The Crescent and the Union: Islam Returns to Western Europe
Posted: 14 May 2001
Almost 1,300 years after Charles the Hammer turned back the Muslim incursion into Frankish territory, Islam again has a foothold in Europe, though under more peaceful circumstances and a different international system. Today, because of Muslim migrants who began arriving in Europe from North Africa, Turkey, and the Middle East during the economic boom years of the 1960s, Islam is growing faster than any other religion in Europe. Although Europe has in recent years tightened its immigration policies, it must rely on migrant labor to help support Europeans' generous pensions as the median age of Europeans increases.
The birth rates in Muslim countries have outstripped the world average for years. As European reliance on imported labor has increased, a significant number of the imported laborers have been Muslim. The spread of Islam by these migrants has caused controversy and self-reflection as Europeans grapple with what they perceive to be a distinctly un-Western phenomenon. The European reaction to Islam highlights the post-Cold War Western judgment that Islam threatens Western political structures.
The perception that Islam poses a security threat to the West, however, should be contrasted to the cooperation the Western military alliance received from the Islamic nations during the 1991 Gulf War. Such cooperation indicates that political and national security can trump religious alliances in the Middle East. Furthermore, to view Christian-Muslim relations in a West-East dichotomy ignores the fact that centers of Christian and Muslim power are becoming decentralized as globalization causes the influence of both religions to shift to Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The question is whether Western fear of Islam and Muslim migrants is warranted.
Given that the Islamic political revolutions of the twentieth century did not result in the political and theological changes for which many Muslims had hoped, the time is ripe for another historic - and mutually advantageous - meeting of Western and Eastern cultures. In Part I of this Article, I discuss the Western perception of Islam. In Part II, I document the increase in the number of Muslims in Western Europe. In Part III, I suggest that when the perceptions surveyed in Part I and the demographic trends documented in Part II meet, certain cultural, religious, and legal conflicts will occur. I conclude by suggesting that Muslim migrants in Western Europe do not threaten Western cultural, religious, or legal norms.
JEL Classification: F22, I28, J12, J13, J14, J18, J70, K39, Z12
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