Monday, February 12, 2007

The State Department, concerned about a “nativist surge” in Western Europe, has created a position to coordinate efforts to reach out to European Muslims and help them better integrate into society, a senior official said yesterday.

Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said U.S. embassies and consulates in Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries will decide what exactly they can do, instead of “Washington bureaucrats dreaming this up.”

The growing Muslim presence in Europe is “a fascinating issue and one that the American government is just now trying to get its mind around,” Mr. Fried told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “It’s a huge problem, we are thinking about it seriously, and we’ve tried to do some intellectual framing-up.”

Farah Pandith, until recently a staffer on the National Security Council (NSC), moved to the State Department last week to head the new effort.

Unrest among Muslims in Europe, particularly those who have turned to extremist acts such as the 2005 London transit system bombings, has spurred a heated debate across the continent.

The French government, for example, now regrets having resettled North African immigrants in de facto ghettos, where unemployment and bad schooling led to desperation among young people, Paris’ ambassador to Washington, Jean-David Levitte, told The Times last month.

“The unrest that existed in poor neighborhoods had nothing to do with jihad and much to do with social conditions,” he said. “That’s why we have to put the emphasis on improving the social conditions — schools, jobs, better housing — and hopefully all this will trigger better absorption in the social fabric of France of this minority.”

Mr. Fried said that a “process of alienation” is occurring within Europe’s Muslim communities, and that their host countries have “no sense of integration.”

“Europe has to learn to do that,” he said. “You have a weird nativist surge in Western Europe, and a kind of odd panic: Aliens are here, they don’t accept our values, they are a threat to our way of life and turn to radicalism.”

One program in place in some countries brings American Muslims to Europe to meet with their counterparts and try to “break down stereotypes” and help them end their “self-isolation,” Mr. Fried said.

He said he has not found strong anti-American feelings among European Muslims during his travels, even though many disagree with U.S. policies in the Middle East.

“I don’t get big speeches.” he said. “They say, ‘We want to live in Europe. Can you help us out? Do you understand us? We want to be good Muslims and good Europeans.”

Mr. Fried, a career diplomat since 1977, is a former ambassador to Poland and served as senior director for European affairs at the NSC during President Bush’s first term.

Mr. Fried also spoke extensively about Russia, two days after President Vladimir Putin rebuked U.S. foreign policies as “unilateral” and “illegitimate.”

The American diplomat said he does not understand why the Russians keep saying that Washington’s actions are aimed at Moscow.

“The problem from an American point of view is not that the Russians are rebuilding their state,” he said. “The problem is that what Putin is doing … is not rebuilding the institutions of a modern country — at least not yet. He’s rebuilding the center, but national strength doesn’t come just from a strong center.”

Asked about Mr. Putin’s attempts to curb some of Russia’s oligarchs, Mr. Fried suggested that the president was guided by the principle, “I’ll replace the guys I don’t like with my own guys.”

“Go down the list of senior Kremlin officials who are also chairmen of the boards of major parastatals,” he said. “What does that tell you?”

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