OSLO – The recent rioting in Paris suburbs and elsewhere in Europe should not have surprised anyone. Europe’s Muslim communities are powder kegs, brimming with an alienation born of both an assiduously inculcated antagonism toward infidel society and an infidel society whose integration policies – which should actually be called segregation policies – have perversely encouraged this ire.
I first noticed the problem when I lived in Amsterdam in 1999. A visitor to that city might imagine that not one Muslim lived there. But to venture just a few blocks beyond the tourist-crowded streets was to learn otherwise. In my neighborhood, the sidewalks were crowded with hijab-clad women pushing baby carriages. There were as many signs in Arabic as in Dutch. Outside the “neighborhood center” waved a large Turkish flag.
Such districts, I learned, could be found across Europe. Muslims were a huge, rapidly growing – and highly segregated – minority. In city after city, downtown areas were almost 100 percent European, the outskirts increasingly Muslim.
Americans know about ghettos. For many of our families, they’ve been a stage in the transition from immigrant to native. Many ghetto residents are still, essentially, foreigners; integration takes place largely in the next generation, as the children of immigrants go to school, find jobs, and leave the ghetto behind.
Not in Europe. Officially, to be sure, France is less multicultural than most European countries – witness its rejection of religious labels in public documents and its ban on hijabs in schools. But enduring segregation is a fact of life in France as it is elsewhere on the continent. Millions of “French Muslims” don’t consider themselves French. A government report leaked last March depicted an increasingly two-track educational system: More and more Muslim students refuse to sing, dance, participate in sports, sketch a face, or play an instrument. They won’t draw a right angle (it looks like part of the Christian cross). They won’t read Voltaire and Rousseau (too antireligion), Cyrano de Bergerac (too racy), Madame Bovary (too pro-women), or Chre’tien de Troyes (too chre’tien). One school has separate toilets for “Muslims” and “Frenchmen”; another obeyed a Muslim leader’s call for separate locker rooms because “the circumcised should not have to undress alongside the impure.”
Many Muslims, wanting to enjoy Western prosperity but repelled by Western ways, travel regularly back to their homelands. From Oslo, where I live, there are more direct flights every week to Islamabad than to the US. A recent Norwegian report noted that among young Norwegians of Pakistani descent, family honor depends largely on “not being perceived as Norwegian – as integrated.”
For many Muslims in Europe, self-segregation has come naturally. What’s tragic is that European authorities have supported it. Rejecting the American approach – namely, encouraging immigrants to work and integrate – they’ve instead helped newcomers to maintain distinct communities and provided benefits that have made it easy for them to stay unemployed. Why did these authorities prefer segregation? Supposedly they were enlightened “multiculturalists” who respected differences; for many, the real reason was a profound discomfort with the idea of “them” becoming “us.” Naively, they imagined they could preserve their nations’ cultural homogeneity while letting in millions of foreigners and smiling on their preservation and perpetuation of values drastically different from their own.
What they’ve reaped, alas, is a generation of Muslims, many of whom view their neighborhoods as colonies amid enemy territory – and who demand this autonomy be recognized. In Britain, imams have pressed the government to designate part of Bradford as being under Muslim law. In Belgium, Muslims in the Brussels neighborhood of Sint-Jans-Molenbeek consider it to be under Islamic jurisdiction. In Denmark, Muslim leaders have sought similar control over parts of Copenhagen. In France, an official met with an imam at the edge of Roubaix’s Muslim district out of respect for his declaration that it was Islamic territory. In many cities, police have stopped patrolling certain enclaves, the authorities having effectively ceded control to local religious leaders.
No surprise, then, that a Muslim rioter in Aarhus, Denmark, the other day cried out: “This area belongs to us!” Amir Taheri, editor of Politique Internationale, noted that the main reason for the French riots is not that two youths died hiding from cops in a transformer station; it’s that the state responded to the initial unrest by sending police into an area that many locals saw as their own inviolate domain. These riots, in short, are early battles in a continent-wide turf war.
It’s a war authorities can’t afford to lose. By accepting separatism, Europe is becoming a house divided against itself. Governments must take a firm, aggressive, integration- oriented line – must, among other things, end separate treatment in schools and turn welfare recipients into workers. Above all, they must stand alongside Muslims who wish to integrate – not those who seek to colonize. And they must hope – and pray – that it isn’t already too late.
• Bruce Bawer’s book, “While Europe Slept,” will be published by Doubleday in February. A native New Yorker, he now lives in Oslo.
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