The thread on Feministe about European anti-Muslim racism has a lot of good ideas and a budding debate about the extreme right in Europe, but also some misconceptions about European self-conception. I wrote a long comment about everything, but it’s being held in the moderation queue for now, so I’m going to repeat parts of it and expand on them.
First, there’s a difference between jus sanguinis and jus soli. You can get the basic concepts from Wikipedia, but in short, jus soli means right of soil, i.e. citizenship is determined by where you were born; jus sanguinis means right of blood, i.e. citizenship is determined by your parents’ citizenship. The US has jus soli (but see Zuzu’s comment for clarification): if Katie gets pregnant and gives birth in the US, her child will be a US citizen even though she isn’t. Germany used to have pure jus sanguinis: I have a German citizenship because my mom’s father’s family was German, emigrating to Palestine in 1933 for obvious reasons (the law was changed in 1990; now non-residents can only pass a German citizenship on if they became citizens before 1993/1/1).
The thing is, although most of Europe is jus sanguinis, France used to have American-style jus soli, except for people born to tourists. It’s moving in the German direction, while Germany is moving in the French direction, but Jill’s comment is wrong as a characterization of France (it’s right about most other European countries, though).
I’ve criticized the French conception of nationality a lot, but that conception accepts immigrants and ethnic minorities, in principle. The problem with it is not official ethnic discrimination as in Germany and Italy, but enforcement of race-blindness. French law forbids the government to take ethnic statistics on any sort, which means that there’s no way of knowing if an employer is discriminating against minorities. Further, while the US, Canada, and even Britain accept hyphenated identities and divided loyalties, France does not.
American conservatives love to compare blacks to Italians, Jews, and Irish, who they say didn’t need affirmative action. In fact, the comparison to these minorities is a good explanation why the liberal American conception of ethnicity is the most workable. Italian-Americans didn’t integrate in a day, or for that matter in 20 years. They imported their own civil society structures from Italy, from the family up to and including the mafia. The US, whose conception of immigration accepts hyphenation, let them, while not foisting these structures on them the way Britain does.
In contrast, in France, whose conception of ethnicity is the same as mainstream conservative opinion in the US (as opposed to extreme conservative opinion, which is racist), attempts to foist French culture on immigrants. Its textbooks say things like, “Our ancestors, the Gauls,” even in former colonies it annexed like Guyana. Its government’s policies have then actively suppressed the formation of an Arab-French civil society, which would serve as a springboard for integration into French society.
Jus sanguinis countries are even worse. Between the World Wars, France had a massive influx of immigrants, who successfully assimilated because racism against them was nowhere near widespread enough to prevent assimilation. Germany, Spain, and Italy can’t even look up to something like that in their histories. In Russia, adopting the French-style “one citizen nation” conception is considered a progressive plank.
It’s common in some parts of Europe, namely the Netherlands and Scandinavia, to pin race problems on Islam. In fact, the racial problems follow directly from the suppression of ethnic civil society structures, and the lack of a crackdown on racism. The 2005 French riots were triggered by the accidental electrocution of two Arab-French youths and were very much like a 1960s race riot in the US rather than an attempt at a revolution. That Pim Fortuyn supported gay marriage doesn’t mean he wasn’t in denial about the real problems facing Moroccan-Dutch people.
This is what’s wrong with the comment on Feministe that,
I think the problem is that the radical Islamic community thrives on the kind of european liberalism that [Alon] is talking about/promoting. They can set themselves up in an immigrant community and recruit members by pointing at American actions and equating them with an anti-Islamic agenda. Then when the state intervenes, they can say, ‘you see, western governments are all anti-Islamic deep down.’
First, what I’m talking about isn’t European liberalism, which tends to gloss over racial issues. It’s exporting American liberalism to Europe when it comes to ethnicity. Just like the US would do well to imitate Europe’s welfare and health care systems, so would Europe do well to imitate North America’s policy on ethnicity.
Second, radical Islamists can set up mostly because of the lack of any secular civil society structure. I don’t remember who noted about fundamentalism in Iraq that Saddam squashed the entirety of Iraqi civil society, leaving only the mosque as an alternative to Ba’athism. It’s the same in Europe: if continental European governments permit expressions of Arab or Turkish cultural identity and crack down on racism in employment, housing, and policing, there will be enough alternatives to religious fundamentalism for Muslims. It’s not surprising that there’s extremism and resentment among European Muslims, whose unemployment rates are in the same ballpark as those that helped catapult Hitler into power.