In the second installment of this year’s African Politics Summer Reading Spectacular, we depart the continent for a book on the integration of Muslims in France, “Why Muslim Integration Fails in Christian-Heritage Societies.” The Monkey Cage has featured this book before, but we highlight the work again to focus in particular on the experience of Africans in the diaspora.

One of the book’s authors, Claire Adida (an associate professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego), answered my questions via email. A lightly edited transcript is below.


Kim Yi Dionne: Your book (co-written with David Laitin and Marie-Anne Valfort) examines anti-Muslim discrimination in France. To do this, you looked at a population who migrated to France in the 1970s: Christians and Muslims from the Serer- and Joola-speaking communities of Senegal. Why did you choose to study these groups, and not Muslims who had migrated to France from Morocco, Tunisia or Algeria?

Claire Adida: Most people who think of Muslims in France think of Maghrebi Muslims. But immigration to France from sub-Saharan Africa is growing and undeniable. Our decision to focus on Senegalese Muslims was driven by our book’s main objective, which was to identify a Muslim disadvantage to immigrant integration.

In other words, we wanted to know whether Muslims experience discrimination because of their Muslim identity rather than because of their Arab identity (most Maghrebi Muslims are Arabs), or because of the fact that they come from a country with a long history of conflict with France (the largest group of Maghrebi Muslims are from Algeria).

To do this, we needed to compare Muslim immigrants to a group equivalent on every dimension except for religion. We therefore had to look for a group of people who immigrated to France around the same time and for the same reason, some of whom were Muslims and some of whom were Christians. It is only by comparing the immigrant and integration experience of these two groups, that we are able to make any claims about discrimination due to being Muslim.

We found this opportunity in the selection of the Serer and Joola-speaking communities of Senegal. These immigrants, hailing from a single country, migrated to France during a time of economic stress in the 1970s (mostly due to drought). And while Senegal is predominantly Muslim, Serers and Joolas are more religiously diverse; according to the 2002 Senegalese Census, 25 percent of Joolas and 11 percent of Serers are Christian. These two groups offer a controlled comparison: nationality, ethnicity, timing of migration and reason for migration are the same; but some immigrants are Christian while others are Muslim.

KYD: In what you call “the correspondence test,” you created three fictional job applicants to study whether human resources recruiters for French firms select candidates according to religion. The applicants’ resumes were nearly identical: two women had an obvious Senegalese surname, Diouf, where one had a well-known Muslim name (Khadija) and the other had a well-known Catholic name (Marie); a third woman had a “typical” French name (Aurélie Ménard). In addition to having different names, the résumés signaled religious identity through volunteer and work experience, with Khadija working and volunteering with Muslim organizations, Marie working and volunteering with Christian organizations, and Aurélie working and volunteering with secular organizations. Other work experience and qualifications were identical for all three applicants.

How did the Senegalese applicants fare compared to the rooted French applicant? And was there evidence of discrimination against the Muslim applicant?

CA: When we presented this idea at a workshop at Stanford University, before we implemented any of it, a colleague expressed concern that we would be unable to identify anti-Muslim discrimination because racism would overwhelm all our effects. In other words, by using fictional Senegalese applicants, HR recruiters would focus first and foremost on the applicant’s race, and as a result we would fail to identify discrimination of Senegalese Muslim relative to Senegalese Christian applicants.

Our results surprised us. In fact, the Senegalese Christian candidate (Marie Diouf) fared just as well as did the “typical” French candidate (Aurélie Ménard): the difference in callback rates (27 percent versus 21 percent) is not statistically significant. Instead, all the discrimination we identified in this study was directed at the Senegalese Muslim candidate, who received a mere 8 percent callback rate. This effect holds even after we started including pictures in the CV (we used the same picture for Marie and Khadija Diouf) to make sure our recruiters weren’t assuming that Marie Diouf was a white French woman married to a Senegalese man.

Our colleague’s concern did not pan out: The French recruiters in our sample were not necessarily racist, but they were certainly Islamophobic.

KYD: In one of the surveys you conducted, you asked research participants what level of education they aspired to for their children; half were asked about daughters, half about sons. One reason you asked this question was to measure differences between Muslim and Christian communities in prioritizing education for boys over girls. What did you find?

CA: Our book walks a fine line because it argues that there are cultural differences between Muslims and Christians when it comes to gender, but that these differences do not amount to a civilizational divide. Our survey findings on the question of educational expectations for sons versus daughters corroborate this: Muslims and Christians in our sample have similar educational ambitions for their daughters, and these ambitions lie somewhere between some college education and postgraduate education.

To be clear, we do find more conservative attitudes toward women among Muslims in our sample. But our point here is that these cultural differences are too often grotesquely exaggerated in the minds of the French, who extrapolate from a visible radical minority rather than from a more representative sample of Muslims.

KYD: How would you compare the challenges African migrants face in Europe to those faced by African migrants in other African countries, which you studied in your first book, “Immigrant Exclusion and Insecurity in Africa?

CA: This is a difficult comparison to draw, but I see one main similarity and one main point of departure. Many immigrants from Africa rely on immigrant associations to help them navigate their new host societies. Nigerians, for example, often come together along ethnic lines even as they integrate into their host societies: Nigerian Igbo immigrants will come together with other Igbo immigrants, whether they are in Accra, Niamey, London or Montreal. These hometown associations have a lot to offer their members, from social to financial capital. They also play a key role in encouraging immigrants to invest back home by supporting development projects at various scales.

But the similarities seem to end there. In Europe and the United States, police and local authorities are relatively more constrained by the rule of law. In urban West Africa, the immigrant communities I studied were often very insecure: They were vulnerable to the whims of local police or local politicians looking for scapegoats. This vulnerability left them highly dependent on their immigrant community leaders for security and assistance and created a vicious cycle: Immigrants seeking protection from their community leaders face an incentive to resist integration, which keeps them vulnerable.


Read more posts in our African Politics Summer Reading Spectacular series: