“One rain-soaked evening, in a bus stop on the road leading to a castle overlooking the picturesque German town of Marburg, an especially frank piece of graffiti caught my eye: ‘To hell with Islam!’ In this remote, pastoral setting, the words at first appeared out of place. But in today’s Europe, and in Germany in particular, this sort of attitude toward Islam should come as no surprise. Since the September 11 attacks in America, and the subsequent terrorist attacks by al Qaeda on European soil, the Continent has witnessed a rising tide of hostility toward Muslims living there, from violent rhetorical outbursts to physical attacks on mosques and businesses….
“It is hard to avoid comparing this new animosity toward Muslims to the traditional manifestations of a much older hatred – anti-Semitism. The fear of a minority that practices an unfamiliar form of worship and is believed to be worming its way into Christian or Western culture, undermining its values, shaped the relationship between Europe and the Jews in its midst for hundreds of years….
“The temptation to draw parallels between past and present is unquestionably strong – but is it justified? There are certainly some notable points of similarity between prewar European anti-Semitism and the enmity directed toward the Muslim immigrants living in Europe now. However, there is a quintessential difference between the two: The fear of a Jewish conspiracy against European civilization had no basis in fact, whereas fear of the expansionist ambitions openly expressed by senior figures in the Muslim-Arab world, and shared by some ordinary Muslims, is not groundless….
“Egyptian born Muhammad al-Ghazali, one of the most outstanding contemporary Muslim scholars, conceives of the possibility that hundreds of thousands of immigrants ‘will not only keep their faith but will become pioneers in spreading it, if the Muslim nation wants this and will work toward achieving it’. Hamdi Hassan, who lectures on communications at al-Azhar University in Cairo, perceives the Muslim presence on European soil as proof that the spread of the Islamic faith has graduated from the defensive stage of the 18th and 19th centuries to a new phase of dissemination. And Muhammad al-Hanni, chairman of the Dar al-Ri’aya al-Islamiyya organization in London, believes Muslim immigrants represent the potential for establishing an ‘alternative civilization’ in the West, the decline of which we are now witnessing.”
Uriya Shavit in Azure, Autumn 2007
Reprinted in the Wall Street Journal, 14 November 2007