Liberal Europeans Grow Uneasy With Muslim Minority

Liberal Europeans grow uneasy with Muslim minority

Arizona Daily Star
Posted: Monday, March 15, 2010 12:00 am | Comments

LONDON – With the West locked in conflicts across the Muslim world, why would anyone throw fuel on the fire?

A small group of Europeans has been doing just that – provoking death plots and at least one murder by turning out art that derides the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran in the name of Western values.

Behind the scenes is something bigger: a rising European unease with a rapidly growing Muslim minority, and the spreading sense that the continent has become a front in a clash of civilizations.

Recent events – including surprising electoral success by an anti-Islamic Dutch party, moves to ban veils in France and minarets in Switzerland, and arrests in Ireland and the U.S. this week in an alleged plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist – are signs of the rising tensions.

Swedish artist Lars Vilks says he was defending freedom of speech when he produced a crude black-and-white drawing of Muhammad with a dog's body in 2007. Authorities say that set him in the crosshairs of an assassination plot by extremists including Colleen LaRose, a 46-year-old Muslim convert from Pennsylvania who dubbed herself “Jihad Jane.”

Vilks said in a recent Associated Press interview that he wasn't interested in offending Muslims as an end in itself, but wanted to show that he could make provocative art about any topic he chose. “There is nothing so holy you can't offend it,” he said.

The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten also said it was defending free speech in 2005 when it printed 12 cartoons of Muhammad, one in a bomb-shaped turban, setting off protests and the torching of Western embassies in several Muslim countries. Dutch populist politician Geert Wilders said he was promoting European values by producing “Fitna,” a 15-minute film that lays images of the Sept. 11 attacks alongside verses from the Quran. The film was shown in Britain's House of Lords this month.

Millions of moderate Europeans also are re-examining the meaning of the liberal values widely cherished across the continent. How, they ask, should a liberal society respectfully deal with immigrants who often espouse illiberal values? Should the immigrants adopt the values of their adoptive land – or should society change to accommodate the newcomers who now form part of it?

France, home to 5 million of the estimated 14 million Muslims in Western Europe, launched a parliament-run dialogue on what to do about full-face veils last year. It ended with a parliamentary panel recommending a ban on the veils in buses, trains, hospitals, post offices and public sector facilities. In December, Swiss voters backed a ballot initiative banning the building of any new minarets.

The measures sparked some peaceful protests. But the most incendiary provocations have come from the Dutch and their Nordic neighbors, nations with long histories of homogeneity, tradition of provocative artwork and less experience with large-scale immigration than former colonial titans like Britain and France.

Jan Hjarpe, a professor emeritus of Islamic studies at Lund University in southern Sweden, near Vilks' home, said the deliberate provocations were helpful to Islamic extremists, who have been hunting for targets that would win them popularity in the Muslim world.

“It has had almost no effect on the Muslim community in Sweden, who regard it as not very interesting,” he said. “These threats against him have to do with extremist groups that want something to react to.”

Posted in World on Monday, March 15, 2010 12:00 am Updated: 10:30 pm.