The Islamic Challenge: Politics and Religion in Western Europe

The Islamic Challenge: Politics and Religion in Western Europe

The Islamic Challenge: Politics and Religion in Western Europe

The Islamic Challenge: Politics and Religion in Western Europe

Synopsis

The voices in this book belong to legislators, local officials, doctors and engineers, educators and intellectuals, lawyers and social workers, owners of small businesses, translators, and community activists. They are also all Muslims, who have decided to become engaged in political and civicorganizations. And for that reason, they constantly have to explain themselves, mostly in order to say who they are not. They are not fundamentalists, not terrorists, and most do not support the introduction of Islamic religious law in Europe - especially not its application to Christians. This bookis about who these people are, and what they want. This book is based on three hundred interviews with European Muslim leaders from six European countries: Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Great Britain, France, and Germany. The question of Islam in Europe is not a matter of global war and peace but raises difficult questions about the positions ofChristianity and Islam in public life, and about European identities. There is not one Muslim position on how Islam should develop in Europe but many views, and most Muslims are rather looking for ways to build institutions that will allow European Muslims to practice their religion in a way that iscompatible with social integration.

Excerpt

The voices in this book belong to parliamentarians, city councilors, doctors and engineers, a few professors, lawyers and social workers, owners of small businesses, translators, and community activists. They are also all Muslims who have decided to become engaged in political and civic organizations. They are Europe’s new Muslim political elite. And for that reason, they are in the special role of constantly having to explain themselves, mostly in order to say who they are not. They are not fundamentalists, not terrorists, and they mostly do not support the introduction of Islamic religious law in Europe, and they definitely do not support applying it to Christians. This book is about who these people are, and what they want.

Without the willingness of these 300 people to explain themselves yet once more, for my benefit, and to do so at great length, and under the pressure of what may have seemed undiplomatic questioning, this book would not have been possible. Many people invited me to their offices or homes. Others I met with in mosques or coffee bars, or in the temporary offices I borrowed from academic friends across Western Europe. Often what was supposed to be a thirty-minute interview went on for much longer. The leaders chosen for interviews were from Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Great Britain, France, and Germany.

I learned to find my way in every one of the legislatures in six countries. I had tea in the House of Lords and a beer in the Dutch Tweede Kamer. I saw the empty hall of the Swedish Riksdagen—‘the most boring place in Stockholm’, the young member told me, as she showed me around—and squeezed into an office the size of a large broom closet in the cramped French Sénat. The posh new offices of the German Bundestag seemed like the parliamentarian’s dream until I learned that you had to petition the architect for permission to change the trash can or bring in a new chair.

I was treated to coffee and cake, home-cooked dinners, and great hospitality. ‘You are the first one to come and talk to us,’ I was often told. ‘Thank you for coming.’ Once I was scolded, and another time I was asked to leave because my presence was considered offensive. That was it. Two incidents. Even when my presence was clearly unusual, I was treated graciously and made to feel welcome.

My respondents were very largely moderate Muslims, but I did also meet some radicals. An interview with someone who presented himself as a ‘moderate’, but who I later discovered to be a member of Hamas, triggered my . . .

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