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Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity Hardcover – 28 Feb 2018
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In Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization [Ahmed] invites us to listen to the many voices of Muslims today as they face a confusing and often threatening world. It is essential reading, wise, literate, insightful, optimistic, honest and humane, the work of one of the great religious sages of our time.
--Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth
About the Author
Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C and the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland. He has served as a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and was the first Distinguished Chair of Middle East and Islamic Studies at the U.S Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. He has also taught at Harvard, Princeton, and Cambridge universities.
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Pr. Ahmed seems to be stuck in a time warp which lead him to focus huge amount of time and words on the “Convivencia” , the state of harmonious co-existence between Muslims, Christians and Jews which supposedly prevailed in Andalusia and Sicily during much of the European middle ages.
Having been to many of the places Pr. Ahmed mentioned in this book, I can only agree about the extraordinary beauty and sophistication of what was achieved at the time but where this books fails completely is in explaining what happened in the intervening period that might explain why things are the way they are today.
The only attempt that is made to do this is found at the beginning of chapter 4 (page 175) where Pr Ahmed makes the following sweeping statement:
“The age of European imperialism, which could be traced to 1492 and the defeat of the last Muslim kingdom in Spain, initiated a new phase of the relationship between Europe and the Muslim world. Over the next centuries, the disparate kingdoms of Europe evolved into empires with overseas colonies. At this time we see a broad and clear correlation in the rise and fall of fortunes of the Muslim world and Western nations: as signs of political, military, economic, and social declivity developed in Muslim lands, there was, at the same time, evidence of corresponding acclivity in Western societies. The results were foregone: Muslim lands— a kingdom here, a region there— were colonized by Western powers or came under their sphere of influence. The centuries of colonialism checked and distorted Muslim thought which had already begun to lose vitality. That interaction continues to color the thinking and identity of the immigrant communities in Europe today.”
At this point I came very close to giving up on the book as this statement is so grossly inaccurate from a historical point of view that it basically disqualifies Pr Ahmed as an objective observer when it comes to the relationship between Europe and the Islamic world.
As anyone with a minimum knowledge of European history knows, in 1492 the (Muslim) Ottoman Empire was still expanding very rapidly before finally reaching its zenith in the late 17th century and it continued to occupy much of (Christian) south-east Europe until the late nineteenth century.
Against this, France for example didn’t intervene in Algeria until 1831 (partially to finish off the work started by others, including the united States, over the previous few decades) to finally put an end to the predations of the Barbary pirates who captured and enslaved hundreds of thousands of Christians between the 16th century and the beginning of the 19th century. As for the British Raj in the Indian subcontinent, it didn’t begin until 1858 finally bringing an end to the other expansionist Islamic empire of the period from the 16th and 19th century, the the Mughal Empire.
In reality, European colonial involvement in the Islamic world west of Persia, which had been largely dominated by the Ottoman Empire from the 15th to the late 19th century didn't really take off seriously until the mid 19th century , reached its zenith just after WWI with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and was finished by 1962 when the French left Algeria. Stated otherwise, European colonialism in the near Islamic world: ME, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, lasted less than 130 years in the worst case, Algeria, about 70 years in most other countries and 30 years at most in the ME. Against that, the Ottomans occupied/dominated most of the Middle East, North Africa and much of south-east Europe for the better part of 5 centuries leaving many bitter memories and highly underdeveloped societies (relative to Western Europe) behind them..
In spite of these obvious historical facts, Pr Ahmed would have us believe that Europe is responsible for most of the woes of the Islamic world: “The centuries of colonialism (what centuries of colonialism?) checked and distorted Muslim thought which had already begun to lose vitality” , which brings me to the next huge frustration while reading this book. Absolutely nothing is said about what happened to the Islamic world after the defeat of the last Muslim kingdom in Spain and why it clearly fell behind Europe in terms of scientific discoveries and the development of knowledge based, secular societies ie. why did the “Ilm” ethos discussed at length in this book disappear to the point that even today, the Islamic world produces almost nothing in terms of scientific knowledge. For an interesting read on this subject see the NYT article “How Islam won and lost the lead in science”
This particularly gross misrepresentation of historical fact (just one of many in this book) is compounded by Pr Ahmed’s repeated references to European “predator identity, which defines those that promote their identity through chauvinistic, aggressive, and militaristic expressions, often targeting societies that differ from them in ethnic or religious terms”, as if this was unique to Europeans…
Regarding this particular point, recent history provides plenty of evidence that pretty well every ethnico-religious groupe is guilty at times of such behaviour: Shia v Sunni, Hutu v Tutsi, Hindu v Muslim, Buddhist v Rohinga, Northern Sudanese v Southern Sudaneses, Selaka v Balaka, treatment of black African migrants transiting through countries like Libya etc etc..
Taking it a bit further, sociological studies, notably the work done by Henri Tajfel (1970), who demonstrated that people's preference for a painter, either Kandinsky or Klee, was enough to generate discriminatory behaviour against those in the "opposite camp", tends to prove that it doesn't take much to generate discriminatory and/or agressive behaviours towards those perceived as being different.
If this wasn’t enough , Pr Ahmed, in his single minded attempt to portray the revival of "European predator identity" as the main source of problems with Muslim immigration in Europe today, makes frequent references to the recent increase in anti-Antisemitism in European countries, blithely omitting to mention that this is mostly coming from the Muslim immigrant population…
Getting back to what happened in the Muslim world between the 17th & 20th centuries, this question is actually central to the difficult situation we are confronted with today and leads me to yet another source of considerable annoyance. The author goes on and on about inter-faith relationships between Jews, Muslims and Christians (completely ignoring other major faiths BTW) while totally failing to recognize that the overwhelming majority of indigenous Western Europeans have either no religious affiliation at all or a very weak attachment to their nominal religion
Given this fact and my own personal experience, the biggest issue in Europe with the Muslim minority is how the secular majority manages the relationship with generally far more religious Muslims, an issue made all the more difficult to manage by a significant segment of this minority’s determination to impose highly prescriptive and visible religious norms in the public sphere: distinctive dress codes, acceptable foods, gender roles and gender relationships, rejection of much modern science and the place of religion in the workplace eg. availability of time and place for daily prayers, observance of Ramadan…ie. rather than trying to blend in, many seem to go out of their way to display their separateness from the rest of their host societies.
The second major issue, which compounds the first, is the level of education of Muslim immigrants which tends to be very low and children from such backgrounds continue to underperform significantly compared to other groups (The indigenous population and migrants from other cultures) well into the 2nd and 3rd generation. See study “Education of Migrant Children: Education policy responses for the inclusion of migrant children in Europe” by Barbara Janta and Emma Harte
Overall, for a far more thorough and less anecdotal analysis of the dynamics behind the poor integration of too many Muslim immigrants into mainstream European society, I suggest that there is far more to be learnt from reading the study “ A French Islam is possible” produced by Hakim El Karoui for the Montaigne Institute in France in Sept 2016 or books such “Why Muslim Integration Fails in Christian Heritage societies” or “Strangers No More: Immigration and the challenges of integration in North America and Western Europe. “
All of that being said, in the hope of finding some useful ideas, I read the book to the end, just skipping chapter 6: Seeking God in an age of secularism (far too blatant promotion of Islam for my secular mind) and most of chapter 7: Judaism, Islam and European Primordial Identity ( too repetitive compared to what had come before) finally reaching some concrete but rather general recommendations between pages 506 and 514.
Of these recommendations, most are far too focused on religious education for me to believe they will gain much traction in this part of the world where most of us consider thaat focusing on religious beliefs other than from a historical perspective provides little value to society. Actually, given the poor state of most Muslim majority countries compared to just about anywhere else on the planet (See UN Human Development Index) , you could reasonably argue that their biggest single opportunity is to focus far less on religion and far more on the development of real world knowledge and criticial thinking skills.
However, I definitely agree that we should teach far more about the golden age of Islamic history in European schools so that both “indigenous” Europeans better understand the Islamic world’s contribution to the development of European philosophy and science and maybe even more importantly so that the members of the European Muslim minority better understand their own history and the compatability of rational enquiry and critical thinking with their religion.
The only other idea that really had me thinking was the value of creating Grand Mosques both as a means to allow Islam to exist on the same footing as other religions and as a means to avoid the continued proliferation of mosques with foreign Imams who know nothing about the culture of their host societies and who thus have a negative impact on the integration of Muslim immigrants.
In conclusion, if the intent was to build bridges, given its excessive focus on the promotion of Islam and the presentation of Muslims as the victims of European “predatory identity” combined with a total lack of balance in the presentation of the historical relationship between the Islamic world and Europe, this book is actually counter-productive.
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or Hindus; and too many narcissistic pictures throughout the book of the author. This is not survey research; no hypotheses or questionaires and tables; no mention of Pim Fortuyn or Ayaan Hirsi Ali who was driven out of the Netherlands by Muslim death threats. It's nice that the author is acquainted with pop culture and the like but that is NO substitute for scholarship. And the author's pro-Muslim intense bias is obvious throughout as he consistently blames European countries for their multicultural and non-assimilation failures.