Here to Stay

At least in the early years of immigration, it was not obvious that Muslims would be a permanent part of the European landscape. As recently as 1970, anyone who suggested that European nations would soon be facing Muslim minorities of 5 or 10 percent of the whole would have been regarded as a hysterical alarmist. Facing the great influx of non-European populations from the 1950s onward, European nations could not agree whether in fact they were dealing with immigration. In Great Britain, the imperial ideology of the day initially meant that the new arrivals from Pakistan or Jamaica were fellow-citizens of the British Commonwealth, exercising their right to come to the mother country, and presumably, to set up homes there. Accordingly, they were frankly described as immigrants, however poorly prepared either the government or the older-stock population was to deal with that new reality. But if they were immigrants, then they would need to be absorbed into British society. Accommodation had to be made for their families and children, and for their religious institutions.

Other nations, however, such as Germany and Sweden, lacking a colonial ideology, starkly refused to recognize the reality of immigration. They admitted foreigners as "guest-workers," to be employed only as long as they were needed, and at that point, it was hoped, the migrants—chiefly men—would return uncomplainingly to their countries of origin. Years after it ceased to correspond to facts, the mantra that "Germany is not a land of immigration" ("Deutschland ist kein Einwanderungsland") was still repeated by German politicians. Since Muslims would never be citizens, Europeans would not have to confront issues of religious or cultural diversity, of how to deal with the presence of mosques and hijabs. Of course, this imagined exodus never happened, and by the 1970s it was evident that guest-workers were creating immigrant communities, with families establishing them selves and new generations being born on European soil. From the mid-1970s, some governments began granting guest-workers the right to bring in their relatives in the name of family reunification.24

Occasionally, governments tried to reverse the process by repatriating the foreign-born. In the late 1970s, Jacques Chirac noted that France had 2 million immigrants and a million unemployed, and remarked how easily repatriation could cure France's unemployment problem. During the economic downturn of 1983-1984, the German government offered financial incentives to encourage immigrants, mainly Turks, to return to their home countries, and around 250,000 did so. In fact, though, such efforts slowed the growth of ethnic minority communities only briefly.25

No less likely to overstay their supposedly temporary status were asylum seekers fleeing the threat of repression or persecution in home countries. In the liberal Scandinavian countries especially, this type of migrant represented a major component of the newly arrived population. By the early 1990s, Sweden was receiving asylum applications at a rate of 84,000 a year, in a land of only 9 million people, and the vast majority of requests were granted. Now, by no means all of these were Muslims, but a significant number were—not surprising, given the brutal chaos then prevailing in Balkan territories like Kosovo and Bosnia, not to mention the Horn of Africa. In the Netherlands, the number of asylum seekers grew from 3,500 in 1985 to over 43,000 in 2000, and that in a country of just 16 million.26

Over the past decade, the abuse of asylum has irritated many normally liberal Europeans, who complain of the very wide latitude on which the privilege is granted. By the standards of western Europe, how many countries in Africa and Asia are not repressive, especially if one factors in discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexual orientation? Also, long experience has shown that asylum rarely proves to be a temporary category, which concludes once conditions have eased in the home nations. Like guest-worker status, asylum has proved an open door for migrants to Europe, who tend to become permanent residents.

Since the 1980s also, members of the new ethnic communities were increasingly likely to acquire citizenship. Over half the Muslims in France or Britain are citizens of their respective countries, and in 2000 even Germany made the historic decision to grant citizenship on the basis of birthplace rather than ancestry. This decision sparked a boom in the citizenship rolls and the prospect that in a few years, the country might have 3 million Muslim voters.

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