simply has a huge non-european population, so ethnic conflict is going to have a higher profile than in a nation like denmark, where non-europeans are a smaller fraction.

    but, i do think there is a traditionalism in some aspects of european culture which are hard to assimilate to. e.g., heimat type stuff. french cuisine for example as it is understood today (before catherine de medici brought her books north french cuisine was more like british food) is going to have a hard time being halal because of pork. drinking beer is part & parcel of being german or nordic.

    I’ve always found it interesting among the nominally Muslim guys I know in the US that the taboo against eating pork is so strong. Gambling, fornicating, drinking alcohol are fine though.

    food taboos tend to get set between age 5 and 10. even if you have no religious objection to eating something, it might be difficult for you to overcome revulsion. e.g., most americans have a hard time with the thought of eating dog even if they have no religious objection.

    #19, i think you’re hitting on something. left anarchism didn’t start out as distinctively jewish, but it attracted a lot of disaffected jews for a long time.

  23. I’ve only heard terrible reviews of that novel.

    Chris Hitchens also gave the novel a poor review, calling it one of the worst novels ever written (he said this not in the review, but in a separate interview), but said that James Wood’s review was far superior (he said this in the same interview).

    I’ve never read the novel, but James Wood is considered by many to be the best literary critic around, so I thought i should mention his review.

  24. Why are there any?

    Muslims residing permanently in Britain, I mean. I doubt you could make an economic argument for more than the few thousand with pricey flats on Hyde Park and the like.

    Supposedly it’s a democratic society, so surely there must be some referendums where the people asked for more of them. Please point me towards some.

  25. says:
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    Muslim immigration to Europe and elsewhere in the west is the most stupid, insane, dangerous, suicidal and destructive policy ever pursued by our political elites. True madness in the worst possible way. It may prove to be the greatest mistake in all of Europe’s long checkered history.

  26. In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.[1][2]

    Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. When inconsistency (dissonance) is experienced, individuals largely become psychologically distressed…
    The existence of dissonance, being psychologically uncomfortable, will motivate the person to try to reduce the dissonance and achieve consonance
    I do not want to simplify Dissonance Theory, but one can see in a culture which fosters easy assimilation the chance of an individual experiencing internal inconsistency increases.
    One way of reducing this dissonance is to devalue one alternative. And overvalue the other. Religious Conservatism devalues “Liberal” assimalation. While overvaluing religion. Jihadism is a quite effective way of devaluing Western assimilation.

  27. Razib,

    The lack of assimilation by muslims differs a lot by ethnicity.

    Here in the Netherlands, muslims tend to come in a few groups; 1) Moroccans, 2) Turks, 3) Surinamese (mostly Javanese & muslim Indians), 4) other (Bosnians, Africans, refugees, converts). I’d wager 3 & 4 are almost never a problem. They’re too fragmented to organize, more socio-economically integrated and these people(s) seem to realize a ticket to Europe (except converts) was the best thing to happen to them.

    Dutch Turks tend to be like German Turks: small business owners or employed in low-paying jobs and/or unemployed, religious, show some problems with school drop out rates & crime; in general Turks are not very remarkable or problematic.

    Dutch Moroccans, however, are remarkable. And problematic. A significant part of Moroccan minority seems unable to integrate in liberal Western societies, like the Netherlands. They’re over-represented in Islamic radicalism, violent crime, school dropouts, etc. OTOH, Moroccans also succeed more than other muslim groups; football, entertainment, writing, social engagement figures, politicians, actors, comedians, etc. If Moroccans don’t succeed, they’re more likely to seek alternatives to get ahead, it seems.

    Tbh, I’ve astonished by the assimilation troubles of muslim immigrants for decades. I just can’t understand why they can’t see Islam is actually holding them back in status, prospects & everyday joys.

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