A reader writes:
I've been a fan for a while now, but there is one opinion that is not infrequently espoused on your blog that drives me nuts. This quote is from the the post "The Swiss Ban Minarets":
"But it is a useful reminder that religious liberty and toleration have roots that are not so deep in Europe"
There are many reasons why a statement like this infuriates me. Here are just a few:
First, you can't just say "Europe" and assume you are talking about some cohesive entity. Europe has a history spanning thousands of years, with many different cultures that have developed alongside each other, and cultural differences are vast when it comes to things like religion and religious tolerance. There's so much difference between Southern Europe, Central Europe, Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Northern Europe that making a statement about people's attitudes in the entire thing is nonsensical. It's like saying "North America has a real problem with gay people", and including Canada, the US and Mexico in that statement. It just doesn't make any sense.
Second, the roots of religious liberty and toleration "are not so deep in Europe"? That's just insane!
Take, for instance, a look at the wonderful country that is Poland: they have essentially had religious freedoms since the 15th century (yes, that's BEFORE Columbus discovered America) and complete freedom of religion was guaranteed at the Warsaw Confederation in 1573, and with a few gaps (like, obviously, in the 1940s, but you can't really blame the Poles for that), it has essentially remained ever since.
Third, I live in Stockholm and what you are describing are is far, far from the reality I know. I grew up with Muslims, I went to school with Muslims, I work with Muslims and I have life-long friends that are Muslims. This is the case for most people I know my age. Certainly, Sweden isn't perfect when it comes to integration of recently arrived immigrants and such, but in terms of religious tolerance and religious freedom, I'll put us up with any other country in the world. I defy you to find a single place in America more tolerant of different religions than we are here in Sweden. You wont be able to do it. That's not to say that religious intolerance doesn't exist here (of course it does), but the country as a whole is firmly dedicated to the right principle.
All that said, of course, it's incredibly stupid and discriminatory and offensive of the Swiss to ban minarets. But you know what, just because one dumb-ass country does something stupid, it doesn't mean the whole continent is messed up. Just like Europeans shouldn't extrapolate US views of people of color from things that happen in West Texas, please don't judge "Europe" based on what one country in it does. It's offensive and it obscures the much more nuanced truth.