Book Reviews: INTEGRATING ISLAM

Political and Religious Challenges in Contemporary France

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2007 “Outstanding Academic Title”Choice Magazine

Robert O. Paxton, New York Review of Books, April 2009: “The successes and failures of cultural integration [are] given an authoritative and optimistic reading by Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaisse in Integrating Islam … Laurence and Vaisse give us a carefully conducted study of the integration of Muslims into French society, solidly based on statistics and poll results. They see integration wisely as a double process, bringing change to the French population as well as to immigrants… The authors are particularly interesting on French efforts to promote a Western Islam limited to the private sphere.

Jytte Klausen, The Journal of Religion, April 2009: “Laurence and Vaisse give an encyclopedic assessment of French policies toward the country’s Muslim minority and the social, economic, and political facts of integration…. One imagines the book lying on the desks of graduate students and journalists who need a primer on the recent history and the facts. If so, we should all be happy.”

Alec Hargreaves, French Politics, Culture and Society, Winter 2008: “This is by far the most comprehensive and best documented book available in English on the Muslim population in France. It works systematically through the now sizeable body of research and other evidence available on Muslims in France and finds that they are working with the grain of French society far more than is often thought. In chapter after chapter, we see that, contrary to widespread myths about the alleged incompatibility of Islam and French republican values, the vast majority of Islamic organizations and individual Muslims in France seek equality within the Republic on the basis of its constitutional principles, including that of laïcité, rather than through shariah-based separatism.

Matthew Kaminski, Wall Street Journal, September 2006: “These statistics [from the Pew Center] came to light after ‘Integrating Islam’ went to print, but they confirm the book’s cautious optimism. Messrs. Laurence and Vaisse argue that French Muslims are a diverse and fast-changing group, in many respects moderate. France, for example, saw virtually no public protests against the Muhammad cartoons, in contrast with other European countries.” (reprinted in Corriere della Sera, October 2006)

John Thornhill, Financial Times, September 2006: “The great virtue of Integrating Islam is that it demonstrates how distorted and offensive many of these views are. After examining the everyday reality of the Muslim population in France, the two authors, an American political scientist and a French historian, reach a more complex and optimistic conclusion challenging the “gloomy and alarmist view of France’s (and Europe’s) inevitable ‘Islamisation’.”

Mark Leon Goldberg, The American Prospect, September 2006: “Buy this book [...] I couldn’t recommend it more highly for those wishing to understand the dynamics of Islam and migrant integration in Europe today.”

Farhad Khosrokhavar, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris (From the book jacket): This book is a must for many reasons. The authors illustrate how Muslims are being integrated into French society and how exclusion and marginality are pushing a few of them into radicalism and terrorism. In a single work it condenses the many sides of the ‘Muslim question’ within France and, in some ways, Europe overall.

Olivier Roy, CNRS, June 2006 (From the foreword): “This noteworthy book by Laurence and Vaisse leaves behind a theoretical sociology of immigration and refuses to engage in the often fruitless debate on Islam as an abstract concept. The authors rely on solid documentation to study actual Muslims who live in France. Their prudently optimistic conclusions do not fall into the trap of cliché, excessive sympathy or political correctness. By emphasizing the complex phenomena of integration and discrimination, they shed light on the mix of identities and the subtle evolution of identity among French Muslims. In so doing, they also point out the difficulties that many in France have in fully understanding the environment in which they find themselves and the changes taking place around them. Laurence and Vaisse make considerable progress in advancing the debate in France and elsewhere, an accomplishment that deserves acknowledgment.”

Timothy Garton Ash, New York Review of Books, October 2006: “As the authors of an excellent new study of Islam in France point out, most French Muslims are relatively well integrated into French society.”

Stanley Hoffmann, Foreign Affairs, November 2006: “Laurence, a young American political scientist, and Vaísse, a young French historian, have written a well-documented, nuanced, and ultimately optimistic study of French Muslims — a convincing refutation of American clichés about the rise of Islamism in France, the effects of Muslims on French foreign policy, European anti-Semitism, and the incompatibility of Islam and the traditional French model of integration.”

Elizabeth Grimm, Democracy & Society, Fall 2006: “Their work is an important read for anyone trying to understand the complexities of Islamic integration into the European mainstream and an extremely valuable contribution to the field of migration studies.”

Roger Hardy, The New Statesman, January 2007: This is one of the few books in English that set out, clearly, dispassionately and in detail, what the headscarf affair was all about, what the main French Muslim organisations are (and their affiliations with the wider Muslim world), what the role of influential but controversial figures such as Tariq Ramadan and Yusuf al-Qaradawi has been, and how successive French governments have sought, with great difficulty, to create a national body to serve as a Muslim interlocutor. There are lessons here for Europe as a whole, and it would be salutary to think that a book with a primarily American purpose might teach Europeans a thing or two as well.”

Stephanie Giry, Prospect Magazine, February 2007: “a probing new book on the integration of Muslims in France [...] Laurence and Vaisse tackle well three issues that often alarm foreign observers: the influence of Muslims on French foreign policy, their suspected responsibility for the rise of antisemitism, and the connection between Islam and Islamist terrorism.”

Fokke Obbema, de Volkskrant, February 2007: “hun boek bevat ruim voldoende argumenten om het overheersende beeld van zwartgalligheid te corrigeren.”

Francis Ghilès, Politica Exterior, March 2007: “Jonathan Laurence y Justin Vaisse desarrollan estos asuntos con cierto detenimiento. Creen que identificar a los musulmanes solo por su creencia religiosa es engañoso, sobre todo cuando muchos de ellos no lo hacen. El complejo tapiz de Europa y el islam refleja la situaciòn en países determinados, y tambièn en todo el continente: existe una enorme diversidad sectaria, étnica e ideològica en países como Francia y Reino Unido…La expresiòn acuñada por Jonathan Laurence y Justin Vaisse resume ingeniosamente el desafío: ‘Altercados urbanos en Francia: es Marx, y no Bin Laden.’”

Pavol Szalai, International Issues and Slovak Foreign Policy, March 2007: “In any case, the book remains a pool of powerful arguments against those who would like to see a class-of-civilizations scenario evolve in France and Europe. Laurence and Vaisse undermine them with a carefully calibrated assessment of the situation backed by serious in-depth research. Everyone interested in immigration, European Islam, terrorism, or French politics should read their book.”

Richard Wolin, The Nation, April 2007: “As Olivier Roy comments in his foreword to Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaisse’s Integrating Islam: ‘All serious studies of the formation of terrorism in Europe show that the process is more likely to be the result of alienation, isolation and generational crisis.’ This conclusion distinctly belies the claims of scaremongering jeremiads like Bruce Bawer’s While Europe Slept and French author Emmanuel Brenner’s The Lost Territories of the Republic, which misleadingly contend that, à la Bernard Lewis, Europe is undergoing a process of ‘reverse colonization.’”

David Cleeton, Modern & Contemporary France, Spring 2007: “Together [Laurence and Vaisse] have produced a clear and concise investigation of the French social landscape [...] The power of their analysis resides in the facts presented and the documentation they explore to set the record straight concerning the basic underlying structural characteristics of the Muslim population in contemporary France.”

William Safran, Choice, April 2007: “This excellent books deals with the challenges posed in France by the presence of several million Muslims. It covers virtually everything one would want to know about the subject [...] Highly recommended.”

Ishseminal, Daily Kos, June 2007: “Many of these arguments are carefully and convincingly refuted in ‘Integrating Islam‘ by Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaisse, a painstakingly researched inquiry into the question of Muslim integration in France that was published just last year. Laurence, an American, and Vaisse, a Frenchman, team up to pore through virtually every survey and poll that has been done in recent years concerning views of French Muslims and non-Muslims on various issues related to Muslim life in France: politics, society, education, etc. Laurence and Vaisse provide detailed portraits of major French Muslim leaders and organizations, and track the state’s successes and failures in dealing with the Muslim community.”

Shereen El Fiki, International Affairs, July 2007: “A good first step, however, is understanding the role of Islam in the challenges facing French Muslims. And ‘Integrating Islam’ by political scientist Jonathan Laurence and historian Justin Vaisse is an excellent guide to this complex journey [...] The authors’ exhaustive research, clear analysis and sensible—indeed optimistic— conclusions are just as valuable to readers in Europe and further afield.”

Aslim Taslam, July 2007: “Un ouvrage qui est paru en mars 2007 et qui n’a pas, à mon goût, assez été plébiscité. La référence à des données sociologiques, à des événements politiques majeurs de l’histoire de l’islam de France, à l’aide de grilles statistiques judicieuses, ainsi que des enquêtes de terrain diversifiées, en font « le meilleur livre de synthèse existant » selon Olivier Roy.”

Emmanuel Dupuy, Defense Nationale et Securite Collective, August 2007: “[Un] riche ouvrage qui a l’immense avantage de condenser tous les aspects de la question musulmane en France, remettant ainsi en cause nombre d’ideés reçues quant à la montée de l’islamisme, l’antisémitisme et l’incompatibilité de l’islam avec le modèle républicain français, notamment la laïcité.”

Joan Wallach Scott, Perspectives on Politics, November 2007: “Full of details that enable readers to grasp the import of what is happening. Without sacrificing clarity, they insist on complexity, introducing readers in a measured, dispassionate way to the intricacies of French politics, political theory, and history.”

Ahmet T. Kuru, Contemporary Islam, January 2008: “Integrating Islam is a must read for those who study Muslims in France. It contains very rich and updated data about Muslims’ demography, organizational capacity, and political influence in France.”

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