Thursday, July 22, 2004

Muslims and the European Right- Prof Abdal-Hakim Murad (Cambridge)

Antisemitism is an ancient European disfigurement whose easing is now underway. The discourse of Jewish ‘threat’ or ‘contamination’ is no longer acceptable in cultivated circles. [Europe] has not yet, however, come to terms with its other historic chauvinism, which is only now being named: ‘Islamophobia’. Islamophobia I take to mean the emotive dislike of the Islamic religion as a whole, rather than of its extreme manifestations; or rather, we might more usefully define it as the assumption that the extremes of the religion have normative status. If that is the definition then clearly [Europe] has hardly begun to purge its subconscious. Despite welcome transformations in Christian attitudes towards ‘unbelievers’, even the churches can harbour intransigent voices. In Italy, the Archbishop of Bologna has called for the closure of the country’s mosques and an end to immigration by Muslims, who are, he believes, ‘outside our humanity.’ [1] In [Kamchatka], at the furthest end of European settlement, the Orthodox bishop has backed opposition to the construction of a mosque for the region’s large Muslim community. The mosque would be ‘a direct insult to the religious and civil feelings of the Slavic population,’ according its local opponents, and would encourage further Muslim immigration, with the result that ‘given their mind-set, they won’t let us live normally here.’ [2]

The new substitute for Antisemitism is resurgent in formerly Nazi regions as well. In Austria, the currently-triumphant Freedom Party seems no less mistrustful of the Muslim presence. ‘The increasing fundamentalism of radical Islam which is penetrating [Europe],’ it warns us, ‘is threatening the consensus of values which is in danger of getting lost.’ Far from stiffening [Europe’s] moral fibre, the new Turkish invaders form part of a relativising process which allegedly threatens Christian Austria with the confiscation of its identity and with social disaster. As the Freedom Party explains, it is not race, but culture, and hence religion, which defines legitimate belonging, which is why ‘the Freedom Party sees itself as an ideal partner of the Christian churches’. [3] Even though most local clergy have sharply denounced it, the party attracts a third of the vote of this stable, prosperous Catholic democracy, and may grow further. Minorities can only hope that Jorg Haider is wrong in his conception of his nation when he opines, ‘The Freedom Party is not the descendent of the National Socialist Party. If it were, we would have an absolute majority.’ [4]

Islam and the Threat of Europe