The increase of Muslim immigrants in France and Russia

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Large and growing majorities in predominantly Muslim countries -notably Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, and Indonesia - believe that democracy can work well in their countries and that, Lebanon and Turkey excepted, the greater role of Islam in public life is a good thing.

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Large and growing majorities in predominantly Muslim countries -notably Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, and Indonesia - believe that democracy can work well in their countries and that, Lebanon and Turkey excepted, the greater role of Islam in public life is a good thing.

Conducted before bombings in London, the survey found that majorities of the publics in North America and Europe, with the exception of Germany and the Netherlands, held favorable views of Muslims.

It found that concerns about Islamic extremism - both domestically and elsewhere in the world - were strongest in Russia, India, Spain and Germany, although they were also intense in France and the Netherlands. 

The increase of Muslim immigrants in France and Russia: the number and behavior.


FRANCE, in Western Europe, has a population of about 63 million people (05/2007) and stretches on 549,000 km. About 10% of the population is from Muslim countries that were once French colonies. In FRANCE there is an absolute separation between religion that is considered a private matter and state affairs. It is very difficult in FRANCE to classify people by religion. If questioned about their religion only 6% of the French population declares themselves Muslims. Most of the Muslims in FRANCE are from the Maghreb (North Africa).

The proportion of Muslims in FRANCE is the highest in the Western democracies and their integration in the economic and social life in FRANCE is very problematic. The unemployment among the young Muslims is very high, the average of formal education is low and many of the Muslims in FRANCE are living in their own neighborhood in the suburbs of the big cities in self formed ghettos. Large part of the Muslim community in FRANCE distinguishes itself from the general social and political culture in FRANCE and, gradually, an atmosphere of a deprived minority spread among the Muslim communities.

The conflict between the secular political culture in FRANCE and the Islamic perception of public life breaches from time to time through public debates such as the right to wear a veil in public schools or about the emigration policy. It also breaches in the streets through riots in the Muslim suburbs once or twice a year.

After the civil war in Algeria (1992-1998) many of the more extreme Islamist that fled Algeria took advantage on the frustration of many young Muslims in FRANCE and Islamic terror cells became a major concern to FRANCE security services.

FRANCE conducted in the last decades a pro Arabic policy. FRANCE supported the Palestinian cause in the Arab Israeli conflict and opposed firmly the USA led war in Iraq.

Because of its foreign policy, a very tough policing system and a very efficient security services FRANCE managed to foil almost all terror attacks intended to be carried out in FRANCE but the basic problem of a large, young, unemployed and alienated Muslims looking to express their frustrations is unsolved.

Demography of Russian Muslims

There is no agreement about the exact number of Muslims in the Russian Federation today. The reasons for this are twofold.

First, there is no agreement on the criteria, which needs to be used to define who is a Muslim. For example some who use strict observance as the criteria put the number of Russian Muslims at only three million.

Second, some Muslims and Russians for totally different reasons tend to inflate the number Muslims as high as 30 million, which is equally unrealistic. The more realistic estimates put the number of Russian Muslims between 16 to 20 million, with the latter number closer to the mark.

However, the percentage of the Muslims in Russia's total population is likely to increase in the coming decades because of the higher birth rate among the Muslims. This will be especially the case if the Russian birth rate continues to fall.

MOSCOW - With his clean-shaven chin and classic blue jeans, 40-year-old Akhmed Magomedov hardly fits the stereotypical image of a Muslim radical: bearded, brandishing a machine gun and calling for the blood of infidels.

But Magomedov, a Dagestan native who lives in Moscow preaching a fundamentalist brand of Islam called Wahhabism, is part of the growing radical wing among Russia's Muslims.

"Like the Bolsheviks in Switzerland a century ago, Wahhabis find haven in Moscow today," Magomedov joked bitterly in a recent interview.

The chances that the Russian establishment will co-opt Muslim extremists and bring them into a political dialogue are next to none, especially after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Instead, experts said, the movement is likely to become ever more marginalized, and its potential as a violent threat will continue to grow, especially in overwhelmingly Muslim regions such as Dagestan and Chechnya.

"In coming years, Russia will struggle with them fiercely," Alexander Is kan daryan, head of the Center for Caucasian Studies, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "But even if the state totally eliminates [existing] Islamic extremists, the problem will not be solved because the conditions for their proliferation will remain."

Fundamentalist communities are a heterogeneous bunch, but experts agree about their origins. Fundamentalism surfaced in Russia in the early 1990s, when the doors to Muslim communities - whose religion had been suppressed during Soviet times - were thrown open to proselytizers from all walks of Islam. The most radical of them met with the greatest success in the south, where poverty and clan conflicts were the norm.

"When communism ends, when people are ignorant of democracy and are oppressed by local corrupt elites, they turn to the Islamic alternative," said Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, referring to the model of a Muslim state based on principles set forward by the Prophet Mohammed and his early followers.

"Many young proselytes turned into headstrong purists then," recalled Ma go medov, who himself became disillusioned with moderate Islam in the mid-1990s.

The extremist groups have different names: Wahhabis, Salafis, fundamentalists and even Islamic modernists. They live in the Northern Caucasus, in Tatarstan and in major cities with Muslim diasporas.

About 20 million of the world's 1 billion Muslims live in Russia and, according to experts and insiders, the number of radical groups is rising steadily.

"When I talk to young congregation members at Moscow mosques, I see that most of them are fundamentalists," Magomedov said. "They want to live in a new state based on Islamic principles."

Experts usually cite two reasons behind the increasing radicalization of Islam in Russia: foreign financial aid and Russian officialdom's inept handling of Muslim communities.

"Both traditionalists and fundamentalists have received millions of dollars from international Muslim organizations over the past decade," Makarov said. "Of course, they influence communities in Russia and make them more radical."

Malashenko said that aid from abroad only aggravates Islamic extremism in Russia while a greater impact, he believes, was made by the two military campaigns in Chechnya.

"All [Chechnya's first separatist President Dzhokhar] Dudayev wanted was to create an independent secular state," Malashenko said at a recent press conference. "But, by using force, Russia has pushed Chechnya into Islamic extremism."

After Chechnya emerged from the conflict with de facto independence in 1996, hundreds of enthusiastic young men from the country's Muslim communities went there to learn more about Islam and jihad in militarized camps set up by warlords of Arab origin.

Magomedov visited some of these camps, where newcomers spent two months studying Islam and another two on martial arts and military disciplines.

"The students were real mujahedin, the warriors of Islam," he said. "In the camps they got what they missed in secular life: a common goal, a sense of community and the spirit of masculine camaraderie."

In September 1999, frightened by the rising tide of radicalism, legislators in neighboring Dagestan banned Wahhabism and religious extremism in the republic. Those who refused to acknowledge the authority of the state-backed Dagestani Spiritual Board were either prosecuted or left the republic, but became hardened in their beliefs.

"The bill made us face a choice," Magomedov said. "And many moderate fundamentalists turned into radicals."

There is no unanimity about the future of Islam in Russia.

Mainstream Muslim leaders downplayed tensions between Islam and the larger society.

"For Muslims brought up in the Russian cultural and informational environment, Russians are not infidels," said Farid Asadullin, head of the Science and Public Relations Department at the Council of Muftis.

Carnegie's Malashenko said that so-called Islamists - leaders who espouse Islam not only as a religion but as a political platform - could gradually edge out the former Soviet elites that hold power in areas with large Muslim populations.

"In a decade, they will replace most post-Soviet regimes in the southern republics and Russia will be surrounded by states that assess current events from the viewpoint of Islam," he said. "I cannot say Russia is ready to meet the new challenge."

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