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  • Europe’s Immigration Problem, and Ours
  • Robert S. Leiken (bio)

At first glance, both the United States and Western Europe appear to face much the same immigration predicament. Both have been the on the receiving end of continuous mass immigration from developing countries for two generations. Yet in Europe immigration represents a pressing national security issue, in large part due to the provenance of Europe's problematic newcomers. For two generations, adjacent, formerly colonial regions have been sending migrants to the West. But in the European case those neighboring, undeveloped countries are most often Muslim. A senior Moroccan official says, "Every country with an Arab or Muslim immigrant population now faces the problem of sleeper cells."1 On the other hand, America's "problem" immigrants are mainly Latinos. Latin America is the one major region on the globe without a broad Muslim presence, and Latinos register high rates of military enlistment and other indices of identification with the host country. America's immigration problem is not one of loyalty.

Unlike their American counterparts, European Muslims tend to be indigent and dwell in enclaves. These conditions reflect their varying circumstances of migration. European Muslim immigration derives from guest worker programs designed to fill factory jobs in the postwar "miracle" era. Those poorly educated workers hail from rural backgrounds much like the Mexicans who continue to arrive in the United States. Reunited with their families in the 1970s, European Muslims typically live in banlieues (outer [End Page 203] "inner cities"). But American Muslims started coming as students, and they likewise carry the stamp of their arrival, tending to be educated professionals, noticeably more successful than their European counterparts.

Although the US census does not chart Muslims, most demographers believe that US Muslims do not exceed 3 million, less than 2 percent of the population. In France that cohort reaches as high as 7 to 10 percent (news reports say 5 million to 7 million Muslims reside in France), 4.4 percent in the Netherlands, 3.7 percent in Germany, and 3.7 percent in Belgium. The UK total is less—2.7 percent, or about 2 million—but radical fundamentalism prevails in many British mosques and communities.2 Muslims form the majority of immigrants in most Western European countries or are the largest single component, as in Britain. Moreover, while America's Muslims are geographically dispersed and ethnically fragmented, European Muslims tend to congregate in national blocs.

A Nixon Center survey of 279 mujahideen found that many second-generation European Muslim immigrants (most of them citizens) were picked up in the aftermath of 11 September.3 Muslim immigrant communities in Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands as well as in England have been identified as recruiting grounds for Muslim terrorists. In France, alienated, unemployed, unassimilated Muslim immigrants indulge in gang rapes, antisemitic attacks, and anti-American violence. French counterterrorism officials told me that al Qaeda recruitment efforts are directed at these dissatisfied communities. The officials showed me an intelligence report on jihadi recruitment stating that for "a minority" of French youth, radical Islamism "represents a vehicle of protest against . . . problems of access to employment and housing, discrimination of various sorts, [and] the very negative image [End Page 204] of Islam in public opinion."4 An earlier New York Times report found that "Western Europe is home to about 15 million Muslim immigrants and while a vast majority are peaceful citizens opposed to terrorism, their presence provides a recruiting ground and a cover for sleeper cells."5

Immigration and Security

It need hardly be said that most immigrants have nothing to do with terrorism and are more likely to be its victims than its perpetrators. Half of those murdered in Madrid in 2004 were aliens, of which half again were undocumented. The same holds true in the United States; nearly one-fifth of those killed on 11 September were born outside the country.6 But while most immigrants are not terrorists, most terrorists are immigrants. As Rohan Gunaratna, a leading authority on Islamic terrorism has stated, "Every major terrorist act in the West in the past decade, with the exception of Oklahoma City, utilized immigrants or immigrant communities."7

If immigration carries...


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pp. 203-218
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2019
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