Sunday, February 13, 2005

Encounter with Islam

Encounter with Islam

Encounter with Islam

The nexus has given rise to incidents of terrorism, complications in integrating the European Union and a rethinking of foreign policy.

By Diane Wolff
Special to the Orlando Sentinel

February 13, 2005

The Europeans have discovered they, too, have a terrorism problem, which is exacerbated by demographics and geography.

Europe is having a new encounter with Islam, in domestic politics and foreign affairs. However, it's not the first; the two have had 13 centuries of ups and downs.

The new European-Islamic nexus has given rise to incidents of terrorism, a shift of some traditional European political parties to the right, complications in integrating the European Union and a re-thinking of foreign policy.

Immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, Europe stood shoulder to shoulder with America.

Time and political differences, including but not limited to disagreement about the war in Iraq, have led to frosty relations between Washington and much of Europe.

The realization is dawning on the members of the European Union that their initial notion that terrorism was only America's problem is wrong. In fact, there now may be more reason for concern in Paris than Philadelphia, Amsterdam than Albany and Bonn than Boston.

Timothy Savage, division chief of the Office of European Analysis at the U.S. State Department, explains the situation well.

'The Islamic challenge that Europe faces today is twofold. Internally, Europe must integrate a ghettoized but rapidly growing Muslim minority that many Europeans view as encroaching on the collective identity and public values of European society. Externally, Europe needs to devise a viable approach to the primarily Muslim-populated volatile states stretching from Casablanca to the Caucasus,' he wrote last summer.

After Sept. 11, the thinking on the Continent was that Europeans were tolerant and progressive and Americans were unenlightened. We went after the radicals. They opened their arms to their Mediterranean neighbors. They concluded that we were wrong and they were right.

Europe's attitude changed with the Madrid train bombings March 11 that killed 191 people. It was a devastating wake-up call for Europe, a different kind of terrorism than the homegrown Irish Republican Army or Basque separatist movement.

It is beginning to dawn on the Continent that things could get much worse. In preparation for President Bush's visit later this month, security police have been rounding up terror suspects by means the American Civil Liberties Union would take to court.

French law permits detention for three years of people suspected of terror. Britain has proposed placing electronic-surveillance monitors on suspected terrorists to keep track of their whereabouts. This is Britain's way of avoiding the U.S. practice of detention.

Below the surface, there are less immediate, but much more serious, concerns.

More than 23 million Muslims live in Europe, 5 percent of the population. If Turkey joins the European Union, that figure will increase to 90 million, or 15 percent of the total. As EU citizens, they could reside anywhere in Europe, work and cross borders without passports.

This comes as many EU nations have decided that to balance America's status as the lone superpower, they want to carve out their own foreign and security policies. This has led to disputes with Washington about Iraq, how to deal with the emerging possibility of a nuclear threat in Iran, the Kyoto Treaty on global warming and myriad other issues.

But, when it comes to the war on terror, the EU attitude may have more to do with Europe's growing Muslim minorities than with the United States.

In the quarter-century before George W. Bush became president, many European nations increasing found themselves at odds with the U.S. policy on the Middle East, especially in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The EU tilt toward the Palestinians in that confrontation and a generally more sympathetic view of Arab causes is at least partially a result of immigration from Europe's former colonies.

Efforts to assimilate the newcomers, the vast majority of whom are Muslim, into European life has been aimed at building interfaith societies. Yet, there is a segment of the immigrants who are resistant to the secular nature of 21st-century Europe.

They think that once Islam has conquered a territory, as it conquered Spain, Portugal, Italy and parts of France in the Middle Ages, it will remain Muslim.

Europe has done a poor job of integrating its Muslim immigrants. The Madrid bombings, numerous examples of street violence and recruitment efforts by al-Qaeda on the Continent suggest that militant Islam has become a problem.


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