The Refugee Crisis & Why America is Different: Part II


In the last essay, I wrote about the value of cultural assimilation, as well as the role that culture plays in both negative and positive policy outcomes. Given this fact, it seems that Europe, and soon America, will face a major challenge. As the Near East becomes more unstable, the pressure to accept more refugees will increase. In addition the rate of immigration from Muslim majority nations will likely grow over time. That leaves us with some dire questions. How has the assimilation of Muslim migrants fared in Europe? What effects has this had on Europe’s problems of terrorism and crime? By contrast, how have Muslim migrants fared in the New World?

Islam in Europe: A Summary

In the last 25 years, the number of Muslims in Europe has ballooned by nearly 50% from 29 million to 44 million. Today Muslims make up 6% of the population of Europe, though is projected that Muslims will make up 8% in another 15 years. By contrast, only 3% of the entire Muslim world lives in Europe.

However these numbers only give us a piece of the picture. It needs to be noted that Islam has existed natively to some parts of Europe. While Muslim presence has been recorded in Iberia, parts of Sicily, and Eastern Europe, it only remains in the Balkans, and a few other pockets, as an indigenous religion due to past Ottoman rule. Once the numbers are restricted to western and central Europe, there are 19 million Muslims and the proportion is 4.5%.

Due to this relatively recent and massive influx, there are three major concerns. The first is obviously security. The savagery of ISIS has left many wondering if ISIS operatives could simply sneak in among the very people that were driven out. Secondly, there’s been a serious contention that Near Eastern, Muslim migrants cannot or simply will not assimilate to “European culture.” Lastly, there’s a wider concern of crime. While this is something that’s been associated with immigration in general, recently the sexual assault spike has had many asking extremely pointed questions.

Terrorism & Security

Before the Paris attacks our chattering classes dismissed the very idea that an increase in Muslim refugees could pose a security threat. However after last November, with over 500 casualties, and ISIS’ explicit threat to take advantage of the refugee crisis, terrorism is now worth discussing. When Europe’s terrorism trends are broken down, there are relevant facts that we should notice. In the past terrorism in Europe has traditionally come from three main sources; the far right, the far left and violent ethnic separatism.

Religiously inspired terrorism, however, is the new category that has sprung up. While jihadst violence in Europe is not a totally new phenomenon, most Islamic terrorism before 9-11 was sproadic. The first major jihadist attack on European soil was the 1985 El Decanso bombing, which killed 18 and was likely targeting American servicemen. In 1994 there were two attacks, one on France from Algerian Islamists and the other on London’s Israeli Embassy. In 1997, an Al-Qaeda affiliate attacked Croatia killing several in the Mostar car bombing.  It seems most of these were attached to specific grievances.

The real escalation began after September 11th. The early 2000s saw a series of dramatic Chechen-jihadist attacks which killed hundreds. The first jihadist attack on the EU specifically came during the 2004 Madrid bombings which killed 191 and wounded nearly 2,000. Since 2004, excluding attacks on Russia, which are connected primarily to the insurgency in the Caucasus Mountains, there have been 32 jihadist attacks on European soil, killing nearly 500 and wounding over 3,000. Some of these appear to be direct attacks coordinated by either Al-Qaeda or ISIS. Others are lone wolf attacks, like the murder of Theo Van Gogh. The interesting change is, with few notable exceptions,  most now seem to be motivated by a general hatred of Europe and the West for ills real and imagined.

These new trends, exemplified by today’s attack on Brussels, are especially worrying given the relative proximity of Turkey and the Syrian Civil War. Since 2011, European law enforcement and intelligence professionals have been worried about European Muslims travelling to these warzones, only to return to Europe. In France alone, there’s been a 86% increase in French citizens volunteering for jihad in the Levant. Combined with an availability of arms and munitions from nearby conflicts, they worry most about the growth of attacks without logistical links to actual organizations. Meanwhile, as seen tragically in these last few months, organized groups remain an extremely deadly threat.

Taking scope of this threat remains difficult. Compared to the Northern Irish Troubles one could argue that jihadist terrorism is miniscule, as six times the casualties were produced in a much smaller population in Ireland. It can also be argued that in an open society, terrorism and even the occasional mass casualty attack can never be fully stopped. Yet it must be said that, unlike the north of Ireland, Europe is not in the midst of a ethno-nationalist conflict. Nor did Irish terrorism, be it republican or loyalist, seek to cause mass civilian casualties or seek to gain weapons of mass destruction to do so. Lastly, unlike political extremist terrorism in Europe, religiously inspired terrorism correlates to increasing immigration levels of a relatively hitherto uncommon cultural and religious minority.

Assimilation & Radicalization

Behind the issue of terrorism, lies the broader issue of assimilation. I concluded earlier that culture can positively or negatively influence outcomes. As such there is a concern that Muslim immigrants, and their children, represent a cultural challenge that will lead to increased poverty, societal tensions and crime.

Compared to native Europeans, Muslim Europeans are more likely to live in a state of poverty. European Muslims disproportionately live in consistently impoverished communities, with higher levels of unemployment, lower levels of education and material living conditions. While this trend bears true for other immigrant groups to Europe, it remains especially problematic for Muslims. For instance, the unemployment rates of South Asian Muslim women in Europe are almost double compared to their relevant counterparts. Muslim poverty has a number of potential causes ranging from outright discrimination to simply possessing less marketable skills.

This poverty means European Muslims can live a totally separate life from their native European counterparts, leading to a building up of resentment that eventually reaches its crescendo. Complicating matters are the totally different cultural worldviews of Europe and the Islamic world. While Europe undergoes a systematic secularization,  Muslims in the EU remain fairly devout, identifying primarily with Islam over their national identity. This chasm becomes even more troubling given the widespread rate of Islamic fundamentalism among Europe’s Muslims and the increasing calls for accommodation of illiberal cultural practices. Ultimately the heart of the issue seems to be different ways of viewing religion. Shadi Hamid explains;

[T]his brings us to the issue at hand: there is a clash of values, one which will make it considerably harder to find a path of compromise between Muslims and the rest of Europe…[Europe] allows all groups, including Muslims, to practice their religion as they see fit. This assumes that the practice of religion is fundamentally a personal, private act detached from public, political life. It is here that Islam and Europe’s traditional identity and culture find themselves at odds.

This pervasive attitude creates a separation where social pathologies can go nearly unchecked by the state. This cultural separation leads to inevitable clashes on issues like the role and place of women in public. I find it curious that proudly feminist friends of mine, courageous critics of patriarchal culture, find themselves at a loss on how events at Cologne, Sweden, and Rotherham were not, on some level, tragically inevitable. While sexual violence is all too common in every society and culture, closing our eyes at the immense disparity between the West and the Islamic world when it comes to gender issues is downright shameful. While it’s easy to impose our narrow American context on this problem, we are once again faced with the uncomfortable fact that culture can drive social outcomes.

While isolation in itself can breed discontent and social issues, even when not vastly different from the wider mainstream (think of issues in the Amish or fundamentalist Mormon communities), the main issue is how far the chasm really is between the worldview Hadi mentions and modern Europe. While Europe remains culturally liberal, the worldview of the Islamic Near East ranges from conservative, traditionalist, illiberal and all the way to what we could politely call, “utterly outside the realm of publicly acceptable thought.” Polling of the Middle East-North Africa region from Pew Research blows apart the notion that the cultural differences between Europeans and Muslim migrants are simply superficial. For instance, 58% believe that Islamic jurisprudence (sharia ) is the “revealed word of God.” Alright, so far no different than, say, a traditionalist Roman Catholic and Church dogma. Nearly half (49.5%) believe that there is only one valid interpretation of sharia. So far, so good. 70% believe that sharia ought to be the criminal and civil law of the state (the consistent outlier is Lebanon, which historically is more liberal due to religious diversity and French influence). By contrast only 22% of Muslims from the Balkans and Russia believe similarly. Nearly half (47.5%) believe this law should apply to all citizens, not just Muslims. Not great, Bob. 80% believe this law should be used exclusively in familial and property disputes. Nearly half (48%) believe that petty theft should be punished by some form of physical punishment, ranging from whipping to mutilation, like removing a hand. 63% believe that women ought to be stoned, that is have their head repeatedly bashed in, for the crime of adultery. 58% believe that those who leave Islam ought to be murdered. Lastly 65% believe that the laws in their home country need to more closely reflect sharia.

Lastly this culture of economic and religious separation, combined with an unhealthy dose of externalized blame, plays a hand in the correlation between crime rates and immigration in Europe. While America enjoys disproportionately low levels of criminality among her immigrant populations, Europe’s remains at odds with its law enforcement issues. While various studies point to a lack of correlation between victimization and the overall immigration rate, when broken down by country, we find that immigrants commit a disproportionate amount of crime, though this is not specific simply to Muslim immigration alone. This is especially true of DenmarkFrance, GermanyGreece, and the Netherlands .

Again this is also difficult for Americans to accept, given our understanding of how immigrants assimilate into our American mainstream. I find this difficulty odd given it tends to clump among people who chide Americans for our lack of understanding and tact. Perhaps, then, America is not the world and our immigration experience is, in fact, quite different from the norm?

What the Future Holds

While Europe deals with its dual crises of refugees and Muslim assimilation, it behooves one not to delve into feigned hysteria and conspiracy mongering (If you have some time to abuse yourself, type “White Genocide” into Twitter and see what shows up).

For starters, warnings of a “demographic takeover” are overstated. While Europe will continue to wrangle with the economic, security and cultural fall out of sizable Muslim minority, projections of some Eurabia will simply not occur. While Muslims will make up 7% of Europe by 2030, Europe’s clear cultural majority is going nowhere. European Chicken Littles forget that once immigrants move to the developed world, their birthrates decline precipitously. Furthermore this prediction forgets that religious populations shift. In America Muslim religious observance is on a course of attrition. Even the most stolid of cultures have a way of losing their edge by migration. Even more curious, and from some perspectives heartening, is the ongoing trend of European Muslim conversion to Christianity.

Nariman Malkari, a 25-year-old Kurd from Tehran, lives in temporary housing in the garden of the Evangelical-Lutheran Trinity Church in Berlin while he awaits a decision on his asylum application.

He moved here after Norway rejected his first asylum request. In May, the Rev. Gottfried Martens baptized the young computer engineer, who now goes by the biblical name of Silas and wears a silver cross necklace.

“I can never go back to Iran and I don’t want to,” said Mr. Malkari after Sunday Mass last week, which is held partly in German, partly in Farsi. “I live in a tent, but I have found Jesus.”

Elsewhere, there are green shoots as well. For instance recent polls of British Muslims find an extremely high level of patriotism and identification with British culture (The poll is also worthwhile as it notes that those dastardly Brits broke the narrative by having relatively positive attitudes towards British Muslims). Blessedly, the favorability of ISIS remains at historic lows among Muslims from the Near East. Lastly, rates of entrepreneurialism among Muslims in Europe may offer a way forward out of les banlieues.

The New World

By contrast, the Muslim migration experience in the Americas has been positively peaceful. Her Majesty’s Canada, notably, leads the way;

Vigdor attributes Canada’s success in assimilating immigrants to three main factors: First our relatively easy three-year path to naturalization. Second, our wide tolerance for dual citizenship. But third, and most crucially, our points-based system for selecting immigrants based on workplace skills. That system is being widely studied and adopted by other countries such as Australia (who is putting its system in place this summer)

In addition, as pointed out by The Economist, America also does quite a good job as well. American Muslims not only are relatively economically successful, but are less likely to sympathize with jihadism, less likely to place religious over national identity, and more likely to value their adopted home’s culture. Metrics like job skills, criminality, civic participation and English acquisition are extremely optimistic.

Part of this is driven, like Canada, by the fact the US attracts a more highly educated, more prosperous class of Muslim immigrants than Europe does, as well as smaller numbers and higher levels of national diversity of Muslim immigrants. Nonetheless, America continues to outperform, say, France, even though French migrants are disproportionately well educated. Part of this seems to be due to something unique about the United States and how America as an ethnic nation interacts with America as a propositional, immigrant nation. This is something I hope to explore more in a third essay.

In conclusion, our leftist friends over at places like The Migrant Crisis Podcast, are entirely too flippant. Europe faces immense challenges that are fairly unique in its history. These policy challenges of economic integration, assimilation, law enforcement, and intelligence gathering will not be easy. Furthermore they will be exacerbated by the ongoing migrant crisis. Meanwhile lost in the hyperbole of both the far left and right is how to care for overwhelming majority of Near Eastern refugees who remain displaced in the Near East, to say nothing of what an immense drain will bode for Syria’s future prospects.

While it’s clear that this is no Battle of Tours, the movie Brooklyn, it ain’t. Deep cultural and economic differences challenge the universal applicability of North America’s immigration model. This does leave the door open of how Canadians and Americans can and should respond, something I hope you’ll stay tuned in for.


Various & Sundry


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