Expanding Europe

The problems with existing strategies toward Muslim minorities are all too clear, though to say that existing multicultural policies are flawed does not mean that they should be given up altogether. Governments should cooperate with Muslim organizations, though with a much sharper awareness of their political coloring and of the dangers of actively promoting a kind of Islamism Lite. And European societies might indeed need to reconsider public portrayals of religion in what is now authentically a multifaith society.

Nor should we see such policies in a social or economic vacuum. Multiculturalism might work better than laicité in some settings, or vice versa, but we should never forget the crucial role of economics in all these debates. Grievances about religion become acute for people whose social and economic conditions have left them desperate. People who are prosperous and employed have much longer fuses about social and religious grievances than those who see no hope within the present order. One great reason for the relative American success with assimilation has been the country's ability to produce jobs, especially through service industries, which are so prolific in generating entry-level positions. The free market in labor means that most people gain at least a rung on the social ladder, with the potential to rise. In contrast, Europe presently has a daunting total of 19 million unemployed, most with little hope of moving from welfare to work. The greatest contribution to creating an open and generous Euro-Islam might be the wholesale liberalization of EU economic policies, in itself a difficult task. In 2006, a French administration that tried to liberalize youth employment law came close to being overthrown by massive street protests.

Whatever the outcome of economic debates, Europe's secular assumptions are being subject to huge challenges that would have seemed inconceivable just a decade ago, and devoutly secular European policy makers still have very little idea of how to respond to the situation they face. In some ways, the situation is likely to grow more acute, as the question of expanding the membership of the European Union revives debates over the nature of European cultural and particularly religious identity. Put simply, a Europe that is floundering with the problem of integrating its present Muslim population appears close to admitting a significantly larger Muslim minority.

As we have seen, the project of European unity owed much to Catholic thinkers, and although religious justifications faded with the decades, through the 1980s there was never any practical likelihood that the prospective nations of the expanded community would be anything other than predominantly Christian. The main debate, in fact, was whether prospective nations could meet European norms in terms of democratic structure and values, and whether they had a realistic prospect of catching up with the levels of wealth that characterized older core members such as Germany and the Netherlands. When the communist bloc collapsed in 1989, some Europeans feared that admitting new eastern nations too precipitously would create pools of cheap labor that would depress living standards across Europe. By the late 1990s, however, most such fears were allayed, and the European Union seemed set within a decade or two to incorporate most of the continent into a community that was democratic, free, and prosperous.

And then there was Turkey. Turkey, which still retains a sliver of European territory, was officially recognized as a candidate for EU membership in 1999. In 2004, all twenty-five heads of state and government agreed unanimously that Turkey was eligible to join and that serious talks should begin forthwith. This was after all a nation pledged to democracy, with an official secularism as strict as that of France, while Turkey had produced such contemporary movements as the moderate "Turkish Islam" preached by Sufi leader Fethullah Gulen. Bringing Turkey into the European club would be useful for Turkey itself, but also for the wider Islamic world. In the words of Joschka Fischer, "To modernize an Islamic country based on the shared values of Europe would be almost a D-Day for Europe in the war against terror. It would be the greatest positive challenge for these totalitarian and terrorist ideas." The EU would strike a blow for democracy and peace across the Muslim world.42

As negotiations proceeded, debate about Turkish membership aroused passions quite different from those encountered by other poorer nations, though the reasons for hostility were rarely explored with any sympathy. For most mainstream political parties, and for much of the media, opposition to Turkish membership was largely framed in terms of nativism or racism, and it was not therefore a respectable form of political discourse. Hence the depths of popular concern did not become obvious until the referenda over the proposed European Constitution held in 2005, when worries about Turkish entry emerged as a smoldering theme in opinion polls. European elites were amazed, and appalled, when the first critical referenda in France and the Netherlands showed heavy majorities against the new constitution. While Turkey was not the only reason for opposition to the current directions of the EU, it was a strong background issue, and these referenda occurred in the two west European nations that already possessed the highest proportions of Muslims.43

Trying belatedly to explain the populist reaction, European leaders made little allowance for the reality about concerns over Turkish admission, beyond despairing groans at the continuing power of irrational Islamophobia. But this case more than perhaps any illustrates the chasm of perceptions that separates leaders and led in matters of religion. European elites acknowledged that admitting millions of Turks would change the ethnic balance of a greater Europe but paid virtually no attention to the vast religious implications. While Turkish admission would not create Eurabia—Turks, of course, are not Arabs— it would amount to a radical reconstitution of European society.

Demographic pressures are critical. Turkish birth rates have declined substantially in recent years, largely as a result of the number of women entering the workforce, and the fertility rate now stands at 1.9, comparable to that of France or Ireland. Even so, Turkey is a nation of 70 million, a figure that could be approaching 90 million by 2025: over a quarter of the population is under the age of fourteen. If Turkey were admitted to the EU, it would soon be the most populous member of the European club, overtaking Germany before 2015. The country is almost entirely Muslim, since successive governments have over the past century killed or forced out virtually all their Christians. Turkish accession would immediately change the overall percentage of Muslim Europeans from 4.6 percent to almost 16 percent, and that proportion would rise sharply in the coming two decades, even setting aside future immigration from other regions. EU labor law means that Turks would also have the right to live and work anywhere within Europe, and millions from poorer regions would probably exercise that right.

The presence of ethnic Turks would not of itself transform Europe's religious identity, but the militant secularism of Turkey's long-entrenched military and political elites masks deep-rooted Muslim activism, accompanied by anti-Christian sentiment. The nation has not begun to come to terms with the genocide of its (Christian) Armenian population in 1915. In 2005, when writer Orhan Pamuk complained to a Swiss newspaper that "thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it," he faced a criminal trial for "publicly denigrating Turkishness." (Charges were later dropped, under international pressure.) In Germany, pressure from the Turkish government as well as from local Turkish communities means that textbook publishers largely refuse to discuss the Armenian genocide, and most schools find the subject too sensitive to confront. During the furor over the Danish cartoons, simmering anti-Christian sentiment in the media reached violent new heights, and a teenager crying "Allahu Akbar!" assassinated Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in the Turkish city of Trabzon.44

Also, openly Muslim religious politics have revived in Turkey. In a recent poll, three-fifths of respondents opposed the prospect of their child marrying a non-Muslim, and a third favored boys and girls being educated separately in school. An election in 2002 brought to power the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP). The AKP is by no means extremist and describes itself as "Islamic in the same sense that Christian Democratic parties in Western Europe are Christian," which is an effective dig at the pallid religious sentiment of those Western parties. But the AKP is committed to moderating the classic separation of mosque and state, for instance, by allowing headscarves in public schools and colleges. In a traumatic event in a supposedly secular state, in 2006 a self-described soldier of Allah assassinated a Turkish judge who had ruled against the rights of a woman teacher who wore the headscarf. Thirty years of experience in western Europe strongly suggest that once freed of state constraints, Turkish communities overseas sometimes adopt more strongly Muslim identities.45

Though it is a more distant prospect, some European political leaders assume that Moroccan admission to the Union is only a matter of time. The country's initial application was rejected on geographical grounds, but Morocco has subsequently developed ever-closer commercial and business links with Europe. Moroccan adherence would expand Europe's Muslim population by at least 30 million. Based on a reasonable analysis of religious and demographic trends, we can hardly avoid the conclusion that Turkish and/or Moroccan entry to the EU would substantially change the cultural identity of the continent, and it is not difficult to see why such a prospect should concern ordinary European citizens and voters.

What is striking about the expansion debates is that European political leaders should show themselves so tone-deaf to popular concerns, so unwilling to recognize the validity or even the existence of religious issues. In their view at least, to quote Giscard d'Estaing, "religion does not play an important role" in European affairs. Yet that assertion, if it was ever true, is rapidly losing force. While European states have been trying to accommodate and include the new presence of Islam, they have unwittingly revived a series of issues that affect Christianity as well, demanding a rewriting of the rules of engagement between church and state.

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