From the Chicago Tribune via the KRT Wire, with thanks to all who sent this in:
What is happening in Europe may provide a partial preview of what lies ahead for the United States and its fast-growing Muslim population.
For the first time in history, Muslims are building large and growing minorities across the secular Western world – nowhere more visibly than in Western Europe, where their numbers have more than doubled in the past two decades. The impact is unfolding from Amsterdam to Paris to Madrid, as Muslims struggle – with words, votes and sometimes violence – to stake out their place in adopted societies.
Disproportionately young, poor and unemployed, they seek greater recognition and an Islam that fits their lives. Just as Egypt, Pakistan and Iran are witnessing the debate over the shape of Islam today, Europe is emerging as the battleground of tomorrow.
“The French are scared,” said Tair Abdelkader, 38, a regular at the tented mosque whose light blue eyes and ebony beard are the legacy of a French mother and Algerian father. “In 10 years, the Muslim community will be stronger and stronger, and French political culture must accept that.”
By midcentury, at least one in five Europeans will be Muslim. That change is unlike other waves of immigration because it poses a more essential challenge: defining a modern Judeo-Christian-Islamic civilization. The West must decide how its laws and values will shape and be shaped by Islam.
I don’t think the West has any power to decide how its laws and values will shape Islam, but it certainly can decide to do nothing and allow its laws and values to be shaped by Islam. And alternatively, it can recover some sense of its own cultural identity and require that the Muslims who come into Western countries accept their laws and values, rather than those of Islam.
But will they find the spiritual energy necessary to do even that?
For Europe, as well as the United States, the question is not which civilization, Western or Islamic, will prevail, but which of Islam’s many strands will dominate. Will it be compatible with Western values or will it reject them?
If only it were really that simple. The situation is complicated by the fact that all the “strands” of Islam will be present, no matter which one “dominates.” If a group of moderate Muslims reaches some lasting accommodation with the parameters of Western societies, what will that group to do rein in its violent brethren? So far such efforts have been quite insufficient.
Center stage in that debate is France, home to the largest Islamic community on the continent, an estimated 5 million Muslims. Here the process of defining Euro-Islam is unfolding around questions as concrete as the right to wear head scarves and as abstract as the meaning of citizenship, secularism and extremism. In some cases, conservative Muslims have refused to visit co-ed swimming pools, study Darwinism or allow women to be examined by male doctors.
One young St.-Denis fundamentalist recently set off for Iraq and was captured fighting American troops in Fallujah. Stunned by stories like that, France is hoping to use the legal system to influence the direction of Islam within its borders.
The government has deported 84 people in the past six months on suspicion of advocating violence and drawn wide attention for banning head scarves and other religious symbols in public school. But even supporters of that tough approach concede that the measures can do little more than patch the widening cracks in Europe’s image of itself.
“I’m not sure we’ll go much further than gaining a few months or years” in the effort to limit Islam’s imprint on France, said Herve Mariton, a member of the French Parliament who lobbied for the head scarf law. “That may be useful. But there is no way this is the ultimate answer to the challenge.”…
Young French Muslims gravitate toward charismatic spokesmen of a new European Islam, such as controversial Swiss-born philosopher Tariq Ramadan, whose French headquarters here in St.-Denis urges a “silent revolution.” In his writings, he advocates using the political process, instead of violence, to win Muslim rights and recognition across Europe.
Ramadan’s supporters call him a major voice of moderate Islam, but some critics say he is tied to extremists, a charge he denies. He was scheduled to begin teaching this year at the University of Notre Dame until U.S. immigration authorities rescinded his work visa, citing unspecified national security concerns.
The results are stark. Within six years, for instance, the three largest cities in the Netherlands will be majority Muslim. One-third of all German Muslims are younger than 18, nearly twice the proportion of the general population.
With that growth, and the deepening strains between the U.S. and the Islamic world, radical Muslim clerics have found no shortage of adherents. A 2002 poll of British Muslims found that 44 percent believe attacks by al-Qaida are justified as long as “Muslims are being killed by America and its allies using American weapons.” Germany estimates that there are 31,000 Islamists in the country, based on membership lists of conservative federations.
Year by year, European Islam pulls further away from the cultural traditions of Morocco or Algeria, refashioned all the while by the pressures of life in Europe. For some, the solution is a more liberalized Islam that incorporates Western concepts of individual rights and tolerance. But for others, the answer lies in a stricter interpretation of the core elements of the faith.
“It is more fundamentalist in its essence because what you subsist on is personal practice_reading of the Koran, Shariah,” Vaisse said. “It can take very humanist forms, but in some cases, it can also lead to political radicalization and terrorism.”…
Then we hear that the moderate leader’s influence is not increasing, but weakening:
Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris in the heart of the city, is a long-standing voice of moderate Islam in France. On the other side is Lhaj Thami Breze, president of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France, the increasingly powerful Islamist federation….
There is no question that Boubakeur’s influence is weakening. Last year he was handpicked to be president of the official French Council of the Muslim Faith, a new body established by the government in 2003 to give Muslims a formal voice in dealings with the state. Just as other bodies represent Catholics and Jews, the council speaks for Muslims on issues such as the construction of mosques and the training of clerics.
But things didn’t go as planned. In the first election, his moderate camp was trounced by conservative candidates who won 70 percent of the 41 seats. The next vote is scheduled for April, and moderates are expected to lose even more to the men he believes are “radicalizing Islam” in France.
“The facts are there: Religions that close in on themselves become sects, and that is what is happening to Islam here,” Boubakeur said. “And I am very sorry about that.”
Across town, beside the highway in the tough Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Boubakeur’s opponents are confident. Breze greets visitors at his glass-and-steel headquarters with a glossy package of materials and a calm message of “coordination, not confrontation.”
“We are not extremists,” he says, sipping espresso at a conference table. “We practice our beliefs and have respect for the state. We want one thing from Europe and France: that they are faithful to their values.”
Indeed, Breze and the union have thrived under Western democracy. Just two decades after its creation, by two foreign students, the union dominates French Islam.
In the last elections for the Council of the Muslim Faith, Breze won control of a crucial post representing central France.
Breze’s federation draws 30,000 people to its annual conference, and the crowd is increasingly vocal in challenging the political powers that be. At last year’s convention, the interior minister was booed in the middle of his speech when he suggested that women must remove their head scarves for ID photos.
So what does Breze really want for Muslims in France? He and his group carefully calibrate their demands. They demonstrate against the ban on head scarves, for instance, but urge young women to respect the law as long as it is in effect. His federation is part of a broader umbrella group for all of Europe that is known for issuing decisions that help conservative Muslims function in a modern Western society by permitting, for instance, interest-bearing loans that would otherwise be banned under Islam and allowing the consumption of pork-based gelatin.
Push Breze on the most sensitive issues – does he seek an Islamic state in France, or the application of strict Islamic law and punishment – and he says no: “Perhaps they are valid in Saudi Arabia or Palestine, but they are not valid here.”
To some critics, Breze is a “double talker” who says one thing in French and another in Arabic. To others, he is simply a shrewd strategist who understands the coming power of the fast-growing Muslim communities here.
For his part, Breze says his mission is to convey a simple message: “France must respect this population.”
OK. Must his population respect France?