Skip to content

Q&A: A Few Minutes With Jonathan Laurence

Laurence speaking with Turkish officials this past summer.

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Sept. 8, 2011

Associate Professor of Political Science Jonathan Laurence is a leading expert and researcher on European politics, transatlantic relations and Islam in the West. The author of a forthcoming book on issues surrounding Muslims’ integration into Europe, Laurence has begun a new project that examines the impact of Turkish and Moroccan diasporas in European countries.  

Q: Why the focus on Morocco and Turkey? How are they significant to the Muslim experience in Europe?

Laurence: Both Morocco and Turkey have a diaspora of 3-4 million in Western Europe, accounting for nearly half of the Muslim-origin populations there. Since the European Muslim minorities still includes many of their own citizens, each country send hundreds of imams and language and religion teachers to work with them for four to five-year tours in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and elsewhere. Moroccan and Turkish officials in newly designed ministries for citizens abroad are also engaged in helping finance mosques, civil society groups and even professorships in theology in Western European universities.  

I am looking at the new outreach policies by Turkey and Morocco towards their European diasporas. These factor into the broader questions of how Muslims integrate and what kinds of Islam will flourish in European countries.

I realized the importance of this topic while completing my new book, The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims, which is due out in January. That book examines the creation of Islam Councils across Europe in the last decade, as a “domesticating” response by European governments to challenges of immigrant integration and the wave of Islamist terrorism. This new project looks at the curious persistence of foreign governments’ involvement in religion and integration policies in Europe.  

Q: The idea of this kind of outreach often creates unease among many in the West, who tend to associate it with the work of radical Islamists. But you have found the situation is more complex than one might think — how is that reflected in what Turkey and Morocco do?

Laurence: Actually, the growth of religious extremism abroad is part of what explains this new spurt of governmental activism. Morocco and Turkey want to be positive influences in Europe and to spread their own brands of religious moderation. Another main motivation is to nurture close economic ties that are worth billions in annual remittances and foreign direct investment.

This foreign involvement can have the positive effect of granting more awareness of cultural heritage – linguistic, historical and religious — and thus give second-generation migrants a stronger sense of where they come from. It is hoped that this would also leave them less vulnerable to other non-governmental religious movements (including more orthodox or politicized variants) that have sometimes filled the cultural-political void and hampered social integration.

But European governments can be suspicious of Moroccan and/or Turkish intentions, and don’t want to leave European citizens open to undue surveillance or proselytism from abroad. After all, not all Turkish- or Moroccan-Europeans want to be under the “tutelage” of their ancestral homelands. So European governments are working together with their Moroccan and Turkish counterparts to help improve both the status of Islam as well as the integration of Muslims in Europe.  

Q: What has your work on this project entailed?

Laurence: My fieldwork in Istanbul and Ankara spanned 10 days this July. My graduate research assistant Kerem Oge, a PhD candidate in political science at BC, accompanied me and served as a translator during many of our meetings with government officials, intellectuals, and religious organizations. During the winter, I did fieldwork in Rabat, Morocco, which — like the summer visit to Turkey – was made possible through research grants from BC’s Clough Center for Constitutional Democracy.

I met with about 20 people in each country. In Turkey I was lucky enough to have meetings with advisors in the Prime Minister’s office, in the Parliament, in the education and religion ministries as well as with diplomatic staff. A highlight was a research presentation to the Presidency for Turks Abroad — I had arranged an interview with their leadership and was asked to give a talk to their staff. It was a rare opportunity to get real-time feedback from my own research subjects.In Morocco, I met with advisors to the religion and interior ministries as well as with an advisor to the king, in the royal palace, with the staff of several European embassies, and a former Moroccan ambassador to Spain. I also conducted interviews on the topic with Spanish officials in Madrid in July, and in March I met with Dutch officials in the Hague to discuss the same.