Here are some scenes, culled from recent headlines, of a continent–“Eurabia”–seemingly on the brink:
§ A Berlin opera company abruptly cancels the performance of Mozart’s Idomeneo–whose anticlerical finale features the bloody, severed heads of Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad–for fear of provoking a violent response on the part of Muslims in Germany, who number some 3.3 million. Undoubtedly, in the back of the director’s mind was: (1) the global rioting spurred by the Danish cartoon controversy, which featured demeaning images of the prophet Muhammad as a terrorist; (2) the detection last summer of undetonated terrorist bombs aboard the beloved Deutsche Bahn, or German railway system. Ultimately, the decision to cancel Idomeneo was rescinded and the opera was performed in December, without a hitch.
§ In a recent speech, Pope Benedict XVI approvingly quotes a fourteenth-century Byzantine emperor’s bellicose claim: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” Underlying the Pope’s prejudicial characterization of Islam are his fears concerning ongoing negotiations over Turkey’s admission to the European Union–an outcome that would result in an influx of some 70 million additional Muslims, thereby, in his view, challenging Europe’s “Christian character.” To his credit, the Pontiff modified his position on Turkey’s admission to the EU during a November visit to Ankara, amid massive anti-Vatican protests.
§ In October Ekin Deligöz, a woman delegate to the German Bundestag, receives death threats for suggesting that Muslim immigrants remove their head scarves in order to “enter the historical present.”
§ Robert Redeker, a high school philosophy teacher from Toulouse, publishes an incendiary article in the conservative French daily Le Figaro comparing Islam unfavorably with Christianity and Judaism (“Jesus is a master of love; Muhammad is a master of hatred”). Redeker is denounced by the Al Jazeera television network. Islamic groups post his photo, telephone number and home address on the Internet. Shortly thereafter, he must go into hiding in order to avoid numerous death threats.
§ British House of Commons leader Jack Straw admonishes Muslim women sporting the niqab, or full-face veil, for promoting social separatism. This stance is publicly endorsed by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who argued the niqab should be abandoned insofar as it constitutes a “mark of separation” and thus inhibits sociability. More important, Straw’s and Blair’s criticisms suggest that Britain and other European nations are re-examining their commitment to multiculturalism in the wake of fears concerning the rise of “Islamism”: the idea that Islamic precepts should trump the rule of law and Western secularism.
Of course, underlying these European anxieties are the 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid (191 deaths), the 2005 London Underground bombings (fifty-five deaths) and the September 11 attacks. The intemperate and overheated reactions to these events, however, indicate that it is increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to have a reasonable and fair-minded discussion about Islam and the West. Instead, in the Western mind, “Islam” has become inextricably associated with “Islamic fundamentalism”: the attempt to subject all spheres of life to the theological precepts and strictures of the Koran.