Why Does Europe Have High Numbers of Jihadis Compared to America?

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Muslim women in the UK (Photo: Reuters)

Hundreds of fighters traveled from, France, Holland, Belgium, Germany and the UK to join the ranks of jihadis fighting for Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). Comparatively, far fewer traveled from the United States. Why?

One explanation is that the U.S.’ model of citizenship is more inclusive than that of European countries. In contrast to ancient powers predicated on shared ethnic and religious histories, the United States offers a something very different: apart from formality of citizenship, anyone can become accepted as an “American” by accepting American values — freedom of speech, belief in the individual’s ability to change their own status and a commitment to personal liberty. Accept these values, America says, and you can be one of us. No matter who you were yesterday, today and tomorrow you can be whoever you want to be.

This foundational premise of America as the land of freedom and opportunity is conducive to integration of immigrants. America doesn’t ask new immigrants to give up their faith or their heritage, it simply asks for an additional commitment to something that can be understood universally.

By contrast, European nationalisms talk about history, ethnicity and faith. These concepts, while powerful and at times positive, can create very exclusionary narratives of nationhood that alienate rather than include new immigrants.

Despite America’s checkered past of racial justice and, recent attempts by European to be tolerant, the national narrative of what it means to be part of the nation is radically different in the United States compared to Europe.

Perhaps this difference can partially explain why America’s Muslims are the most integrated in the world and why, despite state-sponsored policies of multiculturalism, Europe continues to send jihadis to fight for ISIS.

Speaking about the failure of the multiculturalist model in the UK, analyst Sam Westrop writes, “British multiculturalism has encouraged British society to exist as a federation of communities in which each minority community was not required to adopt the values of the majority.”

This segregation of ethnic groups found in European societies also provided the opening for well-funded Islamist countries like Saudi Arabia, to create tremendous inroads into the Muslim communities – through funding mosques, community organizations and the like.

In the name of diversity, Westrop notes, the British government, ironically, encouraged this segregation. The process was further cemented by “offer[ing] taxpayer funds and political legitimacy to anyone who claimed to represent a community.”

Those “community representatives” were inevitably the political activists, funded, in turn, by the extremists.

Former Islamist extremist Ed Husain explains further, “Many Muslims want to live apart from mainstream British society; official government policy has helped them do so. I grew up without any white friends. My school was almost entirely Muslim.

“I had almost no direct experience of ‘British life’ or ‘British institutions.’ So it was easy for the extremists to say to me: ‘You see? You’re not part of British society. You never will be. You can only be part of an Islamic society.’ The first part of what they said was true. I wasn’t part of British society: nothing in my life overlapped with it.”

Writing about the multiculturalist model, Kenan Malik, a British writer of Asian background comments, “Where once [it was] argued that everyone should be treated equally, despite their radical, ethnic, religious or cultural differences, now it pushed the idea that different people should be treated differently because of such differences.”

In the words of Amartya Sen, an Indian economist, “A British Muslim is not asked to act within the civil society or the political arena but as a Muslim. His British identity has to be mediated by his community.”

The contrast to the American ideal of a “melting pot” is striking. It is perhaps one of the most telling explanations of why, in terms of integration, American Muslims are way ahead of their European counterparts.

Tell us your ideas about what you or your community could do to be proactive to foster integration. Do you have a personal story about an integration and what that looked like? Do you think patriotism (as opposed to identity-based on religion) can help promote integration?”

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Elliot Friedland

Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.

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