By Emanuele Ottolenghi

American Enterprise Institute
May 6 2009

A united Europe should encourage the use of local nationalisms as an
instrument of integration and social cohesion.

A united Europe is not far from becoming reality. A European identity
that transcends the national identities of Europe's member states,
however, is still a distant dream. But Europe's rapidly changing
demographics cannot wait for this dream to come true. Identity is
a crucial component of social cohesion, and the rapid influx of
immigrants, mainly from the Muslim world, demands a choice: Should
immigrants be encouraged to integrate into the national cultures and
identities of the EU member states? Or should Europe instead pursue
a multicultural model, in which patriotism is discouraged in favor
of a society divided by different identities, values, and historical
narratives, but united by abstract rights and duties under EU treatises
and regulations? Is a third way available, a common European identity
for all Europeans, old-timers and newcomers alike, that can transcend
narrower communal loyalties to find a new common home? And if a
third way were possible, what kind of European identity would it
yield anyway, given the post-national utopian vision on which Europe
is built?

Europeans need a mobilizing myth now more than ever if they want
to successfully confront the double challenge of transforming an
ever-expanding union into a coherent polity while successfully
integrating an unprecedented wave of immigration, mainly from
the Muslim world. A common European myth is still lacking. Local
nationalisms are such readily available vehicles of identity. A united
Europe should encourage their use as an instrument of integration
and social cohesion.

The Question of European Identity

While the institutional framework of a united Europe inexorably
marches on, the fabric of a shared supranational European identity
lags behind. Yet, the realization that this identity is badly needed
should be obvious if one looks deeper into the founding principles
of the European ethos. The preamble to the EU Constitution proclaims
that, "While remaining proud of their own national identities and
history, the peoples of Europe are determined to transcend their
former divisions and, united ever more closely, to forge a common
destiny."[1] There is no common destiny, however, unless there is
a sense of cohesion. A common identity promotes it, but a united
Europe, for the time being, rests only on vague notions of rights
and prosperity at home and peaceful internationalism abroad.

Post-1945 Europe views itself morally bound to create a peaceful
and prosperous society that will forever ban war: first from the
continent, then from the world. To achieve this goal, Europe wants
to do away with nationalism. Europe considers nationalism the main
cause of its troubled past: it bloodied the continent until the
defeat of Nazism gave way--no doubt under the benign protection of
the American umbrella--to a post-nationalist European Union where
war is forever banned and peaceful trade and diplomacy have become
the sole instruments of power relations in the world. If nationalism
caused Europe's twentieth-century tragedies, rejection of nationalism
engendered Europe's post-1945 age of unity and prosperity: hence
the exhortation to transcend nationalism in the name of a common
European vision, which the preamble aptly characterizes as "united
in diversity."

This view is reinforced by "influential intellectual trends in the
advanced world that deny the legitimacy of nationalism altogether as an
atavistic concept. Their adherents regard nationalism as an obstacle
to human rights, international harmony and economic rationality."[2]
Replacing communism after its abject failure, this new internationalist
doctrine quickly dismisses nationalism as a genuine and authentic
force and portrays it as a concocted identity. In this view, elites
selectively (and consciously) tap into an often imagined past to forge
a group identity based on a powerful mobilizing myth. Opponents of
nationalism see nations as Benedict Anderson's "imagined communities,"
not modern elaborations of pre-existing identities; either way, for its
critics, nationalism is not only an intellectually flawed construct,
but also a dangerous force:[3] whether one imagines it or not, it
is the wrong kind of imagination. The push for a united Europe is
animated by this view: self-styled Europhiles support abandoning old
allegiances in favor of an identity built exclusively on a doctrine
of rights, the abating of frontiers, and the triumph of a common
market. Nationalism, in their view, invariably begets brownshirts.

If Europe actively discourages nationalism and the identities that gave
rise to it, can it offer an alternative? Pan-European nationalism, even
if based on a narrative that transcends the small confines of local
identities, would still be a variant of nationalism and unquestionably
an artifact of powerful elites. Besides, a pan-European national
identity hardly exists, and it still awaits the laborious input of
those intellectuals clamoring for one to arise. Can the peoples of
Europe transcend their local identities and forge a common destiny
based only on abstract values? As the editor of the British magazine
Prospects, David Goodhart, put it, "Modern liberal societies cannot
be based on a simple assertion of group identity--the very idea of
the rule of law, of equal legal treatment for everyone regardless of
religion, wealth, gender or ethnicity, conflicts with it."[4] Yet,
at a very basic level, humans need to identify. As Goodhart notes,
abstract notions of common humanity and universal values clash everyday
with the choices public institutions must make--on welfare distribution
and public funding of education, on health care and foreign aid. In
making these choices, priorities are often based on identity. It
follows that more narrowly based national identities still matter
in Europe. They are more compelling to people than a European set
of symbols and institutions that only a few recognize as truly their
own. But the purveyors of the post-national ethos on which a united
Europe is being built are doing everything in their power to chastise
patriotism and national identity within the member states:

The "European Idea" rests somewhat more openly upon hostility to
European nations and their national identities. Its justifying claim
is that the European Union has overcome the shameful legacy of the
European nations that were responsible for two world wars and threaten
the peace of the Balkans today.[5]

Opposition to local national identities as both flawed and dangerous
is not necessarily going to offer a compelling alternative, even
after the amazing lure of European citizenship and the benefits it
offers are taken into account:

Citizenship is not an ethnic, blood-and-soil concept, but a more
abstract idea--implying equal legal, political and social rights (and
duties) for people inhabiting a given national space. But citizenship
is not just an abstract idea about rights and duties; for most of us
it is something we do not choose but are born into--it arises out of
a shared history, shared experiences and, often, shared suffering.[6]

Yet, Europe seeks to replace local identities with an abstract
"European idea," actively advocating the disposal of a powerful vehicle
for integration and social cohesion at a time when the arrival of large
numbers of immigrants from foreign shores and alien cultures demands
a vigorous policy of integration. Abstract notion though it may be,
the question of European identity is not an abstract exercise in lofty
utopian philosophy. For a polity to function, one needs its people to
be united by the bonds of citizenship before they are divided by the
conflicting loyalties of partisan politics. But citizenship cannot be
made of abstract laws alone. It is built on shared values as much as
shared memories. To command loyalty, Europe needs to be more than a
geographical extension of territory that bestows rights to those who
happen to inhabit it and castigates those holding onto allegiances
considered both historically obsolete and socially pernicious,
especially since those allegiances may hold the key to Europe's
successful integration of its growing immigrant communities.

Europe's effort to replace local national identities with a European
idea devoid of nationalism is thus a serious mistake. Ideally,
Europe's political project would need a nationalism of its own that
was potent enough to give its citizens a sense of shared history as
much as of shared destiny. That in itself would be an arduous task:
"Pre-existing loyalties are an obstacle to any new political identity
that is striving to assert itself."[7] Some of the crucial elements of
a national identity are sorely lacking--there is no common language,
there is no common history, there are few powerful unifying myths to
which Europe can turn to as a way to inspire its masses, and aside
from the promises of material wealth that Europe grants its citizens,
there is no sense of a common destiny uniting the peoples of Europe. If
anything, there is apathy in the face of unification--only 42 percent
of Spaniards participated in the referendum on the EU Constitution--and
fear at the prospects of further enlargement, as emotional responses
to Turkey's possible accession to Europe indicate. The only glue
that seems to cement Europe and mobilize people is anti-Americanism
and the fantasy of a European superpower bent on taming America,[8]
hardly a promising foundation for "European-ness." What remains is
the very nationalism Europe's post-national utopia wants to dispose
of. If its more virulent strains are kept at bay, nationalism might
still offer the key to integration.

Dilemmas of Identity and Integration

Europe is not promoting a new, broader European nationalism. It is
discouraging all forms of nationalism. And even if a new European
identity were high on the agenda of its leaders, identities, no
matter how artificially construed they are, are still a product of
long histories, not laboratory experiments, elaborate international
treatises, and Brussels seminars.

Thus, in its devotion to an abstract notion of European identity that
is devoid of any nationalist or patriotic tinge, Europe is creating
an impossible dilemma that is liable to tear the very fabric of the
European project.

The weakening of national identities--and the lack of a meaningful
and more inclusive replacement--means that new immigrants have no
compelling identity to embrace. The success of their integration
relies exclusively on societies' ability to show inclusiveness
based on abstract notions of common humanity, something that,
given Europe's historical record of minorities' treatment and recent
record of interethnic relations, does not offer a solid foundation. As
national identities are pushed to the margins, their ability to command
loyalty will wane and lose their appeal to immigrants who have little
inclination to feel "British" or "French" or "Belgian" when old-timers
themselves and the society around them discourages such identification
in the first place. But lacking a strong pan-European alternative
identity that immigrants can embrace, newcomers are likely to turn
to their ethnic and religious backgrounds as their primary identities.

This problem is particularly acute because while Europe is slowly
developing into a politically unified continent, with a shared
currency, a coordinated foreign policy, joint institutions, open
borders, and a free movement of workers and goods--all means
to transcend local identities and forge a sense of a new common
destiny--Europe is also absorbing an unprecedented wave of immigrants
from the Arab and Muslim worlds. Both trends present formidable
challenges: Can Europe convince Latvians and Portuguese, Poles and
Greeks alike to see themselves first and foremost as Europeans and
identify with the political institutions and values of a united
Europe? Can this identity appeal enough to Muslim immigrants to
overcome their strong ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds
and to help them integrate within the fabric of Europe? And are the
Europeans ready to fully welcome an alien culture in their midst?

Critics of nationalism are quick to dismiss it as an exclusive
ideology. In an age of globalization and universal human rights,
doctrines of exclusion have a hard time selling. No doubt, to command
loyalty from newcomers, societies need to be inclusive. No doubt,
nationalism may manifest intolerant strains and, if too narrowly
defined, can engender exclusion. But inclusion cannot be achieved
at the price of renouncing collective identity: not only would that
be a humiliating act of cultural self-negation, but it would also
be counterproductive. Newcomers would be left without a tool to
encourage their integration into their host societies. Old-timers,
feeling threatened in their core allegiances, would react by resorting
to stronger versions of their nationalism, something that is already
happening across Europe with the rise of anti-immigration parties
and the swelling of xenophobic incidents.

Renouncing nationalism would deprive societies of a vital component
of social cohesion, namely a common narrative both old-timers and
newcomers can relate to and identify with. No doubt, in an age of
increased diversity within societies, Europe needs to encourage the
expansion of its boundaries of inclusion while at the same time
recognizing that its commitment to liberal universal values need
not be so broad as to become meaningless. Ultimately though, people
still need to identify and feel they belong. Identity matters, and the
future of Europe will largely depend on which identity will ultimately
command the allegiance and loyalty of Europe's citizens. This is
a task that member states and their national identities are better
equipped to perform.

Therein emerges Europe's central challenge of the day: Europe's
institutions and leaders make opposition to nationalism central
to European integration. This opposition may generate two opposite
but equally dangerous types of reaction. Muslim immigrants have no
incentive to develop an allegiance to their home countries in Europe
because Europe discourages that behavior and the general social
tendency is to denigrate nationalism and patriotism as forms of
reactionary and dangerous ideologies. They might turn to Islam instead
as a result. Old-timers who prize their ethnic and national allegiances
may react to the pressures of Europe's post-national utopia by seeing a
causal correlation between immigration and loss of national identity,
with the consequent anti-immigrant backlash. The push for a Europe
devoid of nationalism might ironically beget a Europe where unbridled
nationalism and radical Islam will ultimately clash.

Denigrating national identity leaves another question unsolved. Lacking
a real, rather than artificial, imaginary European "common destiny,"
can people coexist in societies that offer no cohesive identity? The
answer is no. Faced with unprecedented immigration from the Muslim
world, Europe is not offering its newcomers a European equivalent of
the American dream with its powerful mix of liberal rules and national
narratives that form the American way to patriotism.

Islam's history should also offer a cautionary tale. The historical
track record of Islam is not one of inclination to assimilate. European
Muslim communities live for the first time as minorities in a
society that encourages them to take residence and citizenship while
granting them the freedom to remain culturally alien to the host
country. Meanwhile, integration has largely failed, as Euro-Muslims are
underrepresented among the cultural, economic, and political elites,
and over-represented among prison inmates and the unemployed across
Europe. One of the central and most urgent challenges for Europe will
be to promote their integration. In a continent of close to 500 million
citizens and twenty-five countries, there are today approximately 15
million Muslims. In twenty years, with European demographic trends
showing little growth, the size of Europe's Muslim minority will
rise significantly--in both absolute and relative terms. A return
to strong national identities within member states is the immediate
answer. Nationalism can be conjugated with liberal values; Europe can
live with both universal rights and local identities; and its citizens
can feel loyalty and commitment to, and appreciation of, both their
local national identity and a broader sense of "being Europeans."

Integrating Islam?

Related to the success of the above vision is the answer to a pressing
question in Europe today: what identity will Euro-Muslims ultimately
embrace? Varied geographic origins still account for marked differences
among them, but as time passes their ties with their lands of origin
could fade. Both Islam and more ominously its radical variant are
competing for the primary loyalty of Euro-Muslims. That prize must be
won over by their host-societies instead. In the absence of successful
absorption policies, the alternative to a weak and unappealing
European identity will increasingly be Islam. The mosque will offer
a meeting point for immigrant communities to mingle and share the two
elements they have in common--the immigrant experience and Islam--in
their efforts, and often in their failure, to fully integrate into
Europe. If radicals gain control of mosques, their primary goal will
be to heighten grievances and channel them to violent action.

Islam has always been a key component to Muslims, both within and
outside the Arab world. But as Steven Simon argues, while religious
allegiance competed with other loyalties in the past, "Muslims are
now increasingly inclined to stress their religious identity over
other affiliations, whether citizenship, tribe or class."[9] Simon
also suggests that "this globalisation of Muslim identity is helping
to fuel a revival of a shared interest in which North Africans are
more likely to identify with the struggles of Muslims in Central
Asia and European Muslims with conflicts in the Middle East."[10]
This should worry Europeans. In the post-9/11 and 3/11 era, a key
component of this global Muslim identity--which travels fast through
Internet and satellite TV, making Muslims in Marseille and Brixton,
Jakarta and Jedda, Cairo and Mazara del Vallo all members of a virtual
global community--is a sense of grievance toward the West and a feeling
that Western nations and Western values are at war against Islam.[11]

Identification with Muslim causes abroad goes hand in hand with a
sense of grievance for Muslim issues at home. Since 9/11, a string
of high-profile incidents in Europe heightened public awareness to
the risk that radical Islam poses to the fabric of Europe. For many,
the murder of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands in November 2004 became
a symbol of the simmering "clash of civilizations" that is about to
play out in Europe's restless suburbia. Others have interpreted the
clash over the headscarf in France as a sign that Islam can hardly
be assimilated into French mainstream. And while other episodes
have earned less attention, the list is long. Nevertheless, such
high-profile incidents obscure a harder truth. At a socioeconomic
level, Muslims have failed to integrate, and Europe has fallen short
of absorbing them into the mainstream:

In less than a decade, there has been a radical shift in France's
prison population, a shift that officials and experts say poses
a monumental challenge. Despite making up only 10 percent of the
population, Muslims account for most of the country's inmates
and a growing percentage of the prison populations in many other
European countries, an indication of their place at the bottom of
the Continent's hierarchy.[12]

Recent reports agree that this phenomenon poses three troublesome
challenges. A disproportionate Muslim component among criminals is a
reflection of a failure to integrate (and be integrated); the growing
Muslim prison population is targeted by radical Islam as a recruiting
ground for potential terror operatives;[13] and the growing resentment
of imprisoned Muslims over lack of proper services to the Muslim
prison population spills over to Muslims outside prison, as lack of
concern for Muslim inmates and their religious needs is seen as a
reflection of a broader social neglect of Muslims.[14] An explosive
cocktail emerges: "The growing Muslim prison population is evidence
of an Islamic underclass that is developing across Europe and, at
its margins, is increasingly sympathetic to the coalescing ideologies
of political Islam," a French scholar of Islam recently told the New
York Times.[15] This difficulty is compounded by the lack, so far, of
a locally bred version of Islam that is at ease with European values
and culture: "France has 1,200 imams, or preachers, of which more than
one third don't speak French and about 75 percent are foreigners who
remain ignorant of French culture."[16] Efforts are underway across
Europe to address this issue, but the underlying problem remains:
a growing sense of alienation that is the product of both a sense of
socio-economic inequality and a lack of an appealing identity.

That Euro-Muslims and mainstream European values may be at loggerheads
is further demonstrated by the recent refusal by several mainstream
Muslim associations across Europe to participate in Holocaust Memorial
Day commemorations on January 27, 2005.

Holocaust remembrance is a central theme to a new European identity
slowly taking shape in the continent. It affirms a commitment to
memory, a rejection of violence, and a dedication to pluralism
and respect for minorities. It could reasonably become part of the
shared European legacy on which "European-ness" may develop over
time. Since 2001, January 27 has been an official day of remembrance,
where government officialdom and civil society join to pay tribute
to the dead and pledge never again to foster the culture that made
Auschwitz possible on European soil.

This year though, representatives for the Muslim Council of Britain
(MCB), the Union of French Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF),
the Union of Italian Muslims (UMI), and the Union of Islamic
Communities and Organizations of Italy (UCOII) refused to attend
official commemorations.[17] The UOIF leader, Lhaj Thami Breze,
and the head of the MCB, Iqbal Sacranie, expressly chose not to
attend commemorations, arguing that Holocaust Memorial Day was not
inclusive and therefore not worthy of their presence. Objecting to
the uniqueness of the Jewish genocide, Sacranie supported instead a
"Genocide Memorial Day," where all victims of genocides, past and
present, would be commemorated,[18] and where "peace with justice"
was to be promoted for those continuing to suffer in the world,
especially "in Palestine":

In order to help ensure that such crimes against humanity do not recur
and repeat themselves we believe that the Memorial Day can better be
observed by making it inclusive to cover the ongoing mass killings
and human rights abuses around the world, notably, in the occupied
Palestinian Territories, Chechnya and Kashmir and also recent mass
killings and genocide on Bosnia, Kosova and Rwanda. Genocide is the
most abhorrent and outrageous crime and we are not going to prevent
it by selectively remembering only some of its victims.[19]

This argument was disingenuous: as alleged victims of genocide,
Sacranie mentioned only Palestinians, Chechnyans, and Kashmiris, the
three emotional issues feeding into a strong sense of pan-Islamic
grievance within Europe and across the Islamic world. As genocides
past and present, he quoted Bosnia, Kosovo, and Rwanda. His agenda
thus was clear both in its sins of omission and of commission.

Omission of Armenia and Sudan from the list of genocides past
and present aimed to shroud in silence those two tragedies where
the murderers were (and still are) Muslim armies and Muslim
governments. Mention of Palestine as a place where genocide is
allegedly taking place is a trivialization of the Holocaust that
also borders on denial. Inclusion of Bosnia and Kosovo--where ethnic
cleansing on a large scale took place--Kashmir--where interethnic
conflict is happening--and Chechnya--where vast human rights abuses
and massacres still do not amount to genocide--is meant to blur all
differences and make all suffering become genocide.

Blurring differences and omitting tragedies is meant to cloak
Muslims in a mantle of victimization and to force Europe to accept
such distortions for the sake of accommodation. But those who pursue
this line are sorely mistaken. Refusal to recognize the Holocaust
as central to Europe's painful past and to its new identity will
only broaden the already worrisome gap between Europe and its Muslim
minorities and their alienation from the mainstream.

Fortunately, not all of Europe's Muslim leaders agreed with the MCB. In
fact, many condemned, criticized, or contradicted their decision. Dalil
Boubakeur, the head of the French Council for Muslim Faith (CFCM)
attended a commemoration ceremony in Paris. Mario Scialoja, Italy's
representative for the World Muslim League expressed strongly worded
criticism at the MCB's stance, and many Imams in Italy rejected
the positions taken by the UCOII and the UMI and joined in the

Finally, Albania, a European secular Muslim nation, was the first
Muslim country to pass legislation making January 27 an official
day of remembrance of the Holocaust. Official ceremonies in Tirana
were well attended, and Albania's prime minister flew to Auschwitz
to attend the sixtieth anniversary official commemorations.

National Identity as a Tool of Integration

Turning Europe's national identities into instruments of social
cohesion is not a lost cause. Neither is Islam in Europe. But both can
become so if Muslims are left to be an easy prey to radical Islam. Deep
divisions and the cultural alienation of Muslim minorities, if left
unchecked, may threaten the very fabric of Europe. This trend must
be countenanced--the future of Europe is at stake. For integration
to succeed, promoting moderate Islam is not enough; narrowing
socioeconomic inequalities is also not enough. Both are necessary
steps Europe and European Muslim leaders--secular and religious
alike--must undertake in close cooperation. But as an overarching
and transnational Muslim identity grows, no countervailing force
is yet on the horizon. Currently, Europe discourages integrationist
policies, offering only a stark alternative between assimilationism
and multiculturalism. There are grave consequences to this state of
affairs: "Large numbers of [young Muslims] believe they are Muslims
first and European citizens only as a matter of administrative
necessity rather than cultural allegiance."[20] If Islam, and not
Europe, commands the allegiance of young Euro-Muslims, how will this
serve the fabric of Europe?

Herein emerges the challenge of identity in Europe today. While
Europe actively discourages nationalism and patriotism, it does not
offer a strong pan-European identity and a successful and functioning
model for harmonious integration. It is imperative for Europe to turn
Euro-Muslims into fully integrated Europeans, living in harmony with
other groups within European societies and fully sharing a common
identity. In order for Europe to succeed, European institutions and
governments must realize that if the European project cannot offer a
compelling common identity--shared values for all citizens of Europe
old and new--a set of compelling alternatives must be provided
instead. Failure to provide a European identity that creates the
conditions for a common citizenship based on shared values would
create a vacuum for narrower identities to reassert themselves.

Hence, Europe must realize that nationalism is not necessarily a
force of evil. Identities matter, as they form the indispensable
glue that cements societies. Unless European elites can confidently
say that a new ready-made pan-European identity is in the making--an
artificial blend of symbols, narratives, and memories that will somehow
appeal to almost 500 million citizens of twenty-five countries--they
should be careful about the consequences of abandoning nationalism
and ponder instead the need to both strengthen national identities
and encourage Muslim immigrants to identify with their newly adopted
countries. National identity is not only a dividing force: it can
be a powerful tool of integration. And nowhere is integration needed
more than in Europe today, as the continent is set to see its Muslim
minority more than double in the course of the next two decades.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is the Leone Ginzburg Research Fellow in Israeli
Law, Politics, and Society at St. Antony's College, Oxford. He
contributed this essay during a sabbatical term spent at AEI in the
winter of 2005.


1. European Union, Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe,
preamble, 10.

2. John O'Sullivan, "In Defense of Nationalism," The National Interest,
no. 78 (Winter 2004-2005): 33-40.

3. Ibid.

4. David Goodhart, "Discomfort with Strangers," Guardian (London),
February 24, 2004.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. O'Sullivan, "In Defense of Nationalism."

8. Juergen Habermas & Jacques Derrida, "El 15 febrero o lo que une
a los europeos," El País, June 4, 2003.

9. Steven Simon, "Unavoidable Clash of Islam and the West?" Newsweek
Polska, January 23, 2005.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Craig S. Smith, "Growing Muslim Prison Population Poses Huge
Risks; France's Struggle with Radical Islam," New York Times, December
9, 2004.

13. Renwick McLean, "Terrorists Recruiting in Prisons; Common Criminals
in Spain Transformed into Islamic Militants," International Herald
Tribune, November 1, 2004.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Claude Salhani, "Europe's Tolerance under Stress," United Press
International, December 9, 2004.

17. Muslim Council of Britain, "Muslim Council of Britain and
the Holocaust Memorial Day," January 23, 2005; available through

18. Iqbal Sacranie, letter to the editor, Guardian, January
27, 2005. Sacranie writes: "The view held by the MCB since the
inception of Holocaust Memorial Day in 2001 is that the subtext of
the Memorial Day--'Never Again'--is diluted by the exclusive nature
of the event. The memorial day would in our opinion be better served
by covering the ongoing mass killings and human rights abuses in our
world, and thus make the cry 'Never Again' real for all people who
suffer, even now."

19. Muslim Council of Britain, "Muslim Council of Britain Statement
on Holocaust Memorial Day," January 24, 2005; available through

20. Simon, "Unavoidable Clash."