by *Piers Akerman, The Sunday Telegraph | DailyTelegraph.com.au | July 24, 2011
In the middle of its cold summer holiday, Europe is struggling with two major issues - the fragile Euro economy and unwanted Islamic migration. The Left's obsession with Rupert Murdoch's media empire is no longer news.
Those among France's hard-working middle class who do mention Murdoch, proprietor of this newspaper, do so with admiration for the drive and determination he has displayed throughout his corporation-building career.
The big topic is the economic survival of the European community. French president Nicolas Sarkozy held a press conference last Thursday night after an all-day summit with German chancellor Angela Merkel, Greek prime minister George Papandreou and other European leaders and bankers on Greece's debt crisis.
The Clayton's solution Sarkozy outlined embraces a lowering of the interest rates on Greece's crippling loans and an extension of the period in which the nation may repay them. This is not an end to the problem, it merely places Greece on an economic drip and its loans on the never-never.
It's a classic European dodge. Push the problem into the future and hope that when it next erupts, someone else will have to deal with it.
That's the same way European nations have been dealing with the population explosion in their Islamic communities. Much was made of France's decision to ban the burqa, but the reality is the French government is all talk and no action. Not a single case has been pursued against an individual for wearing a full-face cover by the French police since the ban on face-covering headwear came into effect on April 11.
In an interview at his Paris office, Bernard Godard, head of the French Interior Ministry's Central Bureau of Religious Affairs, told me the police had been told to "avoid incidents".
He said about 40 women had been warned against wearing them, but there had been no arrests.
France has a population of some 65 million, which includes about five million Muslims, half of whom attend mosques or say they are religious, though only 500,000 attend mosques regularly. About 60 per cent say they eat halal food exclusively.
Politically correct, the French government does not attempt to determine what percentage of the Muslim population is unemployed, though it admits unemployment is high in low-income areas in industrial centres such as Lille, Paris, Lyons and Marseilles, which also happen to have higher numbers of Muslim residents.
It would be simple for the government to estimate unemployment levels but it chooses not to, knowing that the details would only inflame the situation.
Even in villages with populations of less than five thousand, a few hundred Muslims have been able to exert political influence beyond that warranted by their numbers.
France received its first major wave of Muslim immigrants from its former colony in Algeria in the '50s; others from northern Africa have since followed. As Godard said: "Britain has its Pakistanis, Germany has Turks and we have a mixed Muslim community."
Concerned that newly arrived imams would preach an aggressive form of Islam, the French government set up a school in 2005 to teach them the values of the republic. "The state looked at the training of imams from Algeria, Morocco and Turkey and considered how they would adopt to the French culture," Godard said. "There was a percentage that was not well trained that was potentially a problem."
Keen to stress the issue of extremism in Islam was not just a French issue but a European concern, he said the European parliament was considering a law to have imams taught to explain the Koran in a European context.
But there are problems as France is a secular nation and there are laws which prevent the government from teaching religion, so the problem has to be dealt with from the perspective of preventing theology upsetting public order. "The imams have a social role to play and the diplomas they receive deal with training in French history, secularism and other religions, as well as about the republic, the multicultural aspects of our society," Godard said.
Islamic migration is running ahead of the French imam training program with just 160 graduates over the past four years.
The pressures are also being felt elsewhere in Europe, which is becoming increasingly divided along political lines by problems created by local Muslim communities.
In Germany, where unemployment in the Turkish Muslim population is estimated to run at between 35 and 40 per cent, former central banker Thilo Sarrazin has created a storm with his best-selling book about the failure of the welfare state and out-of-control Islamic migration.
Despite the dream of a borderless Europe, the influx of Muslims has seen some Scandinavian nations call for the re-establishment of borders. This would destroy the grand vision held up by the creators of the European community as surely as any decision by a member nation to withhold funds from bankrupt Greece, or the other nations lining up to follow it over the economic abyss.
The common threads linking these destitute nations are their bloated bureaucracies and state welfare programs, policies which are being pursued vigorously by Australia's minority government, and their failure to address the immigration issue decisively.
Although no European leader has lied to electors as obviously as Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the political correctness subscribed to by the European community is as stifling of frank discussion as the threats to media freedom made by the Gillard government in response to deserved criticism. The lesson from here is do not follow the European model.
But - as with new tricks and old dogs - it is probably too late for Labor and the Greens to learn.
*Piers Akerman spent last week on tour in France.