MG in-depth


Europe, Middle East and North Africa, Central Asia, East Asia

In Europe we have managed to transform a religion into an ethnic group just as any person originating in a country identified as Muslim has been reduced to an Islamic dimension


1. Islam does not exist in geopolitics. Nor does Europe. One is a religion, the other a continent. Spiritual or physical spaces defined in various and disputed ways. They are containers, not players on the strategic stage. Or just mere abstractions.

Geopolitics intervenes when we try and make them concrete, transforming them into dramatis personae, protagonists of conflicting portrayals. There are above all two, both universalist, hence equipped with an inner purpose. They are the home of Islam (dar al-islam), the lands in which Islamic law prevails, many of which were dominated by Europeans in recent centuries and European civilisation, our colonising ancestors’ additional virtues, in Brussels slang now softened to the harmless formula “European values”.

While the dar al-islam territorialises the jurisprudence of a religion and fuels nostalgia for the caliphate, European civilisation – also in the version drafted at the Berlaymont building, removed from its space-time dimension – ideologises geopolitical subjects that brandish it as a civilised religion.

If observed unemotionally, these are descriptive and geopolitically sterile formulas. Thinkers on both shores of the Mediterranean have been excited by twenty years of jihadist terrorism and American-led Western counterterrorism, added to the growing migratory flows that via Italy move from the home of Islam to the heart of Europe.

This has also reawakened controversial colonial memories – when not the opposing epics of al-Andalus or of the Reconquista – contributing to emphasising cultural and geopolitical confusion in an already bewildered European family for sometime accustomed to the idea of the end of (its) history. All this to the point of arousing terror of an Islamic invasion in a European public with debatable taste bombarded by media hyperbole.

More sophisticated minds distil this with abstruse theories about plots. Their progenitor is Eurabia by Bat Ye’or (Gisèle Littman’s Jewish nom de plume), an essay published in 2005 in which we Europeans are described as being in a state of dhimmihood. The word is borrowed from the Arabic dhimmi, “protected”, indicating the rank of non-Muslims under šaria, used here in deference to Islamic power (1). It is instead to Michel Houellebecq’s novel Soumission, published on the day of the attack on Charlie Hebdo (January 7th, 2015) that we owe the portrayal of the salons of Parisian intellectualism and power, bowing opportunistically to the soft šaria of the Elysée’s first Muslim inhabitant, Mohammed Ben Abbes (2).         

And so here we are, flung into total Islamophobia. Hence a fear that Islam – with the capital letter to underline the hypostasis that sets it as a presumed geopolitical subject – is conquering Europe, whatever area one wishes to entitle with such a name.

A current form, specific to the atavistic fear of mingling with aliens, already expressed by Dante, “Confusion of people was always the source of the city’s sorrows.” (3) It is irrelevant that a small or large degree of racial mixing is a constant in the history of any human group – especially in empires, and even among those who proclaim the pureness of the race. Islamophobes may perhaps be manipulated and bewildered by artful narratives, by ruthless political entrepreneurs who exploit their fears.

And yet they really see in Muslim immigrants, perhaps even imaginary ones, enemies who threaten their homes, assets and customs, when not terrorists wanting to kill them.

Symbols, not reality, workshop analysts, stuck in the mechanisms of materialism would say, comforted by the academic followers of rational choice. That is true. But symbols matter because they communicate and mobilise. The Islamic danger, like the Red Peril of the past, is a powerful fabrication. In this case, furthermore, the line between stated objectivity and subjective perception is vague and out of focus. In order to verify this let us begin with numbers. Subjective and objective ones – or alleged to be such.      

2. A year ago Chatham House, the venerable British think tank, carried out a survey in ten European countries providing an overview of the widespread Islamophobia in our “common home.” Those interviewed were asked to react to the following statement, an intentional echo of the Trumpian Muslim ban, “Any further immigration from countries with a Muslim majority should be stopped.” Fifty-five percent of those interviewed agreed, 20% were against and 25% declined to answer. With the exception of the United Kingdom (47%) and Spain (41%), in the other eight countries approval of blocking all Islamic immigration was over 50% (4).

Poland posted the highest percentage (71%), in spite of the fact that there are almost no Muslims in the country. This perhaps also thanks to the divine support provided by the “rosary of borders”, recited on October 7th, the anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto (1571), by a million Poles forming a human and spiritual chain, blessed by the clergy and more specifically by the Archbishop of Krakow Marek Jędraszewski, “so that Europe remains Europe.” (5) Here the Islamic threat is perceived as imminent, so much so that in February 2016, the cover of a Polish weekly portrayed a naked white woman wrapped in the European Union’s flag, defending herself from dark male hands. The headline was “The Islamic rape of Europe”. (6) Right behind Poland was Austria (65%), also in memory of the sieges of Vienna in 1529 and 1683, with France at 61%, while Germany (53%) and Italy (51%) lagged behind.

These figures confirm a previous survey that indicated the unfavourable attitude towards Muslims in various European countries, with highs reached in Hungary (72%), Italy (69%), Poland (66%) and Greece (65%), while the United Kingdom (29%), Germany and France (both on 28%) are more tolerant. Hence, the more Muslims a society hosts, the less it shuns them and vice versa.   

The observation about Poland also applies to Italy. Here, with no one killed in jihadists attacks, diffidence towards Muslims is quite pronounced, driven by an at times subliminal and at times proclaimed equation between the followers of Islam and terrorists, inspired by a disfigured version of that religion. Such rejection also derives from the widespread persuasion that Muslims in Italy are far more than are semi-officially counted - in some European countries vox populi multiplies them by three or by four. (7) A reminder of the power of perception.

As far as “objective” numbers are concerned, these speak a different language. The quotation marks indicate that such estimates are uncertain, debatable and contested, since the many illegal immigrants spread across the country, and the European taboo concerning a census by religion, imply that it is impossible to provide certifiable data. According to the most recent survey carried out by the American Pew Research Center, referring to 2016, in the Europe of the 28 EU states plus Switzerland and Norway, there are 25.8 million Muslims or 4.9% of the population (8). In 2010 there were 19.5 million (3.8%).

The increase bears witness to the massive flow of refugees coming primarily from Syria and the migrants coming from far away Africa, more or less all correctly thought to be Muslims. After Bulgaria (11.1%) – historically a country in which Muslims of Turkish, Pomak and Roma origin have settled – a Muslim component is especially well-established in the former great colonial powers, such as France (8.8%) and the United Kingdom (6.3%), as well as in Sweden with its albeit declining liberal-humanitarian tradition expressed in its generous welfare (8.1%) followed by Austria (6.9%) and Germany (6.1%). With Italy at 4.8%.

Average estimates for 2050 elaborated by Pew project European Islam at 11.2%, equal to 57.9 million souls. The demographer Massimo Livi Bacci reduces the figure to about 50 million, about 10% of the population, because he considers more incisive both the convergence of the fecundity of Muslims settling in Europe compared to that of the indigenous peoples – now at 2.6 compared to 1.6 children per woman – and an increase in barriers to immigration.

Finally, for those who associate Islam to terrorism in Europe, 94% of the victims of terrorist attacks in the world are localised in areas pertinent to the dar al-islam, from the Middle East to North Africa, from sub-Saharan Africa to South East Asia. Since the beginning of the century, 99% of these deaths have occurred in countries at war, thus outside the European Union (9). 

Having paid the homage due to mathematics, there are three caveats. First, future projections based on more than imperfect figures suffer from the human incapacity to predict the future and the unpredictability of catastrophic or redeeming natural and scientific events (epidemics, earthquakes, medical discoveries, technological progress), leaving aside the non-linearity of conflicts. Second, in determining our behaviour, perception prevails over statistics. Third, that is why there is no magical number beyond which the presence of Muslims implies a threat to social cohesion, hence a change of the geopolitical context in which we are immersed. One can succumb to the most virulent Islamophobia in the absence of Muslims in one’s country or coexist in relative peace with millions of immigrants of various Islamic origins.           

Finally, there is a serious omission. We are equipped with a range of surveys about the manners in which Europeans consider Muslims in Europe, but have very little “scientific” data concerning the manner in which they perceive us. What little we have provides a surprising image. For example, two scholars from the University of Münster, Mujtaba Isani and Bernd Schlipphak, have published the results of their research among Muslims in 16 European countries, with the eloquent title, “In the European Union we trust: European Muslims attitudes toward the European Union” (10).

Professor Schlipphak is categorical, “Muslims living here have a higher level of confidence in European institutions than we Christians or non-believers.” Their faith even embraces the European parliament, the activities of which almost all “native” Europeans have no idea whatsoever. Those interviewed, 95% first or second generation immigrants, appreciate their economic status, our welfare and even our political institutions, although the younger ones are inclined to be sceptical – a symptom of integration? (11). These indicators are confirmed by another survey commissioned by the European Union, which shows that among immigrants of Muslim origin there is not only higher than average confidence in what remains of our democracies, but even a degree of patriotism. It is a sign that they tend to consider the state hosting them as their own; 76% of those interviewed feel “greatly attached” to their countries of residence, of which many also respect the police and the judiciary. On a scale of 5, the measure of this attachment is on average 4.1. Finland leads the way (4.6) followed by Sweden (4.4), the United Kingdom and France (4.3). Germany stands at 4.0. Italy is in last place (3.3). It is up to us to decide whether to be sad or console ourselves with the similarity between local civic-mindedness and the imported variety. (12)    

Muslim “Europeanism” reported by these rare polls should be taken with a very special pinch of salt, considering that customers and the problems in assembling credible samples of populations are hard to quantify. It is, however, significant, especially against the backdrop of two contextual factors; the critical opinion of European countries – and generally speaking of the former colonial or neo-colonial West – widespread in the Muslim countries from which the immigrants come, and discrimination reported by Muslims living in our countries, inflicted by the institutions they then say they tend to appreciate. One could appreciate this apparent contradiction as confirmation that many Muslims feel better over here than in their countries of origin.   

If using the necessary caution when comparing the opinions of Europeans about Muslims to those of Muslims on Europeans, one comes to the conclusion that we are far more Islamophobic than they are Europhobic. But this is not a beauty contest played on a neutral pitch. It is anything but a dialogue between beautiful souls.

This is a power relationship, within a parallelogram of unequal forces, overloaded with reciprocal stereotypes. An asymmetric match between states and diasporas, in which the players fight over what they hold dearest; their own identity. Hence their own survival as a nation, or at least a community and so anyone who can, stacks the deck.

3. The decisive trick consists in transforming a religion into an ethnic group. European essentialism reduces to an Islamic dimension any person originating in a country identified as Muslim. The Egyptian dentist and the Nigerian beggar, the Afghan refugee and the Moroccan student, the Albanian shop keeper and the Turkish labourer, to us they are all always and only Muslims. Even if among them one might find various atheists or agnostics, some Christians, followers of ancient autochthon rituals or DIY cults. Muslims, above all, belong to schools of thought, brotherhoods and denominations that are at times in bloody competition.

Among them we fear there are very few followers of Averroes (1126-98), the formidable thinker educated at the Maliki school who denied the incompatibility between religion and philosophy. Children of the most diverse and distant cultures, ethnic groups and tribes, Muslims often speak languages not even closely related, when not expressing themselves in dialects, ignoring or having repressed classical Arabic. Not to mention the Koran. The Islamic monolith exists only in the minds of fanatics or Islamophobes.

And yet, of so many different peoples we have created one. All thanks to one single and debatable religious marker. This is a sign of the semantic slippage following 9/11, of a number of strategic words ranging from the noun “Muslim”, more rarely “Mohammedan” to the adjective (and noun) “Islamic” often associated to “terrorist”; from “Islamist”, originally a scholar of Islam, to the use of the same word changed to describe a potentially violent Muslim extremist.

It is almost a synonym for the “jihadists” fighting both us and, above all, the apostates enslaved to Western nonbelievers, having destroyed the spiritual root of jihad, and therefore elevated it to enemy par excellence of European states and values. This also includes the terrible word “radicalised” – meaning an active or potential terrorist – naturally to be “de-radicalised” following methods used by AA.      

The French scholar of Islam, Olivier Roy, has coined the word “neo-ethnicity”, the imaginary population created in our slang to indicate people of Muslim culture or supposed to be, regardless of their ethnic origins. Todos musulmanes. This new ethnicity was invented following a dual process, both strategic and cultural. First of all the need of our political and bureaucratic powers to simplify the approach to the diasporas from dar al-islam, for administrative and communicative reasons. A terrible but convenient shortcut. Secondly, the de-culturalisation of the diasporas, which are inclined to loosen bonds with lands of origin so as to soothe feelings of guilt for having abandoned them, doubling or tripling their own identity. For example, a Kabyle Muslim with a Berber background formerly having Algerian nationality and nationalised as French will belong to a multi-identity subset. Or only to himself.

By mistaking unconnected and/or rival Muslim diasporas for one single pan-Islamic community we create the premises for Islamophobia. We contribute to strengthening among their second and third generations a sense of exclusion from the environment, discriminating against them and as a reaction, a belonging to a virtual transnational community of peoples oppressed by Western imperialism. Islamophobes will therefore accuse them of self-segregation in order to better join forces in the battle against European civilisation. This while state power and media orthodoxy will demand the imaginary stigmatised neo-ethnicity to condemn jihadists, almost as if this were an authentic community and even an integrated one.

In the essentialist deviation that envisages just one Islam always identical unto itself, and European nations equally unyielding in their eternal identities, some are under the illusion that issues concerning local Muslims and the Islamophobia linked to their presence will resolve themselves on their own. European governments tend to intervene when it is inevitable and exclusively as a reaction to public opinion’s immediate fears as caused by terrorist attacks with a powerful emotional impact, mass landings or pressure on the borders.

Then they raise the volume of anti-Islamic rhetoric (will people be persuaded that quaedaism is inscribed in the Koran and in the ahadith?), they adopt spectacular emergency measures that end up becoming standard ones, undermining the principles and rules consecrated in their constitutions – including “European” and therefore universal values (France docet). In that way they play along with their home-grown fanatics and terrorists.

It is necessary to historicise the phenomenon so as to break the vicious circle of reciprocal demonization and outline a coherent strategy, at least within and among some European states. We do not expect that Estonians and Maltese, Italians and French, Poles and Greeks will unanimously deflect from their respective clichés. This must take into account three factors.  

First. The rise in the diasporas, running parallel to the fall in indigenous populations, is structural. There will be highs and lows but it will not stop for the foreseeable future. This for geopolitical (flight from conflicts in Muslim countries, started with help from the Americans, Europeans and Russians), demographic (incomparable fertility rates between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa), biological (Europeans’ average age is more than double that of Africans), environmental (contraction of arable lands, rain forests crisis) and socio-economic reasons (“globalisation” does not mean more resources better distributed for everyone, that is if it means anything at all).

Furthermore, just as migrations form diasporas, diasporas foster migrations along established routes, especially if they maintain vital links with their communities of origin. The migration-diaspora-migration circle is a semi-automatic multiplier.

Second. In Europe the Muslim issue is also one of class, just like the Mexican issue in the United States. Reversing the factors, the 3.45 million Muslims estimated to be living in the United States (1.1% of the population) are statistically better educated and well-off than on average; 58% of American Muslims have degrees compared to the national total of 27%. (13) Apart from important and increasing exceptions, Muslim immigrants in European countries remain confined to the not-only-metaphorical slums of their respective societies. Encounters/clashes with citizens having ancient national roots are asymmetrical; we correctly demand that they learn our language, respect our laws and our customs.

Of course we are no longer faced with the poor illiterates recruited in North African or Levantine slums by central-northern European industries undergoing reconstruction after World War II. For us those Muslims were not Muslims; just labourers. Ever since the Eighties we have transformed immigrant labourers into Muslim immigrants. The very same person, or his son, has changed identity in our eyes. This has resulted in a co-production of proud racist Islamophobes and lefty standard-bearers of interethnic dialogue, intent, for opposite reasons, on reclassifying foreigners on the basis of their supposed religion of origin.

As paraphrased in the famous incipit of the Manifesto of the Communist Party published by Ferruh Yılmaz, a professor of Turkish origin at Tulane University and the author of How the Workers became Muslims (14), “A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of Muslim immigration. All the Powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Social Democrats, Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, Socialists, right-wing populists, Feminists, all types of progressives and radicals, social workers and the Pope.” (15) Yılmaz speaks of his “conversion” saying, that he arrived in Denmark in 1979 as a young left-wing activist with no idea of what the word ‘identity’ meant. (…)

For him religion was the opium of the masses. He narrates that after twenty years he became a ‘Muslim’, answering ‘yes’ when people started to ask if he was, in spite of the fact that he had never identified with anything to do with religion. He also learned that in culture, identity is seen as an ensemble of traditions, norms and values, regardless of whether they meant anything to him. He did not share traditions, norms and values with people sharing his ethnic origins any more than with his Danish friends. (16) How many Ferruh Yılmazes wander through our streets?       

Third. In the relationship between “us” and “them” the balance of power, and therefore of responsibility, is in our favour. Even in countries with a looser national identity, there persists a vast majority “of lineage” equipped with a state that claims its own sovereignty and exercises (more or less) a monopoly of violence.

The identity we claim is not, however, determined once and forever. And do we wish to perhaps ignore the active or passive role that diasporas will increasingly play in geopolitical-identity-linked desegregation/re-aggregation processes of and within the European framework (from Brexit to Catalonia, from Ukraine to the Balkans and the neo-nationalisms and regionalisms threatening the continent’s wealthiest states)?

A strategy for addressing the diasporas and therefore their states or former states of origin is an imperative. What strategy?

4. Nothing divides Europeans more than the approach to the diasporas and migrations that fuel them. Since what is at stake is national identity, the primary source for the legitimisation of institutions, individual states perceive the issue as a matter of life and death. An instinct of self-preservation leads them to unload the problem on one another; mors tua vita mea. Even when pretending to adopt common rules, as in the Dublin Regulation with which various European countries unanimously established they would unload the tragedy of refugees on Italy - including Italy itself since it was convinced the regulation could be applied “Italian style”.

Everyone treats their Muslims in their own way. The defenders of European “purity” between the Adriatic and the Baltic, build anti-migrant walls. Our northern neighbours (“cousins” included) have reinstated strict controls at intra-EU borders, repeatedly suspending the Schengen agreements, about which we like to forget that they were created both for opening internal borders and for closing external ones, out of respect for the protectionist reflex of French origin that is the European Communities’ brand of origin.

Should that not be enough, in times of the “War on Terror”, perceived by many Muslims as a war against Islam, every country has increased the obstacles to legal immigration – the 2002 Bossi-Fini law is a bright paradigm – thereby incentivising illegal or irregular solutions. We have broken circular, temporary migrations and therefore sedentarized and marginalised diasporas among informal parallel tribes. We have allowed the cohorts of children and grandchildren of the first Muslim migrants to grow-up adrift in a Westernised imagination that both envelops and excludes them.

A world in which they find no heroes or points of reference. Is it a coincidence that among the one hundred most influential Muslims in history, almost all pre-modern, there is not one European, and the only “westerner” was Malcolm X, a black American in conflict with the white-Christian establishment who was assassinated? (17). And yet we are surprised when we discover that terrorist are home-grown.

The little we Europeans have done together (Schengen and the Dublin Regulations) or each on his own – starting with a selective suspension of Schengen, the antechamber of its funeral – has exacerbated the disease it intended to cure. Nor has Pope Francis’ wise approach turned out to be more incisive, with his humanitarian and religiously exalted reference to the image of Isaiah’s new Jerusalem (chapter 60) and the Apocalypse (chapter 21), a city whose doors are always open.

The principle of the centrality of human beings to which Francis appeals, obliges one to “always put personal security in front of national security” (18). States do not base their decisions on such principles. Decision makers do not heed homilies on the necessary and beneficial “Creolisation” of Europe (will we all become West Indians?), calligraphies about the “poetic of differences” or the cosmopolitanism of those dreaming of a “totally kaleidoscopic” world. (19)  

Utopias aside, the specific models for relating to migrants, both Muslim and otherwise, that most European countries have been inspired by, have failed or produced debatable results. There is one fundamental extenuating circumstance. Burdened with the disputed historical relationship established by colonial empires and geographical proximity with the heart of the dar al-islam – which excludes applying to the Old Continent the restrictive and assimilative polices adopted by the United States – we have no magic formulas. 

Let us consider the two main models; British multiculturalism and French-styled assimilation. Criteria that are diametrically opposed. Going against current interpretations, multiculturalism is ultraconservative, because it envisages the fixity of roles, “naturally” unequal, while assimilation is inspired by progressive positivism, open to the possibility/need to bring the weak closer to the standing of the strong, the foreigner to the native. More brutally, the uncivilised to the civilised.  

The British system rejects both assimilation and integration, an excessively watered-down alternative. This is apartheid light, distilled of the purest essentialism according to which white Anglos and non-white former colonials, all the more so if Islamic, are what they were and remain so (the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, the son of Pakistani immigrants is a famous exception). Each in his own district or enclave, as if Chelsea and the no-go areas of London’s districts were equivalent.

The urban and geopolitical application of multiculturalism is the metropolitan ghetto, in which the stigmatised Muslim fulfils his not very enviable life cycle, becoming “invisible” or cultivating victimisation and a sense of revenge towards the British majority, often in competition with other similarly separate minorities. It is significant that such an approach should have been organised in the British Isles, a multinational archipelago, orphan of an empire and dealing with internal (sub)nationalisms – Scottish, Irish, Welsh, English and even Londoners.

To remain on the subject of states pertinent to the British Crown, one is also surprised that in Canada multiculturalism is seen as a remedy for managing the fault line between French and English speakers. In fact Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called his homeland “the first post-national state”, as it is happily without a “core identity” (20). Nor is it surprising that during the eighties that paradigm was imported to Australia, when in Canberra they realised that they could not assimilate all those bloody new Australians, Asians above all.

The historical French paradigm experienced a crisis due to an excess of ambition. Assimilation was in fact the continuation in the Hexagon of extrovert imperial geopolitics enlightened by the mission civilisatrice. The one that is 1834 induced the Algiers’ chief government representative, Pierre Genty de Bussy, to ask himself the rhetorical question, “Is it up to the French to civilise the Arabs or up to the Arabs to civilise the French?” Answer; “The French have a more advanced civilisation, it is therefore up to them to establish laws and regulations.” (21) Almost two centuries later, speaking on Algerian television, Emmanuel Macron qualified French colonisation as a “crime against humanity”, “real barbarianism”. (22)

Assimilation now aims to Frenchify immigrants. That is why it is necessary for the social fabric and the elites to agree on their own superior civilisation, to be transferred to those coming to live permanently in the Grande Nation. This for their own good. That is how it was after World War II for millions of immigrants from former North African colonies, almost all of Islamic culture. And that is how the 1905 law on the laicity of the state worked, laicity that is effectively a state religion. But if the President of the Republic condemns as criminal the ‘civilising mission’, how can he expect the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the former empire’s migrants to adhere to republican values, simultaneously considered as universal? Did Macron perhaps take “European values” seriously those values that in the Brussels narrative are based on tolerance and respect for all cultures, supposedly equivalent to others?

As the demographer Michèle Tribalat observes, Europeanist rhetoric “does not provide an excessively favourable image to the continuation of the French model of assimilation,” because it is based on the “preservation of differences and diversities – an ecological concept of society.” (23) And if mixed marriages are the litmus test for assimilation, the verdict for France is a negative one. Muslims almost always marry one another, says Tribalat. Exogamy is the exception and endogamy is the rule. (24)

In practice, France is retreating to flexible integration, well-aware that it cannot assimilate new generations of immigrants and above all future ones. While the first generations from the Maghreb are mostly Frenchified and relatively secularised, in the second ones, as well as among those who have converted, there are winds of rebellion blowing that have little to do with Islam and a great deal to do with a violent rejection of the world they live in. According to Olivier Roy, this is not a radicalisation of Islam but the Islamisation of radicalism. (25) The Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attackers must not, in his opinion, overshadow the success of integration for most Muslims, which tends to consolidate in the third generation. Roy believes that integration works where the state is present and fails where it is absent or excludes itself.

The French army has recruited about 15 Muslims for every 100 soldiers, nor is there a lack of Islamic chaplains who assist their Catholic or Jewish homologues. The so-called “difficult districts” are such because “it is the Republic that has withdrawn”, certainly not because of a Salafite offensive. “The only agents of the state present are the sub-prefects, but the frequency of their rotation (about every two years and often even less) prevents all continuity. Every new sub-prefect starts over. So the state is only represented by the mayor who has other matters to worry about rather than respect for republican order.” These districts are therefore managed by “intermediaries who have every interest in operating on the basis of community-type criteria. Public services vanish and schools retreat into a misleading discourse, abstract and disconnected from social reality.” (26) Together with the state, institutional Islam also withdraws and this void is filled by violent Salafites, the nihilist lovers of death as an objective and not as a means at the service of a cause.

And what about Germany? Germany does not have a model as it has been miseducated regards to strategy since 1945; a trauma from which it has only just begun to recover. Integration there can mean both multiculturalism and assimilation. Everything and the opposite of everything. Over just a few weeks, Merkel changed course from throwing open the borders to a million refugees to a pact with Erdoğan on closing off the Balkan route. Is this a late Teutonic version of ‘trial and error’ or an inability to face the consequences of one’s own choices?

Such a lack of strategic planning does not, however, exclude a sustainable level of coexistence between many ethnic groups, among them also Muslims of Turkish origin, to whose loyalty to their land of origin Erdoğan himself also successfully appeals. The shift to the right, confirmed by the recent elections, also the result of rising Islamophobia (especially in the former DDR), has, however, strengthened motivations to assert the imperative of a “guiding civility” (Leitkultur). Hence the hegemony of the German language, culture and customs to which immigrants must conform. Those who want to regulate relations with Muslims using the law are speaking out loud and clear now in her own party, in opposition to Merkel’s “rainbow culture”.

Right. But who represents the Muslims? European states are desperately in search of an authority able to speak in the name of the neo-ethnic group they have decided to invent. But only an equally imaginary authority can derive from an imaginary community. Comparing Cairo’s al-Azhar University to the Holy See is laughable, except for observing how the Vatican’s hold over the Catholic ecumene tends to regress, thereby drawing closer to the really modest one exercised among Sunnis by the wise men assembled around the noble Egyptian shaykh.

There is no Islamic pope, nor anyone who can be a substitute. There are not even figures similar to the bishops responsible for their respective dioceses or priests looking after their own parishes, although some mistakenly believe that the imams, those who lead prayers, are the Islamic equivalent.

The French, who in spite of everything like to think big, are discussing a “grand imam de France”. One can bet that before he is appointed and received at the Elysée, the Shiites will celebrate the reappearance of the twelfth imam. In the meantime, a French Council of the Muslim Faith has existed since 2003 and boasts many imitations in Europe. It is a shame it cannot speak for the majority of French Muslims. It certainly does not speak in the name of the young, who are resistant to religious institutions created by personalities manipulated by their states of origin with influence in Paris, whose governments have a habit of sending Friday sermons by fax to the increasingly less attended official mosques.

What is the point of establishing a dialogue with elderly well-mannered gentlemen, the ideal-type of “moderate Muslims” – another western category – if they are not listened to by their supposed followers? If the criteria is representativeness, what is the value of a poor Europeanised imam compared to a televangelist overpaid by a Wahabi television broadcaster in the Gulf? That is why more ambitiously wise European Muslims prefer not to become involved in the farce of Councils, well-aware that for them it would be the kiss of death.

So? Unless the caliphate is reinstated – the real one, not the tragicomical imitations à la Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – an operation that for the moment exceeds our resources – it is best to concentrate not on abstract Islam, but on the real Muslims who live here, in all their seething, multi-ethnic and at times conflicting variety.   

5. Once upon a time there was Romanisation. It was the empire of the Caesars that devised the first wide-ranging assimilation system. The poets of the American empire, the new Rome, like to remember this. Among the many anecdotes concerning assimilatory vis, historians remember how the millennial foundation of the Urbe was celebrated in 248 by the emperor Philip the Arab, born in Trachonitis (southern Syria) and also a Christian.

A translation of the Latin assimulatio adapted to today’s Italy seems nonsensical. It is. And yet, wandering around some of our cities one would observe that in Italy assimilation is possible. Except it works the opposite way. Unlike the harsh American model, and ancient Roman integration, here no one is forced to accept the laws of the dominant lineage; our anomie matches that of the others. In the Naples narrated by Isaia Sales, immigrants and locals find an “immediate convergence on the fundamental principles of street life; illegality as a necessity, housing insecurity, trade in the form of ‘bazaars’ and mutual support networks.” Piazza Ferrovia is described as one of the greatest Arab urban spaces in Europe. When there are Muslim festivities it is transformed into a teeming open-air mosque. Among authentic Neapolitans this peculiar coexistence is the object of artistic portrayal, as seen in the docufilms Napolislam or I was looking for Maradona, I found Allah. (27)       

Should we be happy about this? Should we then congratulate the camorra and ‘ndrangheta because they contribute to dissuading jihadists from attacking our country – partly theirs and not only in the deep south – to protect their own trafficking? Anomic counter-assimilation obliges us to pay an unbearable price in terms of security and legality, with cultural, social and economic costs for the weaker citizens, immigrants included.

For a state with modest legitimisation, the not-too-soft integration of immigrants, be they Muslim or not, is imperative, otherwise we will be reduced to being a training camp for the influence of others and not only our allies and partners, accustomed to considering us terra nullius.

This includes the states and regimes from which the migrants come, which intend to retain influence over their respective diasporas and/or promote their respective geopolitical agendas, just as Morocco and Saudi Arabia do, in competition. The country with the greatest Islamic diaspora in Italy and the leader of Wahabism, with its still significant financial power – thanks to which it buys material goods, decision makers and communicators wherever is convenient – and its jihadists at large.

What does Italy do to protect its own interests, to integrate the foreigners we need for demographic and welfare reasons? The state has no strategies. The initiatives undertaken by some of its local representatives (a few mayors), at times central ones (the Interior Ministry, to which, above all, we owe the drastic reduction in flows via former Libya, for now obtained through informal negotiations with the “guardians of the desert”), and many citizens of good will, are not part of a long-term plan. The government as a whole and the political parties – in theory open to integration, to then not follow up as they fear to lose consensus to those condemning the “invasion” – are all absent without leave. The was the reason for discarding a very bland updating of the so-called ius soli, effectively ius scholae for the children and grandchildren of immigrants who aspire to become Italians (28).

We have made some progress in relations with immigrants coming from countries in which there is mainly a Muslim culture (graph). We have progressed from the “National Plan for the Integration of those with a right to international protection” – which explicitly takes for granted that assimilation is impossible and rejects the communitarian and therefore multicultural logic, relying on the gradual integration of individuals (29) – to the ambitious “National Pact for an Italian Islam”, a prelude to an agreement with the more visible Muslim organisations in Italy, in the perhaps optimistic hope that they are sufficiently representative and cohesive to influence the almost two million – unofficial figures reduce them to about one and a half million – followers of the Koranic faith active in Italy (30).

Time is running out. Within ten years in Italy we will have a plethoric adult second generation of foreign origin, but socialised (?) by us. And a third one in fieri. Some will be fully-fledged Italian citizens. Others, we fear not just a few, will remain on the sidelines of civil life and below the state’s radar, in a society not immune to Islamophobe germs, xenophobe forces and jihadist propaganda. For a nation oblivious of the time and space it lives in, with a demographic decline, incapable of selecting immigrants, but ready to watch its best brains leave, renouncing integration amounts to vegetating, if not vanishing. The time has come to create new Italians or die.    


(translated by Francesca Simmons)



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  15. Text by F. YILMAZ at
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  1. POPE FRANCIS “Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees” 14.1.2018.
  2. E. GUTIÉRREZ RODRÍGUEZ, “Archipelago Europe: On Creolizing Conviviality”, in E. GUTIÉRREZ RODRÍGUEZ, A. TATE (a cura di), Creolizing Europe, Liverpool 2015, Liverpool University Press.
  3. in Ph. C. SALZMAN, “Multiculturalists Working to Undermine Western Civilization”, 16.12.2017, The Gatestone Institute,
  4. “La ‘mission civilisatrice’: une insoutenable plaisanterie”, El Watan, 5.8.2006,
  5. “En Algérie, Emmanuel Macron qualifie la colonisation française de ‘crime contre l’humanité’”, Libération, 15.2.2017,
  6. TRIBALAT, Assimilation. La fin du modèle français. Pourquoi l’islam change la donne, Paris 2017, L’Artilleur/Editions du Toucan, pp. 16-17.
  7. Ivi, pp. 165-178.
  8. O. ROY, La paura dell’islam. Conversazioni con Nicolas Truong, Milano 2016, RCS MediaGroup.
  9. ROY, Generazione Isis. Chi sono i giovani che scelgono il califfato e perché combattono l’Occidente”, Milan 2017, Feltrinelli, p. 110.
  10. PAGANO, Napolislam, docufilm, 2015; L. CIOFFI – E. PAGANO, Cercavo Maradona, ho trovato Allah, docufilm, 2009.
  11. Draft law no. 2092, “Amendments to Law no. 91 dated February 5th, 1992, and other regulations concerning the subject of citizenship”, which the outgoing parliament has not managed to pass.
  12. Ministry of the Interior, Department for civil liberties and immigration, “National Plan for the Integration of those with the right to international protection.”
  13. Ministry of the Interior, in cooperation with the Council for Relations with Italian Islam, “National Pact for an Italian Islam, the expression of an open, integrated community that adheres to the values and principles of the state’s organisation”