When symbols on the “coexist” bumpersticker come to represent people who would rather you not exist, then it’s time to rethink koexistieren, coesistere, and coexistir. The word, in any tongue, implies live and let live — not live and let murder me.
One can forgive Europeans for growing a bit squeamish about the influx of Muslims. The near hacking off of a soldier’s head with a meat cleaver last year, and the periodic bombings of train-station commuters, tend to shake even the most zealous secularist of a blind faith in tolerance.
The questioning of that rote tolerance, rather than the arrival of intolerant newcomers, shakes Olivier Roy. “The European right is advocating a Christian identity for Europe not because it wants to promote Christianity but because it wants to push back against Islam and the integration of Muslims — or what the National Front calls ‘the Islamization of Europe,’” the political scientist writes at the New York Times. One might reverse the thought to say that the European Left embracing Islam isn’t because it particularly cares for the religion but because it wants to score political points against the Right — and score a new constituency.
The Right’s push back, according to Roy, is an act of bad faith. “Even as the right moves away from the basic values of the Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations,” he writes, “it clamors that Europe is fundamentally Christian.”
Surely travelers to Poland or Ireland might think it still; England or the Czech Republic — not so much. While one faith lags, another explodes through immigration and, in some cases, conversion. Muslims now constitute one in ten Frenchmen. Muhammad, in its various spellings, reigns as the most popular name for boys born in Britain.
Immigrating to an Islamic Republic without ever moving, say, from your East London neighborhood has naturally jarred some locals, albeit not in the extreme way that the sight of a cross or a Bible jars denizens of various Middle Eastern nations. Qatar, a “moderate” Arab state readying for an influx of European tourists in the next decade because of the 2022 World Cup, recently made headlines in its “Reflect Your Respect” placards informing visitors of the illicit status of tank tops, shorts, leggings, and knee-high skirts (the sign is silent on assless chaps).
Is the French entreaty for Muslim women to unmask really as pushy as this?
“Christendom” once worked as a synonym for Europe. The Queen of England calls herself the “Defender of the Faith.” The flags of Europe, almost to a country, betray symbols of the trinity or Christ. The Scandinavian countries, for instance, all bear a cross on their national standards. The British, not to be outdone, boast two Christian symbols, St. George’s cross and St. Andrew’s cross, on their Union Jack.
Rudyard Kipling, whose imperialist faith unintentionally made a colony of London, famously asked: “What should they know of England who only England know?” Now that Englishmen know Pakistanis, Ghanaians, Turks, and much of the world as fellow countrymen, they know enough not to call themselves Englishmen — the more inclusive “Brits” overwhelms in usage. If it’s okay for Qatar to compel visitors to adopt their folkways, why is it racist for Europeans to expect permanent residents to respect the local traditions?
“Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pupils might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Muhammad,” Gibbon imagined had Charles Martel lost at Tours. “From such calamities was Christendom delivered by the genius and fortune of one man.”
Europe knew what it was defending in 732. Nearly thirteen centuries later, Europe’s defenders find themselves deemed offensive by the likes of Olivier Roy. At the very least, the current challenge has Europeans thinking what it means to be a European.