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December 05, 2004

A European Awakening?



A few days ago, pop celebrities joined 2,000 people in a march through Marseilles denouncing violence against women, particularly in the immigrant-dominated housing estates. The protest against Islamic "obscurantism" and the "fundamentalism that imprisons women" was led by a group of Muslim women who call themselves Ni Putes ni Soumises (Neither Whores nor Submissive).

The movement, which emerged three years ago to defend Muslim women, is spawning similar groups across Europe, supported by a mainstream opinion that has recently abandoned political correctness and wants to halt the inroads of Islam. From Norway to Sicily, governments, politicians and the media are laying aside their doctrines of diversity and insisting that "Islamism", as the French call the fundamentalist form that pervades the housing estates, is incompatible with Europe's liberal values.

The shift is not just a reaction to exceptional violence such as the Madrid train bombings, or the murder of Theo van Gogh, the anti-Islamic Dutch film-maker, by a Dutch-Moroccan. It stems from a belief that more muscular methods are needed to integrate Europe's 13-million strong Muslim community and to combat creeds that breed extremists and ultimately, terrorism. With mixed results, governments are trying to quell the scourge by co- opting Muslim leaders to promote a moderate European Islam.

In Germany, with its three million - mainly Turkish - Muslims, and France, with its five million of mainly North African descent, television viewers were shocked when local young Muslims approved of Van Gogh's murder. "If you insult Islam, you have to pay," was a typical response. "The notion of multiculturalism has fallen apart," said Angela Merkel, leader of Germany's Christian Democrat opposition. "Anyone coming here must respect our constitution and tolerate our Western and Christian roots." Italy's traditional tolerance towards immigrants has been eroded by fear of Islamism. An Ipsos poll in September showed that 48 per cent of Italians believed that a "clash of civilisations" between Islam and the West was under way and that Islam was "a religion more fanatical than any other".

Similar views can be heard across traditionally tolerant Scandinavia - and no longer just from the populist rightwing party's such as Pia Kjaersgaard's People's Party in Denmark. The centre-right Government of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has equipped Denmark with Europe's toughest curbs on immigration, largely aimed at people from Muslim countries. In Sweden, where anti-Muslim feeling is running high and mosques have been burnt, schools have been authorised to ban pupils who wear full Islamic head-cover, although the measure comes nowhere near France's new ban on the hijab in all state schools.

In Spain, with a rapidly rising population of nearly a million Muslims, the backlash has been less visible despite the bombings, but thousands demonstrated in Seville this week against plans to build a mosque in the city centre. The Government has also won approval by sending 500 extra police to monitor preachers and Muslim associations.

Police across the EU are closely watching prayer meetings in makeshift mosques in cities and housing estates, and media accounts of the jihadist, anti-Western and anti-semitic doctrines of the imams are fuelling public anger. In Germany, pressure is growing for sermons to be preached in German rather than Turkish or Arabic. Hidden TV cameras recently broadcast an imam in a Berlin mosque telling worshippers that "Germans can only expect to rot in the fires of hell because they are nonbelievers".

The debate over the limits to free speech is loudest in France, which now acknowledges the failure of its "republican" approach to integration whereby immigrants were supposed to blend harmoniously into society and not exist in separate communities. Dominique de Villepin, the Interior Minister, is deporting foreign imams who support wife-beating and other uncivilised practices. This week the Government moved to ban a Lebanon-based television channel for anti-semitic broadcasting. The left wing, which long shunned criticism of Islam as the stock-in-trade of Jean-Marie le Pen, the far-Right leader, now denounces the "totalitarian", anti-feminist, antisemitic doctrines of the fundamentalists. Jacques Julliard, a leading left-wing commentator, said the Left's longstanding tolerance had been used as "an agent for the penetration of Islamic intolerance".


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