Muslims in Europe

Earlier this week, the NYT gave front page coverage to the split between Muslim immigrant communities and “the political mainstream” in Europe. Lurking not too far in the background of this story is Pope Benedict XVI. His comments provoked some outrageous reactions, to be sure, but, more importantly, I think the controversy has proven how easy it is for two religious communities to talk past each other.

Muslims feel justified in condemning the Pope’s original statement as insensitive and in feeling that he was simply picking a fight. He has essentially confessed on both counts.

Christians feel that the reaction by some Muslims (firebombing churches in the West Bank and Iraq, the execution of a nun in Africa) justifies the Pope’s comments by proving his point.

Both sides are content to sit on those positions, without moving any further.

Now, the article above cites evidence that non-religious Europeans are crossing “an invisible line” in their feeling towards their Muslim immigrant neighbors. It makes an important point towards the end: if two religious cultures that worship the same god have so much difficulty discussing their differences, how can devoutly religious immigrants mix with godless Europeans?

Many Muslims say this new mood is suddenly imposing expectations that never existed before that Muslims be exactly like their European hosts.

Dyab Abou Jahjah, a Lebanese-born activist here in Belgium, said that for years Europeans had emphasized “citizenship and human rights,” the notion that Muslim immigrants had the responsibility to obey the law but could otherwise live with their traditions.

“Then someone comes and says it’s different than that,” said Mr. Jahjah, who opposes assimilation. “You have to dump your culture and religion. It’s a different deal now.”

Another article in today’s NYT looks at Islamic schools in the UK. The underlying question there being, what educational setting is least likely to result in the violent radicalization of its students? A culturally heterogenous, non-religious school or a homogenous, religious setting?

Given a that isolated individuals are more prone to radicalization, I would say that with teenagers, who are themselves susceptible to extreme positions, society should err on the side of a stronger sense of community – not on breaking the bonds of community. Successful schools are the best path to integration.

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