The author asks: “Should the immigrants adopt the values of their adoptive land — or, to the contrary, should society change to accommodate the newcomers who now form part of it?”
Liberal democracies depend on the premise that there are unalienable human rights that a government cannot violate and retain a legitimate right to rule. To want to defend that concept is far from the extreme, rabid, reactionary position that it is portrayed as here — even (horrors!) at the risk of being impolite. You don’t defend your values by… not defending them.
“Culture clash: European art provokes Muslims,” by Michael Weissenstein for the Associated Press, March 14:
LONDON – With the West locked in conflicts across the Muslim world, why would anyone throw fuel on the fire?
Yeah, you’ll want to read this one sitting down.
A small group of Europeans have been doing just that — provoking death plots and at least one murder by turning out art that derides the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran in the name of Western values.
Behind the scenes is something bigger: a rising European unease with a rapidly growing Muslim minority, and the spreading sense that the continent has become a front in a clash of civilizations.
Recent events — including surprising electoral success by an anti-Islamic Dutch party, moves to ban veils in France and minarets in Switzerland, and arrests in Ireland and the U.S. this week in an alleged plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist — are signs of the rising tensions.
Swedish artist Lars Vilks says he was defending freedom of speech when he produced a crude black-and-white drawing of Muhammad with a dog’s body in 2007. Authorities say that set him in the crosshairs of an assassination plot by extremists including Colleen LaRose, a 46-year-old Muslim convert from Pennsylvania who dubbed herself “Jihad Jane.”
“I’m actually not interested in offending the prophet. The point is actually to show that you can,” Vilks said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “There is nothing so holy you can’t offend it.”
The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten also said it was defending free speech in 2005 when it printed 12 cartoons of Muhammad, one in a bomb-shaped turban, setting off protests and the torching of Western embassies in several Muslim countries. And bottle-blond Dutch populist politician Geert Wilders said he was promoting European values by producing Fitna, a 15-minute film that lays images of the Sept. 11 attacks alongside verses from the Quran. The film was shown in Britain’s House of Lords this month.
The cases are extreme, but millions of moderate Europeans also are re-examining the meaning of the liberal values widely cherished across the continent. How, many are asking, should a liberal society respectfully deal with immigrants who often espouse illiberal values? Should the immigrants adopt the values of their adoptive land — or, to the contrary, should society change to accommodate the newcomers who now form part of it? [...]
Jan Hjarpe, a professor emeritus of Islamic studies at Lund University in southern Sweden, near Vilks’ home, said the deliberate provocations were helpful to Islamic extremists, who have been hunting for targets that would win them popularity in the Muslim world.
Translation: Fighting back causes “extremism.”
“It has had almost no effect on the Muslim community in Sweden, who regard it as not very interesting,” he said. “These threats against him have to do with extremist groups that want something to react to.”
Denmark’s Prophet Muhammad cartoons emerged from a discussion in 2005 about whether Islam was being treated with special sensitivity among Danish artists for fear of reprisals from extremists. Jyllands-Posten said the project was a way to challenge self-censorhip [sic] and show that Muslims, too, must be ready to put up with mockery in a society based on democracy and free speech. [...]
In light of the abysmal record of the Dutch toward the Jewish population during the Nazi occupation, when some 70 percent were deported and killed, it was considered impolitic to show resentment against another ethnic group. But that didn’t mean the resentment wasn’t there. It was only in 2002 when the populist politician Pim Fortuyn began speaking openly against immigration and the threat to the Dutch identity that people felt free to voice their anger. Fortuyn’s popularity soared, and the party he founded was hugely popular even after Fortuyn himself was assassinated (by an animal rights activist).
Successive governments clamped down on immigration and forced new arrivals to learn about the Dutch language and culture in an attempt to integrate them into mainstream society.
Oh, the humanity!
Wilders is derided by his enemies as a neo-fascist but has been able to turn his provocations into political success: his Freedom Party winning in the town of Almere and coming in second in The Hague this month the only two races it ran out of 394 cities and towns that elected local councils.