I get most of my foreign religion news from Reuters. They consistently report on stories of global interest with an eye toward religious details. But this story left me a bit cold. It promises a lot with the headline "In France, far right seizes on Muslim street prayers." But I never quite understood what that meant, much less whether "far right" was an accurate description of who we were talking about. It begins by describing how streets and intersections in Paris are flooded with Muslim worshipers on Fridays. They don't have room in buildings so they pray in the street, rain or shine. No big deal to the locals, we're told:
But for Marine Le Pen -- tipped to take over from her father this weekend as leader of the far-right National Front party -- it is proof that Muslims are taking over France and becoming an occupying force, according to remarks she made last month.
Her comments caused a furore as she seized on the street prayers to drive home the idea that Islam is threatening the values of a secular country where anxiety over the role of Muslims in society has deepened in the past few years.
More than two thirds of French and German people now consider the integration of Muslims into their societies a failure, pollster IFOP said in a survey published on Jan. 5. In France, where Islam is the second-largest religion after Catholicism, 42 percent saw it as a threat to national identity.
If the headline and lede are about an individual or group "seizing" upon street prayers, I'd like to know more about precisely what was said and what was proposed. But the other problem is that the story consistently makes the case that many French people are worried about street prayers or larger surrounding issues. In fact, the data keep suggesting it's a strong majority. And unless we're to believe that two thirds of French and Germans are "far right," it might be better to just tone down the rhetoric and explain the situation more. For instance, we're told that "Campaigners in favour of building new mosques" (not sure exactly what that means) say they have two major difficulties. The first is that they don't have private funds and they can't use public funds:
The second, pricklier issue is the public, which has grown increasingly intolerant of Islamic symbols. Research by pollster IFOP shows that support for building mosques fell to 20 percent in 2009 from 31 percent in 2000.
Again, unless we're to believe that 80 percent of France is far right, the headline and lede are still misleading. But also, I don't know what, exactly, public opinion has to do with building a mosque. How does public opinion stop something like that? Not that it's even an issue, obviously, since there apparently aren't funds.
I thought the Associated Press story "Angst about Islamist groups goes mainstream in Germany" by Kirsten Grieshaber was much better. It's a similar story but with better framing. It touches on the appeal of "far right" groups but with an emphasis on the nature of the tensions between the public and certain Muslim groups. I learned so much more about the overall issues:
MOENCHENGLADBACH, GERMANY - The 200 robed and bearded men gathered at dusk on the market square, rolled out their prayer rugs and intoned Allah's praises as dismayed townspeople looked on.
It was Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, and the group that calls itself Invitation to Paradise was mounting a defiant response to weeks of public protests against plans to construct a religious school to teach its austere, militant interpretation of Islam.
In Germany, where the racial crimes of the Nazis have bred extreme sensitivity toward the rights of minorities, such confrontations would until recently have been limited to the far-right margins. But the weekly rallies in this city of 250,000 near the Dutch border these days look decidedly mainstream.
It's part of a trend seen across Europe. Spooked by what many see as a terrorism threat, ordinary people are becoming increasingly vocal in opposing radical Muslims. They are ditching traditions of tolerance and saying no to cultures that do not share their democratic values. Some lament the decline of multiculturalism - "Utterly failed," in the words of German Chancellor Angela Merkel - and others say Europe is defending its way of life against those who would destroy it.
The man leading the opposition to the religious school in Moenchengladbach is Wilfried Schultz, 60, an Internet consultant. His organization, Citizens for Moenchengladbach, points to online videos of the Muslim group that call for the execution of secular Muslims, demand that women never leave home without male chaperons and say people who have sex before marriage will go to hell.
"We are not going to tolerate that these Islamists undermine our liberal German values," Schultz said.
Some Muslims in Germany also are dismayed and are trying to recruit community leaders to blunt the hard-liners' appeal.
"These extremists often fill a vacuum because they give very simple answers to extremely difficult questions in life," said Mohammed Assila, a Moroccan-born municipal official in Hilden, a town next to Moenchengladbach that has a large Moroccan community.
But we also hear from the group, which denies that it oppresses women or has ties to terror. When we get to the part about why the German government is concerned about the group -- it's ties to Salafism -- I really wanted more. It seemed the unspoken ghost in the story was why German Muslim youth might be attracted to salafism. Many people talk around it but they don't get into its theological appeal and why that appeal is particularly profound for children of immigrants searching for a way to practice their religion in a new culture. Still, a very good story that managed to explain -- rather than deride -- why some Germans are concerned about the group.