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Published:March 9th, 2010 10:01 EST
European Islam-bashing: The New Anti-Semitism?

European Islam-bashing: The New Anti-Semitism?

By Geoff Dean

 It was the Swiss minaret ban that first caught my attention and drew my ire. How could a country that I respect, a country of principled neutrality and cheese fondue, ban construction of minarets? How could a liberal democracy at the heart of Europe enact a law that, to me, is a blatant violation of religious freedom and an egregious case of discrimination? My error was to think that somehow Switzerland was out of step with the rest of the continent.

 In recent weeks, as I have perused the Japan Times (that`s right, I don`t read, I peruse), there have been articles on France`s decision to deny citizenship to a Moroccan man who "forced" his wife to wear a full-body Muslim veil, a burqa and the push by many to ban the burqa and even head scarves in public. There was another on a plan in Britain, led by the UK Independence Party, to similarly ban the burqa and new mosque construction. There was one on a movement in southern Italy to oust, legally or otherwise, North African (read Muslim) migrant workers, even though some fruit producers claimed it might destroy their business. Islamophobia seemed to be all over Europe and increasing in intensity.

 If that were not enough, the past two days have given even more disturbing news. First, it was the visit of Dutch Freedom Party leader, Geert Wilders, to the British Parliament on the invitation of the UK Independence Party. (By the way, why are the "neo-fascist", far-right parties often called "freedom" or "independence" parties as they try to deny the freedom of fellow citizens of Muslim persuasion?)

 Mr. Wilders screned his anti-Islamic flim, "Fitna" and went on to add that he wanted to ban all mosque construction in Holland (the next step after a minaret ban, I suppose), ban the Quran, which he called a "fascist book" that was "more dangerous than Mein Kampf", and curb Islamic immigration, which he called part of a move for "worldwide Islamic domination". He threw in that the prophet Mohammad was "a pedophile" for good measure.

 While I was still recovering from the distaste of his comments, today`s paper detailed the rise of Austria`s Freedom Party (oh no!) and its presidential contender, Barbara Rosenkranz. She has called for ending the ban on neo-nazi groups and canceling laws against Holocaust denial. On last Thursday, the Mauthasen Concentration Camp was vandalized with anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic graffiti by activists suspected of having ties to the Freedom Party.

 Is Islamophobia inevitable in Europe? Can the burqa and European high fashion co-exist? Can the Holocaust be denied? Is the Koran dangerous? Why is Europe, country after country, seeming to go out of its way to pick a fight with Islam? Can it hope to win?

 I have said repeatedly and will say repeatedly that as a human and especially as a Jew, I must vehemently condemn Islamophobia (and all other forms of discrimination). The Holocaust was only the worst example of what can happen when prejudices are allowed to run unchecked. And remember, this tragedy also happened in the heart of "enlightened" Europe.

 Islam, one-fifth of the world`s population and the world`s most rapidly growing religion, is not going to go away. Globalization, for better or worse, will not stop, either. We are all going to have to learn how to live with a world where Islam plays a major role, how to diminish the radical and violent tendencies, while supporting the moderate Islamic world.

 Or we can take Mr. Wilders tack and end up living under 24-hour protection as he has for the past 5 years.

 "Is it radical to wish to protect British society and our Judeo-Christian culture from the growing influence of radical Islam?" asked Lord Pearson, leader of the UK Independence Party. Radical to wish? Maybe not.

But futile to try.