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Can Islam be Westernized?

By SAMUEL GREGG [Public Discourse] — In our time, three phenomena tend to come to mind when considering Europe’s contemporary problems. One is the economic difficulties troubling not only small European nations, such as Greece and Portugal, but also large countries, such as Italy and France. The second is the influx of migrants likely to continue sweeping across Europe’s borders over the next few years. As the Paris atrocities have demonstrated, no amount of political correctness can disguise the fact that the migration issue cannot be separated from the problem of Islamist terrorism. And that raises a third matter, which is on everyone’s mind but which few European leaders seem willing to address in any comprehensive way: is the Islamic religion, taken on its own terms, compatible with the values and institutions of Western culture?

Not far beneath the surface of these issues are important cultural questions. In his book Mass Flourishing, Nobel prize-winning economist Edmund Phelps has illustrated how certain value commitments and the ways in which they become institutionalized have helped shape national and supranational European structures that prioritize, for instance, economic security through the state over liberty, creativity, and risk-taking. This is one reason why many European politicians, business leaders, and trade unions regularly invoke words like “solidarity” when opposing economically liberalizing reforms. The notion that solidarity can be realized by means other than extensive regulation apparently escapes them.

Similarly, the fact that most of the migrants presently surging into Europe come from religious-cultural contexts quite different from Europe’s own historical roots has inevitably led many to wonder whether some of these migrants can—or are willing to—integrate themselves into European societies that presumably want to remain distinctly Western in their values and institutions. Since the 1960s, many migrants to nations such as Sweden, Belgium, and France have not assimilated. In some cases, they live almost extra-territorial existences, as anyone who has visited les banlieues of cities like Brussels, Lille, or Stockholm knows. To enter the Brussels district of Molenbeek, from where at least one of the Paris terrorists came, is to pass into a different world: one of drugs, unemployment, and, above all, radical jihadist sentiments.

Continued on The Public Discourse. | More Chronicle & Notices.

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