For several years now, the U.S. State Department has been quietly trying to introduce ideas about race, multiculturalism, and affirmative action into European policy and activist circles, aiming to alter the discourse on Islam in Europe—and in some cases, actively trying to help “integrate” European Muslims. The WikiLeaks cables that probably stirred the most anger in European capitals were those where U.S. diplomats castigated allies—France, Britain, Holland—for mistreating their Muslim minorities and not doing enough to battle domestic extremism.
In Britain and France, U.S. embassies have been active within the local Muslim communities. Among other initiatives, the American embassy in London launched a project of “Reverse Radicalism” focusing on “at-risk” youth. Many among the British press were unhappy with the U.S. embassy’s “secret campaign” to de-radicalize British Muslims. Similarly in France, the Paris embassy’s efforts to empower “moderate” Muslim voices caused considerable anger. When it emerged that one of the Muslim organizations the U.S. was supporting was the magazine Oumma.com—described by the American ambassador as a “remarkable website”—polemicist Caroline Fourest charged that the U.S. right and French Muslims were allying to undermine French laïcité.
But the response from youth in the banlieues to these programs has been largely positive. Young French Muslims note that U.S. outreach is different from the French government’s security-centered approach and shrill rhetoric about Islam and immigration (Sarkozy a few years ago threatened to clean up a cité with a Kärcher, a high-pressure hose.
For more on the controversy surrounding U.S. efforts with regard to Muslims in Europe, see my recent op-ed in Al Jazeera, “Are Europe’s Muslims America’s Problem?”
For more on American attempts to specifically use hip-hop as part of its outreach to the Muslim world, read my recent Middle East Report paper “Race, Rap and Raison d’Etat.”