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Struggling in Europe, Muslims Look to US for Better Model

Struggling in Europe, Muslims Look to US for Better Model
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Oslo, Norway, is one of a growing number of cities in Europe that Muslims have been calling home. Like many communities across Europe, Oslo’s Muslims are struggling to keep their youth from joining extremist groups like the Islamic State.

Some observers say many of the continent’s Muslim communities do not have enough to offer young people.

A recent study found that two Middle East countries -- Iraq and Syria -- are home to more than 20,000 foreign fighters. Almost 4,000 of those fighters are believed to be from Western Europe. The study was a project of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College in London.

Yousef Bartho Assidiq is with the Project on Radicalization and Extremism at Norway’s MINOTEK research center. He told VOA many Islamic centers in the country are having a hard time providing enough activities for young people.

Mr. Assidiq says this lack of activities offers extremist groups a chance to reach out and recruit those young people. He described the leaders of these groups as “the world’s best social workers.”

It is a struggle, experts say, that is not limited to Norway. Muslim communities in other countries are facing similar difficulties.

‘Better established communities’

While Europe is struggling, Muslim communities in the United States have seen smaller numbers of young people being recruited. U.S. intelligence officials say they are following about 150 Americans who have gone or have tried to go to Syria or Iraq. The London-based study found that France, Germany, Sweden, and Britain all have sent more.

This week, U.S. officials charged three men with attempting and plotting to provide material support to Islamic State militants. Officials recently charged several other people with planning to support the group. Yet militants appear to be having more success finding supporters in Europe than in the United States.

Observers suggest several reasons for the lower number of American jihadists. One reason is that American Muslim communities offer stronger youth and community programs.

Kelly Pemberton teaches religion and women’s studies at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She says many U.S. Muslims create connections and combine resources with other American Muslim communities. She says this kind of solidarity does not exist in Europe -- at least not the same level of support.

Sayyid Syeed works at the Islamic Society of North America’s Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances. He says European Muslim communities can have the same success as America’s Muslim communities. But, he says, it will not be easy. He says Muslims who moved to Europe were never accepted by the whole society as equals or as partners. He says they would always talk as if they belonged somewhere else.

'A major journey'

Mr. Syeed says Europe’s Muslim communities often remain separate from the wider community and split because of the ethnic differences. He says they often look to their home countries for religious leaders.

In the United States, however, things are different. In Mr. Syeed's words, “Today we have American-born imams,” or religious leaders. “We have slowly been able to replace earlier imams who could not talk to our teenagers, to our wives,” and who could not mix in with the rest of society. “It is a major journey that we have taken,” he says.

Mr. Syeed and Professor Pemberton say Europe’s Muslims will need help from European governments to deal with discrimination and a lack of economic opportunities for them. But, the professor does not think that will happen anytime soon. In fact, she sees the opposite happening.

“France’s government has stepped up its policing of Muslim communities,” she notes. There have been anti-Muslim demonstrations in some European countries, including France and Germany.

I’m Ashley Thompson.

And I'm Anne Ball.

VOA’s Jeff Seldin wrote and produced this story. Ashley Thompson wrote it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

recruitv. to ask individuals to join a company, the armed forces or another organization

discriminationn. unfair treatment or consideration based on opinions about a whole group instead of the qualities of an individual.

solidarityn. a feeling of unity between people who have the same interests or goals