By Geoff Mortimore, from The Local:

As religious tensions continue to cause friction in Sweden and elsewhere, Lutherans, Catholics, and Muslims in a small Stockholm suburb have come together to present a new model for religious tolerance, The Local’s Geoff Mortimore discovers.On the other side of the Atlantic, an emotional debate rages about the suitability of building a mosque near the Ground Zero site in New York City.

At the same time, the recent political upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East has raised concerns in some quarters that religious fundamentalism may fill the void.



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.


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.


Review of Paul Berman’s Flight of the Intellectuals by Marc Lynch, from Foreign Affairs Magazine:

This spring, Tariq Ramadan arrived in the United States nearly six years after being denied a visa by the Bush administration. The U.S. government had previously refused Ramadan entry on the grounds that he had donated to a French charity with ties to Hamas. Then, last January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Ramadan was welcome. His appearance in the United States seemed to manifest the White House’s changing rhetoric about the Muslim world. In June 2009, President Barack Obama spoke in Cairo of reaching out to Muslims with “mutual interest and mutual respect.” Figures such as Ramadan —  symbols of a nonviolent Islamism long shunned as enablers of extremism — may now represent a bridge across previously intractable divides.

Paul Berman will have none of this. His book The Flight of the Intellectuals, based on a 28,000-word essay published three years ago in The New Republic, mounts a furious counterattack from the bygone days of the Bush administration. Too many in the United States and Europe, Berman argues, are confronting the wrong enemy. Violent Islamists do not pose the greatest danger; instead, it is their so-called moderate cousins, who are able to draw well-meaning liberals into a poisonous embrace. Their rejection of violence is both partial — not extending to Israel or to U.S. troops in Iraq — and misleading. In Berman’s telling, the Islamist project of societal transformation from below does profound violence to the individual Muslims who are forced to live in an increasingly constricted milieu. The only defensible response is to repel the stealth Islamism of putative moderates with a morally pure vision of liberalism.

But such a polemic, in fact, poorly serves those concerned about the rise of political Islam in the West. Berman does flag important debates about Islam’s impact on Europe and the world, but he is an exceedingly poor guide to navigating them. His reading of Islamism, based on a narrow selection of sources read in translation and only a sliver of the vast scholarship on the subject, fails to grasp its political and intellectual context. He is blind to the dramatic variation and competition across and within groups — above all, to the fierce war between the Salafi purists who call for a literalistic Islam insulated from modernity and the modernizing pragmatists who seek to adapt Islam to the modern world. This blindness feeds the worst instincts of those hard-liners who are fomenting an avoidable clash between Islam and the West. His obsession with Nazism is distracting, and his dissection of Ramadan approaches the pathological. His caustic rhetoric toward writers such as Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash does not suggest the liberal or tolerant ethos to which he claims allegiance.


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.


From the Economist:

HOW likely are French parliamentarians to approve the proposed “burqa ban”? Deputies get their first chance to debate the idea in parliament on Tuesday May 11th. As a first step, the National Assembly will examine a resolution, which carries symbolic value, but not legal force. Yet it will be a good test of the political mood. It is likely to be approved with thunderous cross-party support.

French backing for a burqa ban across the political spectrum is sometimes hard to understand. In many multicultural quarters of Europe, the idea is linked to the extreme or nationalist right. In Britain, for instance, the only party proposing a total burqa ban during the recent general-election campaign was the United Kingdom Independence Party, which also wants to pull the country out of the European Union. The far-right British National Party also called for a burqa ban in schools. One Labour minister replied that it was “not British” to tell people what to wear in the street. In a speech in Cairo last year, President Barack Obama argued that Western countries should not be “dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear”.

In France, however, the proposal draws backing from the mainstream left and right. President Nicolas Sarkozy, from the political right, said last year that the burqa, as the French call it (in reality, they mean the niqab, or all-over face-covering veil), was “not welcome” on French soil. Jean-François Copé, the leader of the ruling UMP party in parliament, has been the most active in pushing for a total ban (The Economist interviewed Mr Copé last week). Yet the idea is also backed by politicians of all stripes, including the Communist head of a parliamentary inquiry into a ban, and various leading Socialists.


From Al-Jazeera English:

Muslims, academics and human rights groups have hit out at a looming public ban in Belgium on the full face veil, following a decision in the country’s parliament to make the wearing of the article of clothing illegal.

The vote on Thursday was almost unanimous with 134 MPs in support of the law and just two abstentions.

“I think they’re trying to wind us up,” Souad Barlabi, a young woman wearing a simple veil, said outside the Grand Mosque in Brussels, the Belgian capital, around the time of Friday prayers.

“We feel under attack,” she said, a day after the politicians voted for the ban on clothes or veils that do not allow the wearer to be fully identified.