In the 1960’s and 70’s, when European countries were admitting large migrant populations from predominantly Muslim regions, Western governments had a powerful vested interest in encouraging the growth of politicized Islam of the straitest sect.  European political attitudes were shaped absolutely by the Cold War confrontation, and the Middle East featured chiefly as a theater of East-West ideological rivalry.  The nightmare was that Soviet-tied communists would establish themselves throughout the region, probably using secular socialist and nationalist parties as fronts, and that would place the vast oil resources in the hands of the Soviet bloc.

The primary danger seemed to be the modernizing nationalism of Nasserism, Ba’athism, or revolutionary socialism, the fashionable and exciting Middle Eastern ideologies of the day.  Incidentally, many of these modernizing movements had a potent Christian element in their history and leadership.  Christian intellectuals and militants were much in evidence both in Ba’athism and among the radical Palestinian guerrilla groups.  To combat this threat, Western governments and intelligence agencies actively cooperated with the enemies of secular governments such as Nasser’s Egypt or Ba’athist Syria and Iraq—the sponsors of all those pesky Christian terrorists—and that meant tolerating and allying with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Ikhwan.  The Israelis tried to destabilize the leftists by promoting their own Palestinian Islamic faction, Hamas.

Internationally, the West saw conservative monarchies such as Saudi Arabia as its principal allies in the region and welcomed Saudi efforts to spread conservative varieties of Islam.  In 1962, the Saudi government founded the World Muslim League as a means of financing mosques, preachers, and propaganda that reflected its particular form of Wahhabi Islam.  As Islamist exiles fled to Europe in the 1950’s, Western governments made no objection to them establishing mosques and institutional networks, which would serve as valuable foundations for later organization.  Ikhwan leader Said Ramadan established the Munich mosque that would become the critical center of Islamist radicalism in Germany.  Much has been written about the circumstances surrounding the creation of this institution in the early 1960’s, and among the bewildering network of clandestine forces involved, we find U.S. and German intelligence agencies as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, and Muslim veterans of the Third Reich.  Ramadan also founded the Islamic Society of Germany and was associated with the World Muslim League.  His son Tariq Ramadan is today a controversial face of European Islam.

For Western governments, Islamization served a double benefit, combating the communist world internationally, but also providing a rival attraction for Muslim immigrants on their own soil.  After all, very few of these came from cultures with any strong tradition of usuliya fundamentalism: For most, Islam rather meant the eclectic faith of the Sufi brotherhoods, which is anathema to strict Islamists such as the Wahhabis.  Perhaps one fifth of the Turks arriving in Germany were Alevis, secularized and anticlerical members of a notionally Islamic sect that observes virtually none of the standard Muslim prohibitions and which retains odd vestiges of an ancient crypto-Christianity.  Politically, ordinary immigrants were generally to the left, predictably, since it was the left-wing parties who supported them against nativist attacks.

From the 1980’s, European governments permitted and encouraged the growth of foreign-derived and foreign-based Islamic organizations among their immigrants.  While the Saudis are famous for projecting their militant agenda, the governments of Algeria, Morocco, and Turkey have a vested interest in reducing dissident influences among their communities abroad.  In turn, Western governments were happy to support such foreign dabbling as a means of preventing the upsurge of radicalism among immigrant communities.  To accomplish their goal, foreign states and their ministries for religious affairs become closely involved in choosing the imams who teach in such mosques and prepare teaching material for children in religious schools.  Thus, clergy are conspicuously the least assimilated members of many Muslim communities, and the most likely to have close foreign ties.  They have provided the main pressure for women to don the veil and for children to secede from public schools.  When European governments try to communicate with their Muslim minorities, they usually speak to the national federations that claim to represent those populations, but which in reality report to foreign governments and international radical movements.  These federations represent the largest single obstacle to assimilation.

European states, then, accepted foreign immigration, but the radical Islamism was in large part their own creation.  As good secularists, European politicians and bureaucrats knew that religion no longer mattered to any rational person; obviously, no harm could arise from exploiting religious loyalties among others.  Just how much damage may arise from this blunder remains to be seen.