In a February 2017 episode of This American Life, released shortly after the Trump travel ban, Benjamin Wittes of the Lawfare blog responds to an administration official who predicted that without more immigration restrictions, the U.S. will face “a situation where 20, 30 years from now, it’s just a given thing that, on a fairly regular basis, there’s domestic terrorist strikes, that stores are shut up or airports have explosive devices planted, or people are mowed down in the street by cars and automobiles and things of that nature. These are realities that we’re living in today.”
Wittes says this representation of Muslim immigration to the U.S. has “absolutely no empirical support” and is dismissed by most of the U.S. counterterrorism community.
He’s correct of course. The threat of crime and terrorism from immigrants is vanishingly small in the U.S.
However, the U.S. admits very few immigrants into the country. France and Belgium, for example, have far larger Muslim populations and have seen very different results.
Now I’m not convinced that Europe’s poor results in assimilating their Muslim populations is entirely or even mostly due to Islam, so much as the relative lack of economic opportunity in those countries. I suspect that immigrants are far more likely to like their new home if they’re doing well there.
So perhaps in this way, the U.S. is a far more powerful assimilation machine than Europe will ever be, and thus we have little to fear from a growing Muslim population. However, it’s dishonest to point to the tiny number of crimes committed by immigrants in the U.S. and suggest that we should not fear Muslim immigration when there are 3 million Muslims in North America and 43 million in Europe.
I also get the impression that Muslims who end up in Southern Europe, for example, are there because it’s the closest refuge away from the violence of their native countries. They’re there because that’s as far as they were able to go with the resources they had. Whereas Muslims who immigrate to the U.S. are wealthy enough to make the journey and connected enough to navigate the bureaucratic hurdles necessary to achieve residency and citizenship. Such people are probably more likely to be amenable to American society and culture.
That said, despite its much larger Muslim population and recent string of terrorist attacks, Europe is still not a sea of fire as predicted by the likes of Geert Wilders. But it’s still reasonable for the U.S. government and citizens to look at Europe and decide that they don’t want the increased social tensions and risk of jihadist violence that has accompanied its large Muslim population.