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Europe’s Muslim future

  • 24 April 2006

In the gardens of the Great Mosque of Granada, tourists walk respectfully amid the greenery and tinkling fountains. A murmur of Qur’anic verses emerges from the clusters of students within the prayer hall. And from the mosque’s terrace, there are unparalleled views across the valley to the Alhambra—one of the world’s finest Islamic monuments. At first glance Granada is a picture of Islam’s harmony with the West, a model of coexistence that suggests Islam and Europe can live at peace. But the Great Mosque is the first to be built in Granada in almost 500 years. It took 22 years to build because the local inhabitants feared that it would lay the foundation for the reconquest of Spain by Islam, which was expelled from Iberia in 1492. Amid the bougainvillea and white-washed houses of the streets around the mosque, the graffiti reads ‘Moros fuera’ (Muslims out). Granada’s Great Mosque, conceived as a symbol of peace, has become a touchstone for a Europe that cannot decide what to do with the more than ten million Muslims who now call Europe home. The resulting debate—given new urgency in the wake of terrorist attacks carried out, supposedly in Islam’s name, in Madrid and London—has seen Europe shift away from its history of tolerant multiculturalism towards a policy of secular integration, towards the demand that Muslims become Europeans first and foremost. Few countries have woken up to the debate with the force of the Netherlands. When the controversial Dutch film-maker Theo Van Gogh was assassinated by a Muslim of Moroccan descent in November 2004, it provided the catalyst for a fundamental re-evaluation of the Dutch model of multiculturalism. Until the murder, the Netherlands’ one million Muslims (six per cent of the Dutch population) were permitted to follow their religion, send their children to Islamic schools and speak their languages of origin. Holland was proud of its tolerance, extending its cherished freedom from government interference to all immigrants who sought refuge on Dutch soil. After the murder of Van Gogh—a polemicist who compared Islam to bestiality—it was as if the world had changed overnight. Muslim schools were fire-bombed. Mosques were attacked. And politicians peddled the politics of fear. The influential former EU commissioner Frits Bolkestein took up the mantle of Pym Fortuyn, who called Islam a ‘backward religion’. Fortuyn was assassinated in 2002 and then, in November 2004, voted the greatest Dutch person of all time. Mr Bolkestein advocated compulsory integration