The Challenge Of Integrating Muslims Into Europe
MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up - a treat. We will have a live performance from British singing sensation Ellie Goulding. She's topped the charts and won accolades in the U.K. And now she's ready to take the U.S. by storm. She stopped by our Washington, D.C. studios, and we'll visit with her in just a few minutes.
But, first, we want to continue this conversation about multiculturalism and tensions over multiculturalism and immigration in Europe, in the wake of those deadly attacks in Norway.
We've been speaking with Nabila Ramdani. She's a Paris-born journalist. She is of Algerian descent. She's been writing about Islamic affairs and the news of the day in Europe. Also with us, NPR's Paris correspondent Eleanor Beardsley and John Bowen. He's an author and anthropologist who's been also writing about this for many years.
Nabila, I wanted to get your sense of the questions I was asking John and Eleanor, you know, earlier in our conversation. They talked about the various waves of immigrants. And obviously the situation in every country has its own nuances. But they were speaking of people who were the prior residents of these countries, a sense that earlier waves of immigrants were more interested in assimilating than they view subsequent waves of immigrants as being.
And that there seems to be some resentment of that. I'd like to get your perspective on that analysis. Do you agree?
NABILA RAMDANI: Well, I think that the notion that Muslims do not integrate well in European societies is misconstrued. And it is disingenuous, in fact. Because statistically, and what all studies reveal, is that the vast majority of Muslims integrate extremely well.
For example, in France, the North African community has the highest rate of mixed race marriages, for example. But in terms of what European societies have to offer to Muslims, that's where the problem lies because Muslims are just as keen on the basics as other people. That is to say, they want secure homes, good schools, jobs and, you know, decent places for worship. And, yet, instead they are the first victims of discriminations because of their background and indeed their Islamic-sounding name.
MARTIN: Can you give an example of that, if you would?
RAMDANI: Well, absolutely. Eleanor was talking earlier about people praying in the street and how that might create prejudice towards Muslim communities. I mean, I can understand the sentiment of people who do not want people lined up in the street praying.
But the reality is that there is a lack of places for worship in France. So instead of the government dealing with that and making sure that all faiths, you know, have a place for worship, they turn the problem on its head and say Muslims are the problem. And that's what politicians, but also governments, across Europe have been quite clever at achieving - they created a concept of an enemy within. And that is Muslims they pose Muslims, and indeed Islam, as a problem to Western societies.
MARTIN: Before I let you go, I wanted to ask each of you for a final thought about where you think this discussion goes in Europe. And Nabila, why don't you start?
RAMDANI: Well, I think what these tragic attacks in Norway have revealed is that governments tend to explore links with international terrorism first, especially as it relates to Islamic terrorism, and indeed al-Qaida, before even considering domestic leads.
And this, in my opinion, is an unfortunate and direct consequence of the so-called war on terror. And I would contend that the public debate on terror attacks in general has very much been framed by the Bush administration's so-called war on terror. And that's very, very unfortunate.
MARTIN: John Bowen, how about you? Where do you think this conversation goes next?
JOHN BOWEN: Well, I think where it ought to go is ceasing to come up with policies that never really existed, supposedly multi-culturalist policies. These governments have always tried to carry out integration policies in different ways. Germany never had a multicultural policy. Neither did France. Where the conversation really ought to go is downplaying the notion that this is a group of Muslims.
The people we're talking about are immigrants, children of immigrants, grandchildren of immigrants who want jobs, want good schools, want decent living conditions. Some of them are very religiously concerned and they practice their religion regularly. Many of them, probably most of them don't really, like most other people.
So the focus really ought to shift on how we create better societies in each of these European countries where everybody not only has a chance to get ahead, but believes that he or she has a chance to get ahead. Those are the real problems and not these invented ones about either a fifth column of Muslims in Europe, or about failed multicultural policies of the past.
MARTIN: Eleanor, final thought from you? Where do you think this conversation is headed in Europe?
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Yeah. It's hard for me to talk about all of Europe, but I think people are generally so disgusted by what happened in Norway. And I think in France, Nabila said one thing interesting - she said second generation Muslims wanting to pray in the street. Well, second generation Muslims usually don't pray in the street or even pray at all in France.
I mean, they're so integrated that they've become, you know, not religious. I feel like, in France anyway, people have been integrated. It can go forward. I think people are going to reject this right wing rhetoric. It's either going to be that or either the right wing, they're going to lose all credibility after what happened in Norway. They're not going to be able to talk about this as much. And we have the far right here who's trying to capitalize on this rejection of Muslims and newcomers.
But I think there's going to be a general disgust. And I hope people are going to move forward with inclusive policies. And I hope it's going to be a good thing that comes out of this.
MARTIN: NPR Paris correspondent Eleanor Beardsley joined us from Paris. Also in Paris, Nabila Ramdani. She is a freelance journalist who writes about Islamic issues in The Guardian and other notable publications. And, also with us, John Bowen. He's an author and anthropologist specializing in - and he's been writing most recently about multiculturalism. You can catch his most recent article, "Europeans Against Multiculturalism" in this month's issue of the Boston Review. And John Bowen joined us from London.
I thank you all so much for joining us.
BOWEN: Thanks, Michel.
RAMDANI: Thank you. Thank you, Michel, for having us.
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