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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Islam In Christian Europe–What’s The Problem?

Europeans are not happy about the growing presence and influence of Muslims.  After Roland held them off at Roncesvalles in 778 and kept the continent Christian, they are back; and Europeans from East to West are angry.

Why, we Americans wonder, cannot Islam and Christianity live side-by-side in a liberal democracy which values pluralism and multi-culturalism?  We have no problem with our Muslims or Jews; and we easily co-exist with our former slaves, Salvadoran refugees, Mung tribesmen, Hindu Indians and Buddhist Chinese.  Yes, we have been guilty of racism and anti-Semitism, but all-in-all we are a welcoming, tolerant country. What’s up in Europe?

First, America has never had a culture – or at least not a thousand-year old one like the French or Italians.  We do not carry the legacy of empire, kings and kingdoms, art, literature, and music – much of which is derived from Christian tradition.  The great cathedrals of Notre Dame, Chartres, and Rouen were ‘the stone books of the Middle Ages’, created as monuments to Christ.  Every element glorified Him and told the story of His birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection. The naves were high and vaulted to symbolize the heavens, the stained glass windows to depict the lives of the saints, the vast interiors to reflect the power and glory of God and his kingdom. Bach’s cantatas and fugues were religious in origin as were the paintings of Giotto, Botticelli, and Fra Angelico. The Vatican is not just the seat of Catholicism, but the home of God’s representative on earth, the Pope.  The Catholic Church was and still is as extensive as the Roman Empire, and in its earlier days was as powerful.

Christianity is not just a religion in Europe, but the living legacy of a storied past. To say that France is a Christian country because most of its residents are Christian misses the point entirely.  France is Christian to its core, calls itself fille aînée de l'Eglise because of Roland and the armies of Charlemagne which defended Europe from the infidel, and defends its Christian identity with the same passion and defiance as India, a devoutly Hindu country with an even longer religious history.

In the Middle Ages European Christian armies joined in the Crusades against the Muslim occupiers of Jerusalem. Europe still had to be defended against the infidel hordes to preserve the victory at Roncesvalles.

In the 19th Century France ruled much of Muslim Africa both north and south of the Sahara and fought a bloody war with Algeria to retain colonial control.

The influx of Muslims from North Africa to France increased steadily after Algerian Independence, and they represented the first important wave of Muslims to Europe.  For decades Algerians were poor, marginalized, and discriminated against.  Not only were they seen as inferior subjects of colonial empire, but as members of an inferior religion, Islam.

In other words, Europe is not only deeply Christian, but historically anti-Muslim. This antagonism is not only about colonialism, the Crusades, and Roncesvalles, but about religion. Christianity is considered by many Europeans to be far more evolved, complex, and deeply philosophical than Islam.  Islam for all its devotional power is a more simple, fundamental, and harshly austere religion. Although philosophical thought flourished in the early days of Islam, the Golden Age lasted only a few hundred years after which it lost its enlightenment and high spirituality and turned inward.

A deeply-rooted Christianity and longstanding suspicion of Islam would be reasons enough for the growing resentment of Islam, but today’s European Muslims are militant, defiantly separatist, and far more conservative, patriarchal, and authoritarian than ever before.  It was hard enough for France to accept and to try to assimilate moderate Muslims, but the assault on  Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité has been intolerable.  “We are all French” has been the drumbeat of both the Left and the Right for a hundred years and has become no less insistent. The French do not check boxes for race or ethnicity on census forms.  There is no race- or ethnicity-based affirmative action. Once an immigrant becomes a French citizen, he is – or must become – French.

While this is a noble ideal and certainly an alternative to America’s multi-culturalism which is dividing the country more than sewing it together in a beautiful social quilt, France’s inflexibility is a problem.  Although North Africans may be considered French de jure they are still foreign immigrants de facto and subject to discrimination and defamation. The riots in 2005 in the northern suburbs of Paris were bound to happen. Once again it was Muslims vs. Christians although the French were loathe to admit it.

The current issue of the hijab is symbolic of France’s uncertainty about immigration.  It remains dedicated to equality and one, united country; but is not sure what to do with Muslim groups who defiantly refuse to accept the idea.  God’s Law trumps Man’s, they say, and will defend their right to religious autonomy.

It is quite understandable, then, that the French are increasingly concerned about the growing influence of their Muslim community, now the largest in Europe and becoming more and more radicalized.  Not only are Muslims a threat to the hallowed secular principles of the Revolution, they are seen as belonging to a foreign culture and an alien religion against which the French have fought since 778.

Because of its particular history France has perhaps the most compelling reasons for concern about Muslim immigrants; but other European nations are becoming as distressed.  Even tolerant Scandinavia and Holland have seen the rise of Right Wing anti-immigration parties.  However, they too, have a long European history which they want to protect and preserve.  The Danes were an early colonizing power. The Danish House of Knýtlinga ruled England from 1013 to the Norman Conquest in 1066, a short but influential rule.  The Vikings were explorers, warriors, and princes.  Holland was a major European colonial power and had subjects as far from Europe as Indonesia. Holland and Denmark were always Christian.

In summary, it is quite understandable that Europe has become increasingly xenophobic.  Not only do citizens see Islam as a threat to their secular values, but their longstanding Christian ones.  If Muslims were not so defiantly dismissive of European Christian culture, the situation might be entirely different; but Muslim exclusivity and de facto separatism threatens the whole idea of a nation-state, let alone shake the foundations of a Christian culture.

Europeans are angry because Muslim immigrants come to their shores to take advantage of economic opportunity, but at the same time reject the values, traditions, and social mores of their adopted country.  They are quite happy to take the best, leave the rest, and retreat into hermetic enclaves of Islamic law and customs.  They bite the hand that feeds them.

As Olivier Roy writes in the New York Times (6.5.14) Europeans have had enough:

This anti-Islam rhetoric is spreading to the mainstream. The coalition government of the Netherlands requires would-be immigrants to accept progressive values before they are given a residency visa. Applicants are asked whether they tolerate the mixing of boys and girls in school, gender equality, nudity in public and gay rights…[leaving] little doubt that the exams are designed to challenge adherents to Islam.

Roy is critical of the European Right for what he sees as its intolerance; but he fails to see that conservative political parties reflect the sentiments of a growing number of citizens.  In recent European Parliamentary elections, rightist parties gained between 25-30 percent of the vote, suggesting that anti-immigration, Christian nationalism is not just a fringe group phenomenon.

Despite liberal pleas for tolerance and an adoption of multi-culturalism as the social norm, more and more Europeans are saying basta!  American-style multi-culturalism accepts the legitimacy of ethnic identity if immigrants subscribe to majority secular norms. This is easy in a country without a culture – that is one which takes all comers and for whom business is the only culture and making money the only religion. This is not a cynical statement but a very positive and optimistic one.  Immigrants come here to make money and all else is secondary.  Within a generation Hispanic immigrants speak perfect English and are as American as the next guy.  Not so in Europe.

There is no resolution in sight for the stand-off in Europe. The more Muslim immigrants demand cultural separatism and continue to harangue the decadent West for its corrupt secularism, the more virulent and determined the Christian opposition becomes. There is no way to screen Muslims for radicalism at the border; so countries either have to impose strict quotas, or to come down harshly on culturally aberrant behavior once they enter, or both.

The days of idealistic multi-culturalism are over both in the United States and especially Europe.  Citizens of all countries are demanding adherence to majority norms in order to keep the social fabric intact.  Yet at the same time the world is becoming more and more fractured along religious and ethnic lines.  Liberal democracy itself is being threatened by groups which dispute the notion of full democratic participation, equal rights, and equal justice for all.

It appears that the modern culture wars are just beginning.

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