July 14, 2005

War for Muslim Minds

At long last, Robert Leiken's excellent Foreign Affairs article on "Europe's Angry Muslims" is available online. It's worth reading, especially the parts that touch on Europe's resistance to "tougher" counterterrorism measures at home (with the exception of France, of course), and its struggle to reconsider its various approaches to multiculturalism. On that latter issue: Oddly enough, Leiken thinks that the American way of handling church and state—"separating religion from politics without placing a wall between them, helping immigrants slowly adapt but allowing them relative cultural autonomy"—is the model for Europe to emulate here.

Not sure what he means by that, though it's worth pointing out that if people like David Brooks had their way and Congress started funding a balkanized set of private religious schools, we'd be far more likely to see European-style separatism among religiously-inclined immigrants in the United States. Then again, we doesn't get nearly as many Muslim immigrants as Europe does, and certainly not nearly as many poor Muslim immigrants, which makes a difference. Plus, thanks to various historical accidents, most American Muslim communities are fairly well-established and well-to-do, so simple path dependency over here probably helps deter these radical communities from developing.

Sorry, that's a bit of a digress. What I meant to say was that if I were a European statesman, flipping through my catalogue, looking at the Fall 2005 line of improvements to multiculturalism, I wouldn't be too confident that the "American way" of integrating its immigrants is a model one. After all, the rate of immigrant segregation in the United States seems to be increasing drastically of late, even though racial segregation as a whole has remained constant. As I discussed in that link, most of this seems to have to do with the decline of cities and "natives" fleeing to suburbs and exurbs. In fact, structural and economic factors in the past may have had as much to do with our historic "success" in integrating immigrants as any sort of "philosophy" did. So what about the present day? If the United States had more poor Muslim immigrants pouring in, would we see the same sort of problems Europe's facing? Hey, fodder for the Pat Buchanan crowd to ponder... But liberals also ought to ponder, even pro-illegal immigration liberals like me.

Oh yeah, meanwhile, it seems that both Osama bin Laden and suicide bombings are becoming less popular in certain parts of the world. That's good, although this polling data also looks somewhat less than conclusive. Say: If 50 percent of Moroccans supported Osama bin Laden two years ago, and only 30 percent do now, that could just mean that 20 percent of Moroccans who very casually supported al Qaeda have found something better to do with their lives. At the margins that's heartening, but it's also possible that the number of true worshippers might have grown. So it's tough to say.

Still, the trend isn't overly surprising. Gilles Kepel has for a long time made a convincing case that bin Laden and other radical Islamists would eventually horrify the rest of the population and lose their popular support, just like radical Islamists did in Egypt. The United States just had to refrain from doing anything to fuck it up. Meanwhile, bin Laden and Zawihiri seem to have read the tea leaves and are adjusting their rhetoric accordingly, chatting less and less about the plans for the grand caliphate they've got hidden under their turbans. Good stuff. Whether Bush is responsible for all this or not, and how much, is an open question. Rough guess: I'll give him 40 percent credit. Was the Iraq war absolutely necessary to win people over to the nifty idea that democracy is the worst form of government but all the others? I'm inclined to think no. For instance, the energy spent smearing Joe Wilson alone could've been redirected to putting Hosni Mubarak in a headlock, pushing Egypt on the path towards bright and shiny reform, and won hearts and minds there. Same effect as democracy in Iraq? Possibly, only without all the dead people. Things for the latte-swilling crowd to ponder...
-- Brad Plumer 8:46 PM || ||