European Union and Muslim Communities: The past and the present of the relationships

European countries‘ past and present foreign policies have their influence on EU member states’ relations with the Islamic world. This phenomenon is conditioned by a number of circumstances. Let us begin the study of the dynamics of relations with the colonial history of European countries and the problems related to it. 

The largest immigration in European countries is observed  from Muslim countries that were once the colonies of that European country. In this regard, Germany is the only exception to the largest European countries, where the largest immigration occurs from Turkey. The choice of Muslim immigrants in favor of former metropolitan countries has a number of reasons, in particular, the existing ties between the former colony and “metropolis“ (especially economic, cultural) contribute to that choice. An example of cultural communication can be brought to the language. In the former colonies, along with the national language, the language of the metropolis often had the status of an official language and was also the second most spoken language among the population [i]. This circumstance greatly contributes to the former colonial population in finding jobs in former metropolises whose language and culture they are already familiar with, All this makes it easier to integrate into the society of the host country.This phenomenon is seen in immigration to France from its former colonies in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Mali, Cameroon, Senegal and other colonies in case of immigration to Italy from Libya or India, Pakistan, and other former British colonies to the UK. 

The former European colonial countries, in particular France and Great Britain, have set up various international organizations, the members of which are mainly their former colonies in order to maintain and develop relations (especially cultural ones) with them. International Organisation of La Francophonie and Commonwealth of Nations are a vivid example of such organizations. The population of the member countries of such organizations may have better opportunities in terms of immigration, finding employment, acquiring citizenship and integration in that country. 

However, immigration to the former metropolis also has quite negative consequences. In particular, problems with immigrants from the former colonies in the host country often arise not with the first generation of immigrants, but second and subsequent generations. The first generation of immigrants, or the immigrants themselves, coming to a certain European country, are willing to do low-paid hard work or, if they have come due to a political persecution in their homeland, mostly do not create problems for the host country. Problems arise with the second and subsequent generations of immigrants who were born, raised in a host country, and often have that country’s citizenship. These generations, unlike first-generation immigrants, no longer view their historic homeland as the country of origin, but the one they live in. Considering themselves as full citizens of a certain country, and  seeing that country as their homeland, generations of immigrants try to establish here the same cultural, social, and religious situation, which is specific to their identity and their historic homeland. With this logic, Muslim ghettos of large European cities are creating States that correspond to the culture and identity of the immigrant group. It is also remarkable that new generations of immigrants, regarding themselves as full-fledged citizens and particles of European countries, no longer want to work on the conditions and rewards that their previous generations worked, but the low level of education and professionalism often does not allow them to be well-paid and to obtain highly qualified work. This leads to mass unemployment among immigrants, which in turn leads to an increase in crime, adding an extra social burden on the state and other negative phenomena. It should be noted that, for example, European Union unemployment rate among Muslims is 40-45%, and among the total population – 5-10% [ii]. This, in turn, creates a demand for social justice, which also leads to the marginalization of the immigrant Muslim population and the growth of extremist sentiments. The most striking evidence of these phenomena is the mass disorders that took place in Paris in 2005, in London in 2011 and the major cities in Sweden in 2013, which were accompanied by destruction, fires, mass looting and killings by immigrants. The cause of the unrest in those countries was the police abuse which, according to Muslim immigrants, took place against them, but the main reasons were deeper-social. Continuing immigration also has an exciting impact on the already existing communities of the immigrants. Thus, often, the former immigrants see more religious and cultural similarities in new immigrants than they see in the population of the country they live in. This in itself leads to the identity crisis and the quest for a new identity. All this, of course, contributes to the radicalization and extremism of the new generations of immigrants. Many young Muslims born and raised in European countries find themselves in the extreme Islam directions. Another circumstance sums to this. The former population of the colonies is often genetically quite negative towards the population of the former colonizing country, taking into account its historical past. This, in itself, in the presence of Islamic extremism, is a fertile ground and  a good precondition for the general destabilization of the situation.

The influence of geopolitical processes on the EU-Islam relations

In the world, especially in Europe, anti-Western moods among the Muslim population regarding the foreign policy of the West, particularly European countries, have other underlying reasons. Due to the circumstances  the West used Islamic radicalism and extremism to achieve its geopolitical goals, to fight its main rival, the USSR, during the Cold War. For example, when the Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in the period of 1979-1989, the West supported Afghan Mujahideens, which basically had extreme Islamist ideology. However, after the end of the Cold War, Islamist extremist groups in Afghanistan and elsewhere did not disappear but found another ideological opponent in the face of the West. This phenomenon, both in the world and in European countries, became relevant after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York. The al-Qaeda terrorist organization that carried out the attack declared the West and western liberal values as its main ideological opponent and pursued the goal of establishing a caliphate on the basis of the Wahhabi ideology in the Middle East. The harsh response of the United States and its European allies, particularly the UK to terrorists and  Islamic radicalism through the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the 2003 occupation of Iraq had a more negative impact in terms of the Western-Islamic world dialogue. Many Muslims around the world view these actions of the West as a civilized struggle against Islam. They view the invasion of Muslim countries in the Middle East and other regions of the world as a new Crusade of the West and therefore try to harshly react to what they called harassment against Islam. This leads to the growth of anti Westernism, the spread of extremist and radical ideas and groups in the Muslim countries and communities. It is worth mentioning the work of Samuel Huntington: ”The Clash of Civilization” where he sees Europe as a part of a larger community, the West, whose relations with the Islamic world have always been confrontational and have never been easy. “The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism…The problem for Islam is not the CIA or the U.S. Department of Defense. It is the West, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the universality of their culture and believe that their superior, if declining, power imposes on them the obligation to extend that culture throughout the world,” writes Huntington [iii].

The global confrontation between the West and the Islamic world has a profound impact on the Islamic communities and the new Muslim immigrants in Europe. All this has the undesirable consequences for the European states, under the influence of extremist political Islam, particularly by the Wahhabism and Salafism. The representatives of extremist, various Islamist, and often openly terrorist organizations are able to recruit  members from the Muslim ghettos of European countries, who form various extremist cells, networks and groups in those countries. As mentioned above, there are more than enough conditions for that. It is noteworthy that mosques act as centers for recruitment and brainwashing.They are an ideal place to “educate” Muslim youth in the Wahhabi spirit, and to bring them to the “right path” of Islam. Indeed, it can be argued that it is quite easy to radicalize and marginalize unemployed, low-educated, alienated part of society, that is in a search of identity by playing on its  fine religious strings. Unwanted effects caused by the rise of Islamic extremism for European countries were not late. On March 11, 2004, a series of terrorist attacks took place in commuter trains in Madrid, which resulted in hundreds of casualties and thousands injured. Al Qaeda terrorist group has taken on responsibility for terrorism. On July 7, 2005, a series of terrorist attacks took place on underground trains in London where dozens of people were killed. This time as well Al Qaeda terrorist group has taken on responsibility for terrorism. The terrorist attacks were not carried out with any request but were only interpreted by al-Qaeda as steps to fight the infidels in the West. From these statements it becomes clear that the problem is not with one or more European states, but rather a result of a massive civilization confrontation. Of course, after the terrorist acts in European countries, some complex actions have been carried out and are still being implemented to prevent the phenomena of terrorism, but the further course of the events shows that in reality the problems are deeper and tend to get complicated and cannot be solved only by anti-terrorist actions. The existence of Muslim communities allows the extremists to have a certain social pillar in European countries, and time has shown that the pillars are constantly growing in terms of both quantitative and network prevalence.

”Arab Spring” and the further deepening of the confrontation

We believe that the escalation of relations between the Muslim population and European countries, and the wave of the largest-scale confrontation over Islam in Europe, started after a series of revolutions called the “Arab Spring”. From the very beginning of the Arab spring, Arab revolutions had or were presented to have rather liberal goals and ideas. In particular, they fought against the dictatorial regimes and calling for the establishment of democratic states. The West, in particular the United States and the EU member states, all supported the “liberal forces” of the Arab world. But what has really happened after the revolutions. Bloody civil wars are going on in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq, Islamists have come to power in Tunis and Egypt is in an economically unstable state, and there is a great danger of the Islamist uprising that has local manifestations on the Sinai Peninsula. As a result, instability, chaos, increased violence, extreme deterioration of economic and social conditions, millions of refugees and, as we can see, all this is very close to Europe. In the case of the situation in North Africa and especially in the ongoing civil war in Libya, mass immigration from that region to the EU, particularly to Italy, France and Spain, has grown considerably. This new big wave of immigrants brings with it many socio-economic as well as political problems.According to some data, in 2014 alone, about 170,000 migrants crossed the sea from Libya to Italy, from where they spread to other European countries [iv]. In the first three months of 2015, 140,000 immigrants [v]  have illegally moved to Italy from Libya and Tunis and about 600,000 have gone to Europe later [vi].

The existing Muslim communities in the above-mentioned European countries… which further aggravates the current situation All this is accompanied by another interconnected problem, which is the logical continuation of the above phenomena. Thousands of Muslims born and raised in European countries, that are the second or third generation of immigrants [vii], are leaving Europe to fight in Syria և Iraq civil war next to jihadists and other Islamic extremists. This is already a vivid fact about how the contradiction in European societies has deepened over Muslims. Besides the fact that Europe acts as a source of jihadists, there is also a bigger problem which can greatly destabilize the situation in European countries. This is the question of the return of extremists to Europe that had left to fight in Muslim countries. As they are citizens of European countries, it will be very difficult to distinguish jihadists from other Muslims who have traveled abroad in the future. In such a large number, the return of jihadists with such military experience and extreme radical ideas can have disastrous consequences for European countries. Muslims from Europe are currently in the ranks of the “Islamic State group”, which committing genocide of non-Wahhabi Muslims and other indescribable atrocities in Iraq and Syria. It is noteworthy that jihadists, who have gone from Europe, often appear in the roles of the most brutal actors. 

The growing terrorist threat is evidenced by the fact that most European countries have been steadily raising the threat of terrorism in their home countries [viii, ix, x], announcing a number of terrorist attacks planned by al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Islamic State, in turn, is constantly threatening Europeans with new terrorist attacks.

Summarizing the foreign policy of European countries and the impact of all this on the Islamic communities, we can mention some aspects: the first is the impact of the former colony-metropolis relationship and its aftermath. This circumstance also contributes to the growth of emigration from the Muslim world to Europe as well as a number of fundamental issues that can have very negative consequences in the medium to long term.The 2nd is a direct reflection of the foreign policy pursued by the West, particularly EU member states, on Islamic communities in Europe. As we have noted recently, the policy led to the new mass immigration from the Muslim world, the unprecedented rise in extremism of the Muslim community, and the consequent increase in the terrorist threat, which can lead to the destabilization of the situation within the European countries and the deepening of the confrontation between the European civilization and Islam.


[i] Տե՛ս, Bernard Spolsky, “Language Management”, p. 149

[ii] Стёпкина Н.С. “Проблемы занятости, безработицы и миграции рабочей силы в условиях глобализации”

[iii] Տե՛ս, Хантингтон С., “Столкновение цивилизаций”, М.: ООО «Издательство АСТ», 2003 г., ст.343.

[iv] У берегов Ливии перевернулся корабль с мигрантами: до 700 погибших

[v]With only a small rucksack and the clothes on their back, hundreds of desperate illegal immigrants pour into an Italian port as families flee their African homelands seeking a better life in Europe

[vi] 600,000 migrants are lined up along North African coast and ready to enter Europe this summer warns Italy

[vii] Европейцы на службе ИГИЛ

[viii] В Бельгии объявлен 4 уровень террористической угрозы, идёт охота на исламистов из Сирии

[ix] В Европе боятся терроризма! В Нидерландах повышен уровень угрозы терактов!

[x] В Испании повышен уровень террористической угрозы


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  7. UK riots 2011
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  19. У берегов Ливии перевернулся корабль с мигрантами: до 700 погибших
  20. With only a small rucksack and the clothes on their back, hundreds of desperate illegal immigrants pour into an Italian port as families flee their African homelands seeking a better life in Europe
  21. 600,000 migrants are lined up along North African coast and ready to enter Europe this summer warns Italy 600,000 migrants are lined up along North African coast and ready to enter Europe this summer warns Italy
  22. Европейцы на службе ИГИЛ
  23. В Бельгии объявлен 4 уровень террористической угрозы, идёт охота на исламистов из Сирии
  24. В Испании повышен уровень террористического угрозы


Author: Andranik Hovhannisyan  © All rights are reserved

Translator: Anna Ghulijanyan

Andranik Hovhannisyan
The Bachelor of Political Science, Faculty of International Relations, Yerevan State University: The Master of European studies, Center for European Studies Yerevan State University: Senior Specialist at Analysis and Development Projects Department Civil Service Office of the Office of the Prime Minister of the RA: