- - Friday, April 20, 2012

By Robert S. Leiken
Oxford University Press, $27.95, 368 pages

By Jonathan Laurence
Princeton University Press, $29.95, 392 pages

The recent killings of French soldiers and Jewish civilians by Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old radicalized French Muslim, in what became known as the Toulouse shootings, along with the numerous arrests of al Qaeda-linked or -inspired cells throughout Western Europe, highlight the threat to the Continent’s sociocultural stability by its ever-growing Muslim minorities.

Now estimated to be 20 million, the Muslim population is about 5 percent of the European Union’s population, including the majority of immigrants in those countries. Robert S. Leiken’s “Europe’s Angry Muslims” and Jonathan Laurence’s “The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims” both consider this changing demographic, though the books reflect their authors’ sharply contrasting political perspectives.

Mr. Leiken’s book is a critical examination of the historical factors and conditions that produced the conflictual relations between the Muslim minority communities and their European hosts. Mr. Leiken is director of the Immigration and National Security Program at the Washington-based Center for the National Interest and a veteran analyst on European Islamism.

Focusing on the three European countries with the most Muslims - Britain, France and Germany - Mr. Leiken’s narrative weaves together general information and biographical sketches to produce important insights. He finds that the generational conflict within the Muslim communities in those countries is one of the first drivers of Muslim radicalization, with many members of the younger generation rebelling against their parents’ ancestral tribalism and “quiescent, accommodating Islam” that reaches out to the outside society.

Another driver toward radicalization is restlessness. Mr. Leiken describes how the young find traditional mosques to be “boring,” with the imams’ sermons failing to strike a chord with their generation’s angst.

Extremist websites on the Internet contribute to this radicalization process along with charismatic “street imams” and neighborhood bookstores where extremist literature is disseminated. Cementing this push toward alienation is an extremist narrative of Islam that “Muslims are down because the West is up” and “We Muslims have been cast down because we have gone astray.”

All factors come together to produce what Mr. Leiken describes as the “Muslim postmigrant ‘marginal man’ [who] finds himself suspended between two cultures, neither of which offers him secure footing.”

Their radicalization process is also aided by extremist facilitators, who over the years would provide such vulnerable people plane tickets for conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia, where letters of introduction would provide them entry to training camps run by al Qaeda-type terrorist groups. This is one of the reasons, Mr. Leiken notes, for the presence of so many European operatives, whether Muslim-born or converts, in these warring zones, which is an enormous concern to European security services.

Understanding these multiple dimensions of radicalization into extremism and terrorism, Mr. Leiken concludes, is essential in formulating a “theory of relativity in antiterrorism” that is based on heterogeneous solutions to the particular threats present in their distinct European country settings.

As stated in its title, Jonathan Laurence’s “The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims: The State’s Role in Minority Integration” sets out to present a “positive” spin on these issues. The book’s merit is as a reference volume on the policies that governments across Western Europe have adopted in their attempts to better integrate Muslim communities into their societies and the types of organizations, ranging from mainstream to extremist, established by the Muslim communities to express themselves politically on these issues.

One of the book’s limitations, however, is a tendency by Mr. Laurence, a Boston College political scientist, to have it both ways. First, as part of Mr. Laurence’s downplaying of the Islamist terrorist threat, he devotes a mere four pages to the issue of Islamist terrorism in Europe - which is one of the main causes of friction between those communities and their host countries, with much of the book devoted to a defense of the way Muslim communities are expressing themselves in Europe.

Additionally, Mr. Laurence writes in the book’s first chapter that European Muslims are “experiencing the throes of a distilled and abbreviated era of emancipation: a dual movement of expanding religious liberty and increasing control exerted over [their] religion” by their host governments. It is left to the reader, however, to figure out exactly what a “distilled and abbreviated” emancipation means when the dictionary definition of emancipation implies liberation, enfranchisement and freeing from an implied past enslavement.

With orthodox Islam in Europe expressing itself as anti-Western, is Mr. Laurence suggesting that full emancipation will only be achieved when harsh religious practices, such as forcing women to wear burqas, restricting free speech and coercing the young into arranged marriages - all antithetical to the West’s tradition of civil liberties and religious pluralism - are fully accepted in such societies? In fact, Mr. Laurence alludes to such a conclusion when he writes (again, trying to have it both ways) that Islamic political groups are “involved in the vaguely defined ‘defense’ of the religion in the public sphere, for example, by denouncing incidences of blasphemy or the restriction of Islamic practices.”

Read each book and decide for yourself. In the face of changing populations with a sometimes concomitant growth in religious extremism, do host nations clamp down or accommodate?

• Joshua Sinai is an associate professor for research, specializing in counterterrorism studies, at a Virginia Tech center in Arlington.

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