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Islam in Europe: A Return to Religious Intolerance?

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Islam in Europe

A Return to Religious Intolerance?

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Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical magazine that holds nothing sacred. But it may now have to do a rethink. After humorously listing Muhammad, the founder of Islam, as a guest editor for a recent issue, its offices were firebombed. So much for free speech!

This isn't the first time Europeans have been attacked for poking fun at Islam as they have long done with Christianity. Two years ago a Danish cartoonist had to receive constant police protection after drawing cartoons that poked fun at the Islamic religion and its founding prophet. Incensed Muslims burned embassies and churches, and more than 200 people were killed in riots around the world.

More than 20 years ago, Indian author Salman Rushdie famously had a fatwa (religious ruling) issued against him authorizing his execution for writing a novel that parodied Islam. Protecting him around the clock for years cost British taxpayers a small fortune!

In the Netherlands, Theo van Gogh was not so fortunate. A Dutch filmmaker responsible for producing a short documentary about the severe mistreatment of Muslim women, Van Gogh was assassinated seven years ago—being shot eight times and stabbed, with his body nearly beheaded on the streets of Amsterdam.

His female associate Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a native Somalian who had sought asylum in Holland and been elected to the Dutch parliament, fled again, this time to the United States. Prior to Van Gogh, Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, head of an anti-Muslim-immigrant party, was also murdered for comments he had made about Islam.

The title of Van Gogh's film was Submission, the word here carrying a double meaning since that's what the word Islam itself means.

The word should make people think. How is "submission" reconcilable with Western values, freedom and individual rights, including the right to be openly critical of or make fun of another religion?

Such long-cherished freedoms are clearly at stake. The producer of Submission cancelled a February 2005 screening of the film at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. "'Does this mean I'm yielding to terror?' he said. 'Yes. But I'm not a politician or an antiterrorist police officer; I'm a film producer'" (quoted by Bruce Bawer, While Europe Sleeps, 2006, p. 216).

Ironically, the theme of the festival was "censored film." And replacing Submission on the schedule were two movies that portrayed suicide bombers sympathetically!

Obviously, Islam now wields great influence in Europe. But this is a recent development. Such influence was not even an issue 50 years ago, prior to massive immigration from Third World countries into Western European nations. Immigration has fundamentally altered the status quo in every corner of the West. High birthrates among Muslim immigrants (and low birthrates among native Europeans) have exacerbated the problem.

European governments over the years have given little thought to the growing numbers of Muslims and the dangers this poses to social cohesion. Thinking only as far ahead as the next election, politicians have largely ignored the growing threat to traditional
liberties posed by Islamic intolerance.

Ignorance of history and of other cultures contributes to this. Additionally, at a time in history where few in Europe take religion seriously, it's hard for many there to conceive that others do. Such a lack of awareness is perilous.

With Islam's growing influence, it's important to recognize that its adherents have long displayed intolerance toward other religions. European multiculturalism has allowed this
to grow in Europe despite its intent to promote tolerance. Could Muslim intolerance create a European backlash against multiculturalism, sending Europe back to its own former tradition of authoritarianism and religious intolerance? What do history and the Bible reveal?

Islamic intolerance on the rise today

The roots of Islamic intolerance lie in the religion itself and in the countries of origin of the immigrants. Surprisingly, most of the intolerance seems to come from the second and third generations of immigrants, who are more radical.

In an effort to reconcile their traditional religion with their Western upbringing, many second-generation Muslims are increasingly militant. The 2005 suicide bombings on the London subway and bus system that killed 52 and injured more than 700 were perpetrated by second-generation Muslims, born in Britain, who came from wealthy backgrounds. Poverty has nothing to do with this.

In October, the BBC's World News America covered the Tunisian elections made possible by the so-called Arab Spring, the series of revolutions that led to the fall of Arab dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in 2011. Tunisia was described as the most liberal nation in North Africa. It was clear that many young people were Westernized.

Those asked by a BBC interviewer what they wanted all replied "democracy." Further questioning revealed that they thought people should be allowed to decide things for themselves, including religion. But when asked if people should be free to change religion, converting from Islam to Christianity, not one was supportive.

Clearly, there's a limit to freedom!

In nearby Egypt the Coptic Christians now make up just 10 percent of the country's population, down from 25 percent just a few decades ago. (When Egypt was part of the Byzantine Empire, they made up closer to 100 percent.) Again, this reflects increasing intolerance in the region. Since the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's Coptic Christians have been the target of riots, murders and church burnings.

On Nov. 11, 2011, Armistice Day in the United Kingdom (marking the anniversary of the end of World War I), Muslim demonstrators protested against the British military in the town of Barking, just outside London, even breaking the two-minute silence observed each year in memory of those Britons who gave their lives in wars for Britain's freedom.

This disrespectful act had never happened before. Many were rightly shocked. It shows at the very least that Muslims do not identify with Britain or its past, clearly a failure of assimilation. The group responsible is called "Muslims Against Crusaders" (MAC), a reference to the Western troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, whom they liken to the Crusaders who fought to regain lands from the Muslims almost 1,000 years ago.

A counterdemonstration by the right-wing English Defense League (EDL) led to clashes. Increasing intolerance among Muslims is likely to lead to greater intolerance among other Britons who feel betrayed by the ruling intellectual elites who have imposed multiculturalism on them, against the will of the majority.

A brief history of Europe's religious intolerance

This is not the first time that Europeans have experienced religious intolerance. Since Roman Catholicism became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century A.D., a rather intolerant system was perpetuated. There were challenges to the Roman church over the centuries, but it maintained a powerful grip on the European continent through the Middle Ages. The grip was not significantly broken over parts of Europe until the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Yet that was not the end of intolerance—even in Protestant countries.

In November 2011, Queen Elizabeth II attended a church service to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. This version of the Bible has been described as the most influential book in world (not just British) history. It remains a best seller to this day. What few understand is the sacrifices that were made to give mankind a Bible in the English language. People gave their lives in horrible deaths, some burned at the stake by the church, before we could read the Bible—a book increasingly ignored in the Western world.

After the Protestant Reformation, a new religious intolerance swept Europe. The Thirty Years' War (1618-48) began as a conflict between Protestants and Catholics in the territories of the Holy Roman Empire. The result of this religious intolerance on both sides was one of the highest death tolls, proportionate to population, of any conflict in history.

Up to a third of Germany's population died, with some regions affected more than others. Wurttemberg lost three-quarters of its people during the war. Brandenburg saw half its population perish, while in other areas the death toll was two thirds. The male population declined by half. The areas occupied by Czechs saw a one-third decrease in population due to war, disease, famine and expulsion of thousands of Protestants.

The root of the English Civil War in the 1640s was religious—between Puritans and Anglicans, respectively supporters of Parliament and the Crown. The Crown was upholding the traditional Catholic teaching of the divine right of kings, even though the country had broken with Rome a century earlier. Ironically, King James' call for a new translation of the Bible a generation earlier had been an attempt to reconcile these differences.

It wasn't until the proliferation of Protestant denominations that religious tolerance became the norm, at least in the Protestant countries of northwestern Europe. "If there were only one religion in England," wrote Voltaire in his Philosophical Letters, "we should have to fear despotism; if there were two, they would cut each other's throats; but there are thirty, and they live in peace and happiness" (quoted by Gordon Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution, 1991, p 14).

Muslim intolerance in past centuries

Now religious tolerance is once again strained, this time because of Islam. The immigrants who have come to Europe from North Africa originate from countries that have little history of tolerance. This is also true of Muslim immigrants in the United Kingdom who have come from India and Pakistan, where conflict between Hindus and Muslims has been a major problem for centuries.

This is not to say that Islam cannot show tolerance. The Moors, who ruled Spain for more than six centuries following its conquest in the eighth century, were somewhat tolerant toward Jews and Christians. More recently, the Ottoman Empire in its later years also allowed followers of the other two religions to practice their faith. However, historically Muslim rule has generally led to the oppression of non-Muslims aimed at converting them to Islam.

Few Europeans today will have any knowledge of what happened to the greatest power in Christendom a thousand years ago, the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire, ruled from Constantinople—formerly known as Byzantium and now Istanbul, Turkey. A thousand years ago, the population of what is now Turkey was 99 percent Christian—the Byzantines professing Eastern Orthodoxy (which split from Catholicism in the 11th century). Today Turkey is officially 99 percent Muslim.

On a recent tour of Turkey, I asked our Turkish tour guide on three occasions what happened to the Christians following the fall of Constantinople in 1453. I never did get an answer. One of the museums we visited emphasized the tolerance shown by Mehmed II, the sultan of the victorious Ottoman Empire. According to the museum display, he allowed the Christians to continue in their faith. However, the record of history says something quite different.

"By the time Mehmed left Contantinople, most of its Christian inhabitants had departed too. Many were marched to Adrianople (Edirne in modern Turkey, near the border with Greece and Bulgaria) where there was a flourishing slave market and where lines of captives in chains, begging in the streets, were a familiar sight . . .

"Others were taken out by ship bound for slave markets in Cairo and other great cities of the Islamic world. Mehmed himself dispatched some four hundred young men as gifts to the Muslim rulers of Egypt, Tunisia and Grenada. The vast majority of these captives would have spent the rest of their lives in servitude with no hope of seeing their families, homes or countries ever again" (Jonathan Harris, The End of Byzantium, 2010, p. 220.)

One of the little-understood legacies of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires was the Balkan wars of the 1990s in southeastern Europe. Who were the combatants in these recent wars? Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croatians and Muslim Bosnians, Albanians and Kosovars. The conflicts there should effectively illustrate the foolhardiness of trying to mix different religions in the same area. Historically, it hasn't worked—except, as Voltaire showed, in recent history in Protestant countries, among a multitude of Protestant denominations.

Duty to spread Islam and past clashes

When I was a student 45 years ago in England, where I grew up, one of my closest friends at the time was a Muslim immigrant from India. I remember asking him once what he could do as a lone Muslim in the community in which we lived. His reply was that it is the responsibility of each and every Muslim to spread Islam wherever he goes.

I was reminded of this a few years ago when I watched a lecture on C-Span given by Salman Rushdie in New York. He said (paraphrased): "When a Muslim moves from the Middle East to Detroit, he is not looking to take advantage of the American way of life to better himself. Rather, he sees himself as part of the advance guard to spread Islam to his new country."

A radical cleric in London put it more bluntly in stating that he looked forward to the day when the Islamic symbol, a crescent moon flag, will fly over Buckingham Palace and the White House!

When we look back at history, we see that Islam has often threatened Europe. In 711 the Moors landed at Gibraltar. By 732 they had reached Paris. They were defeated at the Battle of Tours (Poitiers) by Charles Martel. If they hadn't been turned back, Islamic troops might have conquered the entire continent of Europe.

Martel's grandson, Charlemagne, was crowned by the pope as Holy Roman Emperor, the emperor of the West to rival the emperor of the East in Constantinople. The pope wanted a Catholic emperor loyal to him and one who could unite Europe against the threat of Islam.

In 1095, it was the pope again who rallied Europeans to a Crusade to regain control of Christian sites in the Holy Land, which had been captured by Muslim invaders who had aggressively spread their new faith and driven out the Christian Byzantines. (The Crusades lasted two centuries before Muslims again gained the upper hand, taking control of the Holy Land until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I.)

In the 1500s and 1600s, it was again the church that rallied Christian forces in defense of Vienna against invading Islamic forces of the Ottoman Empire. As with the Islamic invasion through Spain into France eight centuries earlier, had the Christian forces not prevailed, all of Europe might have been Muslim to this day.

A coming clash between Europe and Islam

The Bible shows us that, prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ, the world will see a revived Roman Empire rise once again in Europe. Revelation 17:3 Revelation 17:3So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit on a scarlet colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
American King James Version×
shows church involvement: "And I saw a woman [symbolic of a church] sitting on a scarlet beast [the revived Roman Empire], which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns"—a reference to attempts to revive the empire throughout history.

Daniel 11 foretells a coming clash between this resurrected Roman Empire and an evidently Islamic power in the Middle East. "At the time of the end the king of the South [i.e., land south of Israel—historically Egypt and a region now dominated by Islam] shall attack him [the European power to the north]; and the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter the countries, overwhelm them, and pass through" (verse 40).

Could it be that the Church of Rome will once again rally Europeans to the defense of Christendom against the threats posed by Islam?

Interestingly, after the firebombs that destroyed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, Europeans rallied to defend the satirical magazine, whose supporters included politicians who had been targets of the publication's humor.

An article in The Wall Street Journal pointed out that Time magazine and National Public Radio (NPR) in the United States took a different approach—blaming the publication itself for its lack of sensitivity toward Islam!

"Writing about the attack on Charlie's offices, Bruce Crumley, Paris bureau chief for Time magazine, did nothing to hide his contempt—not for the attackers, but for the magazine itself. 'Not only are such Islamophobic antics futile and childish,' he wrote, 'but they also openly beg for the very violent responses from extremists their authors claim to proudly defy in the name of common good" (Anne Jolis, "A French Lesson in Free Speech," Nov. 10, 2011).

Clearly, some are quite willing to appease radical Islam and are blind to its true nature.

But many Europeans seem to finally be waking up to the threats posed by Islamic intolerance. Will they remember their own history of religious intolerance and avoid repeating the errors of the past? Or will Islamic encroachment provoke them to revert to their past intolerance?

Disillusionment with the multicultural ideal that all faiths are equally valid emerged in Assisi, Italy, just a few weeks ago. The historical town was the center of world attention in 1986 when Pope John Paul II met there with religious leaders of many faiths, with the intent of all praying together for peace. But, under a new pope, things have changed.

"The 1986 meeting at Assisi, for all its appeal to those of other persuasions, was far from universally popular among Catholics. Among its critics was then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican's doctrinal office, who told an interviewer that Assisi 'cannot be the model' for such encounters.

"The cardinal later wrote that 'multireligious prayer' of the kind offered there 'almost inevitably leads to false interpretations, to indifference as to the content of what is believed or not believed, and thus to the dissolution of real faith'" (Francis Rocca, "Pope Benedict's Interfaith Outreach," The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 31, 2011). Clearly, there is only one path to God in the pope's mind, reaffirming the traditional Catholic view of opposing other religious beliefs.

As tensions rise, it increasingly looks like Europe is set for another historical clash between radical Islam and traditional Christianity—fitting what's foretold in Bible prophecy.