‘THERE are more Muslims than Catholics in the largely Protestant north of Europe and more Muslims than Protestants in the largely Catholic south of Europe. Some of these communities are historically settled and others are more recent.

“Yet misrepresentations and misunderstandings of Muslims and Islam in public debate have contributed to the view that Muslims are unable to fully integrate into Europe.

“Muslims are viewed as a numerical and cultural threat to Europe – due to the declining birth rate among Europeans and the growth of Islam – or are labelled ‘problem immigrants’ who cannot be integrated or accommodated in the same way as previous minority groups because Islam is perceived as being politically demanding.

“However, I would argue that Muslims are in fact reasonable in articulating their identity in Europe despite encountering social and political adversity.

“The term ‘reasonable’ may look out of place when protests against negative depictions of the Prophet Mohammed in Arab countries have been violent and murderous, as with last month’s events in Libya.

“But we also saw a peaceful rally in London, one example of how Muslims in Europe, in the main, follow patterns of protest and dissent that is quite consistent with liberal democracy.

“This is not to endorse or indeed criticise these particular Muslims, or even to suggest that there is any consensus amongst the small minority of protesting Muslims with the vast majority of European Muslims.

“But it is instead to observe that there are a number of ways in which integration is actually taking place even in difficult contexts.

“The violent actions we have seen are consistently rejected by the mass of European Muslims and religious leaders, in a manner that is both interesting and progressive.

“Muslim institutions in European countries, rather than being uniquely different to all previous minority groups, are modelled on those created by other, especially Jewish, faith groups which have already been successfully integrated into European society.

“Institutions such as Muslim Schools have been established in the same vein as other faith schools in Europe and are not designed to incubate Muslims from European civic values.

“Rather, the institutions help to foster a common civic sense of belonging.

“So while there is a deep-running anxiety over Islam in contemporary Europe, when we do the research and look at the areas that Muslims are seeking accommodations, we find that these requests are quite reasonable and not much different to the earlier requests of now established communities.

“Concerns about extremist violence are of course understandable, but these should be treated as matters of criminal justice, and not related to the integration of all Muslims.

“Muslims are already part of Europe and identify as Europeans with a Muslim consciousness, but too often the public and political spheres in Europe deny them a participatory space.

“Rather than Muslims representing a unique group that are incompatible with European civil society, it is often the individual nation states that are failing to accommodate Muslims in a manner that will allow them to reconcile their faith and citizenship commitments.

“When the Muslim identity is described entirely by those outside Muslim groups, it leads to misunderstandings and misrecognition.

“Instead, Muslims within Europe need to have space to determine their own characterisations, reflecting the variety and complexities present in the way that people are able to hold simultaneous multiple identities.

“Despite recent criticisms of multiculturalism, the UK is strides ahead of its continental neighbours in terms of integration. Why?

“The UK has been a lot less prescriptive about creating a narrow definition of national identity.

“The concept of the Commonwealth kept open an idea of citizenship to people who were once under the Crown. Even with the dismantling of the British Empire, this idea of Commonwealth has remained and Britishness has often been re-made in a way that is inclusive.

“The big picture is that, despite recent concerns, we are broadly successful, especially when we are compared to our European neighbours.”

Dr Nasar Meer is a reader in sociology at Newcastle’s Northumbria University. He recently toured Washington and Los Angeles with the British Council where, as the only British academic involved, he was invited to share his work on Muslim integration in Europe.

The tour – Building Inclusive Societies: Transatlantic Perspectives on Multiculturalism and Integration – brought together leading academics, media pundits and policy makers from Europe and America to discuss their experiences and perspectives on the issue.

Dr Meer’s research Misrecognizing Muslim Consciousness in Europe is published in Ethnicities journal.