DoD photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft, U.S. Air Force

PARIS — This month’s murders in Paris have caused an upheaval in how the non-Muslim world views its Muslim citizens in Europe and the United States. This presents a bigger and more urgent problem than what the Muslims think about us, even when they kill us.

Their presence is the source of the crisis both the immigrants and European society now experience, which is religious and cultural, and for that reason ultimately political and powerfully resistant to resolution. Not only for individuals, but for whole communities.

The Europeans had been glad to recruit post-1945 laborers but thought they would go “home” when Europe was ready to dispense with them. However, the immigrants had found their new home, uncomfortable as it may have been, in Europe. Thus has the crisis slowly developed.

Britain treated immigrants according to the imperial and colonial precedents, dealing with the communities they formed as their members’ own affair so long as British law was observed, officialdom dealing with the immigrants by way of the community or religious leadership that existed or naturally developed. Britain accommodated immigrants in exceptional ways, sometimes supporting Muslim or Sikh religious schools (as well as permitting Sikh policemen to wear turbans!). The result was that quasi-ghettos developed, like overseas colonies, with Islamic banks and even official tribunals where Sharia law is applied in civil litigation.

France (like the United States) offered the other model, assimilation. France, well before the United States existed, considered itself (and was widely so recognized in Europe) as the model of western civilization (and equally, when the time came, as the model of Enlightenment and Revolution, and then of the modern Republic). Like the United States it believed that other peoples and societies would naturally model themselves upon France, and when non-Europeans came to France they were assumed to wish to adopt French civilization’s ways and standards.

This was true even for immigrants not only from ex-colonial countries but also from major existing civilizations, such as China and the Islamic states. Newcomers were expected to become citizens of the French Republic, conform to its norms, and renounce the customs and manners of their former countries. Women were expected to act as citizens, renounce veils that masked their faces in public, and be treated as the intellectual and moral equals of men.

This was all very high-minded in theory in both countries, and in those European countries that modeled themselves on the British or French, but in practice sectarianism and communitarianism persisted, as does resistance in schools and public places to national norms and expectations. People don’t easily discard the past and welcome the new.

When a minute of silence was called for in French schools last week, to pay respect to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo violence, some adolescents refused, and some young children had been told by the parents to refuse since the murderers were actually heroes of Islam and the cartoonists blasphemers who deserved to die. Since then, there have been huge demonstrations to support such beliefs in many Islamic countries, even in the Caucasus and Central Asia where few of the participants knew what this was all about.

During the past two years in both France and Britain soldiers and policemen have been gunned down by young Muslim men as imperialist enemies of Islam. The number of young men (and young girls, heaven help them!) enticed by what they’ve seen on the computer screen, who slip away from homes and schools in Europe to join the jihad groups or fight with Daech or in Syria (or do humanitarian work, they say), has steadily increased — victims of religious enthusiasm, or adolescent idealism or romanticism. The EU states are attempting to block this traffic both ways, and track those who reenter Europe.

A certain amount of war hysteria has followed the Charlie Hebdo episode in the U.S. and Europe, with most of the American reaction fixed on launching even larger military intervention in the Middle East, as if that could do any good addressing a problem inside the Western countries themselves — the existence of alienated members of the national community, entangled with a violent millenarian religious ideology which has distorted historical Islam, and been inflamed by mindless, and ineffectual, Western invasions and interventions.

Stopping that is the first step in what will be a long process attempting to halt the wars in Syria and Iraq, and block the one impending in Palestine/Israel. If that is done, Islam in Europe could be pacified.

Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at

© 2015 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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