The United States versus Europe

Over the past few years, I have on several occasions talked with well-informed Europeans who are baffled by U.S. concerns over immigration and border control. While not dismissing the problem entirely, they believe that Americans faced nothing as severe as Europe's difficulties because of the nature of the would-be migrants. More than once, I have heard the envious remark that the United States has only to cope with Mexicans, while the Netherlands (or Denmark, or France, as the case may be) has Moroccans. While I challenge the hostile picture such a contrast offers of Moroccans, the observation does include a significant truth about the differential nature of immigration in the United States and Europe. While European immigration has been predominantly Muslim, the United States has followed a quite different course.

Immigration to the United States has been predominantly Christian, with only small representation from other religions, chiefly Buddhism and Islam. Muslims today make up barely 1.5 percent of the U.S. population, some 4 million people, in contrast with around 14 percent who claim Latino roots. While Muslim numbers will likely grow in the near future, the figure will continue to be dwarfed by the Latino presence. (Though the media periodically discover the phenomenon of Latinos who convert to Islam, the numbers involved are relatively tiny.) By 2050, Latinos will make up about a quarter of the national population, including 50 to 60 million Americans of Mexican descent. The vast majority of these come from Christian backgrounds, however firm or lax their individual religious beliefs or practices. Christians are also well represented among the Asians and Pacific Islanders who represent the other fastest-growing component of the American people. By 2050, Asians and Latinos combined will comprise a third of the U.S. population and most will probably follow varieties of the Christian faith.

Entirely due to geographical and historical factors rather than to official policy, American immigration over the past forty years has bolstered Christian numbers in a country that was already home to the world's most populous Christian communities. Immigration is if anything making the United States more Christian, in the same years that new arrivals have radically diversified the religious face of western Europe. And no plausible event on the horizon can prevent this transatlantic divergence from becoming still more marked in coming decades.

If we accept the most pessimistic Eurabian visions, then the Euro-American division becomes a daunting cultural wall, as Christian America confronts an Islamicized Europe. As I have argued, such a future is wildly unlikely, but even the more modest changes that will occur still have their consequences. Let us imagine the consequences of this religious division as it might develop over the next twenty to thirty years, as a predominantly Christian United States develops its relationship with a European Union with a Muslim minority of perhaps 10 percent.

Some of the concerns are disturbing, though these are probably of short-term significance. Observers draw attention to the security consequences of changing European conditions, in light of the growth of Islamist extremism in Britain and elsewhere. The September 11 plot was rooted in Europe, and more recent Islamist radicals are likely to carry European citizenship, which would make it more difficult to regulate their entry into the United States. While the United States could plausibly place special restrictions on citizens of particular countries entering its territory or boarding its aircraft, it would be much more difficult to differentiate between European citizens solely on the grounds of their religion or of their names. Had he so chosen, Mohammad Sidique Khan could easily have used his British passport to enter the United States, and perhaps to undertake a suicide attack on the subway system of New York City rather than London. Terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank argue that on these grounds, "it can now be argued that the biggest threat to U.S. security emanates not from Iran or Iraq or Afghanistan—but rather from Great Britain, our closest ally."1

Assume, though, that the terrorist menace fades within a few years, just as the seemingly perpetual crisis of the 1970s evaporated in its time. Even so, cultural and religious differences between the United States and Europe are still critical, all the more so given Europe's continuing economic heft. For all the excitement over the coming of an Asian Century, the European Union still constitutes a major engine of the global economy, with a combined GNP not far short of the U.S. figure. When Fortune magazine surveys the world's largest corporations, European nations still today provide around a third of the total, much as they have since the 1950s, with France, Germany, Britain, and the Netherlands strongly in the lead. Europe matters, economically and politically, and the changing nature of domestic constituencies will affect how that power is used. Within a decade or two, not only will European nations have more Muslims, but these Muslims are vastly more likely to be citizens with voting rights. When he pledged U.S. support to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, President Harry Truman made the joking comment that he had never heard of an election being swung by the Arab vote, and in most of the United States, that continues to be true. In European nations, however, Muslim voters could well become a critical voting bloc, who at least for the foreseeable future will retain close connections with Arab and Muslim states.2

The impact on Middle Eastern affairs could be substantial. Most Americans, whether liberal or conservative, have a strong and largely uncritical view of the state of Israel, in marked contrast to the coolness and sometimes hostility that exists across much of Europe. Explanations for this intercontinental divide are not immediately obvious. Certainly, Europe has larger Muslim minorities than the United States and is more dependent on Middle Eastern oil, but religious factors also play a role. While the U.S. media have accused Europeans (and especially the French) of a continuing anti-Semitism, we might equally point to the strong American tradition of philo-Semitism, which grows naturally from the nation's roots in the Old Testament, and in apocalyptic.

At least on this side of the water, it seems only natural that an overwhelmingly Christian country should see its fate intimately bound up with that of the Jewish state. These attitudes shape responses to the

Middle East conflict, especially during outbreaks of violence. In the words of a New York Times report, "Where Europeans see dead Palestinians, Americans tend to see terrorized Israelis."3 European attitudes may be shifting somewhat, as incidents of violence on European soil create a new sense of sympathy for Israeli sufferings; but the rise of Muslim communities will also force European governments at least to appear to act in a more even-handed way. And although European governments might intervene militarily in Muslim nations, it is difficult to imagine them doing so quite as readily as the British did in Iraq in 2003. The odds of a united transatlantic front in these areas will become even smaller than they are today.

Further dividing the two sides is the rhetoric that each chooses to characterize outside problems. Americans respond naturally to a religious-based language of evil and good, of a kind that makes Europeans cringe. Witness the radically different attitudes to the political rhetoric of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s or President George W. Bush, who famously identified an Axis of Evil. This of course is far more than a matter of terminology. A society that truly believes its enemies are evil is far more likely to demand the deployment of maximum force against them, to seek their utter elimination, rather than to compromise or negotiate: no conditional surrenders are possible. This contrast becomes all the more marked as European leaders insist on public secularism, while Americans feel less restraint about invoking religion.4

In other matters of pressing concern to Americans, religion might play a divisive role. For a decade now, U.S. administrations have declared the promotion of religious freedom worldwide a major policy goal, and this cause has drawn enthusiastic support from evangelical Christians as well as Jews. Yet the cause of religious freedom in west Africa, say, or Indonesia, is unlikely to receive the support of European nations, if that policy threatens to involve intrusions into the domestic affairs of Muslim states, and in the process offending Muslim pride within France or Germany.

Other issues of rights and freedoms could directly affect American policy makers. As we have seen, issues of religious freedom are currently a matter of lively debate in European legislatures and, more important, in the courts, which are called to decide critical issues concerning prose-lytism and free speech, discrimination, and the place of religious symbols in public space. Making these controversies still more significant, they come at a time when Europe is embarking on a program of legal federalism, with the European Court occupying a role reminiscent of the U.S. Supreme Court, with the right to overrule national jurisdictions.

The reshaping of European law has a double impact on the United States, where in recent years the Supreme Court has demonstrated a controversial tilt toward accepting European decisions as guiding principles in matters such as sodomy law and capital punishment, if not as actual precedents. In the 2005 case of Roper v Simmons, the Court ruled against executing offenders who were younger than eighteen when their crimes were committed, and one factor in its decision was the overwhelming consensus of European nations against such a practice. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said that "our island or lone-ranger mentality is beginning to change," as justices "are becoming more open to comparative and international law perspectives." American and European courts could soon find themselves in dialogue over matters of religious freedom, and if they do, European decisions about accommodating Islam could have a wider impact. The cartoon controversy showed European authorities surprisingly willing to accommodate Muslim sensitivities in free speech debates and even to support international moves to regulate offensive or blasphemous speech. Though U.S. administrations would surely never support such measures, they could find themselves increasingly isolated in international debates, as European states align with Muslim nations.

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