BERLIN -- Bassam Tibi is an unabashed alarmist. He is among Germany's foremost political scientists, and an expert on political Islam. And he says that even now -- after 9/11, after Madrid, after 7/7, and all the rest of it -- the European elites don't have a clue what they are up against.
"Europeans don't know what Islamism is," he argues. "We are talking about a new totalitarianism. And Islamists are establishing themselves in Europe with great success." They thrive, thanks to Europe's tolerance of the intolerable.
Dr. Tibi, a Muslim born in Syria, is persona non grata there.
He's not too popular in Germany either, where he has been accused of inciting Islamophobia. "It is most disturbing to see how writers who try to warn about the totalitarian character of Islamism are defamed as racists," he says. "This wrong-headed political correctness prevents any honest discussion about the subject."
This is not the message you will hear from any Muslim leader. The standard line is that extremism has been exaggerated, the media are to blame, and that the real problem is that Muslims have been unfairly targeted. But long before 9/11, Dr. Tibi began warning Europe had become dangerously vulnerable to radical Islamists. Today, many of these movements have their logistics, as well as their support systems, in Western Europe. In the name of multiculturalism, Muslims were encouraged to build parallel societies. Now, many have no intention of integrating into the mainstream.
It's true, he says, that the radicals are no more than a tiny minority -- between 3 per cent and 5 per cent of the Muslim population, he guesses -- but they are gaining ground. "They control most of the mosques and the welfare institutions, and they are the official speakers for Islam." (Among the most revered is Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, now preaching from Qatar on Al Jazeera, who says Islam justifies suicide bombing.)
In spite of the new lip service being paid to integration, he says, Europe shows little interest in acting to promote it. Part of the problem is that there's no consensus on what it means to be European.
"Some people think there is no such thing as a common identity binding us together," he says.
Dr. Tibi himself has argued for the importance of affirming just such an identity. He called it Leitkultur, or core culture, defined as the values of modernity -- democracy, secularism, human rights, and civil society. The term was quickly adopted by Germany's conservative wing, and so the orthodox intelligentsia condemned it as quasi-racist. No surprise there. The mainstream intelligentsia of Europe also regards the United States as a far greater threat to world peace than radical Islamism.
There are now 20 million Muslims living in Europe, and the Islamic diaspora is expected to double and even triple in the coming decades. Will these Muslims become European citizens with a European identity? "Not if we allow the present situation to continue," he says. "There's an inability to understand what is going on on the ground. The young men involved in the Paris riots know very little about Islam and they are not practising Muslims. But their world view is shaped by Islamism and their image of themselves is determined by Islamist-identity politics."
Dr. Tibi is impatient with the endlessly repeated nostrum that Islam is "a religion of peace." "When you study religion, you do not study texts, you study social facts. A Muslim boy is torching cars and he is thinking he is waging jihad. Religion has nothing to do with terrorism. But you can use it to legitimate terrorism. There is a conflict -- it is social and economic, but it is articulated in religious language." And the quest of converting the entire world to Islam, he insists, is an immutable fixture of the Muslim worldview.
I asked Dr. Tibi how many of Germany's 3.2 million Muslims share his progressive, secular views. "Maybe a few thousand," he said.
There's a twist to this story, and it, too, is not a happy one. Dr. Tibi is getting out, moving to the U.S., where he has been a visiting professor at Harvard and Cornell -- not only because his views are more respected there, but because, after 44 years, he still feels like an outsider here. "I love Germany," he says. "I love the German language, and there are many decent Germans.
"But I believe Germany is an ethnically exclusive country. Bassam is not a German name. A Muslim is not a German. And there is no space for me in an ethnically exclusive country."
Dr. Tibi is a prophet without honour in his own land. And that raises another uncomfortable question. If he can't become a German, then who can?