Abuse of Muslims shows equality is still an open question in Europe
Religious intolerance is a daily reality in Europe, mainly targeted at Muslims. We need to better understand the dynamics behind the new trend of laws and popular opinion banning minority religious expression and stigmatizing Islam.
Editor's note: This piece is part four of five in the series “Religion, Politics & the Public Space” in collaboration with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and its Global Experts project. Check back tomorrow to read the final commentary.Skip to next paragraph
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Religious intolerance is a daily reality in Europe. Mainly targeted at Muslims, attacks on religious pluralism focus on refusing to share public space with non-majority religions or only tolerating practices seen as “secular.” The key voices of intolerance are neither marginal nor can they be dismissed as old-style far-right activists. They are today often heads of government, important ministers, or powerful politicians.
Their words express an emerging refrain of official xenophobia. Successive recent salvos by the French president and German chancellor on the failure of multiculturalism in countries where that policy has never been promoted, and the British prime minister’s February speech associating multiculturalism with Islamic terrorism are among the latest examples.
Europe's attack on Islam
The desire to make Islam invisible has resulted not just in stigmatizing speeches, but also in new laws, On 29 November 2009, 57.5 percent of Swiss citizens voting in a popular referendum agreed to forbid the building of new minarets in their country. This appears part of a broad European trend.
After the 2004 ban of the veil in France’s public schools as an ostentatious religious symbol, a new law came into force on April 11, 2011 that bans the wearing of the face veil (niqab or burqa) in “public places” throughout France – defined as everywhere except one’s home, car, workplace, or mosque. A recent study published by the Open Society Foundation found that less than 2,000 women wear the face veil in France. Many have already suffered insults and sometimes physical harassment. The new law will encourage only more abuse. Yet Christian religious processions that require face-covering hoods are still allowed.
Is there really religious pluralism in Europe?
We need to better understand the dynamics behind these controversies and new laws banning symbols of religious expression. And we must ask whether there is adequate protection of religious pluralism and confessional neutrality in Europe’s public space. The far right in Europe has occupied public space to aggressively assert their culture against Muslim practices. Pointedly insulting anti-Muslim actions are increasing.