France's Burqa Ban: Has Europe Forgotten the Gas Chambers?

By Simanowitz, Stefan | The Christian Science Monitor, April 14, 2011 | Go to article overview

France's Burqa Ban: Has Europe Forgotten the Gas Chambers?


Simanowitz, Stefan, The Christian Science Monitor


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 Haditha. …

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