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The Economist and Euro-Islam

What the paper is missing.

12:00 AM, Jul 27, 2006 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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EUROPEANS HAVE BECOME RECEPTIVE to the argument that Israel participates in the global war on terror when it confronts Hezbollah. But the broadening of the context for conflict also means dragging in other issues and constituencies.

So far, the silence among European Muslims about the Israel-Lebanon confrontation has been deafening. Rather than pouring into the streets to denounce Israel, Euro-Muslims appear reluctant to get involved. Yet the background debate over the future of Euro-Islam has not subsided.

On this score, the Economist, the "newspaper" (as it always calls itself) which brilliantly recorded the English social upheavals of the early 19th century, has been a disappointment.

In recent attempts come to grips with the problems of Islam in Europe, the Economist has flopped. Its June 24 issue flaunted a cover with a graphic turning the Eiffel Tower into a mosque and the headline "Eurabia." Inside, the paper came down against the "Eurabia thesis," but failed to mention Europe's notable Islamic asset: the indigenous Muslim communities of the Balkans, especially the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Ultimately the solution for Islam in Europe lies with an indigenous, rather than an immigrant, Islamic leadership. Since the very great majority of Muslims in Europe are Sunnis, establishment of a single authority for the credentialing of clerics, according to a European standard regarding democratic principles, could easily be accomplished with Sarajevo as the location of such an administrative body.

Given that the majority of Western European Muslim clergy are foreigners, in Britain (from Pakistan and often extremist), in France (from North Africa), and in Germany (from Turkey), the development of the Balkans as the center of Euro-Islam could be the best, if not the only, solution to problems of integration. In addition, Bosnian Muslims have proven their moderation in full, if not extra, measure. (The status of Turkey remains a separate topic.)

The government of Slovenia, which has a small Muslim community, but lies near the Balkan Muslim lands, has made clear that its presidency of the European Union, which begins in 2008, will foster a debate over European Islam that will include central and eastern Europe as well as the Atlantic and western Mediterranean countries.

The Economist also failed to mention that the single largest European Muslim population consists of Russian Muslims; an oversight that became more relevant with the announcement of the killing of Caucasian Wahhabi radical Shamil Basayev on July 11.

The Economist's displayed a similarly weak grasp of matters in the July 15 edition, where it printed a dispatch describing a conference in Istanbul sponsored by the British Foreign Office, but "dreamed up" by Tony Blair. That pageant of presumptive personalities imitated earlier British efforts to appease Muslim extremists rather than to combat them--the guests at the Istanbul conference included Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the radical sheikh from Qatar who legitimizes suicide terror.

The Istanbul event also showcased the American Joseph Hanson--who calls himself Hamza Yusuf and who has been subjected to withering criticism by Muslim moderates. The Economist gushed about Hanson as, "a Californian teacher whose taped sermons are snapped up by the faithful in Cairo and Islamabad." In reality, Hanson is only adulated by his own cult-like following in the U.S. and Britain, and is hardly famous among Muslims whose sole languages are Egyptian Arabic and Pakistani Urdu.

Before September 11, Hanson was known for his fire-breathing condemnation of America, delivered before Muslim groups. On September 9, 2001, two days before the terror attacks on New York and Washington, Hanson declared, "America has a great, great tribulation coming to it . . . this country is facing a very terrible fate . . . this country stands condemned."

After 9/11, Hanson declared himself a spiritual Sufi, although he continued his old habits of rabble-rousing, including a performance where he bragged that he failed a test designed to identify moderate Muslims and hoped his listeners would also fail such a test. Hanson's fans are also known for their harassment of his critics, but now the Economist was lured into promoting him nonetheless.

The Economist has managed to get a series of major issues, from the Balkan wars on, wrong. There is no reason to think they should do better with Euro-Islam. But alas, those who once loved the paper must mourn its moral demise.

Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.