I don’t read the Belgian press often, but a recent headline in Le Soir caught my eye: ISLAMIZATION OF THE YOUNG: FUNDAMENTALISM SWEEPS THEM.
Actually, the headline turned out to be something of an exaggeration compared with what followed. The article reported on a recently defended doctoral thesis by a young researcher at the Free University of Brussels, Leila El Bachiri. She maintained that the radicalization of a small minority of the Muslim young of Brussels (the European city with the highest proportion of Muslims, 17 percent) was brought about not from the influence of their immigrant parents, or by the religious institutions in their country of origin (mainly Morocco), but by the preaching of members of the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand, and of Wahhabi or Salafist missionaries on the other.
These two strains are somewhat different. The former might be called the New Left, or Gramscian, wing of Islamism, the latter the Old Left, or Stalinist flank. While the Wahhabist Old Left cleaves to literalism, the New Left Muslim Brotherhood claims (at least for public consumption) an “interpretive” reading of the Koran. The Brotherhood even has a feminist wing, led by Malika Hamidi, a sociologist with a doctorate from Paris who serves as director of the European Muslim Network and vice president of the International Group for the Study of and Reflexion on the Woman in Islam. Hamidi says that wearing the veil is not an enforceable religious obligation, and she argues for equality of the sexes “of and by means of Islam.” This equality, however, would be put to “the service of a religious view of the world.” By contrast, for the Wahhabis and Salafists, the obligation for women to wear the veil is simply incontestable.
Asked by Le Soir whether the Islamist problem in Brussels alarmed her, Bachiri replied, “I am neither afraid nor alarmed. The population of Muslim origin is plural, and crossed by currents of individualization and secularization... But also, I admit, by a phenomenon of re-Islamization.”
The question, I suppose, is which current is the most powerful, and it is not easy to determine—in Belgium or elsewhere. A few days after reading Le Soir, I happened to take a taxi from Welwyn Garden City—a town, about 20 miles north of London, built as a planned community in the 1920s—to Heathrow Airport.
The bearded driver was in full Muslim dress; he could have come from Pakistan, were it not that he spoke English that was obviously native. En route, his wife called him several times. She was a day trader, and asked his advice on her “positions.” He spoke in a technical language that I hardly understood. I asked him whether his wife had profited from the extreme volatility of the French banks (she made, in American currency, about $1,000 per week on average, which she used for her pocket money). He said that they did not buy bank shares for ethical reasons.
We talked of other things. I asked him about social problems in Welwyn Garden City (taxi drivers of small towns are often informative on these matters). He said that they were comparatively slight and then went on to describe small pockets of illegitimacy, dependency on social security, criminality, drug-taking, and drunkenness—what for him constituted British culture. Except that he took the part for the whole, his criticisms were precisely mine.
I mentioned that, not so long ago, people in Britain were extremely reluctant to take public charity: they found it humiliating and demeaning. My driver said that he had been unemployed a few years ago for two months, but had declined social welfare for precisely this reason. “They treat you like scum, you start to behave like scum,” he said. By the time we reached Heathrow, his wife had lost $4,000. He took it in good stride. “She made $10,000 on her best trade,” he said.
Integration, it seems, is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon.