They inhabit self-imposed ghettoes, subject to derision and worse, perennial targets of far-right thugs and populist politicians of all persuasions. They are mostly confined to menial jobs. They are accused of spreading crime, terrorism and disease, of being backward and violent, of refusing to fit in.
Their religion, atavistic and rigid, insists on ritual slaughter and male circumcision. They rarely mingle socially or inter-marry. Most of them - though born in European countries - are not allowed to vote. Brown-skinned and with a marked foreign accent, they are subject to police profiling and harassment and all manner of racial discrimination.
They are new Jews of Europe - its Muslim minorities.
Muslims - especially Arab youths from North Africa - are, indeed, disproportionately represented in crime, including hate crime, mainly against Jews. Exclusively Muslim al-Qaida cells have been discovered in many West European countries. But this can be safely attributed to ubiquitous and trenchant long-term unemployment and to stunted upward mobility, both social and economic due largely to latent or expressed racism.
Moreover, stereotype is wrong. The incidence of higher education and skills is greater among Muslim immigrants than in general population - a phenomenon known as "brain drain". Europe attracts best and brightest - students, scholars, scientists, engineers and intellectuals - away from their destitute, politically dysfunctional and backward homelands.
The Economist surveys landscape of friction and withdrawal:
"Indifference to Islam has turned first to disdain, then to suspicion and more recently to hostility ... (due to images of) petro-powered sheikhs, Palestinian terrorists, Iranian ayatollahs, mass immigration and then attacks of September 11th, executed if not planned by western-based Muslims and succored by an odious regime in Afghanistan ... Muslims tend to come from poor, rural areas; most are ill-educated, many are brown. They often encounter xenophobia and discrimination, sometimes made worse by racist politicians. They speak language of wider society either poorly or not at all, so they find it hard to get jobs. Their children struggle at school. They huddle in poor districts, often in state-supplied housing ... They tend to withdraw into their own world, (forming a) self-sufficient, self-contained community."
This self-imposed segregation has multiple dimensions. Clannish behavior persists for decades. Marriages are still arranged - reluctant brides and grooms are imported from motherland to wed immigrants from same region or village. The "parallel society", in words of a British government report following Oldham riots two years ago, extends to cultural habits, religious practices and social norms.
Assimilation and integration has many enemies.
Remittances from abroad are an important part of gross national product and budgetary revenues of countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan. Hence their frantic efforts to maintain cohesive national and cultural identity of expats. DITIB is an arm of Turkish government's office for religious affairs. It discourages assimilation or social integration of Turks in Germany. Turkish businesses - newspapers, satellite TV, foods, clothing, travel agents, publishers - thrive on ghettoization.
There is a tacit confluence of interests between national governments, exporters and Islamic organizations. All three want Turks in Germany to remain as Turkish as possible. The more nostalgic and homebound expatriate - larger and more frequent his remittances, higher his consumption of Turkish goods and services and more prone he is to resort to religion as a determinant of his besieged and fracturing identity.
Muslim numbers are not negligible. Two European countries have Muslim majorities - Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania. Others - in both Old Europe and its post-communist east - harbor sizable and growing Islamic minorities. Waves of immigration and birth rates three times as high as indigenous population increase their share of population in virtually every European polity - from Russia to Macedonia and from Bulgaria to Britain. One in seven Russians is Muslim - over 20 million people.
According to March-April issue of Foreign Policy, non-Muslim part of Europe will shrink by 3.5 percent by 2015 while Muslim populace will likely double. There are 3 million Turks in Germany and another 12 million Muslims - Algerians, Moroccans, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Egyptians, Senegalese, Malis, or Tunisians - in rest of European Union.
This is two and one half times number of Muslims in United States. Even assuming - wrongly - that all of them occupy lowest decile of income, their combined annual purchasing power would amount to a whopping $150 billion. Furthermore, recent retroactive changes to German law have naturalized over a million immigrants and automatically granted its much-coveted citizenship to 160,000 Muslims born in Germany every year.
Between 2-3 million Muslims in France - half their number - are eligible to vote. Another million - one out of two - cast ballots in Britain. These numbers count at polls and are not offset by concerted efforts of a potent Jewish lobby - there are barely a million Jews in Western Europe.
Muslims are becoming a well-courted swing vote. They may have decided last election in Germany, for instance. Recognizing their growing centrality, France established - though not without vote-rigging - a French Council of Islamic Faith, equivalent of Napoleon's Jewish Consistory. Two French cabinet members are Muslims. Britain has a Muslim Council.