The American Muslim and the European Muslim

Question: How does the experience of Muslim immigrants differ in the United State and Europe?

Barrett: Very important question. Muslims have . . . Muslims have been much more successful in this country in integrating into the majority society for several very distinct reasons. You start with why they came here. In the big waves of immigration since the 1960s when immigration rules were loosened, and people from places other than Europe had greater success in coming, there’s been an influx in relatively well-educated and, you know, ambitious Muslim immigrants who have come here to go to college, to go to graduate school, to invest money that their families had said for a generation or more to start businesses to get education for their children. In really powerful contrast, the large immigrant . . . immigrant populations in western Europe, for example, are rooted in the guest worker movement that began in the wake of World War II when unskilled workers were brought from places like Turkey to rebuild a devastated Europe, and were kept at arms’ length by very chauvinistic host countries that not only wouldn’t make these people citizens; they didn’t wanna teach them English. They didn’t care whether their students went to school. They didn’t care that they clumped together in little enclaves – basically slums on the edge of major cities. And that whole situation was just allowed to fester for decade, after decade, after decade. In this country if you come here, you go to college, you get a good job, you move to the suburbs, and you buy two cars, people may look at you funny if your skin is a slightly different color or your name is a little strange for a while; but eventually the . . . the great American . . . you know American sort of consumer culture, you know, takes hold, and people begin to . . . tend to integrate. So the experiences have been completely different. Muslims graduate from college at roughly the same rate that other Americans do. Their median family income is roughly the same. They register to vote at only a slightly lower rate than Americans do generally, which is very impressive for a population that’s two-thirds immigrant, many of them relatively recent immigrant. And the native born population is relatively poor. So the fact that they register to vote at something like a 65 or 66 percent rate is quite impressive. This is a population that is already well integrated. And as we know from the headlines in Europe, that’s just not the case in Europe.

Recorded on: 12/4/07

Paul Barrett speaks to the differences in Muslim immigrants’ ability to assimilate into the USA versus Europe.

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