Across Europe, a New Culture Clash

A gulf widens between Muslims and those of other faiths.

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And when potentially inflammatory incidents crop up, European organizations, in cooperation with Muslim counterparts, are becoming more proactive. After some Dutch Moroccans were accused of shouting anti-Semitic slogans during a World War II memorial ceremony, the Amsterdam Migrant Center launched a school program on the contributions of Moroccan soldiers in the liberation of Europe. With that lesson for students, says von der Fuhr, "the Second World War also became their world war."

At the same time, countries across Europe are increasingly working to counteract the negative preaching of the radical imams appealing to disaffected Muslim youth. In France and Britain, there are programs to create "homegrown" imams who can earn anything from vocational certificates to university degrees. The Netherlands has created an imam buddy system, linking volunteers to imams coming from overseas. One imam was paired with a Jewish homosexual student. "Now, he's the only imam I know who has a museum card and rides a bike," says von der Fuhr.

Still, the cultural strains are evident to Nina Muehe, a German with bright-blue eyes who converted to Islam three years ago while doing volunteer work in Africa. After making the decision to wear the hijab, the traditional Muslim headscarf, she has found that the reaction among friends and strangers ranges from patronizing to prejudiced. Trained as an anthropologist, Muehe never expected to feel so alien. In December, she arrived at a school offering to do mediation counseling for teachers and parents of Muslim students. But when Muehe showed up wearing the headscarf, she was turned away by the principal because of a legal ban on public-school teachers' wearing the hijab. "Now I can see that we as Europeans are tolerant, but only within limits."

There is, experts agree, even more to come. With the appointment of an EU terrorism czar, the adoption of a European arrest warrant, and rapidly increasing government surveillance of Muslim communities in Europe, the suspicions and social collisions, say some, will intensify.

At the offices of the Islamic Federation in Berlin's Kreuzberg neighborhood, a leafy, canal-lined residential area for the city's more-established Muslim families, Islamic Federation Chairman Burhan Kesici reports that he, too, has heard about the trouble with the Muslim children at Rixdorfer Elementary. His students have been calling non-Muslim classmates "pork eaters" and the like. This, he acknowledges, is not good. "But there is no more trust left in the German system," says Kesici. "And times have changed. There are more and more Muslim people living here, and [German authorities] have to realize this and change their structures, so the problems don't become worse." Principal Berning, he says, has been in no hurry to work with him. Berning responds that she won't work with radicals, and she often puts down the telephone and walks away from it while Kesici is talking. They are at a stalemate, but 15 more schools in Berlin alone are scheduled to initiate Islamic education classes this year.

And as the sun sets at Speakers' Corner in London, the group of Christian hecklers heads to a nearby KFC to debrief. "We spend all of our time listening to the moderate Muslims, but no one is talking to the radicals," says Jay Smith, who leads the Christian workshops. "It is an ideal way to find out what they're saying." He fears this could all end if the proposed hate laws pass. Muhammed Dawud, pausing for a moment to let a passerby borrow the prayer rug draped over his shoulder, agrees. "Why would you want to have a law that would regulate what people say?" he wonders. "We don't support these laws." Neither does Merali, of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, nor a man calling himself Red, a recent immigrant from Morocco who loves coming down to Speakers' Corner. "I think Speakers' Corner is the best thing that I have ever seen in this world for entertainment," he says. "You can talk about religion, and no one can stop you from doing it. And here, you also learn how to discuss things."