December 19th, 2004


"The French are scared,"

said Tair Abdelkader, 38, a regular at the tented mosque whose light blue eyes and ebony beard are the legacy of a French mother and Algerian father. "In 10 years, the Muslim community will be stronger and stronger, and French political culture must accept that."

By midcentury, at least one in five Europeans will be Muslim... The West must decide how its laws and values will shape and be shaped by Islam.

For Europe, as well as the United States, the question is not which civilization, Western or Islamic, will prevail, but which of Islam's many strands will dominate. Will it be compatible with Western values or will it reject them?

Center stage in that debate is France, home to the largest Islamic community on the continent, an estimated 5 million Muslims... "Gradually the French people left or died, and they were replaced by more people from North Africa," said Brigitte Fouvez, 55, deputy mayor in the neighboring town of Bondy. "The French people who stayed would say, `You can smell the cooking in the hallways,' and eventually they left too"...

From the Paris suburbs 25 years ago, Shiite Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini planned a revolution that ultimately overthrew the Shah of Iran and, in turn, helped inspire a global Islamic revival. The fallout is easily visible today as the children and grandchildren of Muslim immigrants in Europe increasingly embrace religion. In France and England, polls show greater commitment to daily prayers, mosque attendance and fasting during Ramadan than there was a decade ago...

The results are stark. Within six years, for instance, the three largest cities in the Netherlands will be majority Muslim. One-third of all German Muslims are younger than 18, nearly twice the proportion of the general population.

With that growth, and the deepening strains between the U.S. and the Islamic world, radical Muslim clerics have found no shortage of adherents. A 2002 poll of British Muslims found that 44 percent believe attacks by Al Qaeda are justified as long as "Muslims are being killed by America and its allies using American weapons." Germany estimates that there are 31,000 Islamists in the country, based on membership lists of conservative federations...

The potentially serious effects of that radicalization became clear on March 11, when coordinated bombings of four commuter trains in Madrid killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800. Moroccan and Tunisian suspects later killed themselves in a standoff with police.

More recently, the Netherlands is in turmoil after the brutal killing of Theo van Gogh, who made a controversial film about violence against women in Islamic societies. Police arrested a 26-year-old man with Dutch-Moroccan citizenship and charged him with stabbing and shooting van Gogh. The suspect allegedly pinned a note to the body with a knife.

Within days, an Islamic school was set ablaze, and retribution followed. Right-wing politicians in Belgium and Germany demanded new curbs on immigration. In time, however, a more ominous fact emerged from the case: It was not the work of newly arrived immigrants with extremist views, but the product of homegrown radicalism. Police say suspect Mohammed Bouyeri wrote the death note in Dutch, not Arabic.

"This [cultural] schizophrenia is the most dangerous thing we face in Europe today," said Gilles Kepel, head of Middle East studies at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris and author of several books on Islam in Europe. "It means Madrid. It means Mohamed Atta," he said, referring to one of the Sept. 11 hijackers who lived for some time in Germany...