- The Washington Times - Friday, December 10, 2004

PARIS. — For nearly 50 years Western Europe has weathered the storm of the Cold War, living with the threat of the Soviet Union on its doorstep. Now Europe is waking up to a new threat, only this time the danger comes from within.

From Paris to Amsterdam and from Brussels to Berlin, decades of liberal open-door immigration policies are bearing their mark on Europe’s domestic politics, not to mention the demographics of the Old Continent.

The arrival of several million immigrants — mostly from North Africa, Turkey and Southwest Asia, and mostly Muslims — has forever changed the face of a once largely white, overwhelmingly Christian Europe. Germany alone has some 7 million non-German residents, the majority of them Turks.

This influx of immigrants has caused a knee-jerk reaction from worried Europeans who have turned to right-wing parties for answers. Witness France’s National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen who came close to winning the last presidential election.

The failure of many immigrants to integrate has resulted in communities living parallel to one another instead of blending. Exacerbating the problem, Islamist activists have found refuge and anonymity among these immigrant communities into which they can easily blend.

Europeans today are quick to complain their cities have been transformed, many will argue not for the better. They will blame, often without justification, much of what goes wrong — rising crime, hooliganism and drugs — on the new arrivals. “Something need to be done about who we let in,” complained a Parisian woman after a teenage girl with a slightly dark complexion accidentally bumped into her as she ran out of school. “Ah, poor France,” lamented the woman.

Many Europeans bemoan that immigrants are not integrating. Angela Merkel, the German opposition center-right Christian Democratic Union leader, addressing the CDU annual conference in Dusseldorf earlier this week, stressed the importance of “patriotism and conservative values.” She remarked on Germany’s failure to nurture multiculturalism, urging immigrants to identify with Western “cultural values based on freedom and democracy.”

She is not alone in her concerns. Alain Boyer, the sous-prefet of Reims, a region famous for its fine champagnes, is one of France’s leading experts on Islam. He agrees that not enough is being done culturally to integrate Muslims in Europe. (The prefet is the central government’s regional administrator.)

Mr. Boyer acquired his expertise while working for the Ministry of the Interior, the government department responsible for internal security. Mr. Boyer admits much more is needed in educating Europe’s Muslims from a cultural perspective. Particularly the imams, says Mr. Boyer, should be made more aware of European culture. Of France’s 1,200 imams — or Muslim preachers — more than a third do not speak French.

On Europe’s lax policies, Mr. Boyer told United Press International, “There should be more control on people [immigrants] and imams.” When they break the law, they should be sent away.”

But Mr. Boyer also advocates turning to more moderate Muslims, particularly the influential, and using their sway to positively influence the minds of Europe’s young Muslims.

To be sure, the large influx of immigrants arriving both legally and clandestinely has come with its fair share of social problems. Partially at fault is the failure of many of the new immigrants to assimilate into their respective European societies. The CDU’s Mrs. Merkel said foreigners must accept “certain values and standards,” such as learning the language.

Many European countries face similar problems in trying to integrate their immigrant populations. France, which has a long history of separating church and state, was confronted with the issue of Muslim schoolgirls wearing veils, or headscarves, in public schools. This was a practice that would have countered strict rules meant to keep religion out of politics and state affairs, and vice versa.

After a tumultuous national debate peppered with street protests and demonstrations by supporters and opponents of the headscarf ban, the state banned all outward religious signs, including Islamic headscarves, yarmulkes and “large” crucifixes.

A far greater problem than headscarves has been the increase in Islamist activism in recent years. According to Mr. Boyer, much of the recruiting of Islamists occurs in Europe’s jails.

Europe has not been immune to terrorism, most of it homegrown — the actions of Basque, Corsican or Irish separatists. Some will say Europeans naively believed they were immune from Islamist terrorism.

The real eye-opener came last March when a series of bombs exploded in train stations in the Spanish capital, Madrid, killing nearly 200 people. Jose Maria Aznar’s government quickly blamed ETA, the Basque separatist organization, but, as UPI was first to report, the attacks turned out to be the work of Islamist militants with links to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda.

As if that was not enough, another crime further jolted Europe, the brutal slaying of controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands by a Muslim man. Van Gogh’s murder followed the killing of Pim Fortuyn, the openly homosexual former columnist who rocked the very core of the Netherlands’ liberal political establishment by decrying the country’s immigration policy. He was gunned down in May 2002.

Fortuyn and Van Gogh’s killings have caused furor in the once easygoing Netherlands, forcing the Dutch to re-examine themselves. In a recent poll, the Dutch voted Fortuyn the most popular figure in the country — ahead of painters Rembrandt and Vincent Van Gogh, Jewish diarist Anne Frank, football legend Johan Cruyff and Prince William of Orange.

Criticism of Islam has started to come out in the open. Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician, called Islam a “backward religion,” saying it has not gone through the “reformation as Christianity or Judaism.” He received death threats and remains in hiding.

Maybe a clearer image of how Europe really views Muslims will become apparent later this month, when on Dec. 17, the European Union decides if Turkey — a country with close to 70 million people, 99 percent of them Muslims — will be admitted into the EU. Some Europeans believe admitting Turkey will have a soothing effect. Others say it is naive to think it will deter Islamist terrorism.

Claude Salhani is international editor of United Press International.

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