The Inclusion of Muslim Minorities

The Struggle for Inclusion

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The Struggle for Inclusion

A recent story in The New York Times described the emigration of Muslims from France into the United Kingdom and the United States. It described people who identified both as Muslim and as French, but did not feel welcome in their home country. The story quotes a French Muslim, Amar Mekrous, who expresses, “It’s only abroad that I’m French. I’m French, I’m married to a Frenchwoman, I speak French, I live French, I love French food and culture. But in my own country, I’m not French.” For many of the French Muslims described in the article, they did not face so much legal or political discrimination as social exclusion from the culture. It’s a reminder of how democracy goes beyond politics into how people behave and treat others as well. 

Elisabeth Ivarsflaten and Paul Sniderman explore the opportunities for inclusion of Muslim minorities into Western democracies. Their book, The Struggle for Inclusion: Muslim Minorities and the Democratic Ethos, integrates social scientific methods with ideas from political theory, sociology, and philosophy to answer complex questions about democracy in practice. They find plenty of opportunities for more expansive forms of inclusion. However, they also explore the limits for inclusion in contemporary Western societies. 

At the same time, their work is oddly not really about Muslims. They actually do not survey Muslims at all.  Rather, they focus on the views of democratic communities, their willingness to include others, and their ability to adapt to change. Moreover, they show how civic participation is an important step for social inclusion to produce a change in attitudes through cutting edge research techniques.  In short, Ivarsflaten and Sniderman find novel ways to explain complex and nuanced questions about inclusion, diversity, and citizenship. 

Social Inclusion

Among the findings in this series of studies is Western cultures have greater room for meaningful inclusion than prior research has found. Ivarsflaten and Sniderman develop this finding through iterative surveys using the Norwegian Citizen Panel. Moreover, their studies follow a highly inductive approach where they constantly revise and edit their experiments. This approach allows them to follow the data to discover unexpected findings. 

Their studies show European societies embrace the notion of a religiously and ethnically diverse society. It’s a remarkable finding in itself, because European countries have largely identified with homogenous national cultures. In one experiment they replicated an experiment from the United States in Norway where they asked respondents to agree or disagree with a simple statement. The statement read, “School textbooks should be written to reflect the new diversity of Norway.” Nearly three in four respondents in Norway agreed with this statement. 

However, the textbook experiment added two letters to the statement for another group of respondents. The statement now read, “School textbooks should be rewritten to reflect the new diversity of Norway.” The slight change shifts the results in both the United States and Norway to about half in agreement. The study shows “considerable openness to the idea of constructing official national identities so that they include cultural and ethnic diversity, but the process of construction is important.” It’s a nuanced discovery that shows opportunity for broad inclusion, while also recognizing limits still exist. 


Another study tested the reactions to different newspaper stories of Muslims engaged in a public meeting. The experiment had three different conditions. In the first, the Muslims explicitly expressed support for Sweden. The second condition portrayed Muslims who demanded greater protections against discrimination. In the control condition, the meeting involved the creation of a budget. Ironically, “respondents in the control condition were the most likely to agree.” Ivarsflaten and Sniderman unexpectedly stumbled upon an important aspect of democratic citizenship. Participation in civic duties serves as an opening for greater inclusion. 

Additional studies took this basic idea even further. They showed that for immigrants, activity in local and community affairs brought about just as positive of a response as having a job or learning the language of the country. Again, this is a remarkable finding, because previous research emphasized those two markers as the most important to produce positive opinions for immigrants or refugees. It demonstrates how “being accepted as a citizen is a matter of behaving like a citizen— not playing a part in political theater but taking an active part in local community affairs.” 

Every form of identity involves a combination of who we are and what we do. It blends our essence with our actions. Citizenship is ultimately a form of political identity. So, actions play a significant part in its construction. It’s not simply a legal status, but also a form of political and social recognition from others. Indeed, in the podcast Paul Sniderman makes this even more explicit when he says “what the book is really about is respect… Respect as a condition of a liberal democracy.”


But can we truly respect those we disagree with? It’s easy to include minorities when the differences are superficial. However, traditional Islam, like traditional Christianity, has patriarchal and even illiberal elements. Obviously, this is not unique to Islam. It’s a question we can expand to encompass more familiar disagreements between the left and the right. Students who profess a willingness to include different racial, ethnic, and religious minorities often demand the exclusion of speakers from college campuses with conservative ideas and perspectives. 

Ivarsflaten and Sniderman believe the question depends on the type of respect we confer. They distinguish between recognition and appraisal respect. Appraisal respect involves an admiration for a person or a culture. It’s the type of respect given to role models. Recognition respect, on the other hand, demands far less. It simply takes people seriously and sees them as human beings with self-worth. It permits fundamental disagreements over ideas and lifestyles. But it also allows for the fundamental respect between equals necessary for a democratic society. A fundamental respect necessary for a diverse political culture.

Elisabeth Ivarsflaten and Paul Sniderman join the podcast tomorrow. They will discuss their book The Struggle for Inclusion: Muslim Minorities and the Democratic Ethos.

Further Reading

Lennart Brunkert, Stefan Kruse and Christian Welzel (2019) “A Tale of Culture-Bound Regime Evolution The Centennial Democratic Trend and Its Recent Reversal,” Democratization

The Economist (2022) “Europe is Bankrolling a Force that Routinely Abuses African Migrants

Abel Escribà-Folch, Joseph Wright, and Covadonga Meseguer (2022) Migration and Democracy: How Remittances Undermine Dictatorship 

Sara Wallace Goodman (2022) Citizenship in Hard Times: How Ordinary People Respond to Democratic Threat

Lea Heyne (2019) “The Making of Democratic Citizens: How Regime-Specific Socialization Shapes Europeans’ Expectations of Democracy,” Swiss Political Science Review

Elisabeth Ivarsflaten and Paul Sniderman (2022) The Struggle for Inclusion: Muslim Minorities and the Democratic Ethos

Ben Margulies (2018), “Nativists are Populists, Not Liberals,” Journal of Democracy

Norimitsu Onishi and Aida Alami (2022) “The Quiet Flight of Muslims From France,” The New York Times

Takis S. Pappas (2018), “How to Tell Nativists from Populists,” Journal of Democracy

Murat Somer and Jennifer McCoy (2018) “Déjà vu? Polarization and Endangered Democracies in the 21st,” American Behavioral Scientist

Democracy Paradox Podcast

Elisabeth Ivarsflaten and Paul Sniderman on the Inclusion, Respect, and Muslim Minorities

Sara Wallace Goodman on Citizen Responses to Democratic Threats

More Episodes from the Podcast

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