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Opinion: Living With Growing Suspicion

Following the London bombings, Britain's Muslim minority has found itself subject to a mood of growing suspicion and mistrust. It seems it makes little difference whether they have contact to radical Islamists or not.

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British Muslims are seen as guilty by association in the culture of fear

Many British citizens would no doubt feel easier if those responsible for the attacks had sneaked their way through airport controls at Heathrow as they arrived in Britain from abroad. But they have to live with the shocking news: The alleged terrorists were British citizens, members of Britain's Muslim minority.

This fact will open the way for speculation and suspicion of all kinds. But one question will remain at the forefront: Are the Muslims in Britain a "fifth column"?

That question and the fateful consequences which may well be drawn from it will not be restricted to Britain. France has its large North African Muslim community, Germany has its Turks and even in smaller countries the situation is not very different.

Right now, in the Netherlands, a young man of Moroccan origin, but with Dutch citizenship, is on trial for the murder of the film-maker Theo van Gogh. And in Munich a Kurd is being tried for recruiting volunteers for the Islamist terror organization Ansar al Islam.

Perpertrators bring all Muslims under suspicion

Muslime in London Moschee

Such cases arouse concern, but they should not be seen as typical and they should not define the picture which we have of the Muslim minority in our countries. Just as the London bombers were prepared to kill Muslims together with their other victims, it is also clear that terrorists and those who are prepared to use violence make up a minute proportion of Muslims, and that they do not care if they cause all Muslims to come under suspicion.

Indeed, this could well be one of their aims. In the confused thinking of these people there is only one way of categorizing the world: "us here" and "them there." And such people find it all too easy to blame "them there" -- the non-Muslim majority -- for every slight discrimination they suffer in daily life, and to interpret such discrimination as the ideological or religious oppression of Islam by "Christian western civilization." And when this feeling is linked up with international crises and conflicts from Palestine to Afghanistan, from Baghdad to Srebrenica, an explosive mixture results.

Europeans guilty of mistakes

Gedenken der Opfer der Terroranschläge von London

This may be an explanation, but it is not a justification. The London killers are criminals, as were the Madrid killers or the murderer of Theo van Gogh. But Europeans -- Germans among them -- should not fall back on a hysterical reaction to an assumed threat from "Islam." They should rather exercise a little introspection and ask themselves where they might have made mistakes.

And mistakes have been made, not just through lax controls at the borders, but also though inconsiderate treatment of the increasingly large, but originally neglected Muslim minorities in our countries.

One such mistake has been the lack of consideration which has been given to the issue of how important religion and religious tradition are for Muslims. It was always much easier to say, "Let them integrate if they want to live here." And that meant that religious practice was forced into back rooms, where dubious Koran schools provided a dangerous religious education.

Cultural failures lead to underground instruction

Muslime in London Jamme Masjid Moschee Brick Lane

The alleged murderer of Theo van Gogh is the product of such a school. Elsewhere in Europe, similar radicals could currently be undergoing a similar education and training, with religious indoctrination and social isolation and discrimination possibly leading them to terrorism.

It will never be possible to prevent such radicalization completely, but the risk can be reduced if every minority, including Muslims, has the feeling that it "belongs." That helps the minority, but it also helps society as a whole.

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