I grew up in New York, the world’s most multicultural city, and for some time lived only a few blocks from the imposing Islamic Center on Third Avenue between 96th and 97th Streets. But it wasn’t until I moved to western Europe in 1998–living first in Amsterdam, then in Oslo–that fundamentalist Islam became a daily reality for me.
The reason this took so long seems pretty clear. Owing partly to different immigration patterns, but partly also to America’s genius for turning immigrants into proudly integrated citizens with realigned loyalties, Muslims in America tend to be more affluent, more assimilated, and more religiously moderate than their co-religionists in Europe. A perhaps not terribly atypical example is Walter Mourad, a secularized Lebanese-American businessman who was profiled a while back in theNew York Times. Mourad has two children in a Montessori school, a wife “who says she would shoot him in the head if he suggested she cover her head with a scarf,” and a love for America that drove him to respond at once when the CIA, FBI, and NSA put out the call for Arabic translators after September 11.
Every American Muslim is not Walter Mourad, to be sure, but his like is considerably easier to find in the United States than in Western Europe, where Islam, generally speaking, offers a somewhat different picture. For various reasons, Western European Muslims are more likely than their American counterparts to live in tightly knit religious communities, to adhere to a narrow fundamentalist faith, and to resist integration into mainstream society. The distance between mainstream society and the Muslim subculture can be especially striking in the Netherlands and in the countries of Scandinavia, whose relatively small, ethnically homogeneous native populations had, until recent decades, little or no experience with large-scale immigration from outside Europe.
The distance I speak of was certainly striking in Amsterdam, where I resided for a time in a neighborhood–the Oud West–where I grew accustomed to the sight of women in chadors pushing baby carriages past shops with signs in Arabic. A few doors from my flat, a huge Turkish flag flew over the entrance to the neighborhood center. (There was no Dutch flag.) One day I peered inside. A dozen or so men, middle-aged and older, scowled back at me. I did not go in.
Curious about my new neighbors, I did some reading. I learned that upwards of 7 percent of the Netherlands’ population–and nearly half of Amsterdam’s–was of non-Dutch origin. The Turkish and Moroccan communities dated back to the 1970s; immigration from Surinam and the Dutch Antilles had peaked in the 1980s. Most people of non-Dutch origin were fundamentalist Muslims, and most, even after years or decades in the Netherlands, remained largely unintegrated. The attitudes of Dutch officialdom, and of the Dutch generally, hadn’t helped: although in America the U.S.-born children of immigrants are American citizens, in the Netherlands the Dutch-born children of immigrants are called “second-generation immigrants.” (The same is true in Germany, where even “third-generation immigrants”–and, yes, they do use that term–aren’t automatically entitled to citizenship.)
To an American, such a generation-by-generation perpetuation of outsider status can only make one think of the enduring social marginality of many American blacks. Yet at least we Americans have been taught by our bloody history that “separate but equal” is not a viable democratic option, but a cruel delusion. This lesson, I soon recognized, had not yet been learned in the Netherlands. Downtown Amsterdam and the Oud West felt almost like two different worlds. Moving among the native Dutch, whose public schools teach children to take for granted the full equality of men and women and to view sexual orientation as a matter of indifference, I felt safe and accepted. Yet many Muslim youngsters in the Netherlands attend private Islamic academies (many of which receive subsidies from the Dutch state as well as from the governments of one or more Islamic countries). These schools reinforce the Koran-based sexual morality learned at home–one that allows polygamy (for men), that prescribes severe penalties for female adulterers and rape victims (though not necessarily for rapists), and that (in the fundamentalist reading, anyway) demands that homosexuals be put to death. If fundamentalist Muslims in Europe do not carry out these punishments, it is not because they’ve advanced beyond such thinking, but because they don’t have the power. Like Christian Reconstructionists, a small U.S. sect that wishes to make harsh Old Testament punishments the law of the land, fundamentalist Muslims–whose numbers are, of course, many times larger–believe firmly in the implementation of scriptural penalties.
Let it not be forgotten, after all, how countries ruled by Koranic law treat their homosexual citizens. Under the Taliban, Afghanistan put at least ten homosexuals to death; on New Year’s Day, 2002, our good friends in Saudi Arabia beheaded three men for sodomy. According to one report, Iran has executed several thousand men for homosexuality since 1979. Even in Egypt, with its relatively moderate and secular government, a widely publicized mass arrest of suspected homosexuals in early 2001 resulted in the torture and imprisonment of dozens of males as young as fifteen. And these figures are undoubtedly dwarfed by the annual number of “honor killings” of female family members who have strayed sexually (or who have shamed their families by being raped)–a form of murder that is so much a part of traditional Muslim culture that it goes unprosecuted even in relatively moderate Islamic countries like Jordan. In May 2002, Amnesty International reported that in Pakistan at least three honor killings occur every day, and that the perpetrators are usually not even arrested, although their identities tend to be known to family, neighbors, and even the police.
It was hardly surprising, then, that in the Netherlands, a country with same-sex marriage and legally regulated prostitution, there was cultural friction between natives and the Muslim community. Yet few Dutch people discussed this friction openly. To do so, it appeared, was taboo. One night over dinner, a Dutch writer of my acquaintance–a maverick gay conservative who could usually be counted on to speak his mind unflinchingly–insisted proudly that the Netherlands, unlike the U.S., had no Religious Right. I knew very well, of course, that the Netherlands did indeed have a Religious Right; that it consisted of Islamic, not Christian, fundamentalists; and that sooner or later the Dutch would be forced to deal openly with the challenges it posed. For the time being, however, they were plainly too uncomfortable with the idea. Criticizing any kind of Islam at all, I gathered, felt too much to them like voicing racial or ethnic prejudice. While freely condemning Protestant fundamentalism–which hardly exists nowadays in that once strictly Calvinist country–they couldn’t bring themselves to breathe a negative word about Islamic fundamentalism. There was no logic in this; but the Dutch were clearly still at a point where it seemed possible, and easier, simply to avoid such uncomfortable issues.
* * *
What does the future hold for a Western world with a growing minority of fundamentalist Muslims? It was only after moving to Amsterdam that I found myself asking this question. It seemed to me a fair and important one. But it was, I found, a question that startlingly few writers had addressed. To be sure, there were plenty of books about Islam and the West, but I could find only a handful about Islam in the West. Most tended to take a sanguine view of the topic, more or less echoing academic Islamists like John Esposito, whose influential 1992 book The Islamic Threat? exhaustively argued that there was no such threat, period. More than one of these books, indeed, put a decidedly upbeat spin on the subject, maintaining that Muslim immigrants’ “spiritual” propensities were precisely what decadent Westerners need nowadays. For example, in When Cultures Collide (1989), the Norwegian writer Peter Normann Waage, while admitting that there were indeed challenging aspects to the presence of Islamic fundamentalism in Europe, characterized fundamentalist Muslim “moral” strictures as an overall virtue and perhaps the West’s best hope of salvation from rampant capitalism and secularism. (And this in a book occasioned by the Salman Rushdie case!)
Adam LeBor, whose A Heart Turned East (1997) was the only non-academic English-language book I could find in Amsterdam about Muslim immigrant communities in the West, was even more fundamentalist-friendly. Routinely, LeBor contrasted what he saw as the high spiritual and moral values of Islamic fundamentalists with what he characterized as Western decadence. LeBor quoted with obvious approval a French Muslim leader on the desirability of letting “Muslims in the West introduce [Westerners to] a new approach [to both family life and life in society]–or rather a much older one–founded in spiritual values, rather than material ones.” Islam, wrote LeBor, “can bring to Europe [something] immeasurable, intangible, but nonetheless vital”–namely, “God and spirituality. The missing part of the jigsaw puzzle of life in the late twentieth century.” LeBor complained at length about the “challenge” that the United States offers
to those Muslims wishing to live fully as Americans, but maintain and cherish their Islamic heritage. Not because of any institutionalized anti-Islamism, but because the values and mores of much of contemporary America–widespread use of recreational drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, homosexuality, teenage dating, gun ownership, values that are ubiquitous across the media–clash completely with the demands of Islamic morality.
LeBor sympathetically raised the case of an Islamic fundamentalist father in the U.S. who “knows he will have to maintain a difficult juggling act to raise his children according to the values of Islam, while living in a consumer society that sells and markets sex, which for Muslims is a sanctification of marriage, as just another commodity.”
LeBor seemed to view fundamentalist Islam in the West as being akin to a spice that enriches an otherwise bland dish. But fundamentalist Islam doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t flavor–it transforms, subdues, conquers. Islam means “submission,” and in its fundamentalist form it demands nothing less. Far from being content to serve merely as part of a culture’s “jigsaw puzzle,” it demands that the whole puzzle be shaken up, the picture entirely redrawn. A Western society that accepted such a religion as its spiritual component would soon prove itself highly inhospitable to, among much else, any of LeBor’s fellow writers who might wish to dissent from his unadulterated admiration for fundamentalist Islam. Nowhere in his book, indeed, did LeBor serve up a single positive word about Western freedoms, Western individuality, Western sexual equality, or Western protections for the rights of minorities; instead there was simply an unwavering insistence on the virtue and piety of fundamentalist Muslims and the greed and decadence of their Western oppressors.
Nor did Waage, Lebor, or anybody else pay much heed to the problems posed by European Muslims’ views on homosexuality–views that Muslim leaders have been less and less shy about advertising. In 1999, for example, the Guardian described a student conference on “Islamophobia” at King’s College, London, at which a speaker began by announcing politely, “I am a gay Muslim.” That effectively ended his presentation: “For members of the majority Muslim audience, the expression was enough to ignite the most passionate opposition. Some people began to shout, while others came raging down to confront the speaker. Security was called and the conference came to a premature end.” Then, in October 1999, the Shari’ah Court of the U.K. declared a fatwa against Terence McNally, who in his play Corpus Christi had depicted Jesus Christ as gay. (In Islam, Jesus is counted among the prophets.) Signing the death order, judge Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammed emphasized the concept of honor, charging that the Church of England, by failing to take action against McNally, had “neglected the honour of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.” The Daily Telegraph reported that according to the sheikh, “Islamic law states that Mr. McNally can only escape the fatwa by becoming a Muslim. . . . If he simply repents he would still be executed, but his family would be cared for by the Islamic state carrying out the sentence and he could be buried in a Muslim graveyard.”
A few weeks later, British Muslim leaders were busy battling the repeal of Section 28, Great Britain’s notorious antigay law. Dr. Hasham El-Essawy, director of the Islamic Society for the Promotion of Religious Tolerance in the U.K., told theTelegraph that it was Muslims’ obligation “to discourage homosexual behavior.” El-Essawy, who according to the Telegraph is “considered an Islamic moderate,” found it appropriate to quote the Koran’s punishment for lesbians–”Keep the guilty women in their homes until they die, or till God provides a way out for them”–and for homosexual men: “If two of your men commit the abominable act, bother them. But, if they repent . . . then bother them no more.” El-Essawy made clear his “moderation” by contrasting his view with that of some other Muslims, who, he explained, “believe that the punishment for homosexuality is death.”
Apparently, such views don’t disturb the likes of Waage and LeBor–at least not enough to affect their conviction as to Islam’s overall value to the West. Nor, one must assume, do these facts give any pause to the leaders of Britain’s Labour Party, which recently introduced a bill that would make it illegal in Great Britain to criticize any religion. This would not only make possible (as Matthew Parris noted in the London Times) the prosecution of this year’s Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul for his writings about Islam, it would effectively rob gay people of the right even to challenge imams who call for their extermination.
Of all the English-language books I found in Amsterdam that devoted substantial attention to Islam in the West, one stood out for its straightforwardness about the fundamentalist bent of most European Muslims today and about the unpleasant implications of their antipathy for Western values. The book was The Challenge of Fundamentalism by Bassam Tibi, a professor of international relations at Göttingen University–and a liberal Muslim. Indeed, he was the only Muslim in the pack–and the only one engaged neither in blatant whitewashing nor in wishful thinking.
* * *
In 1999 I moved from Amsterdam to Oslo. I soon found that in Oslo, as in Amsterdam, the cultural gap between natives and the Muslim immigrant minority (which, in Norway, consists largely of Pakistanis) was miles wide. Here, too, the native-born children of immigrants were called “second-generation immigrants,” not Norwegians. (Indeed, in Norway these days the words “immigrant” and “Muslim” are effectively synonyms.) Here, too, the authorities, presumably fearing accusations of insensitivity or cultural imperialism, tended to avoid addressing undemocratic practices within immigrant communities.
Forced marriage is one of these practices. Among Muslims in Europe, it’s quite common for young people to be compelled by their parents to accept spouses they don’t want. Some women manage to escape these situations and seek protection in women’s shelters. In 1999 the Guardian published an article by Faisal Bodi, a British Muslim who complained about these shelters, which in Great Britain are called “women’s refuges.” Charged Bodi, “Refuges tear apart our families. Once a girl has walked in through their door, they do their best to stop her ever returning home. That is at odds with the Islamic impulse to maintain the integrity of the family.” (Bodi made certain to note–as if it definitively established the loathsome character of women’s shelters–”the preponderance of homosexuality among members and staff.”) Citing universal Muslim belief in “the shariah, the body of laws defining our faith”–which he described, a bit unsettlingly, as “a sharp sword capable of cutting through the generational and cultural divide”–Bodi argued that British authorities must recognize the Muslim community “as an organic whole” and thus accord it a larger role in resolving conflicts over forced marriage. Bodi’s plaint was phrased with extreme delicacy, but the point was clear: when Muslim girls or women flee the tyranny of father or husband, the government should essentially hand them over to a group of Muslim men. In short, British law should effectively be subordinate to Muslim law. Group identity trumps individual rights.
Nothing, of course, could be more undemocratic. Yet time and again, governments in western Europe have shown themselves to be exceedingly susceptible to such arguments by Muslim leaders. The same is true of the mainstream media, whose main concern in such matters, it often appears, is to avoid offending Muslim sensibilities. Representative of the media’s standard approach to issues involving Muslim subcultures was an article about forced marriage that appeared in 2000 in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. The article tamely characterized the difference between Western-style consensual matrimony and forced Muslim marriages as a “collision between the individual-oriented West and the family-oriented East.” The reporter went on to express admiration for the “family-oriented” approach and even cited the low Muslim divorce rate to support the contention that the Muslim way was better–ignoring entirely the fact that wives who are forced to marry are hardly in a position to decide to divorce.
Then, in September 2001 (only five days, in fact, before the destruction of the World Trade Center), the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet reported that 65 percent of rapes of Norwegian women were performed by “non-Western” immigrants–a category that, in Norway, consists mostly of Muslims. The article quoted a professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo (who was described as having “lived for many years in Muslim countries”) as saying that “Norwegian women must take their share of responsibility for these rapes” because Muslim men found their manner of dress provocative. One reason for the high number of rapes by Muslims, explained the professor, was that in their native countries “rape is scarcely punished,” since Muslims “believe that it is women who are responsible for rape.” The professor’s conclusion was not that Muslim men living in the West needed to adjust to Western norms, but the exact opposite: “Norwegian women must realize that we live in a multicultural society and adapt themselves to it.”
It is in such ways that freedoms begin to erode.
* * *
Two people who plainly understood this were Shabana Rehman, a woman who grew up in Oslo’s Muslim community, and Hege Storhaug. In a courageous article that appeared in the Norwegian newspaper VG in April 2000, Rehman and Storhaug accused Norway’s Muslim leaders of presenting the general public with a misleading picture of what was going on inside their community–a picture that Norwegian authorities gladly accepted, the article charged, even though they knew better.
Noting “the lack of freedom and the violence [that] reign in a large part of the Muslim immigrant community,” Rehman and Storhaug asserted that many Muslims in Norway were engaged in “a life and death struggle to secure fundamental human rights.” Pointing out that Muslim community leaders routinely “deny that [Muslim] women [in Norway] are lacking in freedom or that they are the victims of violence,” the article argued that “it is impossible for Norwegian authorities to clean up these problems as long as the immigrants’ representatives continue to veil the truth.” Rehman and Storhaug went on to say,
The Norwegian public has let itself be fooled by the [Muslim] community’s dissemblers ever since the beginning of the integration debate. In one voice, they have delivered an unambiguous message: that the problem for today’s immigrants, both young and old, is discrimination and racism in Norwegian society. This is a lie–a distorted picture that conceals the real obstruction to integration. That obstruction is found within the immigrant community itself: in its lack of respect for human rights and its prevailing notions of honor and shame.
“We fear for Norway’s future,” Rehman and Storhaug wrote. “We fear distance and antagonism between ethnic groups.” In time, they predicted, “Norway may become a country that lives in segregation, violence and hate. . . . So far no political leaders in our country have chosen to take this seriously.”
Rehman and Storhaug concluded their article with the observation that “a whole generation of minority youth is being betrayed by their own as well as by well-meaning ‘anti-racist’ Norwegians.” Change the word “Norwegians” to “Britons”–or, for that matter, “Swedes” or “Dutchmen” or any one of a number of other national labels–and the statement would have remained true. The simple fact is that many Western Europeans, from the man on the street to the cop on the corner, from the politician in parliament to the immigration official at the border, have long considered it their obligation to turn a blind eye to the more disturbing aspects of the immigrant Muslim reality–in short, to tolerate intolerance.
It’s hard not to see such hands-off attitudes by Westerners as a product of leftist groupthink–of the tendency, that is, to view people as members of groups rather than as individuals, and consequently to place the values of the group above the rights of the individual. If native Europeans and fundamentalist Muslims are to coexist in the West, the Muslims must temper their fundamentalism–period. The alternative is for Europeans to sacrifice the freedom, tolerance, and respect for individual mind and conscience on which Western civilization is founded. That cannot be allowed to happen–not just for Europe’s sake, but for America’s as well.
Situations vary, of course, from one Western European country to another. In Spain, according to a December 4 article in the New York Times, the “Islamic population has exploded” during the last ten years, during which the Muslim community of 500,000 “has become a busy logistical rear guard, apparently humming with Islamic terrorists.”
In France, which has the West’s largest Muslim population (five million), there is a man named Soheib Bencheikh who serves as the grand mufti of Marseille and whom the International Herald Tribune calls “the clean-shaven face of progressive Islam in Europe.” In a November 30 profile in that newspaper, speaking with an unequivocal clarity that one might wish more Muslim leaders in the West had exhibited after September 11, Bencheikh assailed the rigidity and backwardness of Islamic fundamentalism and insisted on the vital importance of reforming Islam–a project that, he said, would involve “a desacralization of the whole of Islam’s texts, commentaries, and the theological work around the texts.” The purpose: to shape an Islam that preaches tolerance, respects diversity, supports the separation of church and state, and embraces integration wholeheartedly and without hesitation.
Bencheikh would seem to be precisely the kind of leader that European Islam so desperately needs. Yet the French government, instead of throwing its support behind him and other reformists, is, he charged, “choosing the most reactionary, the most politicized, and the most fanatic” of Islamic leaders for participation in that country’s new Muslim Council. Why? Because they are viewed as more representative. Indeed, as the Herald Tribune’s John Vinocur noted, “In Europe, where sixteen Islamist organizations with suspected terrorist ties were banned in Britain in the past year, and where Germany has identified twelve extremist Muslim Arab groups within its borders with 3,100 members, Mr. Bencheikh’s views have an uncertain following.” Yet as Bencheikh argued, the French government, by confirming and reinforcing the power of extremists, is in effect “legitimiz[ing] the forces we decry in the Muslim world” at a time when the only hope for genuine integration in Europe lies in a rapid and radical reformation of the Muslim faith.
Then there’s the case of Denmark. In Norway, when people dare to discuss the issue of Muslim integration, they sometimes speak ominously of danske tilstander: “Danish conditions.” What they are referring to is a state of affairs in which there exists not only de facto segregation between native and Muslim communities but also a routine and open expression of mutual hostility and distrust. Such a situation has existed for some time now in Denmark, where recent years have seen, for example, the movement of children out of integrated public schools and into private “white” and Muslim schools. After September 11, however, the tensions between native Danes and the Muslim community became more heated than ever. In Denmark, as elsewhere, Muslims took to the streets to celebrate the terrorist attacks. A few days later, a thousand Muslims gathered in the Danish town of Nørrebro for a protest against democracy; one speaker called for “holy war” against Danish society. In the run-up to a November parliamentary election, politicians from a range of parties spoke out bluntly on the topic of Islam: one referred to Muslims’ “infiltration” of western countries; another called Islam “not a proper religion” but “a terror organization”; a third offered the staggeringly undemocratic suggestion that, in order to promote integration of Muslims into Danish society, members of the immigrant community be prohibited from marrying people from their ancestral countries. After a new study showed that the persistence of current trends would make Denmark (now about 3 percent Muslim) a majority Muslim nation within sixty years, the small, reactionary Progress Party proposed ejecting “all Mohammedans” from the country.
Immigration was the number-one issue in the campaign. And the election proved historic. It marked the fall from power of the Social Democrats, who since 1920 had been Denmark’s largest political party, and it gave Denmark a new prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, whose campaign posters had featured the slogan “Time for a Change” over a picture of a “second-generation immigrant” who had been convicted of violence. In late November, Rasmussen promised a new policy under which immigration would be reduced and resources focused instead on a vastly improved integration program.
A post-election article in Aftenposten, on November 24, vividly summed up the current state of affairs in Denmark. “Our integration has not gone well,” admitted a teacher. “I had a class in which nineteen of thirty-three children couldn’t say anything in Danish, even though they were all born in Denmark. . . . It’s a catastrophe for Denmark, what’s happening.” A young Copenhagen woman who had been a gung-ho supporter of “multiculturalism” said that she now felt uncomfortable in her own country: “When someone like me thinks this way, it doesn’t bode well for the society.”
In Norway, anyone who dares to voice legitimate concerns about the immigrant community’s prejudices and self-segregation risks being branded a racist by the political and media establishment; but in Denmark, it appears, those legitimate concerns have in many cases degenerated into genuine racism. In Denmark, alas, as elsewhere in northern Europe, many natives seem hamstrung by an inability to disentangle ideology from race–and to distinguish their own frankly racist discomforts (“It is simply a little strange to live in Denmark surrounded by so many people from other countries,” one woman told Aftenposten) from their entirely justifiable unease over the prejudices and the resistance to integration that accompany fundamentalist Muslim ideology. This is, of course, dangerous: honest critical thinking of the sort proffered by the likes of Shabana Rehman and Hege Storhaug is vitally important if integration is to be made to work in northern Europe. If the only permitted way of talking about the topic is to reiterate insipid clichés in support of “the multicultural society,” Europe is doomed.
In English we have a word for fear of foreigners: xenophobia. It is a rare word, seldom seen in print, almost never actually spoken, and probably unfamiliar to most English speakers. Most of the languages of northern Europe have words that mean the same thing. These words are frequently used in conversation and are familiar to virtually every native speaker. In Norwegian, the word in question isfremmedfrykt. And while this word is often used unfairly to label anyone who criticizes any aspect of the immigrant communities, there is in fact a real element offremmedfrykt among northern Europeans. The notion that a foreigner–especially a dark-skinned foreigner–can become a Norwegian, a Dane, or a Dutchman, quite simply taxes the imaginations of many people in these countries. However liberal they may be, their pre-existing mental categories don’t allow for it. For all the racial and ethnic hatreds that fill the pages of American history, Americans, even bigoted Americans, tend to be better at this than northern Europeans are; we are accustomed to the idea that a person from anywhere can become an American. This is, to be sure, not a virtue on our part, but simply an idea we are used to. For many northern Europeans, it is not: it just doesn’t come naturally. More than half a century after the fall of Nazi Germany, the notion of ethnic purity still lives, unarticulated, often even unconscious, in the minds of people who think of themselves as good Social Democrats. For almost all northern Europeans, national identity continues to be wrapped up in, and equated with, ethnic background.
For this reason, large-scale immigration–of the right kind–could be a very positive thing for northern Europe. Certainly there are some immigrants from Muslim countries, people who have nothing of the fundamentalist about them, who have proven to be excellent entrepreneurs and model individualists in a part of the world where individualism has been traditionally discouraged. (Why? Because it’s viewed as a threat to social democracy.) In the Norwegian class I took last year at the state-run Rosenhof School, I made friends with students from Muslim countries who were easygoing and open-minded. Yet they were the secularized (or, perhaps, semi-secularized) exceptions among the immigrants from their part of the world; that was why they were in a class made up of people from seventeen different countries in Europe and Asia (plus me, the sole American), all of us with educated backgrounds and at least a smattering of English, rather than in one of the many sexually segregated, Muslim-only classes down the hall. In those classrooms, women sat swathed in fabric, with male relatives at their sides, providing the family escort without which they were prohibited from leaving the house. Our class was lively, irreverent, fun; as we learned Norwegian, we also learned about Norwegian folk ways, and gained insights into our own and one another’s native languages and cultures. Our discussions brought into focus previously unexamined attitudes and assumptions that our native cultures had bred into us; and as we recognized in all this the common foibles and follies of the human species, we laughed–laughed in easy self-mockery, and laughed, too, in celebration of the ability and opportunity we had been given to grow beyond the limits of our own native cultures.
From the other classes we never heard the sound of laughter.
* * *
“If you’re not with us, you’re against us,” said President Bush soberly in the wake of September 11. Some European Muslims made it clear they were with us; some made it clear they were not. Faisal Bodi, the same writer who complained in the Guardian in 1999 about women’s shelters, returned to the pages of that newspaper on October 17, reporting with approval that since September 11 his imam had offered up Friday prayers “imploring God to annihilate Islam’s enemies, to ‘rock the ground underneath their feet.’” Here in Norway, a child counselor talked on national TV about a grade-school class he had visited in order to discuss the atrocities. All the children were upset, he said, except for one little Muslim boy who was sincerely puzzled by his classmates’ reactions–at his home, the boy explained, everybody was celebrating. Aftenposten reported on a Palestinian who stood with his young son outside the U.S. Embassy in Oslo and cheered the attacks–shouting “This is a great day!”–until the police led him off. I wasn’t shocked to read that this Palestinian (even though claiming membership in Hizballah) was not taken into custody, just removed from the Embassy area. Nor did the Norwegian authorities, I’m sure, pay a visit to the celebrating family of that puzzled schoolboy. And has the British immigration service, one wonders, examined Faisal Bodi’s visa status? Or his imam’s? One rather doubts it.
Yet since September 11, the winds seem to have begun to shift–in some places, anyway. In the Netherlands, it wasn’t just the horrors of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. that caused the blinders to fall from many people’s eyes. In early 2001, the imam of Rotterdam had made antigay remarks whose viciousness stunned the Dutch. (Most Dutchmen had fooled themselves into thinking their country was past such ugliness.) On the day the World Trade Center fell, the Dutch populace learned that Moroccan immigrants in the town of Ede were rejoicing in the streets. That Friday, a TV report on Nederland 1 commemorating the victims in the U.S. was followed immediately by a Koran reading, supplied by the Dutch Muslim Broadcasting System, stating that “unbelievers were fuel for the fire.” Finally, in a post-attack survey of Moroccan immigrants in the Netherlands, 21 percent openly admitted their support for an anti-American holy war. (A similar Sunday Times poll, reported in early November, revealed that 11 percent of British Muslims considered the attack on the World Trade Center justified.)
None of this surprised me. What did make me sit up and take notice was a poll by De Volkskrant showing that more than 60 percent of Dutch citizens believed that Muslim immigrants who approved of anti-American terrorism should be ejected from the Netherlands. In an editorial, the newspaper’s editors spelled the message out bluntly: “The Netherlands doesn’t accept anti-Western fundamentalistic attitudes from Muslims. In the eyes of most Dutch people, integration means adapting to a humanistic tradition, to the separation between church and state, and distancing oneself from the norms and values of one’s motherland.”
It was, at long last, a stunning–and welcome–affirmation of the Dutch people’s basic commitment to democratic values and to true integration. And it signaled that the Dutch, perhaps the most liberal people on the planet, have finally faced a crucially important fact: that there is nothing at all liberal about allowing one’s reluctance to criticize another person’s religion to trump one’s dedication to individual liberty, human dignity, and equal rights. Tolerance for intolerance is not tolerance at all.
As the International Herald Tribune noted, the De Volkskrant poll marked “an end to the avoidance of talking openly about elements of conflict in Dutch life that have accompanied the presence of Muslim immigrants. . . . The Dutch are treading these days in an area where most of Europe does not want to go.” Indeed, here in Norway there were, in the weeks after September 11, no dramatic signs of turnaround to compare with the De Volkskrant poll. Yet there were stirrings. A November 20 Dagbladet article quoted a college president as saying that “powerful people in the immigrant community are the most important obstacle to integration”; if Norway wished “to avoid the same conditions as in Denmark,” he cautioned, “it doesn’t help to be politically correct and to overlook the weak points.” The article caused a stir. That evening, on the current affairs program “Tabloid,” a longtime teacher at the Rosenhof school described the contempt for democracy and the active resistance to integration that he had observed for years among his Muslim students. (Seething with anger, the Muslim community spokesman sitting across the discussion table charged the teacher with racism.) The next day, Norwegian newspapers reported on Egil Straume, a radio evangelist and local Christian People’s Party leader who, citing Muslim demands for “their own meeting houses, schools, and laws,” predicted that “in ten to fifteen years we’ll have civil war—like conditions between Muslims and Christians in Norway.”
Yet these remained isolated voices. The consensus among Norwegian officials and intellectuals was plainly in agreement with the diagnosis by the head of Norway’s Anti-Racism Center, who (despite Straume’s insistence that his concern was with “Islamic ideology,” not race) called his remarks “mentally deranged.” Even the national leadership of Straume’s own party distanced itself from his comments. Indeed, a few days later it was reported that the Christian People’s Party was in the process of reaching out to Muslim voters, who, a Party official noted proudly, shared many of the Party’s core values in regard to “family and morals.” Muslims, he said, were streaming to the Party in impressive numbers, even though, as non-Christians, they were barred from holding Party positions.
Then in January came a news story that shook up all of Scandinavia. In Uppsala, Sweden, Fadime Sahindal, a young woman whose estrangement from her Muslim family and refusal to submit to forced marriage had made her a well-known media presence–and whose ethnically Swedish boyfriend had died under mysterious circumstances in 1998–was murdered by her father. Upon his arrest, he readily admitted to the crime and called his daughter a whore. The murder was hardly unique; several such “honor slayings” take place every year in Scandinavia. For Norwegians, the story’s most striking aspect was the number of Norwegian Muslims who, when asked by the media for their comments, did not condemn the murder outright. More than one interviewee was of the opinion that the father had done what he had to do. “I can’t say it was right and I can’t say it was wrong,” said an Oslo merchant. When several public figures–including a former prime minister and Oslo’s police chief–turned up on the Norwegian TV program “Holmgang” to discuss the murder, it felt as if the worm was perhaps finally turning in Norway. Rarely, if ever, before in a Norwegian public forum had the problems of Muslim integration been discussed so frankly. The slippery rhetoric served up on the program by the Muslim community spokesman was, for once, strongly rejected–and the person who took the lead was (yet again) a brave young woman of Muslim background, who repeatedly interrupted the spokesman’s boilerplate to demand that he stop lying and tell the truth. It was stirring to watch.
Since then, the intensification of the conflict in the Mideast has muddied the waters to some extent–not only in Norway but throughout much of Western Europe, where the intellectual and media establishment have long proffered a black-and-white image of Palestinians as victims and Israelis as aggressors. Yet at the same time Mideast tensions have, if anything, heightened Western Europeans’ consciousness of Islam. In February 2002 (the same month in which a British Labour MP demanded official action against a London imam and other Muslim leaders who were inciting the murder of non-believers), it was reported that anti-Jewish violence by French Muslims was skyrocketing. In April, Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen condemned a Muslim group, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, for calling for the murder of Danish Jews; later that month, a front-page headline on the Norwegian tabloid VG called attention to Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s plans to “turn Norway into an Islamic state.” (Only two days later came the news that yet another immigrant had perished in an apparent “honor slaying”–this time just outside the police station in Kristiansand.)
The disinclination of social-democratic leaders to properly address such matters has doubtless contributed to the recent growth of conservative parties in many European countries. In the Netherlands, where gay bashings by Moroccan and Turkish youths have been on the rise, and where the government cracked down in February on the teaching of anti-Western hate in state-supported Muslim schools (one of which was raising money by selling calendars featuring a photo of the New York skyline ablaze), a Rotterdam politician named Pim Fortuyn gained widespread support by speaking frankly about the threat that fundamentalist Islam poses to Western liberties. It was a threat of which he, as an openly gay man, was acutely aware. (“In Rotterdam,” he told the New York Times in March, “we have third generation Moroccans who still don’t speak Dutch, oppress women and won’t live by our values.”) Fortuyn’s brutal assassination on May 6, 2002, deprived European politics of a brave and articulate voice for change.
Of course, not all politicians who dare to raise the issues of immigration, Islam, and integration are necessarily admirable. As Anne Applebaum noted inSlate in April, the lesson of the unsavory Jean-Marie Le Pen’s electoral success “is that if French politicians make it unacceptable to discuss such things in the mainstream, then the discussion will take place on the far-right fringes.” Indeed, it is dismaying that while many leaders on the European Left continue to do their best to avoid criticizing fundamentalist Islam–which is, after all, among the most reactionary forces on the planet–they persist in attaching the label “racist” or “right-wing extremist” to any politician, such as Fortuyn, who makes bold to raise it as an issue. The longer the Left keeps trying to stifle discussion in this manner, the higher the chances of a rise to power of genuine racists and right-wing extremists.
The good news is that ordinary Western Europeans are beginning to recognize all this. They are also coming to realize some crucial truths. Fundamentalist Islam is not a race or an ethnicity; it is an ideology. Its critics are not racists, any more than critics of Nazi or Stalinist ideology are racists. And as an ideology, furthermore, Islamic fundamentalism is something that people can be drawn away from. Some of those who arrive in Europe as fundamentalist Muslims do indeed change their stripes, shedding narrow dogma and dangerous prejudices and learning to value tolerance and practice pluralism. It does not seem excessive to suggest that Western European immigration authorities (who have a superfluity of potential immigrants to choose from, and who are already in the habit of weeding out candidates on economic and other grounds) should begin to concentrate on screening for adaptability, accepting only those who seem likely to make an effort to fit in–and admitting them only tentatively, on the condition that they indeed adapt to democratic ways both outwardly and inwardly.
This adaptation should be encouraged in every way possible. Muslim immigrants should not only be taught the language of their adopted country; they should be comprehensively educated in the ways of democracy. They must learn–no small order–to think for themselves, to read critically, to question. Most important, they must learn to question those things they have been taught to regard as most sacred. And they must be encouraged to see themselves as free individuals in a free land rather than as members of a straitjacketing subculture whose religion obliges them to take their marching orders from autocratic community leaders.
Finally, these immigrants must be thought of–and must be encouraged to think of themselves–as full and equal members of the societies in which they live. European natives must appreciate what an accomplishment it is for people to become functioning members of societies radically different from the ones in which they were born. Those who do make the adjustment successfully deserve the utmost respect. To persist in calling them immigrants after they have been living and working in a country for years (and, even more outrageously, to use the same word to describe their European-born children and grandchildren) is not only offensive and insulting but staggeringly counterproductive.
As for those who, after a period in the West, make it obvious that they are unwilling or unable to adapt, they must be sent home and replaced by deserving individuals who can adapt. This may appear extreme, but there is no reasonable alternative. For at stake in all this, ultimately, are the basic freedoms of all Westerners–not only women and homosexuals, but everyone, including Muslims and former Muslims who wish to live in a place where they can be themselves. At stake, indeed, is Western civilization.
PARTISAN REVIEW, Autumn 2002