Europe’s Islam Question

OXFORD – The growing Muslim presence in Europe has become a central issue for all European countries, east and west. The numerous debates that have been breaking out across the continent about “multiculturalism,” “secularity,” or even “identity” are almost always connected to this “Islamic” factor.

This link is not necessarily bigoted, because there is a fundamental relationship between “values” and “laws” on the one hand, and “culture” and “diversity” on the other. Indeed, more than a debate over “Islam” and the “Muslims,” Europe needs a serious dialogue with itself over this relationship, for it is facing a crisis.

The right question to ask is this: can Europe remain consistent with its own values (democracy, equality, justice, respect, etc.) and at the same time tolerate and accommodate new citizens from different backgrounds and religions? Or, to put it differently, are Europeans intellectually, linguistically, and culturally equipped to face the challenge of marrying equality with an ever more diverse European citizenry?

The starting point here is actually clear: governments should not confuse socioeconomic problems (unemployment, violence, marginalization, etc.) with questions about culture and religion. In other words, one should not “culturize,” “religionize,” or “islamize” social problems.