July 18, 2005
Radical Islam in Europe
-- Martin E. Marty
The Islamic Center in Munich, started by ex-Nazis, is now the base of radical Islam in Germany. Tens of thousands of Muslims in the Soviet Army switched sides to fight for Hitler. They stayed to build up a community influenced by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, an import from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and other breeding grounds for al-Qaeda. Thus Ian Johnson reports on this in great detail in The Wall Street Journal ("How a Mosque for Ex-Nazis Became a Center for Radical Islam," July 12). Read it and tremble.
Similarly, the bombings in London the week before last, according to all reports, issued from extremist Muslim cells. The murder of film-maker Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands is still further evidence of the Europeanization of Muslim-offshoot extremism, as were the events in Madrid last year. Those who are ready to toss and turn at night might reflect on the fact that suicide bombers now seem to be part of the European cityscape.
In 1988, when R. Scott Appleby and I were asked to oversee the massive six-year, five-volume Fundamentalism Project for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and at the University of Chicago, we chartered over a hundred scholars from Europe, both Americas, Africa, and Asia to study fundamentalist or fundamentalist-like movements in a score of religions and cultures. Because we were only looking for Christian fundamentalisms in once-Christian Europe, we found them in militant form only in Ian Paisley's Ulster Protestantism, and in the non-militant but intense Communione e Liberazione in Italy. Otherwise, Europe did not draw notice from our scholars, who assumed that fundamentalisms generally rise only on soil where conservative, traditionalist, or hyper-orthodox religion has been thriving and is now threatened. European Christianity was too non-thriving to be threatened from within.
Now, almost twenty years later, Europe is a hub of radical Islamist movements, the base from which the suicidal 9/11 destroyers emerged. While our scholars scrupulously described the perverted theologies, social discontents, the nature of extremist organizations, assassinations (Gandhi, Sadat, and others), insurgencies, and more, they did not yet use the term "terrorist." In the indices to the five volumes, Europe and European Islamic movements do not show up. No study of fundamentalism had been as wide-ranging, comprehensive, and detailed as our project, yet something new was emerging.
Only in an Epilogue at the end of an attempt to put our endeavors in world-historical perspective did world historian William McNeill summarize with these portentous lines: "The radical instability that prevails worldwide, as the human majority emerges painfully from rural isolation and struggles to accommodate itself to the dictates of an exchange economy, gives religious fundamentalists an extraordinary opportunity to channel mass responses either into an angry assault on aliens and infidels or toward peaceable symbiosis with strangers. Both paths are sure to be tried; which will work best and prevail in the long run is, perhaps, the capital question for the twenty-first century."
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.