BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. On November 2nd, filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was murdered in Amsterdam. The man charged with the crime is a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim extremist. The motive - a film that Van Gogh had made called "Submission" about the treatment of women under Islam.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: For the Dutch, it was a moment of reckoning. Suddenly, the country found itself struggling with its long, proud tradition of tolerance, and its resolutely politically correct press would have to raise those questions and report on the debate. The media throughout the west are in the midst of developing a vocabulary to address the issues raised by the culture clash between rapidly expanding Muslim communities and their host nations.
BOB GARFIELD: Back in the Netherlands last week, the popular right wing politician Geert Wilders called for a five year halt to non-western immigration, saying that the country had been tolerant of intolerant people for too long. Meanwhile, a wave of violence committed by and against Muslims has consumed the country. Martin Walker is the editor in chief of United Press International. He's been reading the papers in the Netherlands and around Europe, and he says the Dutch press reflects the anguish of that nation.
MARTIN WALKER: On the front page of Algemeen Dagblad, one of the great daily papers of Holland, they have the front page editorial to the queen saying "Your Majesty, please speak to us, your people. Hate is spreading like wildfire through the country. Mosques, churches, schools, children are targets of attack. The Netherlands is in danger of becoming a country of them and us. Your Majesty, please speak."
BOB GARFIELD: The New York Times described that the Dutch have been almost tongue-tied in their inability to deal with their conflicting feelings.
MARTIN WALKER: But what they're all trying to agree upon is that there has to be absolutely no compromise with the fact that this was a vicious murder and that there are ruthless Islamic extremists who have to be brought under control. To that extent, some of the old easy, knee-jerk liberal response towards integration and immigration really has become bypassed by the realities of what's been taking place in Holland. And that's also, I think, been happening in much of the rest of Europe where there has long been a fairly unthinking political correctness saying that there should be a welcome for immigrants. After all, we need their labor. They should be allowed to maintain their culture. And it began to go very sour, I think, with the elections in France 18 months ago when Front National of Jean-Marie Le Pen became the challenger to Jacques Chirac, when we've seen in Germany the, the rise of far right parties of, frankly, a neo-Nazi party in Germany. Far right parties emerging also in Britain. We've seen them in, in Belgium become the, the biggest single party in the Flemish part of Belgium.
BOB GARFIELD: And leave us not forget Austria.
MARTIN WALKER: Let's not forget Denmark either, where they're also terribly powerful. And as a result, what we've seen in traditionally liberal newspapers, to give you one example, one of the most liberal papers of all is Sweden's Expression -- says that they "entirely support the way the Dutch government has declared war on Islamic terrorism. It might be a risk, but it's a risk that has to be taken, because the threat of a growing division in Dutch society and in Europe more widely would have been much greater had the authorities not reacted. The kind of political extremism which Van Gogh's murderers represent is just as dangerous as that of the Communist terrorist of the 1970s or of neo-Nazis, and we have to be very, very clear about that." In Germany, Die Welt: "We can now see that the liberal European belief in building communities like a little Istanbul or a little Marakesh are, in fact, turning into Europe's own nightmare of a little Gaza, a little Baghdad here in the Netherlands. Some day it might become a little Fallujah. Europe has to accept the prospect of serious clashes with Islamic extremists, and if governments are unable react appropriately, Europe will not only face the feared clash of civilizations. We will also face the prospect of an increasingly strong far right that is going to be too strong to be stopped."
BOB GARFIELD: It's such a striking situation. In the U.S., of course, we face similar tensions, trying to preserve civil liberties and to protect the idea of the melting pot while simultaneously trying to protect our borders and, and our people from terrorism. Is Europe and the European press now getting a taste of the American dilemma?
MARTIN WALKER: There has long been this feeling in, in Europe of rather smug superiority vis-a-vis America -- that America was the place that had the racial problems, the civil rights problems, and there was liberal Europe without such difficulties, and suddenly they're realizing that they've been living in a dream world, and what we're seeing is not simply the actual conflict with Islamic extremism, but we're also seeing, I think, a real tussle with the traditions of political correctness you see, for example, in Die Welt. "Our states in Europe have hitherto allowed extremists to create networks under the protection of the so-called communal dialogue, the beneficiaries of whom have had only one goal -- to live in accordance with their own rules and cancel out ours -- to abolish our constitutional state. We cannot afford to let that happen." Theo Van Gogh was not alone in starting to do fairly hard-hitting films, TV documentaries, radio programs. In Britain, something that we've seen over the last year has been a couple of documentaries on honor killings by Islamic fathers of daughters whose offense was simply to date European or British boys whom they had met at school. Something of the same kind has been taking place in France, where we've had a couple of TV documentaries on a phenomenon called the "tournante" -- in effect, a gang rape of a French girl by young Muslim boys, and there is some claim that in some parts of Muslim society this has become almost a rite of passage for adolescence. These may be very isolated examples, but in the mood of Europe at the moment, they have simply mushroomed and become very, very explosive urban legends and ones that I think are going to have a really important impact upon coming elections. I think Europe's in for a very, very tricky period.
BOB GARFIELD: Martin, thank you very much.
MARTIN WALKER: You're very welcome.
BOB GARFIELD: Martin Walker is editor in chief of United Press International.