Opinion Europe Glimpses Veiled Threats
Western politicians increasingly cite the growing radicalization of Muslim immigrants as a justification for policies that have seemed to many to herald the end of multiculturalism. But is this radicalization fact or fantasy?
The dreaded head scarf.
The London Underground bombings delivered the news that Britain had produced its own jihadists, who hated Britain and fantasized its replacement by a Muslim state.
"Multicultural Britain" nonetheless holds the loyalty of the vast majority, but the heightened tensions of the times see more Muslims separating themselves from the majority, most conspicuously through the adoption by Muslim women of the veil.
Jack Straw, a former foreign secretary, this month objected, saying that he preferred not to receive veiled visitors in his local office as parliamentary member from Blackburn, where his constituency is 25 percent to 30 percent Muslim. He said the severe form of the veil, allowing only the eyes to be visible, made human interaction difficult and seemed a deliberate declaration of separation from British society.
Elsewhere, a young teacher's assistant was suspended for insisting on wearing such a veil in the classroom. A senior Conservative Party figure said some Muslims seemed determined to practice "a voluntary apartheid," and Gordon Brown, likely to become the next Labour prime minister, said "it would be better for Britain if fewer women wore the veil."
All this produced a national controversy that has been inflated into an international scandal of alleged discrimination and religious hatred.
The British model of distinct multicultural communities used to be contrasted favorably to the French and American models of cultural and political assimilation.
The principle of assimilation to national values means that even to identify French citizens on the basis of national origin, race or religion is illegal (although that policy is criticized in the interest of positive discrimination - itself, nonetheless, highly controversial). The last census in France that recorded religion was in 1872.
Assimilation is not in principle an issue in the United States, but nonetheless it is enforced by public opinion, popular conformism and the overwhelming power of mass culture and entertainment.
But the discovery in Britain of British-born "jihadists," who reject British norms and identify themselves by religion rather than citizenship, has badly shaken public opinion.
The percentage of French Muslims who identify themselves as French first and Muslim second is twice the percentage of those in Britain who say they are British first and then Muslims.
According to a 2004 poll more than 90 percent of French Muslim respondents said that "gender equality and other French republican values were important to them."
A 2005 study of North Africans, sub- Saharan Africans and Turks found that roughly the same percentage call themselves religious as do members of the general population, and that French Muslims attend religious services no more frequently than French Catholics, Jews or Protestants; 68 percent of the Muslims interrogated support the separation of religion and state.
As in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, the phenomenon of radicalized young Muslim men exists. In France, they were responsible for a series of Paris bombings in 1995. However, this group was of Algerian origin, predated Al Qaeda and was protesting French support for the military government in Algiers.
In short, in neither Britain nor France is there evidence of that broad radicalization of immigrant or post-immigrant Muslims that Al Qaeda's manifestos and other propaganda proclamations seek, in order to overturn European governments and deliver Western Europe to the great new international caliphate that is supposed to be created when American and other Western forces are defeated in Iraq and driven from the Middle East.
This implausible threat, insistently mentioned by the Bush administration and its acolytes, seems, like so much of the so-called global war against terror, to exist chiefly in the imagination of Al Qaeda, and among the more credulous of its Western enemies.