The Empires Come Home

The historical experience also helps explain the Islamic presence in modern Europe. After the destruction of Ottoman power in Europe in the early twentieth century, Muslim populations were small and isolated. Apart from old-established communities in Balkan regions like Albania and Bosnia, Muslims could be found in some larger seaports of west European nations, in cities like London, Cardiff, and Marseille. The Muslim presence remained small until the 1950s, when western Europe was booming economically and in desperate need of manual labor. Southern Europe provided some workers—in France, indeed, the Portuguese continued to be the nation's largest immigrant group through the 1980s. Another obvious source for workers would have been the poorer areas of eastern Europe, but this avenue was blocked by Cold War boundaries and restrictions. Instead, European nations turned to their former colonies, where their presence had spread some knowledge of their languages and customs.14

Incidentally, the forces driving Muslim immigration were so overwhelming that there is no reason to imagine the conspiracy theory devised by Bat Ye'or and since popularized by Oriana Fallaci and others, which suggests that European elites collaborated with Arab states to create a Eurabian federation spanning the Mediterranean. Given the economic forces demanding labor and the political factors conditioning supply, it would be difficult to imagine any outcome much different from what actually occurred. In the United States, similarly, any significant relaxation of immigration laws would inevitably have drawn in millions of Mexican workers, regardless of what any government or private cabal planned or desired.15

European nations differ enormously among themselves, and so do their histories of colonial exploration and encounter, which did much to shape modern patterns of migration. These nations have admitted very different kinds of Muslims and have treated them in different ways. The British drew on the widely separated regions of their far-flung empire, with their various religious traditions—on the predominantly Christian lands of the West Indies, on Hindu and Sikh regions of India, and on Muslim Pakistan and (later) Bangladesh. (Bangladesh was until 1971 a component of Pakistan, hence the generic term "Pakistanis" in the early years of settlement.) Other countries, however, drew more heavily on Muslim regions, especially the French, with their north African ties, and the Dutch, with their historic connections to Indonesia. Expanding countries that lacked a colonial heritage turned to north Africa or, especially, to Turkey.16

In France more than anywhere, the Muslim population represents a legacy of empire. In the nineteenth century, the French empire included the north African territories of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, as well as many black African lands, and France used these possessions as a source for soldiers and labor, especially during times of crisis such as the First World War. These children of empire were so loyal that in 1929 Paris built its Great Mosque as a token of official gratitude. So comfortable did north Africans feel about coming to the French motherland, in fact, that their presence attracted alarm. In the early 1960s, General Charles De Gaulle explicitly warned that France must sever its ties to Algeria or else the Christian nation would be overwhelmed, to the point that his beloved home village of Colombey les Deux Églises ("of the two churches") would soon become Colombey les Deux Mosquées.17

The end of the Algerian war, which marked the effective end of the French empire, did indeed signal the beginning of a large-scale immigration. Complicating matters, new populations came from very diverse political origins: white Christian and Jewish settlers fleeing the new radical regime; Muslim harkis, those who had taken the French side in the revolution, and who rightly feared retaliation; and the Muslim children of the nationalist revolutionaries themselves. The harkis alone, with their families, represented a sudden influx of perhaps 75,000 Muslims. France contained around a million people of north African descent by 1973, rising to perhaps 4 million today. People of Algerian stock now make up around 35 percent of France's 5 million to 6 million Muslims, with another 35 percent drawn from Morocco and Tunisia.18

If French Islam is largely north African, then Turkey accounts for the majority of Germany's Muslims. In 1961, Germany recorded only a few thousand Turks, but this figure reached a million in 1976, and 2 million by the mid-1990s. Today, Turks make up two-thirds of Germany's 3.5 million Muslims, and some 350,000 Turkish-language newspapers are sold daily in Germany. Moroccans and Turks make up the majority of the Muslim populations of the Netherlands and Belgium, with people from the Caribbean territory of Surinam representing another 10 percent of Dutch mosques.19

British Islam, meanwhile, is derived mainly from the Indian subcontinent, with perhaps half tracing their roots to Pakistan and a further 25 percent to India and Bangladesh. In fact, the migration was even more concentrated in its character than these numbers would suggest. A third of the 2 million people in Britain who originated in the Indian subcontinent came from just one region—Mirpur in the Pakistani part of Kashmir. Generally, people who came from the same home region tended to settle close to each other in their new countries, so that social and cultural patterns from the homeland were reproduced on European soil.20

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