In the New York Times, Olivier Roy denounces the ascendant European Right for becoming the chief defender of Europe’s traditional liberalism. In fact, those vicious anti-Semites are even for gay rights. And that’s bad because … well, because they are the Right.
The Closing of the Right’s Mind By OLIVIER ROY JUNE 4, 2014Nobody cares about disinterested principles anymore. They are just too disinteresting.
FLORENCE, Italy — The longstanding link between the political right and various Christian churches is breaking down across Europe. This is largely because the right, like much of European society, has become more secular. Yet this hardly indicates progress: Animated by an anti-Islamic sentiment, the right’s position is endangering freedom of religion, as well as secularism and basic democratic traditions.
… Even the populist parties — which often challenge mainstream conservative ones on issues like immigration and the European Union — follow the same trend. The Progress Party in Norway and the Freedom Party in the Netherlands explicitly defend gay rights. In France, the National Front has softened its stance on abortion. The U.K. Independence Party has declared that it favors broadening the civil partnership, “awarding it equal status to marriage and enabling it to be available to all.”
All this might look like evidence of a general march toward liberalism, only there’s a twist: Even as the right moves away from the basic values of the Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations, it clamors that Europe is fundamentally Christian. In 2003 many members of the European People’s Party, the center-right coalition in the European Parliament, lobbied for amending the preamble of the European Constitution so that it would say as much. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has referred to Europe’s Christianness. And at the same time that Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain has argued “I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country,” he has backed holding same-sex weddings in places of worship.
Such positions would seem to expose a curious contradiction — but only until one considers these parties’ purpose: The European right is advocating a Christian identity for Europe not because it wants to promote Christianity but because it wants to push back against Islam and the integration of Muslims — or what the National Front calls “the Islamization of Europe.” …
Notably, these measures are being advocated in the name of protecting not Christianity but liberal secularism. The hijab is said to offend women’s rights; circumcision, children’s rights; ritual slaughter, animal rights. Oriana Fallaci and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, two radical spokespersons for the feminist resistance to Islam, became darlings of the conservative right in Italy (Fallaci) and the Netherlands and America (Hirsi Ali).
This anti-Islam rhetoric is spreading to the mainstream. The coalition government of the Netherlands requires would-be immigrants to accept progressive values before they are given a residency visa. Applicants are asked whether they tolerate the mixing of boys and girls in school, gender equality, nudity in public and gay rights. Although all applicants must take these tests, given the concerns revealed in these questions and the demographics of migration into Europe, there can be little doubt that the exams are designed to challenge adherents to Islam. Such measures are unfair to Muslims, and they violate European states’ professed commitment to multiculturalism and the separation of church and state.
What’s more, prohibitions like those on circumcision and the ritual slaughter of cattle also amount to attacks on Judaism. In France Marine Le Pen of the National Front has called for banning both the hijab and the kippah (but not the priest’s cassock) in public places. In this respect, the defense of Europe’s Christian identity is taking on an especially ugly quality: It echoes the anti-Semitic regulations of Nazi Germany and other European countries in the 1930s. So much for the Judeo-Christian roots of European culture; once again, the Jews of Europe are made to feel like foreigners. …
The case for freedom of religion is but one aspect of the classic case for democratic freedom for all, believers and nonbelievers alike — thus, even secularists should subscribe to it. The abuse of secularism by the right-wing parties of Europe to exclude Muslims is fundamentally undemocratic. It is an attack not just on Islam, and all religions, but also on freedom itself.