Printer Friendly

Joel S. Fetzer and J. Christopher Soper. Muslims and the State in Britain, France, and Germany.

Joel S. Fetzer and J. Christopher Soper. Muslims and the State in Britain, France, and Germany. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 224 pages, hardcover, $ 60.00; paperback, $14.99.

FETZER AND SOPER OFFER A CAREFUL and incisive analysis of variations in the British, German and French state responses to Muslims' religious demands in three important areas of public policy: the accommodation of religious practices and teaching in public schools, the provision of state funding for Islamic schools, and the regulation of mosque building. Their work relies on historical and contemporary secondary literature, new interviews with religious and political leaders, and the authors' analysis of national public opinion survey data, some of which was commissioned for their book. The research is theoretically driven, involving three existing comparative political science theories and a new theory developed by the authors. Resource based mobilization theories, political opportunity structure theories emphasizing institutions' importance in shaping political demands and policies, and ideological theories stressing the significance of accepted ideas regarding government's role in public policy creation are examined. Compensating for the explanatory gaps of these theories, Fetzer and Soper illustrate the importance of a fourth area of theoretical inquiry, focusing on the impact of each nation's church-state relationship.

The authors cite three factors as motivating the study: first, the stark contrast between the importance of religious practice to Muslims in European societies and the greater secularity (and Christianity) of "native" European populations; secondly, the growing anti-Islamic tone of European right-wing political organizations' rhetoric; and finally, the authors' own recognition of the impact of church-state institutions in shaping state accommodation to Muslim religious practices. Fetzer and Soper provide a brief history of post-World War II immigration to Britain, France and Germany, considering the demographic impact of family reunification policies operating after immigration was restricted due to racial politics (in Britain) and (in France and Germany) economic decline (initiated by the 1970s oil crisis and deindustrialization). With their focus on the religious dimension of these changes, the authors seek to address an omission in the literature. They argue that previous studies have focused on the racial and cultural aspects of post-war guest-worker and colonial immigration to Europe, but have neglected to examine the religious implications of the new population mix for the institutions (schools, for example), and democratic processes (such as elections) of the receiving societies.

Three individual country chapters describe the ways in which Muslims (after the first generation) worked within the existing church-state regime of the settlement country in moving forward with demands for recognition of their religious values in public policy. In Britain, for example, protections provided by the Race Relations Act did not extend to religious groups that could not be defined as a race (a distinction that applied to Jews and Sikhs). "State aid to Muslim schools [became] an issue in Britain only because the state was already financing Christian and Jewish schools, and the state was doing so because church-state practices allowed and even encouraged it" (57). Britain's liberal ideology and acceptance of multiculturalism also enabled Muslims there to gain more concessions than did French Muslims, who were faced with the limitations on religious free-exercise imposed by laicite's strict separation of individuals' identities before church and state. Germany is described as having "been less accommodating to the religious needs of its Muslim population than Britain, but ... more generous than France" (127). Here again, existing patterns of church-state relations are described as providing the basis for both Muslim demands for change as well as Muslims' relative disadvantage. While the established Protestant and Catholic churches have "public corporation" status in Germany, enabling them to benefit from state religious tax collection in return for church provision of social services, Muslims' organizational structure has been deemed insufficiently hierarchical (and its groups too small or impermanent) to merit such status German officials maintain that they have no basis for choosing among the Muslim organizations in granting public corporation status, while Muslims argue that the failure to resolve this issue is indicative of German unwillingness to recognize Muslims' religious needs and place Islamic religious organizations at the same level as the Christian Churches. As Fetzer and Soper explain, "[w]hile various Christian and Jewish groups have received this public corporation status in one or more Lander, no Muslim group has yet received equivalent recognition ..." (108).

In the fifth chapter, Fetzer and Soper shift their focus from "how the inherited church-state model unique to each country has structured public policy ... to ... analysis of mass-level public attitudes toward state accommodation of Muslim religious practices" (131). Citing the electoral consequences of public opinion, Fetzer and Soper report with no surprise that "French respondents are far less likely to support an expansive policy ... than are their British ... or German counterparts ... [and] ... that in none of the countries did a majority of the respondents support the policy status quo, which further indicates that issues surrounding Muslims' religious rights are both unsettled and contentious in each of the countries (132)." This section also includes analysis of the extent to which several theories emphasizing the importance of religious cleavages, secularization, gender, social class, education and the 9/11/01 New York City attacks explain additional aspects of political opinion data. Fetzer and Soper indicate that while church-state structural arrangements appear to be related to state responsiveness to Muslims in social policy, respondents' views on church-state arrangements do not have an important impact on mass attitudes toward extending state accommodation of Muslims' religious practices.

Recognition of Muslims and the State in Britain, France and Germany as an extremely valuable contribution is assured by Fetzer and Soper's attention to the historical, cultural and political context of Muslims in three settlement countries, their use of existing theory, their emphasis on national variations in church/state relations, and their consideration of "mass attitudes" in explaining variations in state accommodation to Muslims' religious needs. I strongly recommend that it be added to the institutional and personal library collections of those interested in minority group relations, political science or political sociology, immigration, transnationalism, the sociology of religion and comparative historical sociology.

Scholars have already begun to pick up where these authors leave off, considering the influence of other state structural and cultural differences. State primacy in societal relations, for example, has been found to merit further attention in examination of the integration of Muslims in western societies. Church-state relations, while important in creating the context within which Muslims organize and articulate their demands, are one institutionalized element of a value system whose effect on Muslims is defined by the degree of state primacy in social integration. "A strict separation of religion and state will be of greater social relevance if the state actively intervenes in society, and carries its expectations of separation into, for example, the state-supported education system" (Jackson, Zervakis and Parkes, 2005: 206). Early on in their book, Fetzer and Soper offer evidence that implicitly supports the importance of state primacy. They indicate that "the French state is not in fact fully committed to a strict separation of church and state; the Catholic Church won important concessions in the early part of the twentieth century in the area of public and private education" (19). But (as Fetzer and Soper indicate) the French state has chosen to firmly apply this policy (of laicite) in the case of Muslims, thereby impeding accommodation of their religious demands and practices in civil institutions of the society. Fetzer and Soper neglect to note that in societies like Britain (and the United States), where the state is not "prime" in matters of social integration, the church-state arrangements central to laicite would be of less social relevance due to the state's weakened ability to intervene in society.

In the section on public attitudes, Fetzer and Soper conclude that "[a]t least in France and Germany ... the data provide no support for the mass-level version of our church-state structure theory. French devotes of laicite were no more likely to oppose the wearing of the hijab than were those who rejected French separatism. German respondents likewise showed no propensity to link support for Kirchensteuer (tax collection for churches designated as public corporations) to sympathy for Islamic instruction in public schools ..." (143). Public support for the state's prevailing pattern of church-state relations does not appear to determine support for state responsiveness to Muslim religious demands, but state primacy emerges as an element that is both separate from church-state structural arrangements, and key in explaining variations in state accommodation to Muslims' religious demands.

The impact of the European Union in promoting new conceptions of immigrant integration must also be examined for its effects on state accommodation to Muslims' religious demands in member nations. Individual country reports of the European Commission on Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) for all three nations, for example, have devoted some attention to the "problem" of integrating specific categories of Muslim immigrants into the society, and the racism resulting from their segmentation (cf. ECRI France, 1998: 1; 2000: 67,13; ECRI Germany, 1998: 2-4; 2000: 16-21; ECRI United Kingdom, 2004: 13-14, 41-47). Researchers can build on Fetzer and Soper in new studies investigating the impact on Muslim integration of each nation's responses to ECRI criticism, even during the period of increasing securitization of immigration policy after 9/11/01. These authors have provided a solid foundation for efforts to understand the minority/majority dynamics involved in large scale Muslim settlement in western European societies.


European Commission on Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) Reports on France, 1998, 2000; Germany, 1998, 2000; UK, 2004.

Jackson, Pamela Irving, Peter Zervakis and Roderick Parkes, "A Contextual Analysis of the Integration of Muslims in Four Western Societies." The Discourse of Sociological Practice, 7, 1/2, Spring/Fall 2005, 205-216.

Pamela Irving Jackson is Professor of Sociology and Chair of Justice Studies at Rhode Island College, Providence.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Association of Arab-American University Graduates
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Jackson, Pamela Irving
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Previous Article:Environmental policies and spatial control: the case of the Arab localities development in Israel.
Next Article:Norman G. Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History.

Related Articles
Business Cycles, Indicators, and Forecasting.
Assassination Science: Experts Speak Out on the Death of JFK.
Dr. M. I. H. Farooqi, Plants of the Qur'an.
Beyond the Melting Pot: two well-regarded liberals take on multiculturalism.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters