Thursday, 22 October 2009

Eurabia vs formatage

Well-researched piece of reportage on French Muslims by the FT's Simon Kuper (h/t Clive Davis' Confab). It provides colour and specifics to the thesis that Muslim populations are becoming more integrated into their host societies rather than less (discussed a couple of months ago in this post).

Again, the piece demonstrates that the loyalties, concerns and politics of Muslims don't differ much from those of their socio-economic peers in the rest of the population. Why should this surprise us? A good friend of mine, who's travelled a lot around the Middle East spending time with all sorts of people, has always pointed out that when you get past the front door you find the same basic worries, joys and preoccupations that you'd expect to find at home. It's easy to lose sight of this - it should actually be a truism - when the images we see of Muslims are overwhelmingly in the context of conflict, war and protest.

What's more, the birthrate of Muslims in France is also converging on the mean. It's been falling since the early-1980s and now stands at 2.5 versus 2.0 (interestingly the birthrate in the Maghreb is 1.8). In the next few decades France's Muslim population will grow to be a larger minority, but nevertheless still a small one.

Increasingly Islamic traditions are being frenchified: weddings in mosques where the bride wears white, carries a bouquet and holds hands with the groom. One French academic calls this process formatage: the creation of a new sub-culture, both French and Islamic.

What Kuper and others are reporting contradicts the 'clash of civilisations' thesis that sees Europe turning into 'Eurabia', with dominant Muslim populations imposing their values on a demoralised ethnically European rump. The thesis is usually linked to neo-conservatism. Christopher Caldwell is currently its most high-profile proponent through his modestly-titled 'Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West'*. He argues:
When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident and strengthened by common doctrines, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.

But why think of things in these terms? Surely, Islam is being challenged everywhere by the temptations of modernity? I've always thought of Islamic fundamentalism as, in part, the product of an embattled faith, a misguided attempt at fight-back.

So how about this?
When a questioning, dynamic, accommodating culture meets a culture that is staid, inward-looking and unreflective, it is generally the latter that changes to suit the former.

Dynamic, France? Look at formatage. And, after all, hasn't this been the story of modernity's global impact over the last couple of hundred years?

Of course, there's one group of people that share the neo-cons' incendiary view of Islam and pessimistic view of the West (or at least Europe): the Islamists. I think we can feel increasingly confident that neither group is representative of the future.


* Not content with taking on Burke's mantle, in one interview he compared his efforts to Tocqueville's. Time will tell.

12 comments:

Brit said...

Brilliant post. It's worth bearing in mind, too, that it's only since 9/11 that we've even started identifying 'Muslims' as a group that needs to be integrated. Before that, we talked about British Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, not British Muslims and Hindus. Islam never has been the enemy, any more than the Irish were the enemy with the IRA was active.

(Expect vigorous disagreement here. Funnily enough, it was exactly this issue that led me to abandon ToE for a year, so exhausting and disturbing were the debates, and so distorted and hostile was conservative US opposition to Islam, rather than Islamicism. Good luck!)

Hey Skipper said...

Islam never has been the enemy, any more than the Irish were the enemy with the IRA was active.

I'm not sure that sentence came together the way you wanted it to. Islam is a religion, and the Irish are a distinct group of people.

Perhaps you meant to say "Islam has never been the enemy, any more than Catholicism was when the IRA was active."

Or, "Muslims have never been the enemy ..."


Given the amount of conflict wherever an Islamic borders another belief, or the treatment of other beliefs within Islamic countries, it would seem tough arguing that Islam is not at least to some degree inimical to everything non-Islamic.

However, I think that really says something broader: all literal religious belief is particular and, therefore, hostile to humanist values, and incompatible with post-Enlightenment human existence.

Islam is where Christianity was up through the Reformation.

Again, the piece demonstrates that the loyalties, concerns and politics of Muslims don't differ much from those of their socio-economic peers in the rest of the population. Why should this surprise us?

Depends upon how religious you are. For those of us who are not, we take it as a matter of faith that humanist values and reasoning will permeate Muslims in the West (and, eventually, the world).

For the religious, though, making that leap of faith repudiates their own.

Bunny Smedley said...

What Brit said - brilliant post.

How you manage to pack so much thought-provoking material into a couple of hundred words never ceases to astonish me ...

Gaw said...

Brit: Cheers. I'd forgotten about how labels have changed.

Skip: I think your point on Islam is well made.

Re Western values, as I say in the post, I think we underestimate their power, even to the religious. To be left alone to worship as you wish in an environment of tolerance and official respect isn't to be sniffed at. Even in an Islamic society there can be tensions - and violence - between different Islamic sects and traditions.

The violent extremists aren't that unusual historically - Western societies (European ones, anyway) have faced this sort of threat before and come through it.

Bunny: Thanks, you are very kind. Being well enough to think but not well enough to work, yet, certainly helps. I'd be bouncing off the ceiling if it wasn't for the blog!

Sean said...

No you are seeing it through Western secular eyes.

The problem (if that's what it is) is not the 95% of Muslims who wish to get on with their lives, its the baggage that comes along, the fundamentalist who don't have to gain legitimacy in Muslims eyes through the ballot box, but they get it through their more pure view of the the Koran and Islam.

So we can marginalize our idiots though the ballot box, Muslims cannot, this is not going to change, the Koran is more a bill of rights than a organic piece of guidance.

I too dont know the future, but I know what the trends are.

The demographics are well against Europe, thus time is not on our side to integrate the many more immigrants we will need for not having babies.

But what about life expectancy, we will work longer? maybe but its a double edged sword, you can have an older workforce but they wont be as dynamic or productive.

The trend is also to more ethnic violence, its reported in Sheffield that their is gang war going on, what is going on is a race war, these gangs and I expect the same all over the UK are divided by race.

Again the post modern condition is in play so we do not talk about this aspect of the issue, narrative is reality.

Hey Skipper said...

Re Western values, as I say in the post, I think we underestimate their power ...

Just like with communism. However, that doesn't mean we can give Islamists a bye; granted, though, that wasn't what this article was about.

In that regard, we need to cede not an inch of those values, while observing them completely.

If our faith in them is well founded, then the long run will work out accordingly.

Being well enough to think but not well enough to work, yet, certainly helps. I'd be bouncing off the ceiling if it wasn't for the blog!

Just for the record, keep in mind my contribution to keeping your ceiling undamaged.

Gaw said...

Sean: The fundamentalists need to be closely watched, policed and when possible prosecuted. Not a lot else we can do.

(It seems to me that we're not doing the policing particularly well at times - the police should have come down hard on the Luton lunatics. But they didn't, opening the way for vigilantism).

However, we need to make this carefully targeted and not pick on the peaceable.

Demographics aren't what they were.

Isn't a lot of the violence between ethnic gangs mostly down to control of the drugs trade?

Skip: I agree (wow, that was so easy).

Thanks for keeping my feet on the floor. However, I have to mitigate my gratitude a bit - debating with you sometimes feels like I'm throwing myself repeatedly against an unyielding surface.

George Arndt said...

Many of the same neo-cons and right wingers who fear Eurabia don't seem to think much of the very Western society which they purport to "defend". You can't get much more ironic than that!

Gaw said...

Hello George. It's sometimes difficult to decide whether it's the European social democrats or the Islamists that the neo-cons despise the most. I can't say I'm a huge fan of the former but, hey, there should be no contest!

Sean said...

Garath, how big a police state do you want? 5% of a few million is a bloody lot of eyes and ears needed.

Its strange that the biggest ethnic groups by proportion in UK / French jails are Pakistani and Algerian.

Gaw said...

So what do you propose Sean? I can't see you can do much different from what I'm proposing.

Brit said...

I disagree with Sean's view, at least in so far as it applies to Britons, because it depends on a simplistic and pretty arbitrary imposition of the demographic "British Muslim" on what is, in reality, a chaotic mass of humanity.

I will elaborate on this potentially baffling statement on ToE next week.