Journey Into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity, by Akbar Ahmed (Brookings Institution Press) Ahmed’s study of European reactions to Islamic immigrants is more anthropological than political, but it offers fascinating insights into how white Europeans struggle to reconcile outsiders, and how Muslim communities end up reinforcing negative stereotypes. The bigger takeaway, though, is evidence of the harmonious relations that existed between Islamic and European civilizations throughout the past—a potent argument against rising nationalism and tribalism.
In the eyes of most Europeans, Muslims have come to represent fanaticism, fundamentalism, and female suppression, subjugation and repression. Antidote to such an alarming trend is the most recent book of Akbar Ahmed, Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity.
It is an original and unique contribution to the expanding literature on Islam in Europe for several reasons. First, as an anthropologist, Ahmed breaks away from the usual solitary work of the researcher consigning his observations into a notebook. Instead he works in team with young scholars of different ethnic and religious backgrounds who offer fresh and diverse perspectives on the situation at hand.
Second, this team work is a great asset for presenting the diversity of Muslim voices in Europe, while most of the essays or scholarship on the topic tend to shed light on one particular group at a time.
Join Ambassador Akbar Ahmed as he discusses his new book, Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity. The fourth in a quartet of studies examining relations between the West and the Muslim world, Journey into Europe explores Islam in Europe and the place of Islam in European history and civilization on the basis of fieldwork spanning the length and breadth of the continent. Ambassador Ahmed will be joined by Lord Bhiku Parekh and the event will be chaired by SOAS Pro-Director Professor Stephen Hopgood.
Ambassador Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies in the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C. He belonged to the senior Civil Service of Pakistan and was the Pakistan High Commissioner to the U.K. and Ireland. He has also taught at Harvard and Princeton Universities and holds a PhD in Anthropology from SOAS.
Lord Bhikhu Parekh is Emeritus professor at the Universities of Hull and Westminster. He is the author of several widely acclaimed books including A New Politics of Identity (2008) Rethinking Multiculturalism (2000) and recently Debating India: Essays on Indian Political Discourse, published by Oxford University Press, India. He is the recipient of the Sir Isaiah Berlin Prize for Lifetime Contribution to Political Philosophy, BBC’s Special Lifetime Achievement Award, and Padma Bhushan from the President of India. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, past President of the Academy of Social Sciences and a Member of the House of Lords.
Akbar Ahmed was born a subject of the British Raj. He devoted his career to building a modern Pakistani state, accepting some of his government’s most dangerous jobs, including political commissioner in the tribal agency of Waziristan. He rose to represent Pakistan as its high commissioner in the United Kingdom. Since retiring from government, he has taught at American University in Washington, D.C., where he has written books and produced documentaries about Islam’s place in the modern world. His newest book, Journey into Europe, is the culmination of years of study of the Muslim migration northward, which has accelerated dramatically since the Syrian Civil War. Ahmed and I have debated the impact of this migration for years. We continued the conversation recently over a long written exchange.
David Frum: You are promoting a new book, about Islam in Europe. As so often in your intellectual career, you perceive potential harmony where others see mostly conflict. Terrorism in the name of Islam has claimed many lives in Europe over the past two decades—and the reaction to mass migration from the Islamic world is shaking the politics of the continent. Meanwhile much of the Muslim world seems to be turning away from the liberal values that have defined Europe since 1945. You see this especially in Turkey, once a candidate for entry into the European Union, now an increasingly authoritarian and religiously chauvinist state. Why are you so hopeful?
Akbar Ahmed: There have been too many deaths due to Muslim acts of terrorism—though more like hundreds rather than thousands—and undoubtedly Islam is now a highly debated “hot” issue in Europe today. As a social scientist who rests his analysis on field research and facts, I am concerned about the potential for violence and conflict in the future. But as a humanist with faith in the pluralist legacy that exists in Europe, I have hope that with wisdom, compassion, and courage, the leaders of Europe will be able to guide the continent through this difficult time.
Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity
Europe today confronts complicated and controversial issues surrounding its Muslim population including Sharia law, terrorism, the building of mosques, female dress, and the pressures of immigration and multiculturalism.
Akbar Ahmed, the world renowned Muslim anthropologist, is now embarking on a new study of Islam in Europe which will take him and his international team across the continent.
Journey into Europe is the fourth part of an unprecedented quartet of award-winning books exploring relations between the West and the world of Islam after 9/11.