A girl blows bubbles during an Eid celebration in Burgess Park on July 28, 2014, in London, England. The Muslim holiday Eid marks the end of 30 days of dawn-to-sunset fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Kim Yi Dionne: Following last week’s special series on Immigrant Integration in Europe, Sara Wallace Goodman sends us this guest post drawing from her new book, “Immigration and Membership Politics in Western Europe.”


British newspapers have begun to read like a highlights reel of what many perceive as an irreversible trend in Britain: The attacks on the London Transport in 2005 by British-born nationals, the brutal killing of Lee Rigby in 2013 by converted and radicalized Muslims of Nigerian descent, the heartbreaking beheading of journalist James Foley and others by a British-accented militant (a jihadist known as “John the Beatle”) along with an estimated 500 other Britons fighting for ISIL in Syria, not to mention almost two dozen women emigrating to become jihadi brides. Even domestic institutions seem to be vulnerable; Operation Trojan Horse revealed a detailed plan by hardline Muslim community leaders in Birmingham to remove head teachers hostile to Islamic principles in city schools. This pattern is not an escalation but – perhaps more troubling – reflects the continuation of a malignant and deep-seated problem: not all citizens of free societies value freedom, especially freedom for others.

This is not a problem of religion. This is not a problem of immigration. And, despite British Prime Minister David Cameron’s assertion, the root of the problem is not even the “poisonous” political ideology of fundamental Islam. The root problem – where ideological extremism flourishes – is alienation. Disaffected, second- and third-generation immigrant youth are seeking alternative communities of belonging that conflict with a free society. To this problem, there is plenty of blame to go around.

Muslim youth are born into British society and socialized in British schools, or naturalized after years of residence and integration, but endure frustrating barriers to socioeconomic mobility and face discrimination as members of an ethnic minority. And though a majority identify as British, a 2006 Pew survey shows how British Muslims maintain attitudes of disaffection and alienation more than Muslims in other European countries. Opportunistic imams can then mobilize a minority of impressionable youth toward a fundamental practice of religion. In fact, former Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells directly attributes the threat from British-born Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq to not dealing with their radicalization in the U.K.

Yet blame is ascribed not merely for the absence of tough responses to radicalization at home, but also in providing weak tropes of belonging in the first place. As David Cameron stated in a speech criticizing state multiculturalism, “We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.”

Therefore, British politicians – as well as their similarly-vexed European counterparts – are confronted with some tough questions. How do liberal societies fix the problem of alienation and move forward?  How do societies welcome new immigrants – accepting the cultural diversity and values they bring – while maintaining a common identity and values that enable existing members to enjoy equal freedom? Can advanced democracies accept undemocratic citizens and values? Or, to use Cameron’s words, how do liberal states establish a balance where “openness [is not] confused with tolerance for extremism”?

For its part, European governments believe the problem of integration and alienation is born from a lack of information and skill. The logic goes: If immigrants are educated in the history and values of their new society, and if they are able to speak the national language, then they will undoubtedly feel a part of – and take part in – greater society. In my research, I identify where a majority of European states – from Austria to the U.K. – have introduced some version of this solution in pursuit of so-called “civic integration.” The term civic integration is the English translation of the Dutch inburgering, fusing the concept of citizen (burger) with the process or performance of becoming (indicated by the suffix –ing). In fact, one of the initial rationales to this process of citizen-ization was not political participation or belonging, but economic performance, where immigrants were not sufficiently qualified to enter the labor market on the requirements set by a highly developed economy.

The past fifteen years has yielded a bumper crop of civic integration policies across Western Europe. In Germany, where honor killings periodically plague the national political landscape, over a million immigrants seeking settlement and citizenship have participated in civic orientation and language courses. In France, which still cleaves to the idea of a difference-blind society amidst suburban riots and synagogue attacks, immigrants are required to sign an integration contract where they commit to uphold core French values: “France, a country of rights and duties,” “a secular country,” “a country of equality,” and “knowing the French language, a necessity.” Citizenship tests and American-style naturalization ceremonies have also cropped up in The Netherlands and the U.K., in attempts to thicken civic life and identity.

These programs are costly, popular, and important. They show that states are doing something to repair the value gap. But, is it the right something? Many point out that civic integration policies are merely tools to restrict immigration and, ultimately, hinder integration. But the bigger point is that integration tests and language courses may miss their target audience altogether. It’s not simply new immigrants that need civic integration. Curbing future immigration does not address the problem of today’s estranged youth, despite claims by political parties across the ideological spectrum.

Shortly after the 7/7 bombings, Tony Blair declared, “The right to be in a multicultural society was always implicitly balanced by a duty to integrate, to be part of Britain.” Six years later, David Cameron presented a variation on the same theme, asserting “muscular liberalism” for Britain, in which a forceful commitment to democracy, rule of law, and respect for minorities is “not an option but a way of life.” The liberal democratic state cannot impel an individual to believe certain values and ideas, but it can require certain behavior as part of the “duties-for-rights” contract of citizenship. And it is in this tethering of behavior to status conditionality that the major immigrant-receiving states of Western Europe are investing their chips, in order to reduce alienation among Muslim youth as well as some of its more pernicious, and sometimes violent, byproducts.


Sara Wallace Goodman is assistant professor of political science at University of California, Irvine. Her book, “Immigration and Membership Politics in Western Europe,” is being released by Cambridge University Press this month.