One question I was asked in Europe recently was why the US doesn't appear to suffer from the same Islam-related friction currently threatening social cohesion in European cities. We don't see car-be-ques blazing in American cities; nor we seem to battle over burqas with quite the same intensity. As for the threat of Islamic terrorism, the perception, despite 9/11, is a low-profile one. Do we have a better integrated Islamic population? Is there less strife due to a possibly higher, on average, rate of education among American Muslims vs. their European co-religionists? Clearly, the consensus is that Islam in America is something quite different from Islam in Europe.
To be sure, some Europeans have become far more acutely aware of the stark differences between Islamic and Western law and culture than most Americans. And they even have politicians bold enough to discuss these differences--something we do not have at all. This political difference could well be the natural outgrowth of the very differenty facts on the ground in Europe--a demographic situation in which practically every sizeable European city has a substantial Islamic population--as much as 25 percent (or more) in cities such as Rotterdam or Marseilles, 35 percent (or more) in Malmo, Sweden, and something like 10 percent in most other cities you can think of.
The main question, however, remains: Is there, as consensus tells us, less Islam-related strife and violence in the US than in Europe?
Daniel Pipes today demonstrates that this thesis--most recently presented in a new book by Marc Sageman that Pipes describes, alas, as "influential"--is wholly and dangerously false. In a slam dunk at Frontpagemag.com, Pipes shows the figures Sageman and others have relied on to be inaccurate and comes up with the following new equation:
Given that the Muslim population in the United States is about 1/7th size of its West European counterpart (3 million vs. 21 million), using the figures of 527 arrests for the United States and 1,400 for Europe suggests that the Muslim per-capita arrest rate on terrorism-related charges in the United States is 2.5 times higher than in Europe, not, as Sageman asserts, 6 times lower. In fact, Sageman (who was offered a chance to reply to this article but declined) is off by a factor of about 15.
His error has major implications. If the United States, despite the much better socio-economic standing of its Muslims, suffers from 2.5 times more terrorism per capita than does Europe, socio-economic improvements are unlikely to solve Europe's problems.
This conclusion fits into a larger argument that Islamism has little to do with economic or other stresses. Put differently, ideas matter more than personal circumstances. As I put it in 2002, "The factors that cause militant Islam to decline or flourish appear to have more to do with issues of identity than with economics." Whoever accepts the Islamist (or communist or fascist) worldview, whether rich or poor, young or old, male or female, also accepts the ideological infrastructure that potentially leads to violence, including terrorism.
In policy terms, Americans have no reason to be smug. Yes, Europeans should indeed learn from the United States how better to integrate their Muslim population, but they should not expect that doing so will also diminish their terrorism problem. It could, indeed, even worsen.