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.
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In Italy, the right-wing Northern League party organizes processions of pigs on the sites where mosques are to be erected. In France, open-air “salami and wine” events, focusing on Islamic strictures against pork and alcohol, have been organized by an anti-Muslim movement that claims to be secular. This focus on food and wine shows that fear of threats to cultural identity in the face of globalization is at the core of the “new right,” as sociologist Mabel Berezin has argued in her recent book "Illiberal Politics in Neoliberal Times."Skip to next paragraph
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The rise of the 'new right'
Religious expression is again becoming a marker of national cultural identity, and the xenophobic discourse that surrounds Islam seems to have broad appeal. The current generation of far-right leaders (among them Heinz-Christian Strache in Austria, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France, and Oskar Freysinger in Switzerland) wear new garb. They are younger and claim to be progressive while subverting the symbols and the struggles of the 1960s revolutions. Some profess to be feminist, pro-gay rights, and for public expression, and all are choosing Islam rather than Judaism as a target.
Mainstream parties are divided on these issues and how to respond to these movements. After decades of local and national attempts at accommodation to resolve practical issues such as space in cemeteries for Muslims and the organization of Muslim representative bodies, governments in Europe seem to be going with and enabling the flow of intolerance by banning and stigmatizing Islamic practice.
Has Europe forgotten the Enlightenment?
How can minority religions be protected in public space in this context? Historically, “toleration” of minority religions by the majority is associated with the Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries) and the beginnings of contemporary human rights. European constitutions today also echo 19th century struggles to further secularism on the continent (although not in the empires).
Yet, the legacies of these hard-won and sometimes bloody battles are not as deeply rooted as one might think. In liberal democracies, the fundamental rights of minorities tend to be protected from majority abuse by domestic constitutions as well as international covenants such as the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.