Across the Western World, Anti-Muslim Sentiment Rises

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There was a time when the immigration policies of various European countries might have seemed well outside the purview of a humble blog such as this, but Park 51 has changed all that. After all, the star of the September 11 rally opposing Park 51 was Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician whose Freedom Party has rapidly gained power on the basis of his anti-Islamic proposals, including taxing headscarves and banning the Koran. The prime organizer against Park 51, Pam Geller, also helps run Stop Islamization of America, part of a network of groups that includes Stop Islamization of Europe, Stop Islamization of Denmark (and England, and France, etc.).

So Americans are now participating in a much broader debate on the integration of Muslims into Western society.

Can the Tea Party capitalize on anti-Park 51 sentiment in the upcoming elections? In Sweden, the far-right Sweden Democrats have won 20 parliamentary seats -- after never having won any -- based in part on an anti-immigrant stance. In this ominous campaign video, a pack of burqa-clad women outrace an old white lady to a stack of welfare cash.

And in Germany, which has about 4 million Muslim immigrants (most of them from Turkey), former finance minister Thilo Sarrazin has caused a firestorm with a new book that criticizes the country's immigration policies. Here's how Der Spiegel puts it:

The ideas are crudely formulated: Muslim immigrants have contributed nothing to German prosperity; the high fertility rates among the country's Muslim community have resulted in the reduction of Germany's collective IQ; Muslim immigrants would prefer to be on welfare than to work; Jews share a specific gene.

Sarrazin was forced out of his job at the central bank, but the popular reaction has been quite different:

Criticism bordering on revulsion dominated the first wave of the reaction. Politicians and opinion leaders condemned Sarrazin almost unanimously.

But then it slowly became apparent that many citizens agreed with Sarrazin. The publisher announced that, due to high demand, it was going to increase the book's initial printing to 250,000 copies. Furthermore, Internet forums and political events made it clear that Sarrazin -- a member of the center-left Social Democrats, which has initiated proceedings to throw him out of the party -- had broad public support. Many are saying he is right; or, even if he does make a mistake here and there, he isn't being treated fairly.

Of course, it's too early to say whether the current uproar in America is going to be sustained, or if it's merely a passing controversy; some Democrats, as well as Mayor Bloomberg, suggest the upcoming elections are driving the furor. And even this piece in "The Hill" implies the issue has become "too hot to touch" for Dems and Republicans alike:

And with fewer than seven weeks before November’s midterm elections, political analysts and experts say that if candidates attempt to resurrect the controversies, it will be to their own political peril.

“Both sides smell danger on this issue,” said Bill Galston, a former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and senior fellow of governance with the Brookings Institute.

“The Republicans [are wary] because they run the risk of going over the top and looking narrow and bigoted, which is never a good thing to appear, particularly to independent voters, who are so important in these midterm elections,” he said.

“And on the Democratic side there is clearly the fear that if they hit the civil liberties and intolerance theme too hard, that’ll play very well in liberal districts but maybe not so well in swing districts where people are maybe a little bit more ambivalent about the whole thing.”