Atossa Araxia Abrahamian in The New York Times:
In 2013, Akbar Ahmed, a celebrated scholar of Islam and Pakistan’s former high commissioner to Britain and Ireland, was invited to speak at a mosque in Athens. What he saw there took him aback. The facility was less a house of God than an underground parking lot “of a particularly sinister aspect,” with its low ceilings, foul odor and atmosphere of bleak desolation. In all of Athens, he learned, there wasn’t a single purpose-built mosque serving the Muslim community. If these were the conditions under which hundreds of thousands of people worshiped, how then did they live and work? “These men had nothing to lose, and I could imagine the most desperate among them prepared to lash out in an unpredictable and even murderous manner,” Ahmed writes in “Journey Into Europe,” the latest installment of his series on Muslims around the world. “This, I felt, was Europe’s ticking time bomb.” European politics only exacerbated the tension. Five years ago, voters were already drifting toward far-right politicians who openly displayed their distaste for Muslims. Today, their views are practically mainstream. “Journey Into Europe” attempts to elucidate why relations between secular European countries and their Muslim populations have grown so fraught, and what can be done to improve them.
The bulk of Ahmed’s research comes from a listening tour he embarked on with a team of researchers between 2013 and 2017. They interviewed imams, community leaders, activists and ordinary people across the continent about the challenges European Muslims face today. Their findings are predictably grim. Across the board, interviewees reported feeling marginalized, stereotyped and prevented from professional advancement because of their background. Despite their multitude of experiences, they ended up lumped into the crude categories that conflate terrorists, Muslims and refugees; Arabs, Persians and Africans; recent immigrants with no facility in the local language and second-generation doctoral students fluent at the highest level. “We are in a cosmic depression,” a British psychologist laments.
Many patterns of discrimination, Ahmed notes, are rooted in colonial legacies that vary by country; in his assessment, Pakistanis in Britain are better integrated than, say, French citizens of Algerian and Moroccan descent. But even absent empire, many of the Muslims he speaks to find it hard, if not impossible, to fit in. “In Denmark they strangle you slowly, slowly,” one interviewee proclaims.Ahmed also documents how Muslim communities end up reinforcing negative stereotypes. Refugees bring with them sectarian and ethnic rivalries that make little sense in Europe. Ahmed’s own team of researchers was chased away from a mosque in Bradford, England, by a group of aggressive teenagers. What happened there “captures the current predicament of contemporary European Muslim society: angry and noisy young Muslims, unresolved issues concerning immigration, frequent violence and terrorism, often inspired by ISIS, the rise of the far right and its dangerous rhetoric of religious hatred and rampant Islamophobia.”