Europe's Muslim Immigrants

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Paris Mosque [hometownzero / Flickr]

Our show on the French rioters — young disenfranchised Arab and African Muslims enraged by their socioeconomic reality — got us asking lots of questions about the confusing bigger picture here: how are race and class issues different in Europe and in the US? Is it relevant or coincidence that the rioters are mostly Muslims? How are different European countries succeeding or failing to integrate immigrants? Do these immigrants feel discriminated against because of skin color, ethnicity, religion, language, postcolonial history, or some combination thereof? And perhaps most confusing: what’s the significance — especially post 9/11– of the fact that millions of Europe’s immigrants are Muslims?

Usually when we have this many questions, it means we should do a show. And since the Paris riots are arguably Europe’s own New Orleans moment (in the way they’re exposing the dark side of French racism and poverty), we thought it could fit well into our Race & Class series. So post your own questions or answers over the next few days and tune in on Monday night.

Desertrose got us started in the comment thread for the Paris riots show by pointing out that problems similar to those in France exist all over Europe:

The problem of unemployment in the immigrant communities is not only in Paris, but also in many other European cities. The educated immigrants find it difficult to get jobs, although many were born & raised in these countries. Here in Denmark, a last name that is not Olsen or Rasmussen is not going to get your CV noticed.


John Bowen

Professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. Studies problems of pluralism, law, and religion — focussing on Islam in Asia, Europe, and North America. Author of forthcoming Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Journalist; columnist for The Independent. Born into an Muslim Indian family in Uganda; emigrated to Britain.

Asle Sivindem

Author and TV and radio journalist. Born in Germany to a Muslim Turkish immigrant family; married a non-Turkish German.

Muhammad Gulbar Khan

Teaches youth and community workers at the School of Education at the University of Birmingham. Born in England to a Muslim Kashmiri immigrant family.

Karl Libanus

Artist; teaches kids music (especially hip-hop), dance, and visual arts. Born in France to parents from Martinique; lives in one of Paris’s northern banlieues.

Extra Credit Reading & Listening

Our July show on Muslims in Europe, which we did after the UK bombings.

Vanessa’s interview with Jawad, a young Muslim living in the UK.

A 2002 article on the formation of France’s Council for the Muslim Religion, founded after September 11, 2001. Includes some interesting quotes from Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who was widely criticized for calling young French Muslims involved with the recent riots “scum.”

A Brookings Institute paper on immigration in Europe by Virginie Guiraudon, of France’s National Center for Scientific Research.

Column by Omer Taspinar of Johns Hopkins University. Originally published in the March 2003 issue of Foreign Policy.

Current estimate is that Europe is home to more than 53 million Muslims.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article on isolationism within Europe’s Muslim’s communities.

Related Content

  • I can only imagine if this sort of thing happened in America. We would see the out and out killing of hundreds of people by police. The shooting of innocents would be rampant. Not because the police want to shoot poor people, but because our government would never “take this shit”. We solve problems with violence. Thats how we like to do things here. In France a lot of cars are being burned, a lot of building are being torched but a very very low number of people are getting killed. I am amazed that the French government is still able to call upon reason and calm. All hell is breaking loose and they are still reassuring the people that these problems will be addressed with long term solutions. Clearly this demonstrates that the French people do not live in the happy integrated world they thought they did, but at least they still don’t resort to out and out violence to solve there deep seeded problems.

    another thing that bothers me is the fact that everyone keeps referring to these people as “immigrants” when in fact most are second and third generation French citizens!!!! these are the poor downtrodden people of France. We didn’t call the people of new Orleans “African immigrants” because they were Americans. I hope this point is addressed on the show. The fact that these people even after living in the country for 3 generations are not called “French” is truly telling of the situation they live in. They are not integrated at all. The reason why they are not integrated is the same reason Rosa parks had a hard time getting a seat on a bus. Out and out racism and bigotry. Europe didn’t escape that problem just because they didn’t have black slavery. Where do you think all the colonist’s and slave traders came from? Europe has a long bloody history of fearing and hating the non-white. France is now realizing that they cant just gloss over the problem any more than we can here at home. The meek will not inherit the earth, they will burn it down around their white overlords ears. We need to seriously address the problems of inequality in this world, or sadly you are going to see a lot more than Paris burn before the end of this century. When a poor people realize they have the numbers and the means to rise up and strike back…they will. The French of all people should know this best.

  • avecfrites

    Clearly, repressed people have a reason to lash out. But just being repressed doesn’t explain the violence we’re seeing around the globe by people calling themselved Muslim. Most of the world is poor and repressed, but most terrorism is committed in the name of Islam. So there is something beyond just poor unassimilated people going on here.

    It seems that Islamic fundamentalists are targetting Western European countries for violence, making great efforts to stir up unassimilated people there. Poverty provides dry kindling, but someone from the outside is purposely generating the sparks.

    But the unrest in France is different in character from the terrorist acts in London and Spain. What accounts for the difference?

  • nother

    I heard Shepard Smith saying something to the effect; they may be poor but how is burning cars going to help them get more money. People like Shepard tend see class differences only in terms of dollars. In general, these people are grasping for dignity. They EXIST dammit – and they want the world to know it. Many of us will now spend time analyzing their actions; what are their gripes, what are their needs, who has been neglecting them, ext… The fact is, most of us did not even know there was a disenfranchised group of Muslims living in France, now we know.

    If no one has been hurt can we not classify this as a kind of Civil Disobedience?

    The cost of some burnt cars is worth the benefit of knowing these people exist.


  • Potter

    It seems that the French are very much afraid of losing or changing their culture. The numbers of Muslims are not inconsequential. In so many years they will be a majority in fact. The difference here in the USA is that we do not have a particular culture that we are fiercely protecting. We are all immigrants and we know it. The “thems” eventually become “us” and they add to the culture which is constantly changing. And that’s okay with us. Perhaps I am heady about this coming back from New York City. The mix is amazing. No everybody does not always get along and there is alot of hidden bigotry ( sometimes not so hidden) but for the most part everyone belongs and is doing his/her part, contributing something to the whole.

    So maybe the French are afraid or insecure, holding on for dear life.

    I loved the moment during the headscarf controversy when two French journalists were kidnapped in Iraq in response to the ban. Muslims in France demonstrated against foreign interference in this French matter.

    It will sort itself out in time, maybe sooner than it has or is taking us here with African- Americans ; it has to.

  • Potter

    The big problem is that Muslims don’t drink wine so they don’t chill out.

  • leftleaningLisa

    I think that the religious issue, while important in Europe and especially France, is not the main thing- else the rioters would be making a religious message out of their anger.

    plus, I heard a promo for the show describing people as “Islamic”- Islamic is an adjective that might be used to emphasize a type of architecture, a book, etc. Muslim people are called Muslims

  • LeeJudt

    The troubles in France have to do with both, joblessness caused by the socialist economy that over-regulates business, and with religion given that most muslims don’t want to integrate into the secular French society.

    Islamicism isn’t a problem to day, but it will be tomorrow and all the palaver offered by the left isn’t going to hide that fact.

    Moreover, given that the French media is rationing report on what is going on there it’s hard to judge the nature of the riots in the last week or so.

    My hunch is that they Muslims will keep on buring cars till they run out of vehicles to burn.

  • LeeJudt

    Here is an importat article about France written by a French writer:

    NOVEMBER 9, 2005



    “It started outside of Paris with the accidental deaths of two Muslim teenagers supposedly chased by French police. After what’s now two weeks of violence that’s spread throughout the country, about 6,200 cars have been torched and schools, gyms, malls, police stations, businesses, trains and buses have been vandalized as of when this paper goes to print. Police have been shot at in multiple instances. Two people have died, and a woman on crutches was lit on fire.

    Many have explained the riots away as a revolt of young, poor and disenfranchised French Muslim citizens lashing out against a state that offers them little, thus whitewashing the extreme violence of the professional hooligans involved. Others, including The New York Times, have blamed French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy for fanning the flames by calling the rioters “scum.”

    Sarkozy responded in a November 4 column for Le Monde, writing that “I do not associate the thugs with the huge majority of young from the suburbs who only wish to succeed in life.” He wrote about the 56-year-old man who was beaten to death in front of his wife and daughter for taking a picture and the handicapped woman who was soaked with gas and put on fire. Scum seems a fair name for those who commit such acts.”

  • KArl KAne

    The world is burning and we don’t moov.

    In the case of the riots in France i can not let people say it is a problem with muslim immigrants only.

    What do you expect from people who are treated like shit??

    Does it have to do with muslims or respect. What is happening when your kid has no education?? does it have to do with buddism, muslim or judaism??

    We are facing a situation where economy,education, racism and culture are all mixing together. The bomb had to explose one day. France is a beautifull country with a heavy past: royalism and colonisation. Do you know many countries,islands the french govenement used or is still running?? Mentality have to change, France has to accept the evolution and the immigrants have to follow the rules and not just come and impose their own tradition and culture without mixing. Till now there were no communication between the governement and us. It only starts now. It is the first step of a long process where France will have to assume his past and buillt the future with those she did colonise.

  • LeeJudt

    Let’s not be naive. The Muslims in France are treated better than the Muslims in Algeria or other places in North Africa.

    France provides one of the best education systems in the world and if the Muslim Youts would take advantage of it in France (or England) they would be better off. It’s not the fault of the French that the Youts choose not to learn.

    In England immigrants from the West Indies, not to mention from India (of Hindu background) do much better than those Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, India, or North Africa.

    Europe does not owe them a living.

    Immigration is not a right but a priviledge and the immigrant needs to respct the laws and mores of the culture they move to.

    When in Rome…

  • ChristianHGross

    What I find very mistaken in this debate about Muslims in Europe, and the immigrants of North America is that they are comparing Apples and Oranges. Let me explain this.

    In North America there is one section of society called Mexicans that have been “flooding” America, and Canada. The same thing has happened with Muslim immigrants in Europe (Turkey, Algeria, etc). The Mexicans came into America as cheap labor, legally and illegally. The same thing with the Muslims, as they are the cheap labor. Mexican’s are very close to the country that they immigrate to, like the Muslims of Europe.

    In Europe they said one of the problems of having such close ties to the immigrants is that they never stop being immigrants. It is fast, easy, and cheap to visit the “mothership”. Consider what is happening with the Mexican population. Are they REALLY integrating like other immigrants? Let’s put the question simpler. Do the Mexican’s actually consider themselves immigrants? After all Mexicans, Americans, and Canadians do live on the same continent. The Mexican population in America has their own channels, government services in Spanish, stores in Spanish, and so on. I may be defeating my own argument, as the points I mention could illustrate how to live together. However, there are two big differences; religion, and jobs.

    1) Jobs: America and Canada has jobs. People are working, by and large the population is prospering. Imagine if that was not the case. Imagine if America and Canada had rampant unemployment. I am not so sure America or Canada would be as “nice”.

    2) Religion: Mexicans, Americans, and Canadians are Christian in nature. That means they go to Sunday Service, have bells that ring for church, celebrate Christmas and Easter. The people have similar “lifestyles”. Imagine if America or Canada had to introduce double lines to separate men and women, celebrate Ramadan, pray many times during the day, have the iman yell out the muslim prayers, and civil law conformed optional to Shiria law. Remember both Canada and America celebrate Christian, and Jewish religous holidays, why not Muslim? I do not think American’s or Canadian’s would be quite as tolerant. In fact I know so. Recently both Ontario, and Quebec banned the application of Shiria law in civil cases.

    My point is that I don’t want to harp of the Muslim faith because in the end they are people like us. However, Muslims are as odd to us, as we are to them. And that will take at least a century to figure out. As much as people don’t want to hear it, it is a clash of civilizations. The question we must answer is if it will be a “civil” clash or a bloody clash. I am hoping for civil!

  • I was interested in the idea od hip-hop music as a kind of cross-cultural glue for the marginalized immigrant experience. Karl Libanus touched on it, but I want to hear lots more. Europe, Brazil, Asia…hip hop music has been taken in by everyone, with many different interpretations but a common sense of identity. Can an arabic 18 yr olf in a French ghetto identify more with 2-Pac or Snoop Dogg than French cultural icons? Why do oppressed people all over identify with the story of Black American ideas of struggle and success? What message is mainstream hip-hop music selling to the world? I would love a future show on these kinds of questions. Are you up for it Chris?

  • Potter

    Good article in the New York Times today Immigrant Dreams Mix with Fury Near Paris

  • Katherine

    Potter: thanks for the link — a good piece.