Recently, the French President Emmanuel Macron claimed that the Muslim population in France alienates itself from the rest. This statement is in line with the overall negative attitude of Europeans (except for Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo) towards the religion of Islam. Among the core claims are that Muslims are not willing to integrate themselves and participate in the social life in their country of residence. Further, some argue that Muslims take away valuable jobs from the indigenous people of the European countries; or alternatively, Muslims do not work on purpose to exploit social security benefits. Finally, indigenous Europeans strongly associate the Islam with violence and claim to fear that they will become subject to violence with a growing Muslim population. However, these notions severely damage Europe’s reputation and credibility, because of the low quality of the claims and their high level of contradiction to the policy outputs of the European states over the last centuries. While European countries combine for the world’s biggest economic output, normatively they are lagging far behind many other nations, but have yet to figure out a way to overcome this deficit.
Historically, the relationship between Muslims and Christians is characterised by both hostility and respect. While the mutually hostile attitude is grounded in the different religious views, and accordingly differing cultural habits, a certain level of mutual respect is maintained, due to similar degrees of military power; European states rely on their technological superiority and Muslim countries count on their advanced military organisation and experience. To illustrate this, we can look at the arrival of Christians on the Latin American, Sub-Saharan and Australian continents, as well as in India. In all three cases the religious views of the locals were fundamentally different from the Christist views, but the military power was not comparable, which resulted in the subjugation of the locals by the Christians. On the other hand, China and Japan were never subject to such a treatment by Christians, although their religious views are also opposites. Arabic regions became subject to Christist invasions only after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire (and before the establishment of the Ottoman state during the crusades), which up to that point guaranteed military security.
This balanced relationship is still maintained today, but there are strong indicators that suggest that the hostile attitude is increasing. And it makes sense: with growing Muslim populations across European countries, Islam gained prominence in European everyday life. Because the exposure to Muslim culture increases, the striking differences between the European culture, which is heavily influenced by its common Christist past, and the Muslim culture become very apparent. Unlike foreigners from other European countries or former European colonies, such as Canada, United States of America (short: USA), New Zealand and Australia, Muslim foreigners are avoided and have a hard time adapting to social life in Europe. However, the point is that this is totally normal and also in no way problematic. Just like any other socially advanced animal, the human being is seeking coherence within its group; the higher the coherence within a society, the more efficiently the group is going to function. Due to shared norms and values, the group members (or here: members of the society) develop a ‘common sense’, which reduces transaction costs of societal conduct. Further, being surrounded by people who deeply share the same core values and norms gives us a feeling of comfort and happiness. Accordingly, it is not surprising that indigenous Europeans are concerned with increasing numbers of Muslims in their countries, because heterogeneous societies tend to be more fragile and prone to internal unrest.
However (and this is a big ‘however’), especially Europeans lost the right to voice any discomfort on ethnic and religious matters for at least another 200 years. It is understandable that Europeans are quick to make judgements on other nations, because they have managed to establish the most complex, stable and advanced political system in the history of mankind. It is easy to talk when you are in front, but this is only the case for somewhat 50-60 years and much of Europe’s success is based on the loss of many other civilisations in the past. Starting in the 15th century, Europeans increasingly lobbied for privileges of Christians in the Ottoman Empire, granting access to the European market for the Ottomans in return. While the Ottomans held up their end of the deal and exempted Christist minorities from prosecution, taxation and conscription, European nations were little interested in strengthening economic ties. Quite frankly, little can we blame Europeans for exploiting the Ottomans in that regard, because they really displayed no diplomatic skill and political understanding, whatsoever. In general, this helped Christist minorities in the Ottoman Empire to gain wealth and export great parts of it to Europe without Ottomans gaining anything from it; from a European perspective, extremely smart and successful! After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the European great powers were quick to invade former Ottoman territories, draw irrational borders and install submissive local leaders. What followed was severe resource exploitation. Worse than this, however, was the introduction of nationalism to the Arab world. Turks historically had a strong ethnic awareness and could therefore quickly adapt and establish the Turkish Republic – nonetheless many expatiated to Europe, due to better career perspectives. Arabs, on the other hand, were confronted with geographic borders for the first time. Suddenly, there are Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis, Palestinians and so on and they needed to build national identities. Because they were governed by the Ottomans for so long, these countries never developed an administrative culture, either. Accordingly, the state-formation process turned out to be very difficult for these countries. As if that was not enough, the North Americans started to invade the Middle East in the 90s and applied the infamous Divide-and-Rule strategy to the Arab nations. The long-lasting dynasties of corrupt military governments, foreign invasion and humiliation during the Israeli-Arab wars led to the eruption of a series of event that we call the Arab spring. The Arab spring, in turn, led to the most destructive civil war in recent history, which is the Syrian Civil War. Over the last 30 years, the North Americans, together with some European powers, are responsible for the death of millions of people and millions more who were displaced.
The Muslim migration to Europe started after the Ottoman Empire collapsed, since this led to regional poverty and political instability. In addition with the events of the following century, we can surely say that European powers are to blame for the suffering in the Middle East and North Africa; of course, also combined with a lacking skill in statesmanship from the side of the Arabs. Now that many Muslim families were able to reach a decent standard of living in the countries that exploited and humiliated their home countries, they have to listen to people say that Muslims do not participate in European social life. All of a sudden, everything should be forgotten and Muslims and Christians should sit at a table, eat pork and drink beer together. After a century of political misconduct and acting in bad faith, Europeans should rather be able to swallow that Muslims preserve their customs and prefer to be around their own. “Then they can go back to where they came from!” Well, I am pretty sure most of them would, if their country would not be in total chaos because of Europeans. As long as the majority works, I am strongly defending that not a single foreigner is obliged to even learn the language of the country they reside in – of course, the vast majority speaks the indigenous language perfectly. Most of the Muslims know about Christmas and Easter. But how much are the Europeans interested in Muslim customs? What do they know about Islam? Do they want to know anything about this religion and its people?
Societal life is not a one-way road. Muslims suffered a lot from European intervention and degradation. Everyday racism is still omnipresent in European countries. Instead of saying: “Sorry guys, we brought sorrow and pain to your lands in the past. To make it up, we are granting YOU privileges like tax exemption, just as your ancestors did to us”, the European community blames the Muslims for the discomfort that Europeans feel. Muslims are generally open to live together peacefully, learn from indigenous people and also bring the cultures closer to one another. Unfortunately, Muslims need to be disproportionately more proactive in promoting a healthy social coexistence, while enduring a lot of racism and criticism in the process. Europeans are generally more passive and very hard to convince to open up, which leads to frustration and, hence, isolation from the Muslim side.
If we want to make it work, both sides need to work. Either European nations need to invest large amounts of money in the rebuilding of the Middle Eastern, North African and Central Asian nations they harmed (but according to the local needs and wishes), so that people from those countries finally return, or they need to understand that they have to adapt their expectations and actions, in order to promote peaceful societal life among the cultures in Europe. While I personally would strongly wish for the first, I know that the second scenario is more realistic.