Two weeks ago, dozens of cars were set alight in the French city of Clermont-Ferrand after a 30-year-old truck driver, Wissam El-Yamni, was roughed up and then died while in police custody. The uproar underscored the hostility of young minority men toward authority across communities in Europe, an antipathy that has at times led to deadly violence.
The failure of Islamic integration in Europe is often attributed — especially by right-wing parties — to an excess of tolerance toward the large-scale Muslim immigration that began in the mid-1970s. By recognizing Muslim religious requirements, the argument goes, countries like France, Britain and the Netherlands have unwittingly hindered assimilation and even, in some cases, fostered radicalism. But the unrest in gritty European suburbs stems not from religious difference, but from anomie.
Europeans should not be afraid to allow Muslim students to take classes on Islam in state-financed schools and universities. The recognition and accommodation of Islamic religious practices, from clothing to language to education, does not mean capitulation to fundamentalism. On the contrary, only by strengthening the democratic rights of Muslim citizens to form associations, join political parties and engage in other aspects of civic life can Europe integrate immigrants and give full meaning to the abstract promise of religious liberty.