- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

ROME — The political heads of Europe’s police forces met yesterday with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders to discuss links between tensions over immigration and the battle against terrorism.

Religion and immigration issues increasingly have formed the backdrop for social and political disputes in Europe, and the European Union meeting of interior ministers and religious leaders, organized by Italy, reflected a growing awareness of that problem.

“We don’t want migration to become a sort of concern as far as security” goes, Antonio Vitorino, the EU commissioner for justice and home affairs, told reporters.

Predominantly Catholic Italy is in the middle of a debate over whether crucifixes should be removed from public schools. Two other traditionally Christian nations, France and Germany, are wrestling with the question of whether women wearing Islamic head scarves challenge their secular societies.

Politicians throughout Europe also are divided over whether a new EU constitution should refer to the continent’s Judeo-Christian roots.

“There is growing fear of immigration in Europe,” Italy’s interior minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, said. “We fear for our security, for our identity, for our jobs and social stability.”

The latest statistics show Italy’s population is growing because of its immigrants, including hundreds of thousands of Muslims.

In Germany, the number of Jewish immigrants, mainly from Eastern Europe, has tripled in the past 10 years, corresponding to a backlash against anti-Semitism, Charlotte Knobloch, leader of Munich’s Jewish community, told the gathering.

Referring to the debate over Europe’s new constitution, Mrs. Knobloch called reference to God “essential to avoid the rebirth of totalitarian regimes.”

Mr. Pisanu said immigrants who are shunted to the margins of Western society might turn toward terrorism.

A Muslim leader at the conference warned against the risk of what he called “Islam-phobia.”

“It is up to Europe to affirm its strong choice for a modern Islam, one that doesn’t impose its values on Europe but which is tolerant,” said Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Mosque of Paris and president of the French council of the Muslim religion.

Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim nation that aspires to join the European Union, sent State Minister Mehmet Aydin, who said Turkey’s entry into the European Union could help ease tensions over Muslim immigrants.

“The great population of Muslims in Europe would feel more at home” with Turkey in the European Union, Mr. Aydin said in an interview.

EU officials, saying Turkey’s record on human rights needs improvement, have yet to set a date for formal talks aimed at membership.

Conference participants included an Anglican bishop, a Catholic archbishop from Spain and a Greek Orthodox bishop. The interior ministers will meet with Pope John Paul II today.

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