Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Europe must come to a modus vivendi with Islam on Europe's terms

Europe awakens yet again to a problem in its midst, and of its own making. Not nearly the problem fascism was, but integrating Muslims into secular, but Christian-based societies is going to be difficult, as John Vinocur notes in his fine wide ranging article in the IHT.

The stakes, however are clear: will the outcome be an Islamicized Europe or an Europeanized Islam?

Europe has a particularly hard time dealing with Islamic terrorism from within because effectively confronting it in the long term means making and enforcing new, clearer definitions of how much Islam it can live with inside its borders.

It is a horribly awkward issue: Beyond the obvious police work, it involves defending not only Muslims' rights, but European national identities against intimidation that would make it illegitimate for European countries to draw a line at the place they think multiculturalism and parallel societies must stop.

The issue goes over the heads of the homegrown terrorists themselves. It involves combating political attempts from inside European society to turn into intolerance, fascism or hysteria every expression of resolve countering Islamic groups that reject European notions of democracy.

Control imams preaching hatred and violence? Search and detain suspects who fit the description of terrorist attackers with Yorkshire accents and European passports? Insist that Britain, France, the Netherlands or Germany have the right to demand the subordination of religion-based traditions to their own national laws and norms? Or argue that Islam's ultimate compatibility with European humanism is in question, even with a little more care and a little extra sensitivity (or submission) on offer from the European side?


Le Figaro talked in Leicester over the weekend with Hassan Patel, whom the newspaper described as the spokesman of a federation of Islamic student groups in England. Patel had his own view on where the frontier lay between parallel societies (the de facto situation of dozens of Muslim communities in Europe) and the purview of a country like Britain to insist that its standards hold sway everywhere, without footnotes or restrictions. His notion read a bit like a warning:

"The authorities won't be able to impose a secularized Islam on the Muslims against their will. If Britain takes discriminatory measures against the Muslims, young people's frustration will only mount and the cases of suicide attacks will develop."

These intimidating terms make a kind of test case for the rest of Europe out of Britain's stated will to more sharply define its relations with its Muslims. Positive results might well reiterate the necessity for European tolerance, but also demarcate the parameters of respect Muslim immigrants have to demonstrate for Europe's laws and traditions.

With some exceptions, notably in the Netherlands and to a lesser degree in France, this is a task whose extent has remained outside comfortable discussion in Europe.

Bernard Kouchner, the outspoken French Socialist and former cabinet minister, who for years has ranked first in national polls of preferred opposition politicians, signaled the immense challenge of drawing new lines of compliance for Muslim communities.

European laisser-aller, he told me, "has broken the framework of community that allowed the family to be maintained. We've killed the authority of the fathers in our countries. What's left over won't maintain discipline, schools in the ghettos don't, associations can't. We haven't demanded discipline on any level anywhere."

The Left, though, has yet to see the threat. Events have passed them by, as events often do, and they are left with slogans, and nothing more to show for their progressiveness.

When the Bavarian interior minister, Günter Beckstein, said last week that terrorist attacks in Germany were not a question of whether but when - the same language used by London police officials months before the July 7 bombings - Süddeutsche Zeitung, the left-of-center Munich newspaper, savaged him, calling his evaluation dangerous, irresponsible and frightening for the public.

Because Europe is torn by ideological differences - parts of its hard left have made multicultural egalitarianism a touchstone of anticapitalist decency - Spain's Socialist prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, could say months after Madrid's terrorist bombings that he would not use the term Islamic terrorism because it seemed offensive. The British Broadcasting Corporation has a hard time calling Britain's own homegrown bombers terrorists, as if the BBC's charter of objectivity were brought into doubt by the word's terrible exactness.

But there are also less politically correct approaches. Rita Verdonk, the Netherlands' right-of-center minister for integration, insists face-to-face in meetings with Muslim residents that they accept the standards and values of their Western host.

In Blair's case, as much as a Verdonk might on a similar wavelength, his capacity to win the rest of Europe to his case for dealing with homegrown Islamic fundamentalist killers hardly finds strength in his aversion to pairing the issue with Iraq.

Reality is that Islamic terrorism in Europe is emboldened by the situation in Iraq - but as has been argued in this space before, the incitation to violence in London or Madrid essentially lies in the coalition's incapacity to bring terrorism under control in Baghdad.

Obviously, a component in Europe's homegrown attacks is not the supposed humiliation of Islam by American troops in pulling down Saddam's statue, but the television images that demonstrate the impunity of terrorism in Iraq now.

Pushed, this notion may suggest that if Europe is going to ultimately defend itself against murder from within, it will have to address what more it can do to bring calm to Iraq. ...

This is a very good point. So long as terror remains fashionable, Muslims in Europe will seek to emulate their Irbrethrenhern. Nevertheless, Europe is being drawn willy-nilly into the global battle.

Europe's choices will have repercussionsions for decades to come on people's attitudes and lives. Of course, Europe is famous for avoiding facing problems, so the likelihood is that they won't do enough until too late, and then overdo it.

The Dutch seem to realize that a necessary start is assimilation (a concept the US practically invented), and will doubtless push it in the future.

I've posted on Europe's response to Islam several times. Find them here, here and here.