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Why 'Islamophobia' is less thinly veiled in Europe

How anti-Muslim sentiment is different in European countries than in America.

(Page 3 of 4)

Ironically, the head of the Grand Mosque in Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, said he thought a "mosque at ground zero" was too provocative – though it was not clear if he knew the proposed siting was two blocks away. As Mohammad Shakir, communications director for several small Muslim charities in London, put it, "I've never seen a mosque with a basketball court before. Muslims need a place to pray if you build a Muslim community center. But it is a terrible misnomer to call this a 'mosque at ground zero.' "

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After 9/11, a small industry of literature, much of it produced in the US, predicted a coming "Eurabia" – a tsunami of Islam that will make Europe unrecognizable, where Muslim birthrates overwhelm older populations, mosques are as plentiful as McDonald's restaurants, and Islamic sharia law supplants European constitutions.

A German central banker, Thilo Sarrazin, has kicked up a firestorm with a pending new book attacking Turks and Muslims. "I don't want the country of my grandchildren and great grandchildren to be largely Muslim, or that Turkish or Arabic will be spoken in large areas, that women will wear headscarves and the daily rhythm is set by the call of the muezzin. If I want to experience that, I can just take a vacation in the Orient," are among Mr. Sarrazin's passages, which were challenged by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Daniel Luban, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago, offers in a recent paper that many of the core assumptions of "Islamophobia" in the US spring from Europe. "While the political operatives behind the anti-mosque campaign speak the language of nativism and American exceptionalism, their ideology is itself something of a European import. Most of the tropes of the American 'anti-jihadists,' as they call themselves, are taken from European models."

Justin Vaïsse, an analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington, argues that actual data about Muslim birthrates in Europe (which are declining as Muslims assimilate and have smaller families) and immigration (500,000 a year) belie the dire projections of the Continent becoming Eurabia.

"The paradox of this genre is that it dwells on the heated controversies and tensions taking place in Europe while at the same time claiming that Europeans are in denial of their problems," says Mr. Vaïsse, coauthor of "Integrating Islam: Political and Religious Challenges in Contemporary France." "And the emphasis on the anecdotal tends to obscure the fact that, from the fight over minarets in Switzerland to the debate over head scarves in France, current tensions are part of a normal and democratic process of adjustment, not the first signs of an impending catastrophe."

Often absent are views of Muslims themselves. Much of the discussion aimed at Islam takes place as if the Muslims weren't in the room. Scant attention is paid to vast religious and cultural differences between groups. French Muslims tend to be from Arab and African states, British Muslims from South Asia, Dutch Muslims from Morocco and Indonesia, German Muslims from Turkey.