In Europe, Islam fills Marxism’s old shoes

“When Azzedine Belthoub was growing up in the shantytowns outside of Nanterre, France, 40 years ago, the people who came to take the young North African kids to swim in the community pool, to register them for school and give them candy and comic books, were Marxists. The French Communist Party offered a political voice for the working classes, including the growing number of North African immigrants imported to fill labor shortages after World War II.

Today, Islam plays that role, especially in France, where men like Belthoub, wearing long beards and short djellabas, reach out to the poor and disillusioned in the country’s working-class neighborhoods.

Young Arabs and Africans here have turned to Islam with the same fervor that the idealistic youth of the 1960s turned toward Marxism.

‘Now, religion has become our identity,’ Belthoub said last week, sitting in a friend’s apartment in a largely Muslim suburb north of Paris.

The question is whether Islam in Europe will follow the same path that communism did here, shedding its revolutionary extremism, electing mayors and legislators and assimilating itself into normal democratic political life.” (International Herald Tribune)