What unbiased book should I read on multiculturalism, immigration and Islam in Europe?
July 25, 2011 3:57 PM   Subscribe

What politically neutral book(s) should I read on multiculturalism and Islam, immigration/integration politics and/or ethnic/religious tensions in Europe?

I have seen many books on these topics, but most seem to have an agenda and appear to be written from a given side of the "aisle". I accept that objectivity is a stretch on such a controversial topic, but any work that at least attempts to limit its political bias is welcome. I would especially like to read a sort of fact-check on what drives contemporary political stances on Islam and immigration in Europe.

I'm expressly interested in a European perspective. So U.S.-centric works on immigration can be disregarded, but comparisons between Europe and America are okay.

Bonus points for ones that cover the Netherlands in detail. In addition, Dutch-language works are more than welcome, should you know of any.

Lastly, given the sociopolitical developments in the last few years I would prefer more recent works.

Thank you in advance for all and any suggestions, folks.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Tariq Ramadan is probably the foremost Muslim writer on the subject of Islam and multiculturalism in Europe. Recent books: What I Believe (2009) and Islam, the West and the Challenges of Modernity (2009).
posted by BinGregory at 5:22 PM on July 25, 2011

You might, for all that the title sounds a bit inflammatory, find Ian Buruma's Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance interesting. He writes both as a Dutchman and, after many years abroad, as an outside observer; the book uses the murder of Theo van Gogh in 2004 as a jumping-off point for a wider examination of multiculturalism, and especially Islam, in the Netherlands. It dates from 2006 - is that recent enough? - and I think it's quite even-handed, but of course that may just mean that its biases match mine (and it's been a couple of years since I read it). Anyway, hopefully the review I've linked tells you enough to let you decide whether it's the sort of thing you're after.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 5:23 PM on July 25, 2011

When Ways of Life Collide: Multiculturalism and Its Discontents in the Netherlands
Paul M. Sniderman & Louk Hagendoorn
posted by quodlibet at 5:24 PM on July 25, 2011

Would novels also be what you're looking for? I'm sure you know of Kader Abdolah. There are plenty of great Muslim writers in Europe, many of whom write about the experience of being a Muslim immigrant. Tahar Ben Jalloun springs to mind as well.
posted by Kattullus at 7:17 PM on July 25, 2011

Response by poster: Not really, no, thanks for letting me specify. I love Kader Abdolah, but I am mostly looking for non-fiction. Let's say more the big picture, where novels do an admittedly great job of portraying a character's view.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:29 PM on July 25, 2011

I'm afraid I don't have a direct recommendation for a book, but a slightly alternative suggestion, because in my experience it is indeed like you say, many books on this topic have, if not an agenda, at least only a partial view of the issue, and not just necessarily because of some ideological or religious or political slant of the author, but because of many factors some of which inherent in publishing. It's been such a hot issue in recent years, and books have to sell, and when you have to compete with books that attracted a lot of attention through controversy, well, it's difficult to get something more reasoned and nuanced out on the market.

Also, the situation is constantly evolving so books written years ago may not offer as useful a picture as today.

In my experience, journalism is where you should look, obviously turning to sources that do publish some in-depth analysis and views and statistics etc. Online, a good source is the Guardian website because:

a) even when it's editorials/commentary and not news, they do give space to all sorts of points of view and guest writers
b) they have a huge archive and it's all free! and it includes both Guardian and Observer
c) there are plenty of articles in there spanning the past decade, with lots of bits of actual information, background, statistics, not just opinion
d) they do report developments across all Europe, they have some of the best connections with other European media and they usually do a really good job of reporting and analysing political events in other European countries, they often republish articles or cite bits of articles from other countries' media (and in turn have their own republished abroad), guest writers from other countries too, and their foreign correspondents tend to know what they're talking about (I have often verified this in their reporting on both Germany and Italy politics and events).

Just do a search for "anti-immigration europe" (I'd add the "anti" specifically to narrow the scope to this debate on multiculturalism and immigration that has been in the media, all the analysis of the anti-immigration sentiment that gave rise to Wilders and the like across all of Europe) and you can see instantly the scope of their coverage in the past years.

And when I say "in my experience" I mean: out of personal/political interest and involvement, I have been following this very debate in all sorts of media since at least the late 90's, in different countries/languages, because I moved across Europe in between, and whenever I had to refer to something written in English, say to forward to other English speakers to give them an idea of what the local non-English media and political debate was about, I've found the Guardian/Observer did a really good job of providing that kind of overview.

Considering there is no such thing as unbiased, the mere fact they do have such a wide focus and range of sources means it's a convenient (and free!) online archive even to catch up on past events/debates.
posted by bitteschoen at 11:43 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

I hesitate to recommend something I haven't read (and furthermore has been endorsed by Ayaan Hirsi Ali), but I'm considering reading Paul Scheffer's Immigrant Nations.

You're probably already familiar with Scheffer's controversial and widely influential essay in the NRC, Het Multiculturele Drama (2000) (pdf link in Dutch). This could not be described as unbiased in anybody's universe, but as a Brit in Holland I found it essential reading. It gives a cultural context to Dutch policies and attitudes, particularly when seen through the lens of verzuiling (pillarisation), and seems weirdly prescient ten years on. Also well worth scanning some of the subsequent academic studies that reference it.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 8:01 AM on July 26, 2011

Is 2006 too old? Melissa Rossi has written several "What Every American Should Know About..." books and for you I would suggest What Every American Should Know About Europe: The Hot Spots, Hotshots, Political Muck-ups, Cross-Border Sniping, and Cultural Chaos of Our Transatlantic Cousins. I found "... the rest of the World" to be pretty unbiased, so I assume the Europe book is the same.
posted by soelo at 2:51 PM on July 26, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you for the suggestions so far. I'm definitely going to check out Buruma, Scheffer and Sniderman/Hagendoorn. Two further questions:

BinGregory, could you (or anyone else reading) sell Tariq Ramadan to me? I'm looking for studies of political and societal impact of Islamic immigration in Europe, and Ramadan seems — admittedly at a cursory glance — to argue mostly from an Islamic point of view, that is his central thesis seems to be that Islam is compatible with Western values and that Europeans can learn a lot from Muslim culture. I'm prepared to believe that, that's not the point, but I would like to know whether he has written anything that ties in more closely with the broader societal context I'm interested in.

(I must admit I have been watching the BBC's excellent "The Life of Muhammad" in which Ramadan featured heavily, so I might myself be biased.)

"Islam, the West and the Challenges of Modernity" sounds promising, but I don't see a lot of reviews for it in the publications where I would normally look for them, which raises some red flags for me. A Guardian writer was unimpressed with another of his works, which doesn't help either.

If anyone could enlighten me as to how Ramadan concretely contributes to this debate and why I should read his works, I would appreciate that.

• Also, I am surprised and delighted by the Netherlands-specific suggestions, which I am definitely going to pursue. But does anyone know of any similar works that takes a broader European view, taking into account other nations like France, Germany, the UK and/or the Scandinavian countries?

Thanks again, and any further suggestions would be much appreciated.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 3:11 PM on July 26, 2011

Heh, no, I can't really. I haven't read him myself (though he is on my get-around-to list) so I suppose I have no business suggesting him: it's just what came to mind for a reasonable Islamic perspective on multiculturalism in Europe. I doubt his books would help with the political/societal impact of immigration part.
posted by BinGregory at 5:58 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Fair enough, thanks for clarifying.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:33 PM on July 26, 2011

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