Breaking Through

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TRAILBLAZER: Dutch attorney Arslan was mistaken for a cleaner on her first day in a new job. Now she has her own law practice in the Hague

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That's a truth that non-Muslim Europeans might do well to remember; after all, in Europe's Dark Ages, it was great European Muslim universities like the one in Córdoba that kept the lamp of learning alight. Islam's stress on education helped propel London barrister Azeem Suterwalla through Oxford and Harvard. "My religion gives me drive and purpose," he says, and it has also helped shape his political and professional views, giving him "a feeling of obligation" to help the Muslim umma. It was a concern about the state of Muslims in Gaza and Kashmir that spurred Suterwalla to become a barrister — and such instincts can, of course, curdle into resentment, even radicalism. "I'm trying to make a difference in a positive way," says Suterwalla. "But there are those who don't know how to cope with it, when they see what's going on in the news." Radicalized fellow Muslims think he's fooling himself by tackling injustice through the courts. "They tell me, 'You're working within the system that is not compatible with Islam,'" he says. "Even some very well-educated people are attracted to radical groups, because of what they see as injustice. The middle class is not immune."

That was underscored when the main suspects in the Glasgow Airport bomb plot turned out to be doctors. According to a 2004 study by Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer and forensic psychiatrist, the stereotype of the jihadi as poor and uneducated needs revision. Of 400 terrorist suspects studied, he found that three-quarters were middle-class or upper-class, with many employed in the sciences or technology. University students and professionals attracted to the rigorous theology of radical Islamist organizations like Hizb ut-Tahrir find in them the same structured, mechanistic precision they've learned to apply on the job to hard drives or computer models. In his recent book about life inside Hizb ut-Tahrir, British Muslim Ed Husain contrasts the aggressive, intolerant Islam he found in Hizb ut-Tahrir to the "Islam of the heart," the tolerant, humanistic Sufism of his migrant parents. In modern Islamic radicalism, custom and humanism are jettisoned in favor of logic and politics. Hizb ut-Tahrir, which targets youth on college campuses, promotes itself as the thinking Muslim's alternative to blindly following parents, mullahs or tradition.

Why would the angry radicalism of groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir appeal to some successful Muslims? Middle-class Muslims don't face poverty, but they can feel a disconnect between their white-collar jobs and their Muslim home lives. "You can still feel alone in a crowd," says Mona Siddiqui, director of the University of Glasgow's Centre for the Study of Islam. "You can spend a lot of time with colleagues and professionals from a completely different culture to you, really nice people to work with, but with whom you don't feel any emotional connection. You have to constantly turn inward, and your circle becomes smaller and smaller." Navigating the gap between a European workplace and the expectations of a migrant community can be intensely stressful, says Fuad Nahdi, a commentator and consultant on Muslim issues to Blair's government: "In terms of alienation, nothing succeeds like success." For Muslims who have made it, the loneliness of the corner office can be a cold contrast to the camaraderie of the mosque.

So this is the disquieting risk facing Europe: that the fallout from violence wreaked by alienated terrorists can create still more alienation among peaceful, moderate professionals. Martijn de Koning, an anthropologist at the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World in Leiden, the Netherlands, interviewed a group of twentysomething Dutch Muslims before the 2004 murder of Theo van Gogh by a young Dutch Moroccan angry at the filmmaker's on-screen portrayal of Islamic culture. Back then, De Koning found his subjects were outraged by the fact that it was tough to be Muslim in the Netherlands. By contrast, three years on from the Van Gogh affair, he found apathy, a dulled acceptance by the successful Muslims he interviewed that no matter what they do, they'll never be Dutch. "These aren't disenchanted youth," he says. "They're well educated, and they have jobs. They feel they've done everything right, and still they're rejected."

Famile Arslan has an answer — both for Muslims in Europe who feel beaten down, and for non-Muslim Europeans struggling to navigate the unexpected shoals of a continent with many faiths and many ethnicities. When her more radical Muslim friends talk to her of alienation, she crisply dismisses them. "They keep telling me, 'They're against us.' And I say, 'Guys, who are they? And who is us?'" When all — Muslim or not — can agree that they're one and the same, Europe will finally be able to move on.

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