Events

By Webcast - Immigration, Integration, and Identity: Managing Diverse Societies in Europe and the U.S.

May 15, 2006 // 9:00am3:25pm

Immigration, Integration, and Identity: Managing Diverse Societies in Europe and the U.S.
May 15, 2006

On Monday, May 15, 2006, the West European Studies Program cosponsored a conference exploring identity and immigration issues on both sides of the Atlantic with the Austrian Embassy, on behalf of the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The event was held in the House International Relations Committee hearing room on Capitol Hill and also co-hosted by the Delegation of the European Commission in the United States; the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, The Johns Hopkins University; and the American Consortium on European Union Studies, EU Center of Excellence in Washington, DC. The event featured three panels: 1) "Immigration and Identity: Do Current Patterns of Immigration Challenge Existing Notions of National Identity?"; 2) "Addressing Integration in Europe and the U.S. Today"; and 3) "Identity and Islam: Muslims in the U.S. and Europe".

Ambassador Eva Nowotny of the Austrian Embassy in Washington welcomed the audience on behalf of Austria and the EU and introduced its opening speaker, Dr. Brent Glass, Director of the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution. Glass spoke on national identity and explained the planned 2006-2008 renovations that will temporarily close his museum as an effort to provide a "national narrative to a diverse [American] society", specifically as an exploration of the four century evolution of the American dream.

Panel I: Immigration and Identity: Do Current Patterns of Immigration Challenge Existing Notions of National Identity?

Dr. Esther Brimmer, Deputy Director of the Center for Transatlantic Research at SAIS, moderated the first panel, "Immigration and Identity", which featured Jonathan Faull, Director-General, European Commission Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom, and Security as its first speaker. Faull spoke on the role of the European Union in shaping immigration policy when most of the authority for policymaking in this area rests with the twenty-five member states. He discussed the role of the Schnegen Agreement on open borders within the EU (accepted by 13 members states, as well as Norway and Iceland) and the dramatically increased levels of foreign born in several of these nations.

Professor Rainer Münz, a Senior Research Fellow, Migration Research Group, Hamburg, argued that immigration could help stem the fall of a European labor force that, if current demographic trends hold, would drop by 66 million in the next 40 years. Along with these opportunities, he acknowledged the challenges of attracting qualified migrants and integrating 50 to 100 million foreign-born into European society (in Luxembourg they number already 37% of the population), instilling in them "common belonging and values." During the Q&A, he noted that the pressure to integrate fell most heavily on the second generation of immigrants.

Professor Marcelo Suarez-Orozco of New York University sought to focus the discussion of immigration in the United States on Hispanics, who now outnumber African Americans in the U.S. and count for half of America's population growth. However, our understanding of immigration must be reevaluated, to take into account the power of remittances (which in some countries rival FDI) and the recirculation of immigrants, who often return home with newfound skills and earnings.

Panel II: Addressing Integration in Europe and the U.S. Today

Professor Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham of Harvard University stressed that "American identity has never been static," and that "E. Pluribus Unum is constantly ... redefined," and tried to place the current debate within that perspective. She pointed out that not until the early 20th century did Americans of various European national origins achieve an understanding of "whiteness" under which to unite. This was fostered partially by a common popular culture, the predominance of the English language, multicultural settlement homes, public schools, and, unfortunately, by defining themselves in contrast to African-Americans and non-white immigrant groups such as the Chinese.

Dr. Beatte Winkler, director of the European Union's Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, introduced her center, originally founded as an anti-Semitism watchdog, and its ever expanding mandate. In addition to analyzing continued, often violent prejudice against Europe's Jews and the specter of racism towards Europe's new immigrants, EUMC seeks solutions to bigotry, including an initiative with FIFA to dedicate the World Cup quarterfinal matches, with an estimated audience of 1 billion, to tolerance and inclusion.

Dr. Steven Beller, a British independent historian based in Washington, argued that to better integrate Muslims into European society, European identities must be expanded to include immigrants. He praised the American model, which instills an inclusive "sense of America" in all within its borders. The past model of the European nation-state centered on an ethnic identity or defined people negatively, by what they were not, creating "out groups" and the "excluded middle." Beller's "end logic" to this approach was the Holocaust. In his view, the European Union approach sidesteps this hazard, as it seeks to allow people to hold multiple identities, including a broad European one, already embraced by what T.R. Reid has dubbed the rising "Generation 'E'". During the Q&A, moderated by Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff of Die Zeit, Beller admitted that this new European identity might not take into account the continent's newest residents.

Panel III: Identity and Islam: Muslims in the U.S. and Europe

Dr. Lale Akgün, an ethnic Turkish Member of the German Bundestag, opened the third panel, moderated by Dr. Samuel Wells, Director of West European Studies and Associate Director of the Wilson Center. Akgün bemoaned public discussion in Europe of Muslims, which focused almost exclusively on terrorism, honor killings, forced marriages, and other such negative and sensational actions of a small minority, and the myth of a "parallel society" fostered by a religion which has no place in European culture.

Instead, Europeans must recognize that the 30 million Muslims in Europe are a heterogeneous group whose members differ with regard to ethnicity, level of faith (one third in Germany are secular "cultural" Muslims, one third are religious, and the remaining third fall in the middle of those two categories), and social or economic status. She argued that last category may be the most important, as the economic impotence many immigrants feel is the root of most of the problems surrounding them; in her own country the unemployment rate among immigrants is twice that of native-born Germans. She called for a new social contract between the native populations and immigrants, and a better structure to straddle the divide between the state and Muslim populations.

Amel Boubekeur, a fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels, and PhD candidate at the Ecole Normale Supérieure-Paris, agreed with Akgün's premise that the origins of conflict with Europe's Muslim immigrants lies outside of the Koran. Unfortunately, she observed, the European policy elite has not recognized this fact, and it still seeks religious (and often foreign) solutions to social crises in Europe, such as French Minister of the Interior Sarkozy's visit to Egypt to seek support from the Mufti on the issue of headscarves in schools. That fatwah, like those issued against the 2005 riots, had little effect.

Boubekeur expanded on Akgün's classification of German Muslims, finding in France three groups: 1) Muslims who subscribe to a "religious citizenship," for whom Islam is a starting point for civic engagement; 2) those that reject all non-Muslim political systems, but only by non-violently withdrawing from the political sphere; and 3) Jihadists, who are a minority, and are led to violence not from religious conviction, as most suppose, but more often from painful personal experience.

Dr. Hisham Hellyer of the University of Warwick and Deputy Convener of the working group on Tackling Extremism of the UK Home Office, observed that Islam had evolved from a "foreign" religion to a "quintessentially European religion;" a fact that has sparked introspection among Europeans, as they reevaluate the European Union, open immigration policy, and the "dissipation of cohesion of society and nation."

A religious Muslim, Hellyer touted the "approach of taking on the outward customs of the adopted land, while staying true privately to the Koran" as the preferred method of intergration, but argued that this must occur organically and not be imposed upon Muslims by outsiders. Yet, he lamented, the issues of integration and identity were being debated almost exclusively by non-Muslims, with Muslims avoiding the dialogue that sought to define the new meaning of Europe and their position in it. Instead, the Muslim voice heard is that of the radical minority, with an absence of Muslim "optimism, hope, and foresight."

Mr. Ammar Abdulhamid, Visiting Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy of the Brookings Institution and Syrian author, first noted the problems inherent in integrating any fundamentalist group into modern society, no matter the religion. For Muslims, however, modernity is tinged with a colonial aftertaste, as it did not arise organically in those societies. He supported Hellyer's call for Muslims to engage in the public conversation, battle stereotypes, and support Muslim initiatives, especially (echoing Münz) for the second generation of immigrants, who face a cultural identity crisis, but for whom there is "hope for new reflection and interpretation of faith."

Dr. Philippa Strum, Director of United States Studies at the Wilson Center, contrasted the experiences of European Muslims with their counterparts in the U.S. The Muslim population in the United States is smaller, numbering only 6 million, 25% of whom are African American Muslims. Its immigrant population is more recent and hails from over 80 countries, with a plurality from South Asia and 25% from Arab nations. Contrary to popular belief, most Arabs in the U.S. are Christian. American Muslims are on average better educated and wealthier than the rest of the population, which has ameliorated their integration into an already diverse American society.

The 9/11 attacks accelerated Muslim immigrant integration, forcing many Muslims to decide quickly to embrace American identity. The ensuing years have seen a clarification of what exactly that identity for them is, as young Muslims in particular seek a new middle path. They embrace American culture while shedding some of the ethnic identity of their parents, replacing it with an identity rooted instead entirely in Islam. The religion itself has been revolutionized by the American experience, liberalizing in this country with multiethnic, congregational mosques and greater roles for women.

Congressman Robert Wexler, a Democrat of Florida provided closing remarks, noting that although the modern American example of integration could be a model for the nations of Europe, it had its flaws and both entities could learn much from each other.

Drafted by Alton Buland, WES Program Assistant

 

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Kristina N. Terzieva // Program Assistant
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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