Cultural Interactions between Muslim Immigrants and Receiving Societies (EURISLAM)
The theoretical background and objectives
The project EURISLAM provides an encompassing view of the integration of Muslim immigrants in six West European countries by linking information on the institutional status of Islam and religious rights for Muslims, public debates on Muslims and Islam in the mass media, and individual attitudes, behavioural patterns, and interethnic contacts of both Muslim immigrants and native populations. Using an institutional and discursive opportunity structure perspective, the project investigates to what extent cross-national differences in religiosity, socio-economic position, interethnic contacts, and identification of Muslims vary as a function of the way in which Islam has been incorporated in different countries and to what extent they are affected by differences in the salience and content of public debates on Muslims and Islam. Similarly, we ask how such contextual conditions affect the ways in which majority populations see and interact with Muslims.
Research design, data and methodology
The study combines several types of data: indicators of Muslim rights, content analyses for the period 1999-2008, a new survey among four groups of Muslims (Turks, Moroccans, Pakistani and ex-Yugoslav Muslims) and a comparison group of native non-Muslims, and finally focus groups with members of "transnational families", of which members have migrated to different countries. This part of the project is quasi-experimental in nature because it compares groups with a very similar background before migration (namely members of the same family) who have ended up in different immigration countries.
Our findings show that Muslims have been able to gain the most religious rights in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom and the least in France and Switzerland, which are both strongly influenced by a laicist tradition of church-state relations. Germany and Belgium occupy intermediary positions. A first analysis shows that these different opportunity structures have important consequences for the nature of public debates about Muslim rights. In order to compare the debates across countries, we distinguish between claims on rights within and outside public institutions, claims asking for parity with existing regulations for Christians (and sometimes also Jews) versus those that refer to special arrangements for which there is no direct Christian equivalent, and finally those that refer to mainstream (e.g., mosques or headscarves) or minoritarian (e.g., the burqa) Muslim practices. We find evidence that accommodation of Muslim rights leads to a process of claim shift, as it encourages both Muslim groups and their opponents within the public domain to shift attention from private, parity, and mainstream issues to more “obtrusive” issues. In line with the expectations of the political opportunity perspective we find that this tendency is strongest in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, where much of the debate refers to special rights in the context of public institutions, which are often related to religious practices of small groups of orthodox Muslims. In the other countries, and especially in France and Switzerland, more basic religious rights, referring to practices such as mosques, minarets, and headscarves dominate the debate, which are not important as issues of controversy in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. These results indicate that although the incorporation of Islam is highly controversial in all countries, the terms of the debate vary starkly, and do so largely in line with national integration policy and state-church traditions. In that sense the debate about Islam is, in spite of highly visible international events around Islam in the period of study, not genuinely transnational. For the moment, the incorporation of, and controversies about Islam largely follow national paths.
Carol, Sarah (2010): "Pushing the limits, drawing the line: Dynamics of contestation over Islamic religious rights in Western Europe, 1999-2008". Presentation at the ECPR Graduate Conference, University of Dublin, Ireland on September 1, 2010 (with Zuhal Kavacik and Ruud Koopmans).