Europe's Muslim Question

Dutch filmmaker's murder stirs integration debate

March 11 - the day of the Madrid terrorist bombings - unleashed an urgent debate in Europe about law enforcement: how to better track and stop militant Muslims within and across borders.

Nov. 2 - the day provocative Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered allegedly by a Muslim extremist - dramatically pushed that debate into the cultural sphere: how to integrate (or not) Europe's burgeoning Muslim minority.

The killing of the famous painter's great-grandnephew ricocheted around Europe. In the Netherlands, it sparked at least 20 tit-for-tat arson attacks on mosques and churches. In Cologne, Germany, Muslim leaders, horrified by the murder, inspired about 20,000 Turks and Germans to protest violence by and against Muslims. In Brussels last week, European Union justice and interior ministers agreed on a set of nonbinding guidelines that would have immigrants learn the language of their host countries and adopt "European values."

The van Gogh case resonates partly because of the brutality of the killing and the clash of two extremists: a strident filmmaker who referred to Islam as "garbage" and whose recent film denounced the treatment of Muslim women in a way distasteful to many Muslims; and a young Islamic militant with Dutch-Moroccan citizenship who allegedly referred to van Gogh's insults in a note left on the victim.

But beyond this was a perplexing question: How could such a crime occur in one of Europe's most tolerant countries? Where prostitution and marijuana are legal, the motto has been "live and let live."

Perhaps this is the core of the issue, because while the Dutch and the Europeans generally have "let" Muslims live in their countries, they haven't really welcomed them.

Typically, Muslims in Europe lead separate lives. About 500,000 Turks and Moroccans in the Netherlands don't speak Dutch, for instance, and joblessness in some Moroccan communities there approaches 40 percent. Social and civic isolation, along with Europe's secular and sometimes antireligious tradition, provides fertile ground for Muslim militancy.

Quite simply, Europe faces a melting-pot challenge. While the US has had centuries to work at this problem, it's being suddenly thrust upon the Europeans. Governments are responding with a two-pronged approach: Identify and expel Muslim radicals, but orchestrate the integration of mainstream Muslims. Germany's new immigration law, for instance, follows the French example by making it easier to observe and deport Islamic extremists. At the same time, the new law sets up German language and civics classes for immigrants.

A flurry of laws - many of them disturbing to American sensibilities to rights - are also being suggested. The Dutch parliament has asked the government to draft a law that would require imams employed by Dutch mosques to study in the Netherlands. The head of Germany's Protestant church says German should be used in mosques. An imam in Denmark wants the kind of anti-Islamic speech used by van Gogh to be restricted.

Governments must carefully balance civic and cultural integration. Having immigrants take a civics course and respect the rule of law is a reasonable expectation. But Europeans play with fire if they think they can Europeanize Islamic culture and many religious practices. What would Catholics, for instance, say if Latin were outlawed at a mass?

Europe's governments may try to promote integration, but people-to-people contact will help Muslims to really feel at home. In the Dutch town of Den Bosch, Muslims were on the right track by recently inviting non-Muslims to a festival.

America is still learning the integration lesson as it relates to race. Europe, having to apply it to religion, is just beginning.

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