Defining Muslims

Furthermore, without defining "Muslims," we can scarcely know their numbers today or how many there will be in future. Undeniably, over the past forty years, European populations have become vastly more diverse ethnically and racially, but it is not obvious how those new communities should be viewed. Some recent accounts portray Europe's Muslims as uniformly pious, primitive, fundamentalist, and docile to clerical whims, an absurd picture for anyone familiar with the vast diversity of the continent's ethnic minority populations. In one wideranging passage, Bawer decries Europe's "Muslim enclaves":

The people outside of them were living in a democracy, but the people in them were living in a theocracy, ruled by imams and elders who preached contempt for the host society and its values. They were against secular law, against pluralism, against freedom of speech and religion, against sexual equality. Husbands believed it was their sacred right to beat and rape their wives. Parents practiced honor killings and female genital mutilation. Unemployment and crime rates were through the roof.

We could probably find representatives of all these patterns somewhere, though female genital mutilation is something that the vast majority of European Muslims know about only from television documentaries, and it is scarcely reasonable to suggest that crime or unemployment are Muslim traits. As Bawer's final sentence indicates, it is often difficult to distinguish between the problems arising from issues of class and poverty, and those inherent in the religion itself. Nor should other social problems, such as honor killings, properly be laid at the door of Islam as a religion, rather than in the social structures of the countries from which migrants stemmed.36

We must ask whether Europe's current problems are religious, rather than social, economic, and cultural: are they problems of religion, race, or class? Throughout the early history of that immigration, European governments and media assumed they were dealing with a new racial diversity that bore many analogies to the U.S. situation, and that analysis might still be more accurate than the current perception of a religious confrontation. Some radical groups today continue to see the plight of minorities in racial and ethnic rather than religious terms; but unfortunately, the religious angle has proved too rhetorically useful to such diverse interest groups and commentators. Now, racial conflicts are no more palatable than religious ones, and in extreme cases, they have just as much potential to devastate a society. But the question of perception is important for policy makers—for instance, in identifying community leaders with whom they can negotiate, or in making laws to help integrate minorities. Viewing a minority in religious terms can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as officials focus on religious grievances and cultivate religious leaders as the presumed voices of their respective communities.

The definition of "Muslims" is also critical for issues of statistics. Imagine two young men, both born in Europe and speaking only the language of their country of birth: call them Tony and Tariq. Tony, of white European stock, was baptized Catholic but very rarely sets foot inside the precincts of a church, except possibly for a wedding or funeral, and his knowledge of Christian doctrine or history is close to nonexistent. Tariq is of ethnic Pakistani or Moroccan origin, but his connection to the faith of Islam is just as tenuous. He drinks, fails to observe Ramadan, is not careful about observing dietary laws, and is as sexually opportunistic as Tony. He has a vague idea that his father attends a mosque but is not sure where it is. Tariq is, in short, anything but a good Muslim.

In compiling religious statistics, however, agencies would almost certainly count an "ethnic" individual like Tariq as a Muslim, and part of Europe's Muslim population. This casual attitude toward religious classification would not matter if agencies applied the same standards across the board, but they do not. Tony, our hypothetical man of Catholic origins, might be counted as a Christian in some statistics but not others. When estimating religious communities, both agencies and scholars tend to accept the very broad definition of Islam offered by that religion itself, which defines as a Muslim anyone brought up in a Muslim community, or whose father is a Muslim. (Honest demographers speak more vaguely of counting "potential Muslims.") Christians, in contrast, are defined in terms of self-identification or religious practice—for instance, by regular church attendance. Muslim is an ethnic label loosely applied; Christian is a religious classification that demands some knowledge of the individual's personal belief system. If we are to count as Christians only those individuals who have demonstrated allegiance to the faith, then logically we should apply the same more stringent standards to Muslims. But if we apply to Christians the loose cultural/ethnic definition used for Muslims, then Europe's Christians presently outnumber Muslims by over twenty to one, and will continue to form a substantial majority for the foreseeable future.37

Discussions of European "Muslims" tend to merge ethnic, cultural, and religious divisions. Bernard Lewis was correct to predict that a larger share of Europeans would be of Arab or Middle Eastern stock, but that fact says little about the religious tone of the future society. We could imagine a western Europe late in the present century in which 20 percent of the people were of newer, nontraditional stock but largely shared the values and outlook of their white European neighbors. A continent with several million Tariqs would not be a spiritual powerhouse, but neither would it be a cauldron of religious hatred. This would be a future quite different from the implied squalor and fanaticism of the Western Maghreb, and need cause little of the same apprehension.

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