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Why Europe is turning away from multiculturalism

Britain joined Germany and France in questioning Europe's approach to multiculturalism, saying that it no longer works for other cultures to live 'apart ... from the mainstream.'

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In January, the only Muslim woman in the British Parliament and a member of Cameron's Cabinet, Baroness Sa­yeeda Warsi, said anti-Muslim sentiment had "passed the dinner-table test" to become socially acceptable. Ms. Warsi says the devotion of observant Muslims is often parlayed in the popular mind into extremism. Her views meet plenty of resistance. "Paranoid nonsense," remarked David Goodhart, founder of Prospect magazine in Britain and a columnist for The Guardian.

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Marianne Le Pen, new leader of France's far-right National Front party, offered Cameron "congratulations" in a Feb. 9 front-page article in the Financial Times. She said his views marked a shift in European thinking toward positions the National Front "has held for 30 years."

British multiculturalism dates to colonial times, when Britons abroad identified locals they felt would make good subjects. Yet since the late 1980s, following the fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his novel "The Satanic Verses," that model has been in flux. After 9/11 and the 2005 London bombings, Britain's laissez-faire multiculturalism has been under fire.

'Londonistan' was characterized as a place to talk jihad and hear heated sermons. Britain responded with policing, counterintelligence, and community-building. Fiery religious leaders were silenced, though a respected association of mullahs was formed along with new institutional ties. The Muslim community was coming awkwardly out of the shadows.

"They went from invisible to talking at the table on Downing Street in a matter of years," says one official involved with the effort. "Yes, they made some mistakes, but they also made some progress."

"Cameron seems all about undoing the thoughtful work the previous government did in local communities," says Jonathan Laurence, author of "The Partial Emancipation: Europe's Muslims and the Geopolitics of Islam in the West" and a political scientist at Boston College.

"Other religious groups meet regularly with the state," Professor Laurence says. "But if the government now chooses only those who sound like mainstream British politicians, that creates an empty shell of representation and harms some very needed trust, especially among young Muslims."

The roots of Cameron's opinions

How to avoid naiveté about violent jihadi cells in an open society while not stigmatizing millions of patriotic British Muslims is the key issue.

Many of Cameron's ideas seem shaped by think tanks like Quilliam, led by two former jihadis, who argue that while many Muslim outreach groups profess nonviolence, they tacitly accept jihad and reject shared British values. "The ideology of nonviolent Islamists is broadly the same as that of violent Islamists; they disagree only on tactics," the group said in a report last year.

In Munich, Cameron argued that many British terrorists were "initially influenced by what some have called 'nonviolent extremists,' and they then took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence … if we are to defeat this threat, I believe it is time to turn the page on the failed policies of the past."

Quilliam provided a list to British intelligence services that claimed the Muslim Council of Britain and other well-known entities and mosques were suspect. Critics say the list is a smear job. David Lambert, cofounder of Scotland Yard's Muslim Contact Unit, said the list "demonizes a whole range of groups that in my experience have made valuable contributions to counterterrorism." Quilliam also put the Scotland Yard unit on the list, accusing it of extremist ideology.


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