Two Paths

In contemplating such a benevolent scenario, a U.S. analogy comes to mind. A hundred years ago, Protestant Americans were deeply concerned about the cultural and religious implications of mass immigration, and the rhetoric of the time had many resemblances to contemporary warnings about the rise of European Islam. Then as now, immigrants were believed to pose a direct threat of revolution and subversion. In addition to the customary charges derived from anti-Semitic tradition, America's new Jewish immigrants reputedly included a high proportion of radicals and revolutionaries who taught ideologies of anarchism and revolutionary socialism.

Native-born Americans feared Roman Catholics still more intensely, many seeing them as a non-Christian influx into a once-Christian land. They applied the Catholic label indiscriminately, seeing few distinctions between Catholics of very different national or ethnic origin. And people from Catholic countries were labeled Catholic, no matter how religiously indifferent or indeed militantly anti-clerical a given individual might be. Protestants feared Catholics because of the immigrants' high birth rates, their authoritarian religious structures, and their insistence on segregating children in separate school systems. While conservatives condemned the racial contamination of the American people, liberals detested Catholics because of their outmoded gender attitudes, their slavish subservience to clerical authority, and their frequent challenges to the freedom of the press. Both sides bemoaned the political hold that Catholic religious structures had acquired over the nation's cities, not to mention immigrant control of organized criminality. Fears that the nation would be swamped by immigrants, perhaps by revolutionary force, provoked Protestants to mobilize in some of the largest mass movements ever seen in American history, above all, the Ku Klux Klan of the early 1920s. Not until 1960, a century after the great influx of Irish Catholics, was a Catholic president conceivable.42

Catholics reputedly maintained dual loyalties inconsistent with American democracy or patriotism. Some ethnic groups in particular, such as the Italians, belonged to movements and societies closely connected to the governments of their countries of origin. Many Italian-Americans sympathized with Fascist movements, while by the 1930s, several ethnic groups had their distinctive "shirt" or fascist movements emulating the Italian Black Shirts. The upsurge of anti-Jewish activism by the (Irish) Christian Front and the German Bund suggested to some that American hopes of integration lay in ruins.43

In retrospect, we have to say that many nativist fears proved quite justified. Catholic numbers would indeed increase substantially, to the point that Catholics would soon represent around a quarter of the U.S. population, roughly the same level that Muslims are projected to reach in some European nations by the mid-twenty-first century. In the American context, though, neither the Jewish nor the Catholic presence would remain controversial, as both groups established their credentials as patriots, indeed, as super-patriots. The cultural and political markers separating Catholics from non-Catholics have diminished steadily over the decades, to the point that values and social attitudes have become closely harmonized. So, of course, have birth rates. And the process of assimilation has had a global impact, as the pluralistic values of American prelates and scholars have transformed the wider Catholic Church.

Though in retrospect we regard the assimilation of American Catholics as inevitable, it would have appeared incredible in the 1920s or 1930s, quite as astonishing as any modern suggestion that Europe's Muslims would within a few decades share many of the values of their old-stock neighbors. The decades-long story of American integration provides a rather different perspective on contemporary laments about Europe's alleged failure to integrate its own new ethnic minorities in a far shorter time span. Let us make a fair comparison: just how well was the United States doing with assimilation in 1925 or so?44

At present, such an "American" outcome seems a distant dream, and there are key differences from the current European situation. The process of integration in the United States benefited hugely from the long hiatus in new immigration from 1924 through 1965; and the experience of shared national effort in World War II undoubtedly helped Americanization. Europeans cannot assume any parallel developments in their own situation. In modern Europe, moreover, many of Muslim origin find themselves at the bottom of the social and economic order, suffering what they believe to be systematic racism and police discrimination. These grievances led to the outburst of rioting in France in 2005, and in various forms have provoked disturbances elsewhere. Also, while long-term demographic trends favor stability, European societies will have to live for some years with the large cohort of young people born before the recent decline in fertility, the youth bulge that will not shrink until after 2020. The intervening years could well provide a bumpy ride. If the poor and deprived come to link their condition to their religious identity—if the young, poor, and Muslim overtly confront the old, well-off, and Christian—then Europe would face a quite different, and far grimmer, future, which we could term Lebanese rather than American.

In her optimistic survey of The Islamic Challenge, Jytte Klausen rightly notes that most Muslim political leaders in Europe are "looking for ways to build institutions that will allow Muslims to practice their religion in a way that is compatible with social integration." Moreover, an "overwhelming majority of European Muslims are as appalled by the ranting of [ultra-radical] clerics as are Christians"; but dissidents need not command an absolute majority before they can bring a society to the verge of ruin. The same Pew survey that seemed to promise a new era of interfaith tolerance also reported that 15 or 16 percent of British, French, and Spanish Muslims felt that violence against civilian targets was sometimes justified in the defense of Islam, a level of radical sympathy comparable to that in Pakistan. Only 17 percent of British Muslims believed that Arabs carried out the September 11 attacks, again a figure parallel to that in Pakistan; 6 percent of British Muslims approved of the suicide bombings on the London subway; and so on. The jihad nightmares of the pessimists could yet come true.45

European states face real dangers, demanding innovative and imaginative approaches that at many points challenge assumptions about "European values." Moreover, governments are handicapped in this task by a pervasive secularism that finds it difficult to treat seriously religious concerns, motivations, or sensitivities. Increasingly, as governments try to adapt to accommodate Islam, they find that their policies and legal solutions also have much wider implications, for Christianity as well as for new and emerging religions. Far from being dead, Christian churches and movements also pose continuing difficulties for the secular European project.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, some academics spoke confidently of the End of History, the final resolution of ideological conflicts. Democratic capitalism had won, globally. Less than twenty years later, it seems, not only are rival ideologies once more locked in seemingly permanent struggle, but just as in the Cold War, Europe again represents a critical theater for rivalry—this time, between competing forms of religious belief, between and among Christianity, Islam, and secularism. New specters are haunting Europe.

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