A few weeks back, I reviewed the “To the Best of Our Knowledge” show “Reclaiming Islam” on which Christopher Caldwell discussed his most recent book, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West. What Caldwell said during the short segment was not entirely representative of the larger message in the book. However, my own reading of his argument was incredibly skewed and, well, wrong. On Thursday, August 13th, Christopher Caldwell joined Here on Earth to talk in more depth about the book and the issue of Muslims in Europe. In preparation for the show, I had a chance to read the book and understand his argument more fully.
From my studies, I have learned that the situation of Muslims in America differs considerably from that in Europe. Muslim Americans tend to be better off financially than even many of their fellow Americans and thus do not have the feeling of being marginalized in terms of employment and housing. This is not the case in Europe where many Muslims have higher rates of unemployment and often live in ghetto-like conditions that physically separate them from the main city centers, creating feelings of exclusion and frustration. This is not to say that Muslim Americans do not face any challenges–in fact they do. However, the different contexts and the variances that they produce must be addressed.
While Caldwell does spend over 300 pages dealing with Islam and Europe, he does so in a way that ignores the complexities of the situation. More specifically, he argues that the problems and outcomes of Muslim immigration to any given Western European country are the same. How can that be possible, when there is so much variance in the rates of immigration, the countries of origin, the number of generations that the immigrant families have been in the country, the policies in place to address the issue of immigration (assimilation and/or integration)?
Caldwell’s description of the situation in Europe seems dire and pessimistic. For him, Europe did not foresee the change the immigrants would bring and now finds itself overwhelmed by what Caldwell clearly perceives as a negative reality. In his view, the main question to ask is “can you have the same Europe with different people?” He gives the seemingly obvious answer that of course it will change. But more importantly, he assumes that this change is negative and that this is not a process that results, in general, from increased globalization and contact between peoples. No doubt, multi-ethnic and multicultural societies face different challenges that one should not idealize; however, there has to be a space to discuss this and move forward towards inclusive solutions, rather than employing fear (as covered as it may be) and continuously looking backwards.
What do you think people fear about immigration? Should assimiliation and/or integration be required? What is the place of diversity in multicultural societies? Can someone have only one identity? Are multiple identities and loyalties a problem? What–if anything–changes when the majority of immigrants are Muslim? Please share your thoughts.