Tolerating Intolerance!

The liberal approach toward Islam seems to be an overlooked topic in the Western world. Looking back toward the elections days in the Netherlands, and looking forward to the upcoming European elections, the author of the following blog post, Babak Jahedmanesh, underlines the question of both tolerance and intolerance in Europe.

Mark Rutte, the Netherlands Prime Minister, made headlines by writing an open letter. He called out “people who behave poorly”, and asked them to “act normal or go away”. It’s easy to understand that he is talking about immigrants here, precisely Muslims. New York Times called it a strategy coming from President Trump’s playbook.

I don’t want to argue here if Rutte’s words are in line with liberal values or not. What is important to me is that this letter is just a reaction to the rise of PVV’s popularity in the polls. As surprising Rutte’s letter was, it wasn’t unique.

Prior to that Merkel asked for a “full-face veil ban” in a CDU conference. She didn’t use the term Muslim but we know the target of her proposal. Her move was a reaction to the protests of conservatives in CDU against her immigration policies, triggered by AfD’s rise.

Fillon, a previous French Presidential frontrunner, promised to  “take back control of immigration” and “impos[e] quotas on non-EU immigrants”. This Trump-like travel ban is an another reaction to the growing popularity of the French Front National.

We have been aware of it for a while – a lot of liberal policies are becoming reactionary. Although I’m unaware of the mechanisms that create such policies, these policies cannot dent the support for populist movements, but they successfully demotivate our base. For a dissatisfied populist supporter, poor imitation populism is not as attractive as the propaganda put forward by populist leaders. Further, these fundamental policy changes will contribute to a bigger collapse in the liberal vote.

We should not gamble everything on dealing with electoral side-effects; it sounds like a cliché but we should look for the causes, as uncomfortable as it may be, and how to deal with it in a liberal manner. In the short term, there will be some political losses, and tough times for the European project but we need to endure a period of defeats, self-criticism as vigilance over democracies and their institutions. Now, let’s identify the problem.

We’re often afraid of even naming it and today’s liberals are not eager to touch these subjects. Islam, Islamic culture, Islamism ideology, extremism and radicalisation, immigration and open borders, clash of civilisations and any other super patterns, which can affect our civilisation greatly is taboo. No matter which one of these topics is the cause, the solution is an open discussion. We have to be able to point to them and talk about them openly.

It seems we forget all about Popper’s scientific process and our duty as the liberals when it comes to the topic of Islam. We need to bring up the issues that our societies are facing. A frank and open discussion about Islam is in line with our liberal values. Muslims and immigrants are not separate from us, they are not different people, Islam and Islamist ideology are not other society and cultures’ topics, Muslims live with us and Islam affects our society and policies from a simple city management issue to high-level security topics.

Maajid Nawaz, a British Liberal Democrat, Muslim and self-described former extremist, repeatedly calls out this deliberate overlook: “Much overlooked by many commentators, largely because of a lack of cultural comfort in recognising this phenomenon, is the rise of non-violent extremism. Non-violent extremism is essentially the increase of intolerant and bigoted demands made by groups seeking to dominate society.”

Islam is an integral part of our European identity today, and should not be safe from a merciless and deconstructing criticism in order to make it a less adverse component inside our European and liberal value system. I believe instead of marginalising, which is usually a byproduct of our mainstream political correctness toward Islam, we have to deal with Islam with a head-on approach, otherwise, the apparent dogma, which is an incumbent part of any religion, will eventually lead us to instability and intolerance.

Islam is relatively a new religion and needs a process of protestantization. Equality between women and men, LGBT+ rights, the value of human life over ideologies, tolerance and worldliness are achievements of western civilisation put in jeopardy here.

French president Hollande, has been talking about this too. In a recently published book “A President Should Not Say That”, he acknowledged the existence of a problem with Islam and discussed radicalization and the Muslim community’s reaction toward it. I cannot help thinking liberals need to advance these arguments.

If liberals want to rebuild and defend European institutions and at the same time deal with root causes of the problem, it’s time to denounce tolerating intolerance.

Babak Jahedmanesh

2 thoughts on “Tolerating Intolerance!”

  1. Whilst I understand the concern about islamism and the belief and behaviour of some Muslim non-violent immigrants I strongly disagree with the following sentence: “Islam is relatively a new religion and needs a process of protestantization.” Firstly, the majority of the Muslim communities in Europe are citizens of Europe that behave like the majority of the other European citizens, separate religion, public sphere and pay respect to women. Secondly, and even worse, to talk about “protestantization”, which is horrifying. Why single out another religion, instead of talking about the rule of law and the European values??? Does it mean that Catholics, Jews, other religions and non-believers generally misbehave, whilst protestants do not? What about fundamentalist protestant communities that are driving forces in the anti-abortionist movement? And what about the majority of European Muslims that fully subscribe to Europe and its values as secular societies?


    1. By “protestanization”, I actually meant going through a process that religious people decide to separate religion from public sphere, end the influence of organized religion and religious figures on their day to day life and perceive religions as merely a personal relation between devout and religion’s powerful being.

      “Protestanization” in this meaning has been used widely between writers who are defenders of classic catholicism, and also later imported to the literature of modern islamic scholars and critics.

      This word has no relation to the actual Christian sect of “Protestant” other than its historical resemblance.


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