In his post, Abdulkadir Suleiman makes some very good points. He correctly underscores the rise of anti-Islamic rhetoric in the far-right of European politics. He correctly notes the backlash against multiculturalism which has emerged in the post-9/11 Europe. However, it is in the other things claimed that his argument is undermined.
To me the concept that Europe’s intolerance is rooted in its colonialism is bizarre. It would be a similar claim to say that Turkey’s present political crises were based in its invasion of Austria, or that the US’ neo-conservatism is based on its decades of war against Great Britain. Europe has changed so significantly and thoroughly in the last two hundred years that it is near unrecognisable from the continent which once saw Napoleon march on Moscow and the Germans butcher one another over religion. Culture changes, and causal chains can only last so long. Suleiman seems keen to note other fundamental changes which have occurred since then whilst ignoring others.
It is indeed well known that Europe has been pursuing a culture of tolerance since the Second World War, the kind of tolerance which resulted in a rebellion by continental Europe against the invasion of Iraq by the USA, the kind of Europe which again bucked the authority of a power which had once held such a firm grip over them over the entrance of Palestine to UNESCO. This is the Europe which forced NATO to take action in Bosnia and sends thousands of peace-keepers to the Congo.
But this tolerance is not all-encompassing, and with good reason. Tolerance lead to the western regime which watched in denial as the Nazis rose in Germany. Tolerance let the Chinese march into Tibet. Tolerance was in the small whimpers of condemnation as the Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda, Saddam Hussein butchered the Kurds and homosexuals were hung in Saudi Arabia.
Toleration only goes so far as to tolerate those who tolerate others. Not to those who cannot tolerate themselves. The extreme left and right of Europe have been marginalised to the point of extinction for half a century, the recent economic crises only partially awakening the old beasts which perverted democracy so thoroughly in the early twentieth century. The BNP and National Front of France have never been allowed to grow out of control before being pushed back by the centre-right. Intolerance in politics has been put to the sword by western and northern Europe, and memories of the past are not about to let them rise once again.
But politics is not alone in being a realm where extremes are seen with suspicion and even intolerance by the centre and majority of northern and western Europe. Religion too has fallen here, as with all other ideologies. Other than the communist and ex-communist states of the world, Europe is by far the most atheistic and secular region in the world, and the only one which has progressed to such a point by slow reform. The majority of European states are constitutionally secular and the rest have limited religion’s influence severely. Well over half of European citizens rate religion as “unimportant” to their lives (Gallup poll, 2007–2008). Indeed the death of religion’s influence, dating far back to the European enlightenment, has progressed so slowly but so absolutely that almost no one has noticed its passing. Christian fundamentalism and politics has been left to the US, so absolutely that many Christian-Right parties of Europe have been forced to re-brand.
It is this intolerance towards extremism in any ideology which has lead to an intolerance of Islam, not Europe’s colonial past. Europe is a continent where the thought of law dictated by the bible seems ridiculous to the point of insane and the concept of creationism being taught over evolution is plainly incomprehensible. Despite the continued sway of the pope, Christianity has become the tea-and-biscuits of the Church of England, not the fire-and-brimstone of the Vatican.
Enter Islam and the Muslims who follow its creed. Their women wear head-scarves as their holy men dictate, their homelands hang homosexuals and stone women who are raped. Their members appear in the news not for their donations to the Red Crescent but for riots in Paris and Copenhagen and protests at the burials of soldiers returned from war. They set fire to buildings for the drawing of jovial cartoons and demand courts that can judge based on law by the Koran. Dozens die across Europe in honour killings by Muslim families who feel their honour has been tarnished.
For Muslims, many of these things are seen as a bad representation of their faith, and that is true, it only shows the most extreme fringes. But Muslims must think of the anger they felt at the Danish cartoons, at their outrage when France banned the Burka. How many Muslims believe that Sharia law is a vital part of their society, and has a place even in their communities within western countries?
To the European, these beliefs are not moderate, they are shocking. It has been decades since any court ruled based on a biblical passage, a century since women began their march to be seen in every way the same as men. Cartoons are drawn on a daily basis poking fun at Jesus Christ and his father and even the most serious of Christian preachers have learned to chuckle.
Islam is, by nature, not necessarily any worse or better than Christianity. However in Europe, Muslims regard their faith with much more passion and seriousness than do their Christian counterparts, what of them are left. The battle for gay marriage may be the last one that the Christians of Europe will ever fight, as churches lay empty. By contrast Islamic Mosques are filled day by day by Muslims who hold every word of their holy books close to their chests. These Mosques, however infrequently, produce extremists and even suicide bombers.
Islam is not hated and rejected because of some forgotten legacy of European colonialism, one which the nations of Europe have long had to release as their slide from superpower status progressed, it is rejected because of a culture of tolerance in Europe which has grown hostile to intolerance. The extremes of ideology, the fundamentalism of the right and left wings of politics, or the literalism of Christianity or Islam, have become completely at odds to this culture.
There exists a disjoin between Muslims and the states they have entered in Europe. Christian moderacy does not exist in Muslim communities, whose own moderacy is seen as extreme to their Christian neighbours. Europe is multicultural, but it is intolerant of extremes, and to the moderate Christian and atheist, Islam seems extreme.
The views expressed in this post belong to the author and are not necessarily shared or endorsed by the PIIA or PH.