The Big Muslim Problem
The New York Review of Books
"Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West"
by Christopher Caldwell
Doubleday, 422 pp., $30.00
"What I Believe"
by Tariq Ramadan
Oxford University Press, 148 pp., $12.95
In April 1968, two weeks after the riots that devastated US cities following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the British Tory politician Enoch Powell (who as minister of health between 1960 and 1963 had presided over the large-scale recruitment of nursing and health staff from Britain's former colonies) predicted that a similar destiny was facing Britain. "We must be mad," he said,
literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependents, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant-descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre.
Quoting a phrase of Virgil's that would resonate famously down the decades, he warned: "I seem to see 'the River Tiber foaming with much blood.'"
Though the Tory party leader Edward Heath immediately fired him from his post as opposition spokesman on defense, Powell's speech had struck a powerful chord. Within ten days he had received more than 100,000 letters of support, with only eight hundred expressing disagreement. In London more than a thousand dockworkers went on strike in protest at his dismissal. Anxiety about immigration had a significant part in the unexpected victory that restored the Conservative Party to power in 1970.
Powell, who died in 1998, has been castigated as a racist and condemned, not to say vilified, by the liberal left; but as Christopher Caldwell argues in his provocatively titled book, "Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West", his demographic predictions have proved remarkably accurate. In one of his speeches Powell shocked his audience by predicting that Britain's nonwhite population of barely a million would reach 4.5 million by 2002; according to the Office of National Statistics, the size of Britain's "ethnic minority" population actually reached 4.6 million in 2001. His predictions for the ethnic composition of major cities such as Wolverhampton, Birmingham, and Inner London were similarly on target. Britain's Commission for Racial Equality predicts that by 2011 the population of Leicester will be 50 percent nonwhite, making it the first major British city without a white majority.
This pattern is being replicated in cities throughout Western Europe. According to Caldwell, Europe is now a "continent of migrants" with more than 10 percent of its people living outside their countries of birth. The figure includes both non-European immigrants and citizens of countries belonging to the enlarged European Union who are permitted to move freely within its territory. But it also includes a substantial body of immigrants--namely Muslims--whom Caldwell regards as posing "the most acute problems" on account of their religion (an issue never mentioned by Powell in his speeches).
The statistics are highly variable since many countries do not register the religion of their citizens. However, it is generally assumed that there are now upward of 13 million Muslims, and possibly as many as 20 million (Caldwell's preferred figure), living in the European Union. The largest concentrations are in France with more than 5 million, Germany with around 3 million, Britain with 1.6 million, Spain with a million, and the Netherlands and Bulgaria with just under a million. Overall, the proportion of Muslims now residing in the European Union (including the indigenous Bulgarian Muslims) remains at 5 percent, a proportion twice that of the "nearly seven million American Muslims" mentioned by President Barack Obama in his Cairo University speech last June.
Individual cities, however, have much higher concentrations. Karoly Lorant, a Hungarian economist who wrote a paper on the subject for the European Parliament, calculates that Muslims already make up 25 percent of the population in Marseilles and Rotterdam, 20 percent in Malmö, 15 percent in Brussels and Birmingham, and 10 percent in London, Paris, and Copenhagen. If the French national figure of around 5 million were proportionately reproduced in the US, it would make for 24 million American Muslims. Moreover, given that immigrant Muslims have a higher birthrate than indigenous white Europeans or other immigrant groups such as Eastern Europeans or African-Caribbeans, that population seems set to increase, regardless of tighter controls on immigration now being imposed by governments. The US National Intelligence Council expects that by 2025 the Muslim population of Europe will have doubled.
In the first part of his book Caldwell takes some Enoch Powell-like swipes at the policies--or lack of them--that allowed this situation to develop. In the aftermath of World War II, European countries overestimated the need for immigrant labor. Instead of investing in new technology, they drove down labor costs--and undermined the power of labor unions--by importing cheap workers without regard for the social and cultural consequences. Caldwell challenges the assumptions of economists who argue that immigrants increase national wealth. With old industries such as textiles already in decline, immigrant workers merely delayed the necessary process of restructuring. In macroeconomic terms the wealth they generate is nugatory--approximately one three-hundredth of the advanced countries' output. In any case much of the supposed added value contributed by immigrant businesses that appears in economic statistics is absorbed in the costs of accommodating them in their new environment, or is sent back to their home countries. In 2003, for example, Moroccans living in Europe sent home r3.6 billion ($4.1 billion) in remissions.
The picture Caldwell paints is complex, paradoxical, and sometimes at variance with the anti-immigration thrust of his argument. While he dwells on the obvious aspects of political and cultural dystopia--the terrorist outrages in London and Madrid, the riots in the Paris banlieues, the growing Muslim prison populations, and the horrors of unreconstructed patriarchy in the form of "honor killings," systemic homophobia, and the bizarre medical "hymen repair operation" that allows young women to recover lost virginities--he acknowledges some of the positive contributions that immigrants make to society. In the case of Italy, for example, he observes that the country's agriculture, food, and its superb urban landscape--features that lie at the heart of its attractions as the center of European culture--are largely sustained by immigrants:
Italy has lately received more than half a million immigrants a year from Africa and the Middle East, mostly to work in its farms, shops, and restaurants. The market price of certain kinds of Italian produce, so Italian farmers say, is in danger of falling below the cost of bringing it to market. Under conditions of globalization, Italy's real comparative advantage may lie elsewhere than in agriculture, in some high-tech economic model that is remunerative but not particularly "Italian."...
Traditional ways of working the land may be viable only if there are immigrants there to work it. You can make similar arguments about traditional Italian restaurants, which in the present economy may be able to hold their own against soulless chains only with the help of low-paid immigrant labor. Ditto the country's lovely public parks, which have traditionally required dozens of gardeners, a level of manpower that the country's shrinking population cannot supply, except at a high price....
Some natives may feel "swamped" by the demographic change, but immigration, though not ideal, may be the most practical way of keeping Italy looking like Italy. As the novelist Giuseppe di Lampedusa once wrote, "If we want everything to stay the same, everything must change."
Caldwell does not suggest that the paradox of foreigners "keeping Italy looking like Italy" is necessarily unsustainable. His concern is that a majority of migrants belong to a religion that a skeptical, post-Enlightenment Europe cannot be expected to contain or resist. The level of Muslim immigration is unprecedented. Whereas in the past, groups of immigrants--"Jewish and Huguenot refugees, a few factory hands from Poland or Ireland or Italy"--were "big enough to enrich the lands of settlement but not so big as to threaten them," the sheer volume of Muslim immigration endangers the indigenous cultures of Europe, not least because those cultures have become precariously fragile. Political correctness, anti-racism, and multiculturalism, born of guilt about colonialism and shame about the Holocaust, are eroding national cultures, while failing to produce a coherent vision of a common European identity.
No reasonable person would deny that there are problems with some of Europe's immigrant communities, or that multiculturalism challenges traditional boundaries separating citizenship from ideas centered on loyalty, identity, and allegiance. For the late Sir Bernard Crick, George Orwell's biographer and a leading educator, "Britishness" is a legal and political structure that excludes culture: "When an immigrant says 'I am British,' he is not saying he wants to be English, Scottish or Welsh." As Caldwell comments:
This was the EU model of belonging: You are one person for your culture and another for the law. You can be an official (legal) European even if you are not a "real" (cultural) European. This disaggregation of the personal personality and the legal personality sounds tolerant and liberating, but it has its downside. Rights are attached to citizenship. As soon as your citizenship becomes a legal construction, so do your rights.
In Caldwell's view, immigrants to Europe are able to exploit their rights not just as citizens but as residents, by claiming the health and welfare benefits to which natives are entitled. "The postwar Western European welfare states provided the most generous benefits ever given to workers anywhere." Germany's job market was the archetype of the systems replicated across Western Europe, with short working hours, seven-week vacations, full health coverage, and wages for unionized workers reaching almost $50 an hour. Although--unlike some other countries--Germany's jus sanguinis denied full citizenship to immigrant workers, who were mainly from Turkey and Morocco, the economic effects were ultimately the same.
The welfare burden has impeded investment, stifling real risk-based entrepreneurship epitomized by the "small, flexible start-up companies that drove most of the innovation in recent decades," especially in the information economy. The US, by contrast, is less indulgent: here, contrary to the myth of American openness, immigrants are pressured to conform. An immigrant may maintain his ancestral culture, but "if it is a culture that prevents him from speaking English well or showing up to work promptly, he will go hungry. Then he will go home."
In Caldwell's vision Europe's welfare states have been succouring alien intruders: as the native population grows in age and declines in proportion to immigrants, so the value they add to the "social market" economy by contributing to its welfare systems is eroded by their claims on benefits. In Spain for example, the Harvard economist Martin Feldstein has predicted that the ratio of workers to retirees, currently 4.5:1, will fall to 2:1 by 2050. In Britain the Office of National Statistics predicts a population increase of ten million people--two thirds of them immigrants or their children--over the next quarter-century, with the number of people aged eighty-five and over expected to double. For Caldwell the short-term relief that immigrants bring to the welfare state is unlikely to match their longer-term claims on it:
In the extremely short run, a baby bust such as Europe has undergone can enhance living standards, because it reduces the number of dependents per worker. But in the longer run a reckoning awaits, and the longer run has arrived.
The most egregious examples of Caldwell's aliens are Muslims, because, as he sees it, they are less susceptible to European cultural influences than other immigrant groups such as Slavs, Sikhs, Hindus, non-Muslim Africans, and African-Caribbeans. He flatly ignores evidence produced by numerous scholars such as Aziz al-Azmeh, Tariq Modood, Philip Lewis, and Jytte Klausen that Muslim identities are shifting to meet changing circumstances, that a majority of younger British Muslims, for example, "share many aspects of popular youth culture with their non-Muslim peers," and that their problem is not so much with the majority culture as with "traditionally-minded parents who seek, usually unsuccessfully, to limit their access to it."
Caldwell pours scorn on writers who emphasize the diversity of the Islamic traditions in Europe. "For all its pleasing glibness," he says, "this harping on diversity is misguided." His reading of Islam takes an essentialist perspective of a primordial religion impervious to change, as if he were oblivious of the way that essentialist views of religion have long been under sustained intellectual attack. No one remotely familiar with the work of scholars such as Aziz al-Azmeh (who ruminates on the diversities of "Islams" and "modernities") or the political scientist Jytte Klausen, whose brilliant work on European Muslims investigates emerging hermeneutics and epistemologies of faith, would dismiss them, as Caldwell does, as "glib." Al-Azmeh and his colleagues provide plenty of support to refute "the cliché," as al-Azmeh writes, "of a homogenous collectivity innocent of modernity, cantankerously or morosely obsessed with prayer, fasting, veiling, medieval social and penal arrangements," while Klausen has demonstrated convincingly that European Muslims are overwhelmingly hostile to extremism, support democratic processes, accept the duties of citizenship, and are evolving distinctively local styles of Muslim identities.
Nor does Caldwell exhibit any familiarity with the rich literature describing the spread of Islam in peripheral cultures such as sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia, where a religion originating in Arabia proved every bit as adept as Christianity in adjusting to local conditions. He has similarly failed to familiarize himself, even superficially, with the vast literature charting the encounter between Islam and modern Western society. In his review of Western attitudes toward Islam he prefers to celebrate the prejudices of writers such as Ernest Renan (in 1883) or Hilaire Belloc (in 1938) than to engage with significant Muslim thinkers such as Muhammad Iqbal, Fazlur Rahman, Muhammed Arkoun, or Abdullahi an-Naim who might challenge his essentialist assumptions. Caldwell's "Islam" owes more to tabloid headlines than to responsible research. To borrow a phrase of Philip Lewis, it exemplifies the need for greater religious literacy in the post-September 11 era.
Nevertheless, in arguing that "Europe became a multiethnic society in a fit of absence of mind," Caldwell makes some useful points. European societies have yet to find satisfactory ways of institutionalizing Islam within their national polities. This is partly due to the fragmentary and contested nature of Islamic spiritual authority, in which (with the partial exception of Shiism) no formal priesthood stands between the individual and a god who reveals himself in texts that are subject to a wide variety of interpretations.
Umbrella bodies intended to act as interlocutors with governments, such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the French Council for the Muslim Faith (CFCM), are rejected by many Muslims for being too political, or not political enough, or simply not representative of people who may be difficult to represent, or may not want to be represented as "Muslims." It is clear that as a religion formulated during an era of political ascendancy, the mainstream traditions of Islam have yet to find comfortable moorings as minorities in the contested public spaces of a secular, pluralist West.
Two thirds of the imams in France live on welfare, as do a similar number in Britain. A majority are foreign-born and trained, and have received little instruction in British culture or its values. A small minority of them have been exposed in the press as "preachers of hate." The funding of European mosques and Islamic institutions from ultraconservative countries should be a real cause for concern: in France, for example, the Union of Islamic Organizations (UIOF) --an umbrella group of doctrinaire Muslim youth organizations linked to the Muslim Brotherhood--gets a quarter of its annual budget from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and other foreign donors.
The British laissez-faire model of leaving immigrant communities to manage themselves has allowed extremism to flourish in all sorts of complex ways. Missionary organizations such as the Tablighi Jamaat, known for its pietism and declared abhorrence of politics, nevertheless encourage a separatist spirit in which extremism can be incubated: most of the men convicted in September for the plot to blow up transatlantic airliners using liquid explosives smuggled in soft-drink bottles had connections with the Tablighi Jamaat, as did two of the suicide bombers who murdered fifty-two people in the London transport system in July 2005.
Paradoxically, even marriage can be an agent of radicalization: whereas the first generation of migrants' children pleased their parents by marrying cousins imported from Pakistan or Bangladesh (thereby swelling immigrant numbers), their children's insistence on marrying Muslim partners of their choice is leading to the creation of a Muslim identity that transcends the older patterns of "encapsulated" settlement based on differences of region, culture, language, and biradiri (extended family networks).
This novel pan-Islamic identity both feeds on and contributes to the perceived hostility of the host society: the Rushdie agitation in 1989, the row over the "insult" to Islam conveyed by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in publishing a cartoon showing Muhammad with a terrorist bomb as his turban, the marches in France protesting the headscarf ban in schools, the riots of youth in Parisian suburbs, and episodes of Islamophobia reported on al-Jazeera television or in the Muslim press all contribute to the sense of an embattled community that is also flexing its collective communitarian muscles.
Despite the legal, institutional, and cultural differences of the European host cultures in which Muslim immigrants find themselves, the narrative that Caldwell extrapolates from a complicated web of data points in an alarming direction. The bottom line is that Islam is a religion of believers. Most Europeans are not only skeptical, but--as heirs to the Enlightenment--they regard religious skepticism as essential to their outlook and identity "as part of the essence of European-ness." He writes:
A fast-shrinking population of several hundred million Europeans lives north of the Mediterranean, while a fast-growing population of several hundred million lives south of it, with a desire to take up residence in Europe that seems unshakable. What is more a certain part of it is dedicated to Europe's destruction by armed violence....
Europe's basic problem with Islam, and with immigration more generally, is that the strongest communities in Europe are, culturally speaking, not European communities at all. This problem exists in all European countries, despite a broad variety of measures taken to solve it--multiculturalism in Holland, laïcité in France, benign neglect in Britain, constitutional punctiliousness in Germany.
Clearly Europe's problem is with Islam and with immigration, and not with specific misapplications of specific means set up to manage them. Islam is a magnificent religion that has also been, at times over the centuries, a glorious and generous culture. But all cant to the contrary, it is in no sense Europe's religion and it is in no sense Europe's culture.
Impressive though he may appear in marshaling a disparate army of sources (ranging from government statistics, social surveys, and think-tank reports to novels and newspaper stories in eight or more languages), the impression he gives is spurious and not supported by real evidence. Caldwell selects a multitude of facts or quotations that support his central premise of a "believing" Islam pitted against a doubting or skeptical Europe. This conclusion, however, is not supported by surveys of actual religious behavior. While the figures--and methodologies used to arrive at them--vary considerably, the conclusion to which they point is that Muslims do not greatly differ in religious behavior from other Europeans. For example, a French study in 2001 found that only 10 percent of Muslims were religiously observant. A study by the demographer Michèle Tribalat the same year found that 60 percent of French Muslim men and 70 percent of women were "not observant," though the great majority respected "cultural attachments" by abstaining from eating pork or drinking alcohol and by fasting during Ramadan. Caldwell mentions none of this work.
The failures in this book are not limited to its flawed and biased research. A troubling example of Caldwell's method involves the misuse of translation in order to further his argument that unlike other religious traditions, Islam cannot be assimilated into European culture. In an extended critique of the work of Tariq Ramadan, the charismatic and articulate advocate of a distinctive European Islam, Caldwell argues that Ramadan's project for Muslim integration into European societies is basically asymmetrical:
The integration of Muslims into Europe will happen on Muslim terms. Or, as Ramadan puts it, "It will succeed when Muslims find in their tradition elements of agreement with the laws of the countries in which they are citizens, because that will resolve any questions of double allegiance." This is an extraordinary statement: Only when Europe's ways are understood as Islam's will Muslims obey them.
The word Ramadan uses in the original French text of this quotation is not "tradition," but "références." "References" in this context sounds slightly odd in English, but "tradition" is too comprehensive, tipping the semantic scale toward inassimilable Muslims. A better translation might be "sources." This is not splitting hairs. As Ramadan explains in "What I Believe", in which he defends himself against charges of "doublespeak," the idea of "reference" is fundamental to his approach:
Adapting one's level of speech to one's audience, or adapting the nature of one's references, is not doublespeak.... To avoid doublespeak, what matters is that the substance of the discourse does not change.
Ramadan writes that his most distinguished defender, the philosopher Charles Taylor, exonerates him from the charge of "doublespeak," arguing, as Ramadan puts it, that his "discourse is clear between two highly ambiguous universes of reference." Ramadan's aim is to "build bridges" between these two universes. As a Muslim scholar and intellectual he applies the discipline of ijtihad (interpretative reasoning); the Arabic term has the same root as jihad, "moral striving"--a word that is often translated, too restrictively, as "holy war."
Ramadan presents his new book, "What I Believe", as "a work of clarification, a deliberately accessible presentation of the basic ideas I have been defending for more than twenty years." The ground is broadly the same as that which was covered in two books of his previously reviewed in these pages. There I argued that Ramadan's belief that Islam can avoid the processes of secularization that afflicted Christendom after the Reformation was flawed by his failure to accommodate the tragic narrative of Shiism and also his failure to recognize that the institutionalization of religious differences--a prerequisite for religious peace among Muslims--would ipso facto initiate a process of secularization.
In a chapter on "Interacting Crises," Ramadan addresses some of the issues that Caldwell raises in his book: the Muslim presence in the West, he says, should not just be seen and engaged as a problem of religions, values, and cultures, but as a psychological one as well. It is not just Muslims who face challenging issues of self-identification. "Western societies in general and Europeans in particular are experiencing a very deep, multidimensional identity crisis" flowing from the double effects of globalization and supranationalism. Everywhere landmarks of national identity and cultural memory are being eroded. The presence of immigrants adds to feelings of confusion.
While aging populations need immigrants to sustain their economies, the incomers threaten ideas of cultural homogeneity that are already endangered by globalization and the revolution in communications. Europeans are trapped in an irreversible logic. Economic necessities are in conflict with the cultural forces around which European identities accrue. Muslims living in the West face similar predicaments. Their identity crisis generates anxiety leading them toward attitudes of "withdrawal and self-isolation."
A "Manifesto for a New 'We,'" with which Ramadan concludes his book, urges European Muslims to have more confidence "in themselves, in their values, in their ability to live and to communicate with full serenity in Western societies." There needs to be "a revolution in trust" built on the confidence that Muslims must have in their own convictions. Their task must be "to reappropriate their heritage and to develop toward it a positive yet critical intellectual attitude." Contra Caldwell, he demands--without qualifications--that Muslims "respect the laws of the countries in which they reside and to which they must be loyal."
The tone is lofty, the language high-minded. It is the preacher, rather than the intellectual, who speaks. Ramadan does not stoop to engage directly with his critics. As he grandly writes in his introduction, "I will not waste my time here trying to defend myself." This is a pity. The charges of doublespeak against Ramadan are not just based on what he describes as "double-hearings," malicious, deliberate, or otherwise. The claims of his most trenchant critic, the French journalist Caroline Fourest, are specific and detailed and documented, based on the tapes of Ramadan's lectures to youthful Muslim audiences as well as his published writings.
Fourest presents Ramadan as a fundamentalist wolf in reformist clothing, a position at variance with his declared advocacy of a "critical intellectual attitude" toward Islamic tradition. Most of her charges depend on family links he refuses to abjure--his maternal grandfather Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, his Islamist father Said Ramadan, and especially his brother Hani, a more strident critic than Tariq of "Europe's atheistic materialism" who has publicly justified the stoning of adulteresses "as a punishment" that is also "a purification." Tariq, by contrast, notoriously argued in a 2003 television debate with Nicolas Sarkozy that the penalty of stoning should merely be subject to a "moratorium" while scholars debated the issue.
Other troubling details that emerge from Fourest's vigilant, even obsessive, trawl through the Ramadan canon include explicit condemnations of Kant and Pascal and fence-sitting, not to say "double-talk," on Darwinism. A work published by the Islamist publishing house with which he is closely associated explicitly denies evolution, while his audiotapes advocate creationism as a "complementary instruction" to the teaching of evolution in schools. Yet when asked in a television interview whether he accepted evolutionary theory, he "preferred to agree," rather than express his true convictions in front of the general public.
In one sense Fourest's critique can be seen as reassuring: Ramadan's teachings --on sexuality, evolution, and moral behavior generally--fall into grooves already furrowed by the Christian right. Secularists may abhor any alliance between anti-Enlightenment God-fearers from among Abraham's quarrelsome children, but any such alliance may have an important advantage: it may mask or defuse religious conflicts surrounding the contested symbolic languages that afflict the contemporary world, where ancient certainties clash with what Anthony Giddens usefully calls "the institutionalisation of doubt."
Paradoxically, as the sociologist Steve Bruce has pointed out, alliances between clashing fundamentalisms can serve to bridge sectarian divisions. For example, in the early 1970s when Mormons, conservative Jews, and Catholics collaborated over issues such as opposition to the proposed Equal Rights Amendment for women or abortion, they had to suppress their theological distaste for allies whose religions they regarded as false. While such alliances may have seemed threatening to liberals and especially to women, they marked a significant step away from fundamentalist certainties, since the different parties were forced to compartmentalize their beliefs, to separate their distinctive religious outlooks and practices from "the moral crusades which the religion has produced." Social problems such as the "binge drinking" and drug abuse that afflict European cities are obvious candidates for collaboration across religious boundaries. In Britain at least one Orthodox rabbi is working alongside a local imam on such problems.
One of the strongest statements deploring the Danish cartoons came from the Vatican, along with the World Council of Churches, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Danish Evangelical Church. While such expressions of "faith solidarity" may have disturbing implications for the rights of free expression cherished by Europeans, they carry the seeds of longer-term accommodations that are likely to bring the more conservative and isolated strands of Islam into the cultural mainstream. Interdenominational collaboration on any issue is a stage in the process of secularization, pushing believers toward a recognition of religious pluralism and dethroning particular dogmas as the unique and nonnegotiable sources of truth. Ramadan can afford to be more upfront about his fundamentalist views. When defensive religiosity turns into moralizing, there is space for social engagement and constructive debate.
Malise Ruthven is the author of "Islam: A Very Short Introduction", "Islam in the World: The Divine Supermarket" (a study of Christian fundamentalism), "A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America", and "A Satanic Affair: Salman Rushdie and the Wrath of Islam".
"Islam in Europe: Diversity, Identity and Influence", edited by Aziz al-Azmeh and Effie Fokas (Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 209.
Jytte Klausen, "The Islamic Challenge: Politics and Religion in Western Europe" (Oxford University Press, 2005).
"To Be a European Muslim" (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1999) and "Western Muslims and the Fate of Islam" (Oxford University Press, 2003); see my "The Islamic Optimist," The New York Review, August 16, 2007.
"Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan", translated by Ioana Wilder and John Atherton (Encounter, 2008).
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