It’s still not easy being Muslim in Europe, particularly in France

July 24, 2014

A picture taken Jan. 9, 2014, shows a woman wearing a niqab, a type of full veil, as she walks in the center of Roubaix, France. The European Court of Human Rights on July 1, 2014, upheld France’s controversial burqa ban, rejecting arguments that outlawing full-face veils breaches religious freedom. In a case brought by a 24-year-old French woman with the support of a British legal team, the court ruled that France was justified in introducing the ban in the interests of social cohesion. (Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

Two days ago, The Monkey Cage featured a guest post on Muslim integration in Europe, encouragingly titled “Some good news about Muslims in Europe.” While the news may have been good, it’s unclear how representative it was.

First, though the title of the post signals it will be about Muslims in Europe, the article from which The Monkey Cage post draws specifically examines Muslims in France. The authors make a strong case for why they study France in their scholarly paper, titled “What Makes Muslims Feel French?”:

France is a useful country for our analysis because tensions surrounding Muslim integration have been particularly acute there (Adida, Laitin, and Valfort 2010, 2013). France has approximately five million Muslim residents, more than any other European country (Kepel 1991Laurence and Vaisse 2006Ternisien 2002). It has been the site for some of the most highly politicized debates in Europe about Muslim practices, such as whether it is appropriate to wear headscarves and veils in schools and on the streets (Joppke 2009bKuru 2008). In addition, the French tradition of secularism conflicts with some Muslims’ desires to make claims about the social or political value of their religious practices (Koopmans et al. 2005; Bowen 2007Scott 2010).

Often I read comparative politics books with “Africa” in the title when only one African country is examined in detail, and I understand the draw of making one’s research broadly applicable. But I still pause when I notice a gap between the scope of the data and the title of a paper/blog post – especially if the writer doesn’t make explicit to the reader just how the focused case study is generalizable to a broader region.

Second, a reader of the post might be left with the impression that existing research claiming Muslims are not integrating is unsystematic:

What we need are more systematic studies that can help us understand how Europe’s Muslims are integrating, by which measures, and why.

But in a forthcoming article (ungated), political scientists Claire Adida, David Laitin  and economist Marie-Anne Valfort cite quite a few studies examining Muslim integration, even using questions similar to the one analyzed in “Some good news about Muslims in Europe.” And the news isn’t all good (or all bad) for Muslim integration. From the Adida et al. paper:

Evidence about the assimilation patterns of Muslim immigrants in Western countries is mixed. Using the UK Fourth National Survey of Ethnic Minorities, Bisin et al. (20082011a) find that attachment to the culture of origin is higher for Muslims than for non-Muslims. For non-Muslims, this attachment attenuates with time spent in the UK; but for Muslims, attachment is unrelated to time (see Dustmann (1996), Schields and Price (2002), Riphahn (2003), and van Ours and Veenman (2003) for similar conclusions). Yet, these results are at odds with those of Manning and Roy (2010) who, using the UK Labour Force Survey in 2001, analyze respondents’ probability of answering “British” when asked to define their identity. They show that newly arrived immigrants almost never think of themselves as British and that no difference exists between Muslims and non-Muslims. Moreover, they find that the probability of reporting a British identity increases with the time spent in the UK, at a similar rate for Muslims and for non-Muslims (see Constant et al. (2009), Aleksynska (2011), and Georgiadis and Manning (2011) for similar results showing no Muslim effect).

Finally, how much can we rely on a single survey measure to judge Muslim integration in Europe? The focus of Bleich and Maxwell’s study is whether Muslims feel French and in their study, “75 percent of Muslims completely or somewhat agree that they feel French.” But is feeling French a sufficient measure for understanding immigrant integration?

French academics Sylvain Brouard and Vincent Tiberj find that while Turkish, African and Maghrebi-French respondents (who in their sample are 60 percent Muslim) are just as likely as French respondents to say they “feel close to the French,” these two populations are still very different on key attitudinal measures such as who bears most of the responsibility for immigrant integration (immigrants themselves or French society). If we go beyond “feeling French” to comparing attitudes between immigrants and their host populations, there are many key indicators where Muslim immigrants hold different attitudes than their host populations, e.g., attitudes toward the status of women.

An important alternative to the “feeling French” question is asking Muslims how they view their integration in Europe. Adida and colleagues (in a paper cited in “What Makes Muslims Feel French?”) summarized findings from a relevant study:

The 2009 Open Society Institute study paints a deteriorating picture of religious and racial discrimination: 55.8% of Muslim respondents and 43% of non-Muslim respondents, representing a plurality, claim that there is more racial prejudice today than there was 5 y ago; 68.7% of Muslim respondents and 55.9% of non-Muslim respondents make that claim with regard to religious prejudice, and more than 90% of both Muslim and non-Muslim respondents agree that Muslims are the ones experiencing this religious prejudice.”

In sum: It’s great to be optimistic, but that’s hard to do when the much more consequential outcomes for integration (e.g., labor market discrimination and unemployment) suggest that things are looking pretty grim.

Kim Yi Dionne is Five College Assistant Professor of Government at Smith College. She studies identity, public opinion, political behavior, and policy aimed at improving the human condition, with a focus on African countries.
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