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Rational Islamophobia in Europe*

  • David Laitin (a1)

Social and political relations between Europe and the Muslim world are politically fractious. Attacks in Madrid (March 2004) and London (July 2005), and the riots in suburban Paris in November 2005 and November 2007, have all been attributed to “Muslims”. Political parties in Europe (for example the Front National in France, which placed second in the presidential elections of 2002), have mobilized opinion against a Muslim threat to Europe. Relations between the countries and societies of the European Union and the Muslim World have therefore become politically consequential on a number of dimensions – foreign policy in regard to the Middle East; new membership into the EU; and the vast migration of Muslim populations into EU states.

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1 This first section borrows heavily from my National Science Foundation grant proposal “Muslim Integration into EU Societies: Comparative Perspectives”, Grant SES-0819635, 2008. Adida Claire, David Laitin and Marie-Anne Valfort, 2010, “Les Français musulmans sont-ils discriminés dans leur propre pays?” French American Foundation,

2 Although objective analysts such as the International Crisis Group reported no direct connection between the French riots and Islam (see Xavier Ternisien “La France et son Islam, vus d’ailleurs” Le Monde, March 11, 2006), it is not lost on the general French population that “most of the rioters were of Muslim origin” (Xavier Ternisien, “Les ‘barbus’ dans le 9-3” Le Monde, November 17, 2006).

3 Cartoons in a Danish newspaper that depicted the prophet in an unflattering manner set off a wave of protests throughout the Islamic world and crystallized anti-Muslim feelings, to the benefit of a new right wing party (the Danish People’s Party) that evokes anti-Muslim sentiments. See Dan Bilefsky “Cartoon Dispute Prompts Identity Crisis for Liberal DenmarkInternational Herald Tribune (February 12, 2006).

4 Work by Jonathan Lawrence and Justin Vaisse in France reports similar results. Muslim immigrants, they find, are not all that different from the historic nationalities of European states. In general, they find, the degree of anti-Islamism in police incidents in France is much lower than anti-Semitic ones, with a much larger relative Muslim population in France. Those who are Islamophobic also tend to be anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant in general. They conclude, at least for France, that there seems to be no specific anti-Islamic public feeling. See Integrating Islam (Washington, Brookings Institution, 2006, pp.43-44, pp. 58-59, p. 66).

5 New York Times, September 26, 2007, reports that the EU has officially pictured Europe on its Euro currency including (Christian) Belarus, Moldova, and parts of Russia, but not Turkey, which officials admit was stricken from the map. French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressly opposes Turkey’s accession into the EU. See Barber, Tony, “Fears grow of Sarkozy initiative to downgrade Turkey’s EU bid”. The Financial Times (October 15, 2009). Available at:

6 Pew did not collect data to see how this compares with other minorities.

7 For one of many such manifestations of frustration with state policies of Islamic incorporation, see “Dalil Boubakeur contesté devant la mosquée de Paris” Le Monde (April 20, 2009), by Stéphanie Le Bars. Libération, March 18, 2009, p. 14 “Le Conseil des musulmans de France miné par les divisions”.

8 See Hirsi Ali, Ayaan (2007) Infidel (New York, Free Press), chap. 17 and Epilogue.

9 Jon Snow “Muslim integration has come to a halt.” Sunday Times (London), August 6, 2006 reports on a survey conducted by NOP for Channel 4’s Dispatches, though no references are provided. This journalistic report is consistent with data analyzed in Bisin Alberto, Eleonora Patacchini, Thierry Verdier and Yves Zenou (2007) “Are Muslim Immigrants Different in Terms of Cultural Integration?” Polarization and Conflict Project CIT-2-CT-2004-506084, funded by the European Commission-DG Research Sixth Framework Programme; but counter to a different survey conducted by Manning, A. and S. Roy (2007), “Culture Clash or Culture Club? The Identity and Attitudes of Immigrants in Britain”, CEP Discussion Paper No. 790, London School of Economics, which finds intergenerational success in integration into Europe. Needless to say, the accumulated data do not tell a consistent story.

10 March 5, 1989, in “Books” section of the New York Times. The image of a Muslim threat to Europe and its values (as well as its generous social welfare packages) pervades press reports. For example, see Christopher Caldwell’s report on Sweden, “Islam on the Outskirts of the Welfare State” New York Times Magazine (February 5, 2006). A more extensive report, based on five weeks of interviews in France, Germany, Britain and the Netherlands, and focusing on a special Muslim problem for Europe, was prepared Youssef M. Ibrahim “Europe’s Muslim Population: Frustrated, Poor and Divided” The New York Times (May 5, 1995).

11 Caldwell, Christopher, 2009, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West (New York, Doubleday). Fouad Ajami’s review “Strangers in the Land” for the The New York Times Book Review, August 2, 2009, says that Caldwell is “a meticulous journalist who […] gives this subject its most sustained and thoughtful treatment to date”.

12 Caldwell, in focusing so much on the spinelessness of the European political class in the face of Islamic illiberalism ignores the resolute pressure by Eurocrats on Turkey to liberalize restrictions on Kurdish culture as a condition for future EU membership. The moderately Islamicist government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has recently made bold steps in this direction. See Arsu, SebnemTurkey Plans to Ease Restrictions on Kurds and Help End Decades of Conflict”, The New York Times, November 14, 2009.

13 See Dancygier, Rafaela 2010 Immigration and Conflict in Europe (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press) who points to the problem of statistical confound. Both electoral representation and the percentage of Muslims in the population are highly correlated, making it difficult to nail down which of these factors drives the anti-immigrant vote. In my NSF proposal, cited earlier, I have attempted to solve the collinearity problem by focusing on two groups of migrants to Europe (both from Senegal). Each sent migrants to France with similar levels of education and skills, shared the same culture, but were divided by religion – some are Catholics and others are Muslims. In collaboration with Claire Adida and Marie-Anne Valfort (see fn. 1), we identify from the data collected in this project a statistically significant Muslim disadvantage in Europe with respect to household income and are now seeking to understand the mechanisms that sustain it.

14 Norris, Pippa and Inglehart, Ronald, 2003, “Islamic Culture and Democracy: Testing the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ Thesis” in Inglehart, Ronald, ed. Human Values and Social Change: Findings from the Values Surveys (Leiden, Brill, pp. 5-32).

15 When Ways of Life Collide, 2007 (Princeton, Princeton University Press). I would dispute their contention that the policies of multiculturalism have a causal effect on further inflaming anti-Muslim feelings among the native populations in Europe as they have only a single case of high multiculturalism (the Netherlands), and do not examine whether anti-Muslim feelings are less intense where republican policies are favored. In contrast, see Erik Meyersson (2009) “Islamic Rule and the Emancipation of the Poor and Pious” IIES, Stockholm University, Relying on a clever regression discontinuity design, the paper provides evidence that multicultural openness to Islamic practices (such as the headscarf in schools) hastens women’s educational progress.

16 Brouard, Sylvain and Tiberj, Vincent, 2005, Français comme les Autres?: Enquête sur les citoyens d’origine maghrébine, africaine et turque (Paris, Sciences Po.) Caldwell cites one of his newpaper articles that (perhaps) deals with this study, but he does not report its findings; nor does he cite the book.

17 Fetzer, Joel S. and Soper, J. Christopher, 2006, Muslims and the State in Britain, France, and Germany (Cambridge, Cambridge University).

18 Dancygier, 2010.

19 The data are available at To replicate, choose from the advanced menu: Incident Date (between 1/1/2004 and 12/31/2008); Perpetrator (either Islamic Extremist (Shia) or Islamic Extremist (Sunni)); and Region of Incident (Europe). I did not count the incidents in Turkey or Bosnia, as Caldwell’s thesis concerns liberal democratic states with Christian heritages. The best discussion on the successful role of policing in winning the war on terrorism is found in Marc Sageman (October 7, 2009) “Testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee”

* About Caldwell, Christopher, 2009, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West (New York, Doubleday).

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European Journal of Sociology / Archives Européennes de Sociologie
  • ISSN: 0003-9756
  • EISSN: 1474-0583
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