Friday, December 04, 2009

Social tolerance and immigration

It's an ethical dilemma that I don't find easy to solve. Are the Swiss wrong to forbid the building of mosques? Are Londoners only being racist or xenophobic in opposing the Abby Mills Mosque or are they legitimately protecting themselves from the strife, turmoil, noise and sometimes the violence said to be growing in formerly calm, ecumenical and liberal countries? Is the curtailment of religious freedom justified in some cases? Yes, in the U.S., we have to fight for the idea that the free exercise of Christianity does not convey the right to push non-Christians around, but just how far do our own laws concerning religious freedom extend and how far should we let them extend?

Like many people, I'm uneasy when a Swiss party leader calls for the banning of Muslim and Jewish cemeteries and we all know the horrible history of sectarian strife in Europe such measures evoke. Yet I see how the liberal Netherlands has to deal with what appears to many of them as a growing population opposed to the secular, liberal and highly permissive culture they are so proud of and I can sympathize. By sympathizing however, with people whose hard-won freedom is put in jeopardy by a growing sub-culture, am I able to disassociate myself from groups who want to close the American borders to anyone who might not look Anglo-Saxon or be Protestant? How much of the Dutch, Swiss, and American fear of a large Muslim presence is real and how much is misguided? When is ethnic cleansing not ethnic cleansing? Most importantly, can we even discuss these things over the snarling of the trolls?

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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