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  • World View
    Why the United States is fairer to Muslims than Eurabia is ISLAM, THE AMERICAN WAY Economist 8/30/07
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 6, 2007
      Why the United States is fairer to Muslims than "Eurabia" is


      AFPIN PITTSBURGH, a Turkish group, pious but peaceful, decides to
      rethink its plans for an Islamic centre after an angry public hearing.
      In Clitheroe, a town in northern England, a plan to turn an ex-church
      into a mosque wins planning approval after seven failed bids. In
      Austria a far-rightist, Jörg Haider, grabs headlines by proposing that
      no mosques or minarets should be built in the province of Carinthia,
      where he is governor. In Memphis, Tennessee, Muslims manage to build a
      large cemetery despite local objections to their burial customs.

      On the face of it, there is something similar about all these
      vignettes of inter-faith politics in the Western world. They all
      illustrate the strong emotions, and opportunistic electoral games,
      that are surfacing in many countries as Muslim minorities,
      increasingly prosperous and confident, aspire to build more mosques
      and other communal buildings. All these stories show the way in which
      whipped-up fears of a "clash of civilisations" can inflame the humdrum
      politics of a locality.

      But there is a big transatlantic difference in the way such disputes
      are handled (see article). Although America has plenty of
      Islam-bashers ready to play on people's fears, it offers better
      protection to the mosque builders. In particular, its constitution,
      legal system and political culture all generally take the side of
      religious liberty. America's tradition of freedom is rooted in the
      First Amendment, and its stipulation that "Congress shall make no law
      respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
      exercise thereof..." Another recourse for embattled minorities of any
      kind is "Section 1983" of America's civil-rights legislation, which
      allows an individual who is deprived of a legal or constitutional
      right to sue the official responsible.

      More important than the letter of the law is an ethos that leans in
      favour of religious communities which are "new" (to their neighbours)
      and simply want to practise their faith in a way that harms nobody. In
      America the tone of disputes over religious buildings (or cultural
      centres or cemeteries) is affected by everyone's presumption that if
      the issue went to the highest level, the cause of liberty would
      probably prevail.

      The European Convention on Human Rights, and the court that enforces
      it, also protect religious freedom. But the convention is not central
      to European politics in the way the Supreme Court and constitution are
      in America. The European court disappointed advocates of religious
      liberty when it upheld Turkey's ban on the headscarf in universities.

      The risk in the garages
      Legal principles aside, there are pragmatic reasons for favouring the
      American way. Most mosques in the Western world pose no threat to
      non-Muslim citizens; but a few do pose such a danger, because of the
      hatred that is preached in them. In such cases police forces generally
      have the legal armoury they need to step in and make arrests if
      necessary. Quashing extremism will surely be easier in an atmosphere
      where the founding and running of mosques is an open, transparent
      business. As Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, once said: "It is
      not minarets which are dangerous; it is basements and garages which
      hide secret places of worship."

      Will someone please tell the Swiss? Politicians from two of the
      biggest political parties are seeking to insert a sentence into the
      country's constitution forbidding the building of minarets. Measures
      of this sort exemplify the bigotry that lies behind much of the
      opposition to mosque building in Europe. Christians in the West have
      long complained about how hard it is for their brethren in Muslim
      lands to build churches. Fair enough. But they should practise what
      they preach.



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