Editor’s note: this article first appeared on the BBC website
In the heart of Europe in 2015, the killing of cartoonists and journalists for allegedly insulting God still comes as a shock, despite the rising number of such attacks in recent years.
In rational, post-Enlightenment Europe, religion has long since been relegated to a safe space, with Judaism and Christianity the safe targets of satire in secular western societies.
Not so Islam. The battle within Islam itself between Sunni and Shia, so evident in the wars of the Middle East, and the fight between extremist interpretations of Islam such as those of Islamic State and Muslims who wish to practice their religion in peace, is now being played out on the streets of Europe with potentially devastating consequences for social cohesion.
These latest shootings may be the work of “lone wolves” but their consequences will ripple across Europe and provoke much soul-searching about the failure of integration over the past decades.
Immigrant communities are already being viewed with increasing suspicion in both France and Germany, with their significant Muslim populations, and even in the UK.
France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, some five million or 7.5% of the population, compared with Germany’s four million or 5% of the population, and the UK’s three million, also 5% of the population.
In all three, mainstream political parties are being forced to confront popular discontent over levels of immigration and the apparent desire of some younger, often disaffected children or grandchildren of immigrant families not to conform to western, liberal lifestyles – including traditions of religious tolerance and free speech.
In the UK, that unease has largely played out on the public stage in a more peaceable manner, in the debate over “British values” and the recent Trojan horse schools affair.