Leaving Islam





As a consequence of demography, history, ideology, and policy, western Europe now plays host to often disconsolate Muslim offspring, who are its citizens in name but not culturally or socially. In a fit of absentmindedness, during which its academics discoursed on the obsolescence of the nation-state, western Europe acquired not a colonial empire but something of an internal colony, whose numbers are roughly equivalent to the population of Syria. Many of its members are willing to integrate and try to climb Europe's steep social ladder. But many younger Muslims reject the minority status to which their parents acquiesced. A volatile mix of European nativism and immigrant dissidence challenges what the Danish sociologist Ole Waever calls "societal security," or national cohesion. To make matters worse, the very isolation of these diaspora communities obscures their inner workings, allowing mujahideen to fundraise, prepare, and recruit for jihad with a freedom available in few Muslim countries.

As these conditions developed in the late 1990s, even liberal segments of the European public began to have second thoughts about immigration. Many were galled by their governments' failure to reduce or even identify the sources of insécurité (a French code word for the combination of vandalism, delinquency, and hate crimes stemming from Muslim immigrant enclaves). The state appeared unable to regulate the entry of immigrants, and society seemed unwilling to integrate them. In some cases, the backlash was xenophobic and racist; in others, it was a reaction against policymakers captivated by a multiculturalist dream of diverse communities living in harmony, offering oppressed nationalities marked compassion and remedial benefits. By 2002, electoral rebellion over the issue of immigration was threatening the party systems of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, and the Netherlands. The Dutch were so incensed by the 2002 assassination of Pim Fortuyn, a gay anti-immigration politician, that mainstream parties adopted much of the victim's program. In the United Kingdom this spring, the Tories not only joined the ruling Labour Party in embracing sweeping immigration restrictions, such as tightened procedures for asylum and family reunification (both regularly abused throughout Europe) and a computerized exit-entry system like the new U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology program; they also campaigned for numerical caps on immigrants. With the Muslim headscarf controversy raging in France, talk about the connection between asylum abuse and terrorism rising in the United Kingdom, an immigration dispute threatening to tear Belgium apart, and the Dutch outrage over the van Gogh killing, western Europe may now be reaching a tipping point.



The uncomfortable truth is that disenfranchisement and radicalization are happening even in countries, such as the Netherlands, that have done much to accommodate Muslim immigrants. Proud of a legendary tolerance of minorities, the Netherlands welcomed tens of thousands of Muslim asylum seekers allegedly escaping persecution. Immigrants availed themselves of generous welfare and housing benefits, an affirmative-action hiring policy, and free language courses. Dutch taxpayers funded Muslim religious schools and mosques, and public television broadcast programs in Moroccan Arabic. Mohammed Bouyeri was collecting unemployment benefits when he murdered van Gogh.

The van Gogh slaying rocked the Netherlands and neighboring countries not only because the victim, a provocative filmmaker, was a descendant of the painter Vincent, the Dutch's most cherished icon, but also because Bouyeri was "an average second-generation immigrant," according to Stef Blok, the chairman of the parliamentary commission reviewing Bouyeri's immigration record. European counterterrorism authorities saw the killing as a new phase in the terrorist threat. It raised the specter of Middle East-style political assassinations as part of the European jihadist arsenal and it disclosed a new source of danger: unknown individuals among Europe's own Muslims. The cell in Hamburg that was connected to the attacks of September 11, 2001, was composed of student visitors, and the Madrid train bombings of March 2004 were committed by Moroccan immigrants. But van Gogh's killer and his associates were born and raised in Europe.

Bouyeri was the child of Moroccan immigrant workers. He grew up in a proletarian area of Amsterdam sometimes known as Satellite City because of the many reception dishes that sit on its balconies, tuned to al Jazeera and Moroccan television. Bouyeri's parents arrived in a wave of immigration in the 1970s and never learned Dutch. But Bouyeri graduated from the area's best high school. His transformation from promising student to jihadist follows a pattern in which groups of thriving, young European Muslims enlist in jihad to slaughter Westerners.

After graduating from a local college and then taking advanced courses in accounting and information technology, Bouyeri, who had an unruly temper, was jailed for seven months on a violence-related crime. He emerged from jail an Islamist, angry over Palestine and sympathetic to Hamas. He studied social work and became a community organizer. He wrote in a community newsletter that "the Netherlands is now our enemy because they participate in the occupation of Iraq." After he failed to get funding for a youth center in Satellite City and was unable to ban the sale of beer or the presence of women at the events he organized, he moved to downtown Amsterdam. There, he was recruited into the Hofstad Group, a cell of second-generation Islamic militants.

The cell started meeting every two weeks in Bouyeri's apartment to hear the sermons of a Syrian preacher known as Abu Khatib. Hofstad was connected to networks in Spain, Morocco, Italy, and Belgium, and it was planning a string of assassinations of Dutch politicians, an attack on the Netherlands' sole nuclear reactor, and other actions around Europe. European intelligence services have linked the cell to the Moroccan Islamic Combat Group, which is associated with the Madrid bombings and a series of attacks in Casablanca in 2003. Its Syrian imam was involved with mujahideen in Iraq and with an operational chief of al Qaeda. "Judging by Bouyeri's and the Hofstad network's international contacts," an analyst for the Norwegian government says, "it seems safe to conclude that they were part of the numerous terrorist plots that have been unraveled over the past years in western Europe."

The Hofstad Group should not be compared with marginal European terrorist groups of the past, such as the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, Action Directe in France, or the Red Brigades in Italy. Like other jihadist groups today, it enjoys what Marxist terrorists long sought but always lacked: a social base. And its base is growing rapidly, thanks in part to the war in Iraq.


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