The murder of three French soldiers and the killing of four people at a Jewish school this week in Toulouse France have once again raised the ominous threat of home grown terrorism in the West. Mohamed Merah, 23, had reportedly claimed he was acting to “avenge Palestinian children” and to protest against French military intervention in Afghanistan.
France, Spain, UK and US have all had their share of Al-Qaeda linked attacks. While Osama bin Laden is dead and the organisation significantly weakened, as claimed, homegrown threats have not diminished. In fact, as the turmoil spreads in the Islamic world, the internal stability of many western countries is at risk, and experiment with multiculturalism is increasingly uncertain.
There are two contradictory trends at play. On one hand, Muslim population in the West is growing, however, the policies of these countries are increasingly being perceived as hostile towards the Islamic world. This, including worsening economics, is resulting in growing intolerance towards ethnic populations, and the rise of anti-immigration policies and right-wing political parties and candidates. In October 2010, courting anti-immigration fervour, Angela Merkel had stated that the German attempt to create a multicultural society has ‘utterly failed’. She added that it was the responsibility of immigrants to do more towards better integration.
The realisation of what happens ‘over there’ impacts ‘here’ have still not fully sunk in. On the other hand, nationalist and Islamist sentiments are resurging in the regions impacted by the war against terror.
According to Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life, US Muslim population is expected to rise from 2.6 million in 2010 to 6.2 million by 2030, constituting about 1.7% of the total population.
The study puts the number of foreign born Americans at 64.5%. In many northern and eastern European nations, Muslims would make up close to 10% of the total population by 2030, with profound electoral implications. A 1998 Newsweek article projected Islam to be the fastest-growing religion in the US and the American Muslim population is expected to surpass the Jewish.
Furthermore, a survey conducted by Zogby International in August 2000 and commissioned by the American Muslim Council identified the regional origin of American Muslim as follows: 26.2% Middle Eastern (Arab), 24.7% South Asian, 23.8% African-American, 10.3% Middle Eastern (not Arab), 6.4% East Asian, and 11.6% Other. Moreover, the survey showed that 32.2 % of American Muslims live on the East Coast, 25.3% in the South, 24.3% in the Central/Great Lakes Region, and 18.2% in the West.
Irrespective of these numbers, the foreign policy of the US, with the exception of East Asia, is not considered favourably disposed towards these Islamic regions of the world. Especially, if we compare the influence of American Indian and Jewish population on the foreign policy of US against that of American Muslims. However, it could be argued that the reason for this is not simply religion. The rulers of the countries that constitute these Muslim dominated areas are hardly democratic. Nonetheless, the winds of change are blowing through out these regions in the form of Arab Awakening, with growing chances of moderate Muslims and nationalist coming in to power.
Part of the problem that prevents numbers to convert in to influence, may have to do with how well Muslims are integrated in the societies of Europe and Northern America. It is commonly referred that American Muslims are better assimilated into their adopted country than their counterparts in Europe. For example, a study funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros found that only 78% of Muslims in the UK identify themselves as British, in France 49% claim themselves as French, while in Germany only 23% consider themselves Germans. There are about 4 million Muslims in Germany, while France has about 5 Million.
In 2007, a Newsweek poll that intended to assess American attitudes towards Muslims and Islam reported these findings: 40% of Americans believed that American Muslims are as loyal to the US as they are to Islam, 63% believed most American Muslims do not condone violence, and 41% felt that Islam glorifies suicide.
Unfortunately, these numbers will almost certainly change for the worse as more links between the Muslims in the West and extremists are discovered. This leads to the most intriguing question of what does better integration of Muslim means in European and American context. A challenge in this regards is that while earlier European immigrants were cut off from the countries of their origin, the communication revolution and globalisation has made it easier for the more recent immigrants to maintain a constant sense of connection to their native lands and thus maintain multiple loyalties.
At an event organised by the Pakistani American Congress (PAC) at the Capitol Hill last June, the Representatives of the US Congress constantly reminded the Pakistan American community where its loyalty should be as US-Pakistan relations deteriorate. The community, for example, is divided, as in Pakistan, on the issue of drone strikes.
Perhaps the best approach to deal with the challenge of multiculturalism in the West is provided by a resounding quote from the sermon of Martin Luther King delivered in 1967,
“If we are to have a peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”
The writer is the chief analyst for PoliTact (www.PoliTact.com and http:twitter.com/politact) and can be reached at [email protected]