A New Brand of Nonbelievers

But there are signs Jami's Committee for Ex-Muslims reflects a broader trend of anti-fundamentalism among Europe's nonpracticing Islamic populations. Although membership across the different European organizations of "ex-Muslims" totals only about 1,000 people, founders say they are growing quickly.

"Our membership has almost tripled in the months since we've been established," said Maryam Namazie, director of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, which she founded in June. "It's the same in Germany, and in other countries as well."

Others Afraid to Join

Namazie, 41, who became an atheist in her 20s when her family left Iran after the establishment of the Islamic Republic, was present at the launch of Jami's Dutch committee in The Hague earlier this week.

She says she believes the councils of ex-Muslims represent a "silent majority" among Europe's Islamic population.

"The people who join are just the tip of the iceberg," she told ABC News. "A lot of people call and say they would like to join but they're afraid or intimidated."

Namazie added that those who define themselves as ex-Muslim believe that outsiders often view Europe's Islamic communities as homogenous and frightening. She said her council intends partly to separate members from more fundamentalist elements in the public eye.

"We all have the label 'Muslim,'" Namazie said, "but we are also often labeled to be part and parcel of the most reactionary Muslim groups around."

Such concerns, it seems, are shared by many of Europe's 13 million Muslims.

A Global Attitudes poll conducted by Washington's Pew Research Center in 2006 found that 44 percent of Britain's 1.8 million Muslims describe themselves as "very worried about" Islamic extremism, a concern second only to anxieties about unemployment. In France 30 percent shared worries about religious radicalism; in Germany that number stood at 23 percent.

Martijn de Koning, a fellow at the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World, said such worries are indeed common among many European Muslims, if not always obvious to the outside world.

"Debates about fundamentalism and radicalization have been taking place within the local Muslim communities for years," de Koning told ABC News from his office in the Netherlands. "But often people keep those discussions within the community. They're very concerned about the impression it'll create in the outside world."

People like Jami try to "break open that debate, through provocation," de Koning added. "They have a certain amount of authority, because they themselves come from that tradition. They're in a unique position to say what the issues are in the religion and where the problems lie."

'Insulting Statements'

Still, many observers criticize the tactics of groups like Jami's.

On Sept. 10, the day before the presentation of the Dutch Committee for Ex-Muslims, a different group of "ex-Muslims" held a news conference at a large mosque in Amsterdam to denounce Jami's methods as offensive and unnecessarily confrontational.

"We defend the right to be able to walk away from any religion, including Islam," said former Muslim Behnam Taebi in a statement quoted by The Associated Press. "But they are using that right as a cover to categorically insult Muslims and to stigmatize them as 'violent' and 'terrorists.'"

Aitblal of the Union of Moroccan Mosques in Amsterdam agreed.

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