As we've seen with France's burqa ban that went into effect this
week, global religious tolerance - especially in Europe - is under
threat. Growing Islamophobia threatens to undermine hard-fought
freedom and tolerance in post-WW II Europe and around the world.
Writing during a period of great religious conflict, John Locke
stated that the "toleration of those that differ from others in
matters of religion is so agreeable to ... the genuine reason of
mankind, that it seems monstrous for men to be so blind as not to
perceive the necessity and advantage of it." Over 300 years on, this
most basic tenet of European Enlightenment thought - the freedom of
religious belief and practice - is increasingly under attack.
In France, a nation where the far-right, nationalist National
Front party polled almost 12 percent of the national vote in last
year's regional elections, legislation has come into force this week
that makes it a crime to wear the burqa and niqab in public.
In Belgium, similar legislation is also in the pipeline. In
Holland, Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV), whose manifesto
includes a ban on the Quran and an end to all immigration from
Muslim countries, became the third-largest party in last year's
general election. Even the traditionally liberal Swedes saw the far-
right Sweden Democrat party win representation in parliament for the
first time in their 2010 elections.
Far right, often anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim, parties have
experienced a resurgence in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark,
France, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Romania, and
Slovakia. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain's Prime
Minister David Cameron have both recently dismissed multiculturalism
as a failure.
US anti-Muslim fervor is political
In the United States, where there is a much smaller proportion of
Muslims - about 1 percent of the population compared with about 5
percent in Europe - Islamophobia is also on the rise. While
incidents such as pastor Terry Jones's decision to burn a Quran or
the furor over the "Ground Zero mosque" might grab the global
headlines, they are at the extreme end of a much wider movement.
Indeed, the resurgent right in America has seemingly identified
anti-Muslim feeling as a popular campaigning issue as the US gears
up for 2012 elections. By tapping into the well of post 9/11 raw
emotion that is still fresh in the US psyche, they may consider that
there is political capital in playing the anti-Islam card. It is
fair to say that many Americans regard Islam as an imposing
political ideology as well as a religion.
Muslims as 'normal people'
Recently, I watched Nick Broomfield's 2007 film "Battle for