Bernard Lewis is renowned and influential scholar about Islam in the Middle East. In recent times he has given several interviews in which he ‘warns’ Europe not handling over ‘their’ continent to the Muslims. Last Sunday he did the same in an interview in the Jerusalem Post: Muslims ‘about to take over Europe’. In this interview he states:
The Muslims “seem to be about to take over Europe,” Lewis said at a special briefing with the editorial staff of The Jerusalem Post. Asked what this meant for the continent’s Jews, he responded, “The outlook for the Jewish communities of Europe is dim.” Soon, he warned, the only pertinent question regarding Europe’s future would be, “Will it be an Islamized Europe or Europeanized Islam?” The growing sway of Islam in Europe was of particular concern given the rising support within the Islamic world for extremist and terrorist movements, said Lewis.
My comments will be based on the Netherlands if not stated otherwise. I will not comment on what Lewis said about Iran, since that is not my field of expertise. The question about a Euro-Islam or Islamized Europe is one that frequently occurs in many debates. It is based on some false assumptions. First of all the growing presence of Muslims does not necessarily mean that Muslims are taking over Europe. In my opinion it is more about claiming the same space in public domain as other religions have. Moreover this growing presence and institutionalization is limited and split along interethnic, intra-ethnic and intra-religious fault lines.
Euro-islam on the other hand is based upon the assumption that Muslim migrants will gradually be persuaded to embrace the modern enlightenment values of Europe and that they will follow an Islam that is in peace with liberal Western values and that the old traditions of the Middle East will fade away. What we see however is the persistence of religious traditions of the Middle East but in a fragmented manner: stories are told but the traditional people who do that are not present, life cycle rituals are performed but there are not many people with enough knowledge about them, religious knowledge is transferred but religious authority is fragmented and part of the struggle between (among others) several salafi groups. At the same time national policies of for example the Netherlands, France and Germany aiming at integration of Muslims, do influence developments and influence the way Muslims are able to express their desires and wishes in the public domain. The general picture that emerges therefore is one of integration Ã¡nd segregation, seclusion and emancipation, individualism and collectivism, instead of a dichotomy between for example emancipation. With regard to the latter for example Turkish and Moroccan women in the Netherlands have made great progress in their educational levels and labour participation. At the same time they remain behind their Dutch counterparts and emancipation of women in general (not only Muslims) is losing speed.
Lewis, whose numerous books include the recent What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East, and The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror, would set no timetable for this drastic shift in Europe, instead focusing on the process, which he said would be assisted by “immigration and democracy.” Instead of fighting the threat, he elaborated, Europeans had given up.
I doubt this very much. Incidents like the cartoon affair or the crucifix case of Madonna merely show that the struggle for the public sphere is open again. There is a debate going on about who decides how the public sphere is constructed, what is the place of religion therein and who decides that. Muslims are new participants in these discussions but this still doesn’t mean that they takeover.
Another thing is that research indeed shows that there will be increasing numbers of Muslims the coming years (2040). These prognoses however are constantly updated: downwards. Downwards because the immigration of Muslims is decreasing. Also the assumption that a majority of Muslims may exist and that therefore they will or already have by then takenover society, is ridiculous. How do we know the beliefs of these people, how do we assume that they still will be Muslims? You can only assume this when you see Muslims as an ethnic group with certain, almost genetical, features such as intolerance and longing for power. Certainly some of them at this moment are intolerant and longing for power but you cannot conclude that this will be so in the coming years and certainly not for the majority.
“Europeans are losing their own loyalties and their own self-confidence,” he said. “They have no respect for their own culture.” Europeans had “surrendered” on every issue with regard to Islam in a mood of “self-abasement,” “political correctness” and “multi-culturalism,” said Lewis, who was born in London to middle-class Jewish parents but has long lived in the United States.
The threat of extremist Islam goes far beyond Europe, Lewis stressed, turning to the potential impact of Iran going nuclear under its current regime.
Again the fact that Muslims are institutionalizing Islam in Europe has nothing to do with throwing away European values. The European public spheres do not form a confined space that becomes smaller when Islam is introduced into it. What does happen is that certain debates that seemed to be of the past are alive again: who controls the public sphere? Does the public sphere have to be secular (although clearly based upon christian and liberal traditions) or is there room for religion? The decreasing institutionalization in some European countries of Christianity in the 1960s led many people to conclude that secularization was on the rise. We can question that to a large extent. Christianity was never away and still has his power in many areas but christians did not dominate public sphere anymore. At the same time the institutionalization of Islam does not necessarily mean that secularization is now declining. This does not mean that there are no dangers. One of the main developments among Muslims seems to be (although it is not very clear) the rise of intolerant groups and ideologies. This certainly has to be dealt with but portraying Islam and Muslims on the whole as anessentially intolerant ethnic group will not help; it only diverts our attention from the problems within the Muslim community and within European societies. When you want to tackle the problems and the problem makers you have to precise.