What’s surprising is that things have been improving in Europe, where Muslim migrants have often had much greater problems assimilating. Jonathan Laurence of Boston College, who has done extensive research on Muslim communities in Europe, found that before 1990 European countries largely ignored their Muslim populations and allowed the embassies of countries such as Morocco, Algeria and Saudi Arabia to cater to their needs by building mosques and training imams. “This wasn’t multiculturalism so much as indifference,” Laurence wrote recently. Those countries had little interest in helping migrants assimilate; in fact, their efforts were to do the opposite: Maintain ties with the old country and old ways.
Over the past two decades, Laurence argues, European countries have recognized the dangers created by their indifference and have sought to integrate Muslim migrants. Governments at all levels have engaged with Islamic communities, taking steps to include Muslims in mainstream society but also to nurture a more modern, European version of Islam. In effect, many governments are now dealing with Islam as they have other religions, creating Islamic councils, providing funding for cultural activities, representation in public forums and being mindful of religious practices and holidays.
In many countries, Germany most prominently, Muslim immigrants long were perennial outsiders who never stood a chance at becoming a part of the society in which they worked. That is changing. More Muslims are being granted citizenship and becoming more mainstream. Increasingly, their activism takes place within the system. Their leaders, Laurence writes, “have become responsible actors in an institutional setting, and they now have something to lose.” And while it is premature to declare any great successes, it’s worth noting that attacks crediting radical Islam appear to have leveled off or declined in recent years.
The United States can learn from European efforts to integrate Muslims. Historically, assimilation has worked better in the United States, but European countries are dealing with a much more complex, larger problem. Their Muslim populations are much greater — 5 percent of the population in Germany and 7.5 percent in France, compared with 0.8 percent in the United States, according to Pew calculations — and the immigrants often come from places close by and can easily maintain ties to their birth countries.
The lesson from Europe appears to be: Embrace Muslim communities. That’s a conclusion U.S. law enforcement agencies would confirm. The better the relationship with local Muslim groups, the more likely they are to provide useful information about potential jihadis.