A very interesting column in Open Democracy argues that contemporary intolerance of Islam in certain European countries is paradoxically, but actually a measure of those countries' overall tolerance. The reason being that Islam, as practiced by the new wave of immigrants, is incompatible with western liberal values and democracy:
..findings indicate that the “former” bastions of tolerance in fact are still tolerant - just not toward Muslims. Moreover, in this particular intolerance toward a religious group they outdo generally less tolerant other European countries. Why?
A possible explanation, counterintuitive as it might seem, is that it is because of their overall social tolerance - rather than despite it - that these countries have become among the most openly Islamophobic.
The logic of the argument is threefold: relating to nationalism, conformism, and tolerance itself.
First, in all three countries tolerance was closely associated with a negative attitude toward ethnic nationalism and a self-perception of being that unique thing, a “non-nationalist nation”. In part because of the particular way the countries dealt with their experience of the second world war, nationalism was linked almost intrinsically with Nazism and the Holocaust. Hence, ethnic-national discourses (let alone racial ones) were suspect, and shunned by all but the ostracised extreme right. So, whereas radical-right parties in countries such as Austria, Belgium, or France could relate their anti-immigrant struggle to more broadly shared national narratives, this option was not available in Denmark, the Netherlands, or Sweden.
Second, most everyday citizens in these countries self-identified as tolerant, and would in any case self-censor where this was felt necessary; but in addition, their elite had a special weapon in its struggle to keep politics “politically correct” - conformity. After all, northern Europe is as well known for its conformity (which traditionally includes a high trust in state actors and institutions) as for its tolerance. The often genuinely pro-multicultural elites were able to keep the immigration issue off the agenda, because the most intolerant people were also the most conformist (this is shown in the case of the Netherlands by Paul Sniderman & Louk Hagendoorn, When Ways of Life Collide: Multiculturalism and Its Discontents in the Netherlands (2007).
Third, the countries under scrutiny (Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden) and their close neighbours have traditionally been - and still are - among the most tolerant in Europe, particularly regarding issues such as women’s rights and gay rights. In addition, they are now among Europe’s least religious societies, with a dominant secular majority and formerly influential religious interests now politically marginalised. In this context, it is easy to construct Islam both as a threat to the national way of life, and to liberal democracy as it is understood in these countries.
read the entire article here at Open Democracy