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European Islamic Policies Examined

“MUSLIMS ARE THE LARGEST religious minority in Europe, and Islam is the fastest growing religion,” says a new report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The report, Muslims in Europe: Integration Policies in Selected Countries, notes that understanding how best to integrate and engage these growing populations can help mitigate the risk of Islamic extremism finding a foothold.

While “the vast majority of Muslims in Europe are not involved in radical activities,” according to the report, many Muslims in Europe are poor, unemployed, or imprisoned, which may lead to a sense of “cultural alienation and discrimination.” If these negative feelings are not given enough attention, Islamic militancy could be the unwitting result.

According to the report, negative attitudes have already become a problem among youth populations of second and third generation Europeans who “feel disenfranchised in a society that does not fully accept them.” These youth could “turn to Islam as a badge of identity.”

Furthermore, the report says that “many young Muslims view the ‘war on terrorism’ as a war on Islam, and claim common cause with suffering brethren in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, Iraq, Chechnya, and elsewhere.”

The report examines the integration of Muslims into four European Union countries: the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Spain. Case studies outline each state’s approach to the problem.

The report does not attempt to put forth the correct course of action; it simply presents each country’s experience as a basis for going forward. For example, in its analysis of the United Kingdom, the report claims “liberal asylum and immigration laws, as well as its strong free speech and privacy protections” have attracted numerous extremist Muslim clerics and Middle Eastern dissidents.

Some countries, such as France, have attempted to fully assimilate Muslim communities. For example, France requires its citizens and residents to embrace the French language and French norms, but class and cultural divisions still cause tension. The report cites violence against French Muslims as evidence of this divide: “In 2003, there were 232 recorded acts of violence against Muslims; that number rose to 595 in 2004.” (The report was issued before the recent eruption of ethnically charged civil strife in France that was precipitated by the accidental death of two Muslim youths fleeing the police.)

The need to strike a balance between cultural and religious sensitivity and curb extremism weighs heavily on governments. While the world has not come to a consensus on the best approach to this problem, case studies like those featured in this report can be a good first step toward understanding and tackling the problem.