Squabbles and Wrangles in the Muslim World

The minaret of the mosque of the Muslim center in east London towers over Whitechapel road. (Photo: Odd Andersen / AFP-Getty Images)

"Muslim doesn't mean terrorist," asserts Dalil Boubaker, president of the French Muslim council (CFCM), the organization that represents the 5 million French Muslims. He is tired of justifying the moderation of the great majority of his members. As Hichem Cabrera, chief editor of the Spanish Web site Webislam, states, Europeans believe that "a potential terrorist hides in every Muslim, ready to blow himself up at any time."

Unhealthy Associations

Five years after the attacks in New York, a wave of Islamophobia is submerging Europe. According to a 2005 poll by the International Federation for Human Rights in Helsinki (IHF-HR), "following the Sept. 11 attacks, European Muslim minorities faced increasing hostility."

The fever around the Mohammed caricatures in Denmark, the fires in English mosques, racist incidents, and the apparition of ghettoes prove one thing.

"Terrorism and its link to radical Islam have made Europeans even more mistrustful," revealed the Pew Research Center, one of the most notorious opinion poll centers in the U.S., last spring.

This level of mistrust varies from country to country. According to Pew, only 39 percent of French Muslims feel that Europeans are hostile toward them, against 52 percent of German Muslims.

Jocelyne Césari, an Islam expert and author of "Islam à l'épreuve de l'Occident," claims that "this feeling of discrimination against Muslims appeared before the Sept. 11 attacks and was present in France since the 1995 attacks orchestrated by the Algerian G.I.A. in Paris. Nevertheless politicians today criminalize Muslim religious discourse."

Olivier Roy, research director at the C.N.R.S. and author of "Globalized Islam": The aggravation of the negative vision of Islam has two consequences among Muslims. A minority close themselves to others and victimize themselves whereas the majority fights to assert their respectability and sense of citizenship."


The increasingly harsh antiterrorist measures have not helped integrate Muslim communities. The discourse around immigration is tougher.

"The anti-terrorist policies which are based on tightening security, do not work," says Boubaker. "It is urgent that the West tackle fairly the conflict between Israel and Palestine and stabilize the region. Today it seems easier to become extremist given that the modern media is populist, likes bloodshed, and fuels the debate around stereotypes of Islam inherited from centuries of deformation."

No to Globalization

It is impossible though to deny that certain believers are becoming more radical. The existence of extremist hubs in Southeast Asia, maintained by the instability in Afghanistan and the conflict in Kashmir, fuels the debate around fanatic terrorists.

The assassination of the Dutch film director Theo van Gogh in 2004 and the extremist preaching of the imams in the Finsbury Park Mosque, epicenter of the 90's "Londonistan," question the Dutch and British approach to multiculturalism.

According to Boubaker, "their tolerance and approach to different communities have encouraged the emergence of fanatical Islam."

Pew confirms this trend: 81 percent of British Muslims say they are more Muslim than British whereas only 46 percent of French Muslims claim they are Muslim first before being French.

The Muslim converts who embrace Jihads are a characteristic European problem.

"For these youths, Islam is an ideology of resistance which allows them to reject economic marginalization and the inequalities brought about by globalization and by the technocracy of the European project," says Césari.

How Useful Are Islamic Organizations?

Many governments have decided to integrate Islam into representative organizations in order to stop the vicious circle that leads from marginalization to radicalism. Nevertheless, this process is difficult.

"A properly representative organization is an illusion," maintains Paul Landau, researcher and author of "The Sword and the Koran." "The attempt to federate Muslims at a national level is contrary to the notion of the Ummah, a universal community of believers. The most political Muslims are also the most radical."

Is it better to abandon all institutional attempts? Césari is not far from reaching this conclusion.

"We must abandon the illusion of a great mufti," she claims. "Why centralize when the cultures and the ethnical makeup of these communities are so diverse? In Germany, who will represent Muslims, the Turks or the Alevis?"

"These organizations don't work," believes Olivier Roy, "because Muslims don't want official structures. Furthermore these organizations are victims of political divisions and of the state intervention."

Despite the debate around Islam, integration, and immigration, the Muslim world is reaching an identity crisis that fuels the terrorist movement. Does the Koran need modernizing? "There is no one vision of the Koran," responds Boubaker. "Leave the Koran alone: it's the way it is understood which must change. Muslims must be more reasonable in their interpretation of the holy book."