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Religion and the Political Organization of Muslims in Europe

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 August 2006

Carolyn M. Warner
Arizona State
Manfred W. Wenner
Arizona State


Some analysts have raised serious concerns about the foreign and domestic policy implications of the large numbers of Muslims living in Western Europe. The fear is that Muslims as a bloc will co-opt the domestic and foreign policy of various European states, subsuming it to those of Muslims from a variety of Islamic states in the Middle East and Asia, and transform the secular nature of most European states. The historic and ingrained fear of Islam present in the populations of Europe (and, for that matter, the United States) has produced an inability to see the political nature of Islamic groups, especially outside the Islamic world. For example, both Europeans and Americans were quick to question the political motives and actions of Muslims in Europe and the U.S. when there was no organized and orchestrated condemnation of the attacks of September 11, 2001. What such critics fail to take into account is precisely one of the themes analyzed in the paper: the myriad divisions found among the Muslims of Europe. Western fears and criticisms are partly based on serious ignorance of the characteristics of Islam and of the people in Europe who adhere to it. Because Islam is a highly decentralized religion, it is structurally biased against facilitating large-scale collective action by its adherents. The one version which is hierarchically organized, the Shi'a, is barely present in Europe. In addition, Muslim immigrants are divided by their ethnic differences. Islam, being decentralized, allows for a myriad of practices in the different countries from which the immigrants came. Divided by ethnicity and by their own religious beliefs, Muslims in Europe will not constitute a group which will be able to impose its goals on European foreign and domestic policy. Muslims will, instead, be a diverse population with which European states find it difficult to negotiate, because of Islam's decentralized structure.Carolyn M. Warner is Associate Professor of Political Science and Global Studies, Arizona State University ( Manfred W. Wenner is Visiting Scholar, Department of Political Science, Arizona State University ( The authors wish to thank Guity Nashat Becker, Jocelyne Cesari, Colin Elman, Miriam Fendius Elman, Roger Finke, Paul Froese, Anthony Gill, Phillip Hardy, Michael Hechter, Jennifer Hochschild, Kevin Jacques, Ramazan Kilinc, Timur Kuran, Peter McDonough, Michael Mitchell, Christopher Soper, Hendrik Spruyt, Robert Youngblood, three anonymous reviewers, the participants at the University of Washington Center for European Studies/European Union Center “September 11, Immigration and Nationalism in Europe” seminar, and the participants at the University of Wisconsin Madison “East and West: the Experience of Islam in an Expanding Europe” conference for their critical comments and suggestions. Errors and shortcomings remain our responsibility. The authors thank Beatrice Buchegger, Anita Clason, Katie Jordan, Megan McGinnity, and Seth Turken for research assistance, and the Arizona State University Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict for financial support.

Research Article
© 2006 American Political Science Association

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