The recent rise in the number and intensity of fundamentalist Islamic terrorist attacks occurring in several Western cities could, as it has in previous situations, inflame an aggressive socio-political atmosphere against Muslims. How does this affect the integration of Muslim immigrants?
An IZA discussion paper by Ahmed Elsayed (IZA) and Andries de Grip (Maastricht University and IZA) investigates the effect that the violent wave of terrorist attacks that hit Western Europe in 2004-2005 (namely, the Madrid bombings, the assassination of Theo van Gogh, and the London train bombings) had on the lives of Muslim immigrants living there.
Using unique panel data from the Netherlands that oversamples immigrants and collects detailed information on their attitudes and experiences of integration in the host country, the authors show that shortly after the attacks, Muslim immigrants’ attitudes toward integration worsened significantly compared to those of non-Muslim immigrants. Furthermore, no evidence was found of a negative trend in the attitudes of Muslims prior to the attacks.
Segregation and return migration
While, in particular, low-skilled Muslims became more geographically segregated and unemployed after the attacks, high-skilled Muslims were affected most negatively in terms of their attitudes toward integration. The deterioration of attitudes toward integration of high-skilled Muslims could be explained by their higher expectations of integrating within the host country, whereas the increase in geographic segregation of low-skilled Muslims could act as a buffer that mitigates the effect of terrorism on their perceived integration. In a final step, the paper shows that negative attitudes toward integration are associated with a higher intention to permanently re-migrate to the country of origin.
Thus, with some mainstream politicians and popular pundits adopting hostile rhetoric about Islam, the unprecedented atmosphere of outrage being whipped up against Muslims could have a negative impact on the prospective stay of the most productive Muslim immigrants. This could have far-reaching negative economic implications for the knowledge economy of Western societies.