Faith: Islam's third run for Europe

By Uwe Siemon-Netto

UPI Religion Correspondent

From the Life & Mind Desk

Published 12/11/2002 12:11 PM

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- For the third time in 13

centuries, Islam is set to gain a major foothold in

Europe. This time it comes peacefully with Turkey's

attempt to join the ever-expanding European Union. It

meets little resistance from Christianity, which has

never been in a more feeble state on the continent

whose civilization it shaped.

When Islam's previous attempts to conquer the Occident

failed, this was due to Christian resolve. In 732

A.D., the Frankish ruler Charles Martel threw back the

Saracens at the Loire. In the 1520s, at the height of

the Reformation in Europe, the Turks overran Hungary

but were stopped at Vienna. Catholics and Protestants,

though divided theologically, nevertheless united to

confront this common challenger.

Islam knocks at Europe's doors with velvet gloves at

this point. Turkey is a secular state, though governed

by an Islamic party. For geopolitical reasons, the

United States wants it to be part of the European


France and Germany have proposed starting negotiations

with Ankara over EU membership in July 2005. In a

cover story, Britain's Economist magazine proclaimed,

"Turkey Belongs in Europe." If it is admitted, 70

million Muslims will join the by then 460 million EU

citizens, whose religious roots are predominantly

Christian. These Turks may then settle and work

anywhere between the North Cape and Sicily, Ireland

and the Bosporus.

As the Economist wrote, Morocco might perhaps be next

to knock on Europe's door and why should Iraq not do

the same at a later date?

A religion column is not the place to discuss the

political merits or perils of these developments. But

former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing,

chairman of the European Convention drawing up a

constitution for the European Union, describes Turkey

as by definition unacceptable as a member state. Also

by definition, his reasons must be implicitly


For not ethnicity but faith traditions distinguish

Turkey from the rest of Europe -- and more so today

than only a century ago. In 1900, Christians made up

32 percent of that country's citizens; now they are

reduced to 0.1 percent. At the outbreak of World War

I, almost half of Istanbul's population was Christian,

compared with 1 percent today.

Nobody suggests ill intent on Turkey's part. However,

Jobst Schoene, bishop emeritus of Germany's

Independent Lutherans and a renowned church historian,

gave us pause when he told United Press International,

"I fear we are approaching a situation resembling the

tragic fate of Christianity in Northern Africa in

Islam's early days."

In the 7th and 8th centuries, once-flourishing

Christian civilizations in Africa vanished in a flash.

Bat Ye'or, one of the world's foremost students of

Islam's conquests reminds us that Christians were weak

in those days because of sectarian squabbles. Some

Christian groups actually welcomed the Muslims as

"liberators" from other Christians.

Today's Christian frailty in Western Europe is

different. It is a post-Enlightenment affliction,

combining theological ignorance, indifference,

indiscipline and, presumably, loss of faith.

Europe owes most of its culture, art, and way of life

to Christianity. Yet France, once called the first

daughter of the Church, insisted until the overthrow

of its last socialist-led government that Christianity

and God not be mentioned in the new European


Only now after the departure of Prime Minister Lionel

Jospin, a former Trotskyite, is there a chance that at

least the "spiritual roots" of the continent's

civilization might perhaps be noted in this document

-- but not Christianity by name. That would not be

politically correct.

In Germany, whose 1949 Basic Law (constitution) speaks

in its preamble of a "responsibility before God and

man," the current Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and

five other Cabinet members refused to say the

traditional words, "so help me God," when swearing

their oath of office.

Add to this some other manifestations of

Christianity's weakness, and Schoene's concerns seem

very appropriate indeed. For example:

-- The number of Germany's Protestants, once a

majority of the population, has shrunk from 47 million

to 23 million in the last 50 years, and of those only

about 3 percent attend Sunday services regularly.

-- Five of the 24 territorial Protestant churches in

Germany have decided to bless same-sex unions and

ordain practicing homosexuals.

-- In France, which has a population of 60 million,

there are only 25,000 Roman Catholic priests left.

Their average age is 68. Some look after 30 ore more

parishes. Laymen are in charge of most church

functions, such as Christian funerals.

-- Anglicans are have become a minority in England. 

-- Spain, once the most stalwart Catholic country in

Europe, has turned into one of the most secularized in

less than a generation. Curiously, more and more

Spanish women, whose nation had been ruled by Muslims

for centuries, are now converting to Islam.

While Europe's Christians don't take their faith

seriously anymore, notes Tuebingen University

theologian Peter Beyerhaus, Muslim immigrants and

their offspring are practicing their religion with

great discipline. 

Mosques are springing up all over the continent, often

with substantial help from neighboring Christian

congregations. "This does not mitigate the Muslims'

contempt for our putrid civilization."

Even before Turkey and perhaps eventually Morocco will

be allowed to join the European Union, dramatic

demographic shifts are occurring within Europe because

Muslims procreate at a rate three times higher than

their Christian or ex-Christian neighbors.

"The average German family has 1.2 children," said

Beyerhaus, "but the average Muslim family here has

3.8." In all, there are at least 2.5 million Muslims

in Germany, 2 million in France and 1 million in the

United Kingdom.

There is no sign that churches attempt to guide

Western Europe's new Islamic citizens to the very

faith and value system that created the society in

which these immigrants wish to raise their families.

"It is astonishing how blue-eyed (gullible) our

churches are," said Schoene, "they don't even bother

ask the advice of the experts on Christian-Islamic

cohabitation -- for example, the Syrian Orthodox, the

Egyptian Copts or the Maronites in the Lebanon."

Johannes Richter, the former regional bishop of

Leipzig in Germany, compared the European environment

into which Muslims are moving with a situation

described in the Old Testament, a situation almost

without prophecy: "And the word of the Lord was rare

in those days." (1Samuel 3:1).

However, the text goes on: "The lamp of God had not

yet gone out."

Said Schoene: "Perhaps God is using the Muslims to

bang our Christian heads together."

Copyright © 2002 United Press International


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