Today, there can be absolutely no doubt that Islam has become a part and parcel of the landscape of present day Western Europe. Islam is today high on the list of public agendas in western European countries, and statistics reveal the fact that more than thirteen millions Muslims live in and around these areas. It is a fact that almost a large majority of these Muslims are immigrants, and one must remember the fact that whenever the topic of Islam and Muslims in Western Europe is raised for any sort of discussion, it is these immigrants that are being referred to.
Studies on Muslims in Western Europe began some time during the early 1980’s, and these studies were referred to as the analyses of ‘the new Islamic presence’ and the ‘institutionalism of Islam in western Europe’. One must also remember the important fact that today, increasingly Muslims are being associated with what is known as ‘Islamophobia’ or a fear and hatred of Islam and all that it connotes, especially after the 9/11 debacle in which hundreds and thousands of Americans were killed in a terrorist attack launched by a terrorist militant Islamic group.
(Maussen, Marcel) In her book “Muslims in Western Europe”, Nielsen describes the history of early Muslims in Western Europe, and why they became so important in the country as the years went past. The book also takes an in-depth look into the real causes of the immigration of Muslims into Western Europe, and their origins, the ethnic composition of these people, their organizational patterns, and so on.
(Nielsen, Jorgen) In the same vein, several authors and researchers have been attempting to analyze the presence of Islam in Europe today, and to decipher the role that Islam and Muslims play in the country today. One such is the collection of essays by authors Ralph Grillo and Benjamin F Soares, entitled ‘The New Islamic Presence in Western Europe’. In this collection, an attempt is made to understand the ‘presence’ of Muslims on the continent, and their changing nature of importance in Europe, and generally in the western world.
There can be no doubt that the world population is changing everyday, and more and more people wish to be known today as ‘multi-cultural’ and not as narrow minded individuals, who cannot see beyond their own faith. Today there are an estimated 10 to 15 million Muslims in Western Europe, and while some of these people may have come to the Continent from Africa and from South and Central Asia, some others have arrived from the Middle East and the Balkans.
It must be remembered that it was just Muslim men who migrated initially to Western Europe, but gradually over a period of time, these men steeled down in the country with their families, and today, second and third generation Muslims have come of age, and they continue to live on in their adopted country. The authors of this series of essays feel that although it may be a fact that these Muslims have settled down and raised entire families in Europe, they have not lost their ties and their relationship with their societies of origin yet.
On the contrary, feel the authors, this is one method in which transnationalism enters the country, and this may have had large and deep implications in the political and economic aftermath of the September 11 2002 debacle. One must therefore try to understand what transnationalism means, and why it is important when analyzing the basically transnational character of Muslims, and of the migrant populations in general who follow it. One must note that there may be several different ways of living transnationally; take the West African Muslims who have arrived in western Europe from Senegal or Mali, for example.
These people practice their faith, Islam, within the context of the transnational migration circuits, and this means that although they live in Italy or in France, in reality they are still firmly anchored in Senegal or Mali and in their fundamental faith, Islam. This also means that these people felt hat their association with the country that is now their home is temporary, and that in reality, the country they came from remains their home, no matter what happens.
Similar examples may be seen in the Turks who live in Germany, in the Iranians who live in Britain, North Africans who live in France, and so on. These people may be more firmly rooted in Western Europe, but it is a fact that they also believe in following a bi-national or a pluri-national agenda, and this means that they learn how to operate in two nation state systems, and believing and following the religion, culture, traditions, and so on, of both the countries, although professing considerably less faith in the country of their adoption.
Take for example Iranian Sufis living in certain parts of Britain; these people have little or nothing to do with other British citizens, or even with Muslims in Britain, but they are deeply involved in causes that are important in their home town Iran. They also identify themselves with Muslim brethren in Iran, and feel deep empathy with those being exiled from Iran. There are certain Muslims, however, who live in Western Europe, and live according to the established tenets in the country.
For example, Pakistani Muslims living in Britain prefer to engage themselves with British institutions, by participating in the British government, in political causes and so on. One must keep in mind the important fact that European nations have traditionally been identified with religious as well as secular traditions through time, and this may make it seem that it is a difficult proposition to accommodate the tenets of Islam.
(Grillo, Ralph, Soares, F Benjamin) This would bring up the next question, how is it possible for a Muslim in Europe to live as a Muslim in Europe? What then is the role of Islam in present day Western Europe? Take the term ‘Islamophobia’, a term that became popular immediately after the September 9 terrorist attacks, although it had been coined in 1922 by the Orientalist Etienne Dinet.
During the 1990’s, the term was used to describe the discrimination that Muslims were facing in Western Europe at the time, although it must be remembered that negative connotations and associations with the word ‘Islam’ have been prevailing from time immemorial, perhaps right from the time of the Crusades, to the colonialism of later years. Today, however, Islamophobia is widely used by anyone at all, especially in political circles and in anti-Islamic discourses carried on through the width and breadth of Western Europe.
According to the EUMC, or the European Monitoring center on Xenophobia and Racism’, which conducted a survey on the backlash against Muslims in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks on Americans, the term Islamophobia has been used with greater frequency in the past few years than at any other time in history, and very often by those in the public eye, including politicians and commentators in most parts of western Europe, although it was found, much to everyone’s surprise, that it was not so popularly used in America, here the terrorist attacks took place, killings a great number of innocent Americans.
There have also been several recent studies conducted on European Muslims, as related to Islamophobia, and it was found that there seemed to be a marked rise in anti-Islamic sentiment in the aftermath of the 9/11, and thereafter the 7/7 attacks. However, there were no reports of an increase in acts of aggression carried out against those of the Islamic faith; perhaps because of the concerted efforts that the European governments were making to make sure that innocent Muslims in Western Europe would not be terrorized unnecessarily by Europeans.
In the United States of America, a ‘Congressional Research service Report’ on Muslims in Europe was created, and this report explained that Muslims in Europe, like in France, England, Germany and Spain had all failed to develop a national identity for the country they lived in, as mentioned earlier.
When this was coupled with the high levels of socio-economic disadvantages that Muslims faced in Europe, and also other multi-layered levels of discrimination suffered by Muslims in Europe, said the report, then the phenomenon could not just be clubbed under the blanket term ‘Islamophobia’; the term can indeed be misleading, especially because of the fact that it presupposes religious discrimination, while at the same time ignoring other blatant forms of discrimination against Muslims in Europe.
It would help to recollect the fact that Muslims constitute about five percent of the entire population of Western Europe, and that almost half of this population may be foreign born, that is; these people may be immigrants who may have migrated to Europe for whatever reason. In a historical context, Muslims began to arrive in Western Europe during the middle of the twentieth century, mostly from former colonies, and this was the reason why there seems to be a predominantly North African Muslim population in the France, and a predominantly South Asian Muslim population in the United Kingdom.
In Germany, however, Muslims from Turkey entered the country as ‘guest workers’ at the time when there was a post-war economic boom in the country. Several Muslims have even recently entered the country as refugees, in order to escape political and economic strife in their countries. Somalian and Yugoslavian Muslims can be grouped under this division. Most Muslims after settling down in their adopted country, brought their families there too, until today, second and third generations Muslims live and survive in these countries, with a strong allegiance still, to the countries of their origin.
According to Savage, most of the people who belong to predominantly Muslim areas in Western Europe are today in the process of learning and attempting to adjust to Islam being the primary community. One can therefore, fully expect this phenomenon to have long term ramifications on how exactly they would be able to make their place in society in the future.
It must be stated at this point that there has always been an interaction and dealings between Europe and its Muslims, and although Muslims live today in several parts of the world, it is in some parts of Western Europe that the persecution and the discrimination of Muslims, and the resultant conflict and violence have come about. (Cesari, Jocelyn) Today, several parts of Western Europe have brought forth the idea that Muslims as a religious fundamentalist group are a dangerous lot indeed, and that these people would not stop at anything in order to carry their own agendas against the Western part of the world.
Although this may not be true at all, and may just be the result of the anti-Muslim sentiment and the Islamophobia that arose in the immediate aftermath of the violent terrorist acts that certain sections of the Muslim population perpetrated against certain sections of the Western world, this idea has met with rather widespread acceptance, especially in the West, and today, conflicts and clashes between Islam and Europe have increased dramatically.
The idea that radial Islam is spreading amongst several parts of Western Europe, especially among the descendants of the Muslims who had migrated to Europe several generations ago, is being acknowledged with increased fervor among Europeans, and one of the reasons given is that these Muslims may have become completely disenchanted with the failure of integration into the western community, due to several reasons of their own, and as a result, they were in the process of taking up ‘jihad’ or launching a ‘Holy War’ as jihad is otherwise explained, against the Western parts of the world.
For example, both Fox News as well as CNN, prominent news channels, worry about terrorists being able to sneak into the United States of America without a visa, and with the other illegal immigrants who cross the Mexican borders in the middle of the night. These Muslims may well bring weapons of all sorts, reason these news channels, and they may be a part of the ‘mujahideen’ who are capable of launching well planned and well executed terrorist attacks against Americans.
There are also news reports of several ‘jihadist’ networks, which span the length and breadth of Western Europe, right from Poland to Portugal; networks that may have been started by radical Muslims who are the descendants of the ‘guest workers’ who had been recruited at one point of time in order to shore up Europe during its post-war times. Robert S Leiken states, “In smoky coffeehouses in Rotterdam and Copenhagen, makeshift prayer halls in Hamburg and Brussels, Islamic bookstalls in Birmingham and ‘Londonistan,’ and the prisons of Madrid, Milan, and Marseilles, immigrants or their descendants are volunteering for jihad against the West”.
Today, statistics reveal the astonishing fact that there are more than twice as many Frenchmen as Saudis and more Britons than Sudanese, Yemenites, Emiratis, Lebanese, or Libyans in several parts if western Europe and North America, between the years from 1993 to 2004. There may have been several jihadists among this population, state reports, and these were the people who would through devious means be able to travel without the relevant documents, including the visa, for entry into the United States or into Western parts of Europe.