A British soldier was beheaded in an attack by two Muslims on the streets of London earlier this week. The two men who murdered Lee Rigby, a soldier in the British army, who had served in Afghanistan and Cyprus, were described as Nigerian-British who converted to Islam after college. The attacks have sparked concerns about the threat of reprisal attacks against Muslims in England, and raise concerns about a general anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe.
Muslims in Europe were already concerned about laws they perceive as undermining the practice of their faith. While the United Kingdom had historically avoided much of the attention, Muslims in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands had complained of discriminatory laws which they argue impinge on their religious freedoms. A 2004 French law, for example, banned the wearing of the conspicuous display of religious symbols in school, a move which French Muslims claimed was intended to prohibit wearing the burqa or hijab. In 2010, a more expansive law was passed, prohibiting the wearing of face coverings (like the burqa) in public. Belgium and the Netherlands have passed a similar “burqa bans” in public spaces.
Such bans have proven wildly popular among the electorates. Even in countries without such prohibitions—like Sweden and Denmark—public opinion polling regularly finds support for such bans exceeding 60 percent of respondents.
Why is there so much concern over Islamic religious practices in Europe?
Muslims in Europe are a growing and highly visible minority population. Across Europe, approximately 6 percent of the total population is Muslim. Many far-right European political parties have painted immigration—particularly Muslim immigrants—as a threat to the “traditional way of life,” arguing that immigrants pose a threat to national identity. Europe’s current economic instability no doubt contributes as well. And in the United Kingdom, British involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan likely also plays a role.
The nature of citizenship in Europe is an important underlying factor. In the United States, citizenship is based on is determined by birthplace. People born in the United States are American citizens, regardless of the citizenship of their parents. In international law, this is referred to as jus soil, the right of the soil. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, about 8 percent of all children born in the United States are born to parents who were not citizens of the United States. Many European countries, by contrast, base citizenship not on birthplace but on the citizenship of the parents. This is referred to as jus sanguinis the right of blood. Children born to German parents, for example, are German citizens regardless of where they were born. People born in Germany to non-German parents, by contrast, do not necessarily receive German citizenship. In the case of Germany, this has created a problem for millions of Turks born to parents who were guestworkers in Germany but who lacked German citizenship.
Some observers note that the differing conceptions of citizenship under such a system can help to radicalize the minority population. Because they are not accepted as “true” citizens, members of such minority populations may become more radicalized and embrace violence as a vehicle for addressing perceived grievances.
Radicalization, of course, is a far more complicated process than can be attributed to citizenship laws. Indeed, Britain is one of the most diverse countries in Europe, and London, its capital, is among the most diverse cities in the world, and Britain has been more accepting of immigrants—and their diverse identities—than has been the case in many other countries.
What do you think? What is the most important factor in explaining the radicalization of minority populations? Does citizenship play a role? Is citizenship and inclusion more important than economic factors? And what do you think will happen in Europe as Islam continues to grow as a minority religion? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.