“Europe’s Angry Muslims” (2005), by Robert S. Leiken – Response Essay

In “Europe’s Angry Muslims” (2005), Robert S. Leiken analyzes the presence of Muslims in European countries from the perspective of international security, or specifically the security of the United States, which has visa-waiver agreements with the European Union. According to his article, Muslims are able to easily enter the European Union due to lax rules regarding who is allowed in. Islamic radicals are allowed to enter one European country and, because of the lack of border controls between European Union members, they are then able to travel to all European countries in the EU. Besides the risk to the European Union member states, Leiken sees this as a problem because these radicals are recruiting jihadis who are second generation immigrants and have European citizenship, allowing them to freely travel to the United States.

Leiken’s article emphasizes the role that being a minority in Europe plays in enabling the radicalization of Muslims. Across different contexts, Leiken finds a common thread of estrangement from the dominant culture that turns into disillusionment and anger in Muslims who are born in Europe and have European citizenship, but are socially excluded based on their ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Leiken’s use of statistics to demonstrate the threat of Europe-born Muslim jihadis is flawed. He states that the number of mujahideen who identified as European nationals in North America and Europe in a 1993-2004 survey was roughly 25% of the total, representing the largest demographic within the group. What does that prove, really? It would stand to reason that there would be more local-born Muslims than immigrants in a given time period. This does not, however, call into question the seriousness of the problem of radicalization of domestic Muslims.

Another problem with Leiken’s analysis is his Mecca vs. Medina analogy which, while illustrative, is historically incorrect and misrepresents the foundational period of Islamic history which is significant in terms of his topic: conflict between Muslims and Westerners. In his analogy, he states that Mohammed “pronounced an anathema on [Mecca’s] leaders and took his followers to Medina … [where] he built an army that conquered Mecca in AD 630…” (127). Mohammed fled Mecca in the face of persecution, and by all accounts was among the last to leave, having first sent a group of followers to Ethiopia and then having sent the remainder to Medina ahead of himself. In Medina, he did not “[build] and army” (127), he built a community and engaged in the common raiding practices of the Arabian Peninsula. He also built political alliances which were useful when hostilities did break out. Leiken’s misrepresentation of the situation and glossing over of the long hostilities, political treaties and eventual surrender of Mecca to Mohammed’s men paints Muslims as naturally violent from the beginning of their history, leading to the teleological conclusion that they must be dealt with in some way to make Europe and the United States safe from their barbarism.

Leiken discusses the ways that European countries have engaged with their Muslim populations, noting that all attempts to integrate them have failed, from Belgium’s active attempts to socially support and integrate all comers to Germany’s separation to Britain’s multiculturalism. He then herald’s the United States’ as being the most successful with a policy of toleration while allowing the maintenance of social distinctions. He does not describe how the policy in the US is really that different from the policies of Britain. What Leiken does do, however, is discuss boundaries created by geography that prevent the type of radicalism spreading throughout Europe from reaching the United States. He notes that Muslims in Europe can see radical speeches on satellite and the Internet, but fails to note that those same mediums are available in the United States. By claiming logistical difficulties, Leiken gives too little credit to terrorist organizations and too much credit to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in preventing terrorism.

The conflict between Muslims and Westerners is sometimes framed as a battle of civilizations, with the implication being that one must wipe out the other to survive. Leiken’s analysis posits Muslim minorities as unassimilable, even in the best case scenario of the United States, where they are “tolerated” but socially distinct (133). This, combined with Leiken’s presentation of Muslims as historically and uniquely violent through a distorted retelling of the religion’s foundational history perpetuates the notion that they are outside of Europe and cannot be brought inside; they must be contained because they cannot be European.

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