Earlier this week at a joint press conference, President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron were asked about domestic radicalization in the U.S. and Europe. Obama said that “Our biggest advantage … is that our Muslim populations, they feel themselves to be Americans. And there is this incredible process of immigration and assimilation that is part of our tradition that is probably our greatest strength.” The president was right. But it raised an important question: How much of Europe’s radicalized Muslim population can be deterred by better integration into society?
The Obama administration seems to think the answer is: a lot. Yesterday Secretary of State Kerry met with his EU counterpart Federica Mogherini, and the two took questions from the press. Kerry followed up on Obama’s comments and went a step further, as the Weekly Standard reports:
I entered college in 1962. And in 1963, ’4, ’5, we were deeply embroiled in this country, and we – college students in the Civil Rights Movement. And we were deeply impacted by that and have always been, I think, as a generation, much more sensitive to this question of minority and rights and integration and so forth. We’ve made unbelievable progress in our nation, unbelievable progress in the years since then. But it would be completely disingenuous not to say to you that we still have some distance to travel. …
And Federica is absolutely correct; this particular incident of violence wasn’t a specific targeting that grew out of that, but we all can do work in many parts of the world that I have seen where one minority or another or another is not able to share fully in the full integration in whatever country they happen to be living.
Seeing the Muslim integration problem through the prism of Jim Crow is deeply misguided. (This is a bipartisan temptation; Condoleezza Rice once explained that she understood the Palestinian grievance against checkpoints because of her childhood in the segregated South.) Not only are the two situations dissimilar, but Kerry is offering Europe’s Muslim communities a broad claim of injustice and victimhood while laying much of it at the individual governments’ feet.
Kerry did say that the recent Paris terror attack was not the result of a lack of integration. But if he were to examine why that is, he would learn much about the limits of his argument.
In the past, one of the popular beliefs about terrorism was that it stemmed from poverty. The search for “root causes” usually meant the search for conditions that would rob terrorists of their agency. It wouldn’t excuse the violence, but it would tiptoe far too close to doing so.
And–here’s the key–it was wrong. The idea that poverty is a root cause of terrorism has long been debunked. It crops up again from time to time, a zombie theory with its stubborn adherents. But paternalistic Westerners have always liked this explanation because it suggests an easy response–give them money–while laying their endemic societal problems at the feet of Western imperialism.
The “integration” issue is certainly a legitimate concern for Europe these days. And there’s even a certain amount of logic to the belief that it must play a role in the radicalization of Europe’s Muslim minority. But in an intriguing and thorough article today, terrorism analyst Lorenzo Vidino reveals that the “integration” theory is limited, to say the least:
Several studies seem to disprove the connection. A recent and extensive study conducted at Queen Mary University on a relatively large sample of young British Muslims, for example, showed that those most at risk of radicalization were 18- to 20-year-olds involved in advanced education from wealthy families who spoke English at home. …
Dounia Bouzar, director of the Centre for Prevention Against Islamic Sectarianism, recently published the results of her study of 160 French families that had contacted her center seeking help with their children’s radicalization. She found that two thirds of the families were middle class. Moreover, according to another study, 23% of French jihadists in Syria are converts. Discrimination against Muslim immigrants could hardly be seen as the factor triggering the radicalization of this sizeable cross section of French jihadists. If we add to that that many French converts hail from affluent families (see for example this interesting New York Times article on radicalization in the town of Lunel, in which one of the individuals profiled is the son of a Jewish engineer who grew up in a comfortable home with a swimming pool recently died in Syria), we see that in many cases socio-economic issues are equally irrelevant to explain radicalization processes.
I recommend reading the whole thing. In retrospect, the falsity of the “integration” argument should probably seem as obvious as its initial rationality sounded. After all, if poverty doesn’t cause terrorism, then the least-integrated immigrants probably aren’t the most easily radicalized. If terrorists come from the educated and the middle class, they are probably well integrated.
That does not mean that Europe has no integration challenge. It does. And integration is still important for education, economic mobility, and social cohesion. But it does mean that once again, there is no easy answer. There is no wad of cash or welfare-state program that can serve as a magic bullet here. And there is no simple way to blame the West for the violence employed against it. The hard work of diligent counterterrorism has no substitute.