In This Review

Secularism Confronts Islam
Secularism Confronts Islam
By Olivier Roy
Columbia University Press, 2007, 144 pp

Secularism Confronts Islam is the latest brilliant little book by the French scholar Roy, one of the world's leading academic experts on Islam, especially Islam in Europe. Roy tackles an important and controversial question: Is Islam compatible with Europe's increasingly secular society? Many scholars, politicians, and polemicists say no, arguing that Islam makes no distinction between religion and politics and that it is not just a religion but also a culture, which makes it hard to assimilate. Roy's view is more nuanced. He takes issue with the notion that there is a single, immutable version of Islam -- the claim of Muslim fundamentalists -- and reminds us that the Catholic Church also resisted secularism and the separation of church and state until at least the beginning of the twentieth century. Roy sees most Muslims in Europe as loyal citizens trying to find ways to practice their faith while abiding by the laws of their secular societies. One example: French Muslim organizations posing legal challenges to the French government's ban on wearing headscarves in schools but rejecting violent or extralegal measures to achieve their aims. Roy is not Pollyannaish about the challenges of Islam in Europe, but his highly informed exploration of those challenges is an important contribution to an often emotional debate.