Skip to main content

Secondary navigation:

Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Integrating Islam in France (and Europe)

On October 4 the Boisi Center welcomed Professor Jonathan Laurence of Boston College’s Political Science Department, who presented his latest research on the integration of Islam and Muslims into French society.  Laurence began by debunking several myths about Islam in Europe, including the idea that Islam is growing at an alarming rate and the perception that French Muslims generally hold extreme cultural and political attitudes.  Laurence then raised the question:  Are the present conflicts arising simply out of poor communication between immigrant Muslims and their “host societies,” or do they manifest a massive failure of the system to integrate this new population?

Laurence put the current issues in historical perspective by recalling the first round of discussion about headscarves in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the controversy over Salman Rushdie’s work, and the initial Gulf War.  Now, as Muslims become a larger and more established group in European societies, new questions are being asked about the impact of their presence.  Is a new continent emerging which might be called “Eurabia”?  Do the meetings between government and religious leaders in castles around Europe evoke the ghosts of Napoleon and Mussolini?  In this era of communications technology and easy travel between countries, has the assimilationist urge of immigrants subsided such that a new kind of multi-ethnic state is emerging?  In other words, to what extent do Muslims want to become “French,” “German”, and so on?  What about the pluralism within Islam itself and how these various groups are represented in the host societies?  Finally, are these concerns encouraging a more right-leaning or conservative host state, and what might be the wider implications of such a tendency?

The group engaged in a lively discussion about these and other issues, considering the history and implications for Muslims and other groups in the U. S.  In the end, the group observed that although there is some policing going on in societies where Muslims have arrived more recently, this has usually happened with the process of emancipation of new groups:  increased oversight is often the tradeoff as greater freedom is achieved.  What all this means for the future of interstate and intrastate relations remains an urgent question.