Earlier this year, I visited the famous basilica of Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris. I admired the magnificent tombs and funerary monuments of the kings and queens of France, including that of Charles Martel (“the hammer”), whose victory over the invading Muslim armies near Poitiers in 732 AD is traditionally held to have halted the Islamization of Europe. Stepping out of the basilica, I walked a hundred yards across the Place Victor Hugo to the main commercial street, which was thronged with local shoppers of Arab and African origin, including many women wearing the hijab. I caught myself thinking: So the Muslims have won the Battle of Poitiers after all! Won it not by force of arms, but by peaceful immigration and fertility.
Just down the road from the basilica of the kings, in the discreet backyard offices of the Tawhid association, I met Abdelaziz Eljaouhari, the son of Berber Moroccan immigrants and an eloquent Muslim political activist. He talked with fluent passion, in perfect French, about the misery of the impoverished housing projects around Paris—which, as we spoke, were again wracked by protests—and the chronic social discrimination against immigrants and their descendants. France’s so-called “Republican model,” he said furiously, means in practice “I speak French, am called Jean-Daniel, and have blue eyes and blond hair.” If you are called Abdelaziz, have a darker skin, and are Muslim to boot, the French Republic does not practice what it preaches. “What égalité is there for us?” he asked. “What liberté? What fraternité?” And then he delivered his personal message to Nicolas Sarkozy, the hard-line interior minister and leading right-wing candidate to succeed Jacques Chirac as French president, in words that I will never forget. “Moi,” said Abdelaziz Eljaouhari, in a ringing voice, “Moi, je suis la France!”
And, he might have added, l’Europe. For the profound alienation of many Muslims—especially the second and third generations of immigrant families, young men and women themselves born in Europe—is one of the most vexing problems facing the continent today. If things continue to go as badly as they are at the moment, this alienation, and the way it both feeds and is fed by the resentments of mainly white, Christian or post-Christian Europeans, could tear apart the civic fabric of Europe’s most established democracies. It has already catalyzed the rise of populist anti-immigrant parties, and contributed very directly to the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 (hijackers such as Mohamed Atta were radicalized during their time in Europe), the Madrid bombings of March 11, 2004, the murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh on November 2, 2004, the London bombings of July 7, 2005, and the planned attempt to blow up several passenger planes flying from Britain to the US, foiled by the British authorities on August 10, 2006.
Europe’s difficulties with its Muslims are also the subject of hysterical oversimplification, especially in the United States, where stereotypes of …