Fear and hostility toward Muslims has risen in the United States and Europe since the early 2000s. Muslims in Europe face challenges that have led to their marginalization, feelings of alienation and, in some cases, the rise of extremism. Muslims in the United States are facing similar difficulties albeit to a lesser extent. The worry is that the marginalization of some within the community could open it up to increased discrimination and subsequent alienation.
A new report, “Muslims in Western Europe and the United States,” written by Center for Global Policy Senior Fellow Myriam Francois and Bethsabée Souris, examines issues of integration faced by Muslims in the United States and Europe. The report highlights some of the major lessons learned from Europe with suggestions for thought leaders in the United States.
Francois and Souris say the United States should work to prevent this by reaching out to those that are marginalized, drawing on measures European countries have already taken to curb Muslim alienation while remembering America’s historical success in integrating its immigrant communities.
The comparison of Muslim integration experiences in the U.K. and France shows that despite different integration policies and varied cultural, social, political and economic contexts, Muslims in Europe face similar challenges that have led to their marginalization. Integration — as a two-way process that supposes a mutual accommodation – has been limited and has created a disfranchised European Muslim community, which has consequently allowed the emergence of a Muslim political identity that has facilitated the rise of extreme Islamist foreign fighters.
A new era of marginalization
In the United States, Muslims historically have been relatively well integrated. However, the report states that since 9/11 and more so since President Donald Trump’s campaign and victory, American Muslims have come under increased scrutiny amid growing anti-Muslim discrimination. During the presidential campaign, Trump used profuse anti-Muslim rhetoric, and since his election, he has proposed laws and policies targeting Muslim communities worldwide.
For instance, he issued three orders for the travel ban for nationals from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen – countries with a majority Muslim population. While the initial two executive orders were restricted by lower courts across the country, the Supreme Court approved the ban in December 2017. The travel ban has been justified through claims that the targeted countries have a terrorist presence within their territories and thus these nations pose an increased threat to the U.S.
Francois and Souris say such anti-Muslim rhetoric has been followed by a sharp increase of anti-Muslim incidents in the United States, which could lead to a rise in the sentiment of “otherness” among American Muslim communities. As in Europe, such marginalization of American Muslims could be critical, as it increasingly disenfranchises and isolates the community, opening it up to increased incidents of discrimination. It can also lead to high levels of alienation and a long-term security threat.
Europe still has a long way to go
While the report authors recommend learning from European models, they correctly note that French and British integration efforts have had mixed results. These efforts have fostered social and economic inequality and exclusion of Muslim communities in different ways. The social and political context in which the inclusion of Muslims has taken place has also led to covert and overt forms of discrimination, from the political elites as much as from the wider population.
Despite policies of integration, the Muslim population in Europe is in a more precarious economic situation than the rest of the population. For instance in France, an estimated 51% of Muslims live in precarious economic conditions, compared to 35% in the broader population. Similarly, in the U.K., an estimated 51% of the Muslims live in precarious economic conditions, compared to 38% in the rest of the population. Muslims have a higher rate of unemployment than the average and almost half of the British Muslim population resides in the bottom 10% local authority districts for deprivation.
These economic and social inequalities among Muslim populations are partly rooted in the geographical location of immigrants and their descendants. In France, for instance, the government policy of placing immigrants from Turkey, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa — who represent a majority of Muslim immigrants — in poorer suburbs means their French citizen children experience many of the same problems associated with marginalization. This trend has increased in the last decade, with the phenomenon of “white flight” contributing to the isolation of immigrant populations who have less access to meaningful employment, education and public goods. In these suburbs, where there is little access to secure employment, there is a higher rate of illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, which contributes to heightened insecurity for all who live there. Similarly, the breakdown in community policing means police-community relations have frequently erupted in tensions and social uprisings.
The rise of Islamophobia
In addition to the structural and economic inequalities that Muslim communities can face, there has been a proliferation of overt and covert discrimination and anti-Muslim prejudice since 9/11. Some forms of discrimination are subtle and latent, often including implicit in-group bias, microaggressions and a general lack of awareness of difference.
Some studies show that the media foster latent Islamophobia or racism, as the press tends to report on Muslims in a negative light. Similarly, one study has highlighted the anti-Muslim prejudice by conducting an experiment consisting of sending two identical CVs from a candidate with a Muslim sounding name and one from a candidate with a Christian sounding name. The study found that other things being equal, the candidates with Muslim names were 2.5 times less likely to get a call back over candidates with Christian sounding names, including Christian African sounding names.
Recent years have also seen a rise of more violent forms of anti-Muslim prejudice. In the U.K., there has been a steady rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the last decade. According to Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), an independent hate crime reporting service, anti-Muslim hate crimes have mostly occurred online. For instance, in 2015, Tell MAMA noted 548 reported hate crimes. The bulk of these crimes occurred online and involved anti-Muslim abuse or the dissemination of anti-Muslim literature. Around 25% of the cases of anti-Muslim hate crimes involved threats. Only around 30% of the incidents had been reported to the police. Most offline attacks, which can include verbal abuses, property damage, threats, assaults and acts of violence, target women wearing religiously distinctive clothing. Tell MAMA found that the number of attacks tends to rise in the 7 days following a terrorist attack.
This report recommends six measures to be taken in order to prevent the continued marginalization of American Muslims:
- Increase the accuracy of data on anti-Muslim discrimination: In order to create policies to reduce overt and covert forms of discrimination, more academic research is needed to measure discrimination in access to employment, housing, and public goods. While there is data on anti-Muslim hate crimes, there are few studies on anti-Muslim discrimination in the United States examining the types of discrimination Muslims have to face. In addition, although several organizations record anti-Muslim crimes, they tend to rely on voluntary reports, and crimes are likely to be undercounted. Reporting should be facilitated by creating more focal points for victims, including within the local communities. Furthermore, an increased understanding of the challenges that Muslim Americans face should be promoted. Universities should foster research on Muslim communities and understand the mechanisms of Muslim integration in American society.
- Fight anti-Muslim prejudice through education: In order to reduce the overt and covert forms of discrimination and anti-Muslim prejudice in the United States, the first step could be to change the way Islam is treated in school curriculums. Schools should also be the place where awareness of intolerance and discrimination against Muslims can be fostered.
- Fight anti-Muslim prejudice through media: The media can contribute to reduce overt and covert anti-Muslim prejudice. The media should review the way they treat issues related to Islam, and avoid systematically transmitting negative representations of Muslims, often found to be rooted in false stories or even entirely fabricated.
- Fight discrimination in the workplace: In order to prevent the spread of anti-Muslim discrimination in the workplace – which could lead to income disparities between Muslims and non-Muslims and in turn damage Muslims’ social and economic status – the United States could build upon successful anti-discrimination measures in Europe. In addition, workplace discrimination could be reduced by improving how employees manage their religious practices in their workplace.
- Strengthen the prosecution system for anti-Muslim discrimination and hate crimes: Overcoming the distrust in the police and the prosecution system is key to fighting anti-Muslim discrimination, as the lack of trust prevents the reporting of Islamophobic acts. Therefore, the police and judicial system in the United States should create programs to encourage the reporting and prosecution of Islamophobic acts. The American government should ensure that law enforcement bodies, in particular the police as first responders in the cases of anti-Muslim hate crimes, are specifically trained on the necessary procedures and have sufficient resources to identify and investigate acts of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim discrimination.
- Improve the inclusion of Muslims by encouraging their political and social participation: There is a lack of American Muslim political engagement (although it has grown because of Trump’s election) which could result in the creation of a disenfranchised community. Muslim community leaders, following the example of initiatives taken during the 2016 presidential campaign, could take steps to ensure an increase in American Muslims’ political participation.