by John L. Esposito and Sheila B. Lalwani, for the San Francisco Chronicle:

The Pew Center on Religion & Public Life recently released a comprehensive study of Muslim populations around the world that should allay fears among many of an impending global Muslim takeover and debunk widely held beliefs about Muslims. The findings of “The Future of the Global Muslim Population: Projections for 2010-2030” should also challenge the public to reconsider its perception of Islam and Muslims.

Skeptics, particularly those in Europe and North America, have long sounded alarm bells regarding the growth of the Muslim population.

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By Roger Cohen, from the New York Times:

Just when you thought France could sink no further, it discovers improbable new depths to plumb thanks to outgoing coach Raymond Domenech, whose gift for combining the imperious, the inept and the insulting has few equals in sporting history.

No wonder President Nicolas Sarkozy has called crisis ministerial meetings on the French World Cup debacle. The daily Le Monde went further, drawing parallels between this “strange defeat” and another, on the front lines of 1940.

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By Gana Pianigiani, for the New York Times:

SIENA, Italy — No horse race is more sacred in Italy than the Palio, which traces its lineage back 700 years. This year, however, the hotly contested chase has taken an unexpectedly ecumenical — and disputed — twist.

For the first time, a Muslim painter was asked to design the Palio, or banner, that the winner takes home at the end of the race, which is conducted two days every year around Siena’s distinctive shell-shaped square.

Not everyone was pleased with the choice, though that was not evident Friday evening, when residents of the winning district, or contrada, as Siena’s 17 neighborhoods within the city walls are known, jumped over fencing that lined the square to grab the Palio, crying and shouting with joy.

The horse representing their contrada had won the race, and they did not seem particularly bothered that the banner has generated controversy in the local and national media during the past weeks over what some have called “a profanation” of the Sienese tradition.

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By Federico Ferrone, Michele Manzolini and Akram Adouani, from AlJazeera English:

Italy is a popular destination, but not just for tourists. Each year thousands of illegal immigrants arrive on Italy’s shores, mostly via boats from Libya and Tunisia.

Italy’s conservative government has responded by passing tougher anti-immigration laws, but the situation is turning explosive.

Roberto Calderoli, a minister in Silvio Berlusconi’s government, says: “When they reach our shores, we should send them back to where they came from. Not accept them from Libya’s coast.”

Some accuse the government of racism and Islamophobia, others believe the immigrants are an “enemy within”.

“When we first arrived, Perugia was the city that attracted the most students. All those coming to Italy were students. No-one came for work because back then Italy did not offer job opportunities to foreigners,” says Altonji Ridwan, the director of the Islamic Centre in Bologna.

“We were all university students, mostly of medicine, engineering or pharmacology. These attracted the most university students.”

Ridwan says that at the end of the 1980s, and in the early and mid 1990s, the purpose of immigration changed from studying to job-hunting due to the poor economic situation in Arab and third world countries.

“This has caused a problem. Along with the good Muslims came some elements whose behaviour damaged the image of the good Muslims here. We are not responsible for the behaviour of these people who act in a non-Islamic way. But their incorrect behaviour was exploited and focused upon in order to brand all Muslims as violent, terrorists and drug dealers,” Ridwan says.

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By Pankaj Mishra, for the New Yorker:

Was the prophet Muhammad a pervert and a tyrant? Does Islam promote terrorism and enslave women? Does Islam oblige its followers to wage jihad on Westerners whose roots lie in the secular Enlightenment? Should Muslims consider converting to Christianity? For the Somali-born writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the answer to all these questions is a resounding “Yes!” Hirsi Ali, who renounced Islam in her thirties, speaks from experience of bigotry and intolerance among her former co-religionists: she was genitally mutilated as a child in Somalia, briefly radicalized by a preacher of jihad in Kenya, nearly forced into a marriage, threatened with death in the Netherlands by the Muslim assassin of her collaborator, the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, and is still hounded by murderous fanatics in her new home, America. In her latest book, “Nomad: From Islam to America” (Free Press; $27), she reminds her readers of the West’s tradition of intellectual revolt against clerical tyranny and warns of the insidious, intransigent enemies in their midst. “The Muslim mind today seems to be in the grip of jihad,” she writes.She is not hopeful that Americans will heed her warning. Her initial job interviews in the United States were discouraging: the Brookings Institution, she writes, worried that she might offend Arab Muslims. (The conservative American Enterprise Institute, however, immediately appointed her as a fellow.) On college campuses, Muslim students accuse her of wanting to “trash” Islam, while Western feminists, convinced that white men are “the ultimate and only oppressors,” lack the “courage or clarity of vision” to help her knock down the mental “hovels” of the East. Pointing to Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s murderous rampage in Texas, last November, she deplores the “conspiracy to ignore the religious motivation for these killings” in America.

Muslims today, Hirsi Ali believes, must be forced to choose between the darkness of Islam and the light of the modern secular West. In her new book, which bears the additional subtitle “A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations,” she takes an uncompromising line with her own relatives, who remain faithful to their benighted religion. The book opens with an account of her visit to her father’s deathbed, in Whitechapel, in London’s East End, in 2008. Her father, a highly respected political opponent of Somalia’s Soviet-backed military dictator, became more religious during exile and old age. Father and daughter hadn’t spoken since 2004, when Hirsi Ali and van Gogh made the film “Submission,” about the oppression of Muslim women, and she learned that he was fatally ill only a few weeks before his death. She didn’t want to visit him at his home, since it was in “a mostly immigrant area and overwhelmingly Muslim,” and had to be escorted by policemen to his hospital. In a brief but moving scene, she describes her father longing, but physically unable, to communicate with her.

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Book review by David Rieff, from the World Affairs Journal:

For Christopher Caldwell, an American columnist for the Financial Times and contributor to the New York Times Magazine and the Weekly Standard, the end of Europe as we have known it and as it has known itself is not just possible but inevitable. His new book is a grim explication of this thesis and an investigation—part reportage, part history, part analysis, part social theory—both of the deep roots within European culture and politics for this looming catastrophe, and of its proximate cause, which, for Caldwell, is obvious and undeniable: the mass migration of Muslim immigrants to Europe and the sinister prospect of their dominance. His book, he writes, asks “whether you can have the same Europe with different people. The answer is no.”

Caldwell is so utterly persuaded that post-1945 Europe is “a civilization in decline” that he barely sees the need to confront the argument of those who take a more optimistic view. In his telling, Europe’s prosperity, technological sophistication, and success in assuring the material well-being of more of its population than any society (including that of the United States) has ever been able to assure in human history, is largely irrelevant, at least when compared with Europe’s spiritual loss of faith in itself. For Caldwell, as for Schopenhauer, Dostoyevsky, Shestov, Spengler, and Cioran, whose worldview his book largely shares, Napoleon’s maxim, that in war “the moral is to the material as three to one,” would seem to apply to society as a whole.

What does puzzle Caldwell is why this decline has been so precipitous. And while he discusses a number of the elements at some length, including the decline of Christianity, above all in the sense that religion provided an anchor to European identity—a perspective that in his view has made Europeans particularly susceptible to a debilitating form of universalism—he seems to realize that, taken together, all of this explains very little. He is reduced to saying the continent is “missing some hard-to-define factor” that would allow its elites to stop conniving in their own disappearance. If he can’t say what exactly that factor is, Caldwell is persuaded that Europe can’t either. And that is his essential point: this incapacity to know and define European values explains why Muslim immigrants will transform Europe culturally and politically instead of the other way around, which would seem more likely, given the economic, educational, and political imbalance in Europe’s favor.

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