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Europe's Encounter with Islam


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Encounter with Islam

The nexus has given rise to incidents of terrorism, complications in integrating the European Union and a rethinking of foreign policy.

By Diane Wolff

Special to the Sentinel

February 13, 2005

The Europeans have discovered they, too, have a terrorism problem, which is exacerbated by demographics and geography.

Europe is having a new encounter with Islam, in domestic politics and foreign affairs. However, it's not the first; the two have had 13 centuries of ups and downs.

The new European-Islamic nexus has given rise to incidents of terrorism, a shift of some traditional European political parties to the right, complications in integrating the European Union and a re-thinking of foreign policy.

Immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, Europe stood shoulder to shoulder with America.

Time and political differences, including but not limited to disagreement about the war in Iraq, have led to frosty relations between Washington and much of Europe.

The realization is dawning on the members of the European Union that their initial notion that terrorism was only America's problem is wrong. In fact, there now may be more reason for concern in Paris than Philadelphia, Amsterdam than Albany and Bonn than Boston.

Timothy Savage, division chief of the Office of European Analysis at the U.S. State Department, explains the situation well.

"The Islamic challenge that Europe faces today is twofold. Internally, Europe must integrate a ghettoized but rapidly growing Muslim minority that many Europeans view as encroaching on the collective identity and public values of European society. Externally, Europe needs to devise a viable approach to the primarily Muslim-populated volatile states stretching from Casablanca to the Caucasus," he wrote last summer.

After Sept. 11, the thinking on the Continent was that Europeans were tolerant and progressive and Americans were unenlightened. We went after the radicals. They opened their arms to their Mediterranean neighbors. They concluded that we were wrong and they were right.

Europe's attitude changed with the Madrid train bombings March 11 that killed 191 people. It was a devastating wake-up call for Europe, a different kind of terrorism than the homegrown Irish Republican Army or Basque separatist movement.

It is beginning to dawn on the Continent that things could get much worse. In preparation for President Bush's visit later this month, security police have been rounding up terror suspects by means the American Civil Liberties Union would take to court.

French law permits detention for three years of people suspected of terror. Britain has proposed placing electronic-surveillance monitors on suspected terrorists to keep track of their whereabouts. This is Britain's way of avoiding the U.S. practice of detention.

Below the surface, there are less immediate, but much more serious, concerns.

More than 23 million Muslims live in Europe, 5 percent of the population. If Turkey joins the European Union, that figure will increase to 90 million, or 15 percent of the total. As EU citizens, they could reside anywhere in Europe, work and cross borders without passports.

This comes as many EU nations have decided that to balance America's status as the lone superpower, they want to carve out their own foreign and security policies. This has led to disputes with Washington about Iraq, how to deal with the emerging possibility of a nuclear threat in Iran, the Kyoto Treaty on global warming and myriad other issues.

But, when it comes to the war on terror, the EU attitude may have more to do with Europe's growing Muslim minorities than with the United States.

In the quarter-century before George W. Bush became president, many European nations increasing found themselves at odds with the U.S. policy on the Middle East, especially in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The EU tilt toward the Palestinians in that confrontation and a generally more sympathetic view of Arab causes is at least partially a result of immigration from Europe's former colonies.

Efforts to assimilate the newcomers, the vast majority of whom are Muslim, into European life has been aimed at building interfaith societies. Yet, there is a segment of the immigrants who are resistant to the secular nature of 21st-century Europe.

They think that once Islam has conquered a territory, as it conquered Spain, Portugal, Italy and parts of France in the Middle Ages, it will remain Muslim.

Europe has done a poor job of integrating its Muslim immigrants. The Madrid bombings, numerous examples of street violence and recruitment efforts by al-Qaeda on the Continent suggest that militant Islam has become a problem.

In Europe, for the most part, immigrant Muslims are marginalized in terms of jobs and housing. This has created zones of violence and street crime, with disaffected young males forming a population ripe for recruitment into militant Islamic mosques. European governments have been attempting, in concert with their Islamic communities, to develop European Muslim clerics who forswear the al-Qaeda approach as a way of eliminating the influence of radical Muslim imams from the Middle East and North Africa.

The French government recently deported an Algerian-born imam because he claimed that the Quran authorizes wife-beating. The French decided that his interpretation was incompatible with a secular, tolerant society.

Europe's Muslim minority is diverse, but it has doubled in size in the past three decades. Its members initially came come from North Africa, Turkey, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. They have been joined by more-recent immigrants from across the Muslim world.

In addition, there is a whole generation of European-born Muslims who are different from their parents and grandparents in that they do not have a strong relationship with their ancestral countries.

Very few European nations gather data on the number of Muslims within their borders. Some bar questions on religion in census forms. As a result, a policy meant to promote tolerance and multicultural values has created an invisible Muslim minority.

It is clear that most of the 900,000 immigrants who enter Europe annually are Muslim. About half the Muslims living in Europe were born there. The Muslim birth rate is three times that of non-Muslims.

By 2015, Europe's Muslim population is projected to double, and much of it will be made up of those younger than 25. Meanwhile, the overall European population is projected to drop by more than 100 million.

European welfare states created at the end of World War II will require higher taxes or more and younger workers to support the aging population. Obviously, one place to find the workers is the Muslim world.

For now, conditions in the Muslim world create the influx of immigration.

In the future, perhaps the need for workers will shift what is now an option to a necessity.

Here is the unanswered question: Has Europe reached the point where its foreign policy has caused itself a security problem? The answer may be yes.

As a recent PBS Frontline, Al-Qaeda's New Front, suggests, Europe may become a staging area for jihadist attacks against the United States.

Militant Islamist elements have been using Europe as a logistics center, a place for acquiring passports and funding, a place to conduct planning. (They have also used Southeast Asia as a logistical center.)

As the Spanish security services' recent disruption of a second Madrid railroad plot suggests, al-Qaeda's strategy may have shifted to plotting attacks on European soil.

Iran's potential nuclear capability, if it is allowed to become operational, may pose a threat to Europe. Iran denies it is trying to develop a bomb, but the United States and European powers think otherwise. The questions are, how advanced is the Iranian nuclear program and how best to stop its development?

Certainly, geography would make any Iranian nuclear program, at least initially, much more threatening to Europe as a potential target than to the United States.

As controversy builds within the EU and the EU security services step up their counterterror measures, will Europe stop sitting out the war on terror and pretending in its public pronouncements that militant Islam is a purely American problem?

On Feb. 4, in an interview on Tucker Carlson's show Unfiltered on PBS, the French ambassador to the United States, John-David Levitte, indicated that his government understood the internal threat and saw a reason to help stabilize Iraq.

"Iraq today is a kind of magnet for jihadists from all over the Arab world but also from France. Last week only we destroyed a network recruiting in the mosques young Muslim French citizens to go to Iraq to be trained and come back to France. And this is happening also in Saudi Arabia and Yemen and so on. These are the negative consequences we were anticipating. But that's done. Now let's make Iraq a success story together."

In France, the controversy over the wearing of the Muslim head scarf in public schools has given rise to a national debate with heated arguments on both sides.

Secular nationalists oppose the wearing of any religious items; multiculturalists support the wearing of head scarves.

The Netherlands has long had a reputation for tolerance, but in the wake of the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, on Nov. 2, Dutch citizens are suspected in at least 20 arson attacks on mosques and churches.

Van Gogh's film Submission dealt with the status of women in the Muslim world. A five-page letter pinned to van Gogh's body called for Muslims to rise up against the "infidel enemies" in the West.

Al-Qaeda's recruitment of European Muslims is nothing new. During the jihad of the 1980s against the Soviets in Afghanistan, as long as the jihadists were going elsewhere to fight and not causing any mayhem on English soil, they were left alone by British authorities.

Many English citizens and recent immigrants of Pakistani origin were involved in the traffic of men, goods and money to the aid of Afghanistan. That may be why the British have a particularly high concentration of radical imams.

They also have a concentration of traditional and nontraditional Arab media. London has been called, by various wags in the press, the capital of the Middle East. Because Western democracies guarantee a free press, Britain has not cracked down on the Web broadcasts of militant anti-Western imams.

On British jihadist Web sites, al-Qaeda recruits the young by using the medium of the young, MTV-type rap videos with a variation on their American counterparts, Arabic music overlaying the drum tracks. Crudely produced, a combination of animation intercut with footage of perceived atrocities against Muslims, these Web videos have the beat and swagger to appeal to the young in the music-video format.

Jihadist fighters, wearing the traditional headdress and hiding the face except for the eyes, brandish AK-47 rifles. The animated figure executes kung fu moves. The lyrics are anti-American and glorify jihad, martyrdom and suicide bombing.

Recruitment continues in British prisons. This was where the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight with explosives in his sneaker, was brought into the jihadist community.

Some in Europe see America's war on terror as detrimental to Europe's relationship with its Muslim minority. European opinion has become divided on the question.

European liberals support the integration of Islam into Europe; some on the right have begun to fear it.

The opposition to Turkey's entry into the EU is based on the fear that Muslims do not want to be part of Europe but to dominate it.

The Strength of Reason, a book by journalist Oriana Fallaci, accuses Europe of selling out for the short-sighted commercial aims of developing profitable commercial relations with the Arab world.

She also accuses the papacy of failing to check the advance of Muslim values in Europe.

"Europe becomes more and more a province of Islam, a colony of Islam. And Italy is an outpost of that province, a stronghold of that colony," she writes. "In each of our cities lies a second city: a Muslim city, a city run by the Quran. A stage in the Islamic expansionism."

Will European tolerance give way to more-stringent anti-terror measures? Signs are appearing that this is already the case.

Savage, the State Department official, says that "European counterterrorism officials estimate that 1 to 2 percent of the Continent's Muslims -- between 250,00 and 500,000 people -- are involved in some type of extremist activity."

"The September 11 hijackers," said Savage, "were not simply based in Europe; they were Arabs whose outlook had been radically transformed by their experiences in Europe."

Since Sept. 11, 2001, European countries have arrested 20 times more terrorism suspects than the United States, according to the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Bernard Lewis, a noted expert on Islam, commented in a recent interview that by the end of the 21st century, Muslims will be the majority in Europe. Europe will have completed its transformation into Eurabia.

Diane Wolff is an author and journalist. She can be reached at dianepwolff@comcast.net.


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Teresa Heinz-Kerry said it best in regards to Terrorism over in Europe. They'll just have to 'get use to it' .

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The Islamist extremists are the biggest danger the world faces today. Mark it down, the whole world will soon come to this realization and it will be the Islamists against the rest of the world. Anyone who doesn't believe this in in for a rude awakening. JMHO.

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