A few days ago, the German newspaper Die Welt decided
to show its support for freedom of the press by publishing the
controversial Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad -- on the
front page, no less. Germany is home to some 3 million Muslims.
And something interesting happened when Die Welt took
that risky step: nothing.
That is not entirely
surprising. Though the cartoons appeared first in Denmark, the
violent protests occurred far away, in places like Syria, Lebanon,
Gaza and Afghanistan. Still, the underlying worry about this whole
episode is that it offers a dire warning for the fate of Europe.
number of Muslims, it is argued, will eventually lead to the repression
of anything critical of Islam. Journalist Mark Steyn speculated
recently in the Wall Street Journal's online Opinion
Journal that the continent could be under Sharia (Islamic religious
law) by 2040. "We're already seeing a drift in that direction,"
Well, it turns out
that some parts of Europe already ban the sort of blasphemy at
issue here -- under laws written to protect Christian sensibilities.
Denmark, as it happens, provides up to four months in jail for
anyone "who publicly offends or insults a religion."
In Germany, reports the broadcast outlet Deutsche Welle, one magazine
has been sued eight times under an anti-blasphemy law enacted
The danger, I gather, is that Europe's Muslims will be just as
intolerant of criticism of their faith as Europe's Christians
used to be of theirs. That would certainly be a bad thing. But
to assume that more Muslims will inevitably turn France or Germany
into a turbaned theocracy brings to mind the bumper sticker that
says, "I get all the exercise I need jumping to conclusions."
In the first place,
not all Muslims are alike. Just as Christianity encompasses everything
from monasteries in Kenya to mega-churches in Texas, Islam means
different things in different places. Saudi Arabia, a model of
religious totalitarianism, is the exception, not the norm. Muslim
nations vary considerably in their policies on alcohol, women's
rights, religious freedom, support for terrorism and the like.
Most Muslims here
in Germany come from Turkey, which has had a resolutely secular
government for some 80 years. The Muslims who rioted last fall
in France were angry about perceived police abuses and discrimination,
not miniskirts on the Champs-Elysees. To assume that Muslims in
Europe universally aspire to rule by ayatollahs is like assuming
that Christians in the United States would all love to see Pat
Robertson elected president.
It's true that vicious
extremism does occasionally emerge -- as when a Dutch filmmaker
who publicly disparaged Islam was murdered by a radical Muslim
in 2004. But the killer is hardly typical of his co-religionists
on the continent.
In Denmark, local
Muslims responded to the cartoons in law-abiding ways -- gathering
petitions, talking to the newspaper editor, filing a criminal
complaint, marching peacefully in Copenhagen. Only when the issue
got attention in the Middle East did mayhem erupt. Even then,
it occurred in only a few places, not all across the Muslim world.
There is no reason
to believe that Muslims in Europe favor the torching of embassies.
The head of one of Germany's biggest Islamic groups denounced
what he called "an incensed and thoughtless mob," and
said, "We abhor such actions."
There is no doubt,
though, that Europe has a Muslim problem, stemming from its reluctance
to embrace immigrants as full citizens. Germany has had large
numbers of Turks since the 1960s, but for decades it took the
position enunciated by a government commission in 1977: "Germany
is not an immigrant country. Germany is a place of residence for
foreigners who will eventually return home voluntarily."
has resisted the idea that North Africans could be fully French.
As a result, many immigrants have remained outsiders, which discourages
them from adopting the libertarian mores that prevail in 21st-century
Assimilation of foreigners
is often a lengthy and painful process, as Americans know from
experience. But it can be done, and it offers the best hope of
preserving the values of the host country. When foreign arrivals
live and work among native-born Americans, they and their children
generally acquire a similar view of the world. The same process
can work elsewhere.
If Europe wants to
remain a free and tolerant place, the answer is not to treat Muslims
as a dangerous alien presence. It's to get busy turning them into
2006 Creators Syndicate