The European left has a lot of problems with Dutch politician Geert Wilders. Most of them are valid, some are not.
Many on the European left say that Wilders is an extreme right politician. That is an oversimplification. Wilders is pro queer, and he supports much more of the Dutch welfare state than the overwhelming majority of Democrats do here in the US and the Labor Party does in Britain. Wilders also is an atheist, which is forbidden in far right electoral politics. Wilders favors expanding democracy in the Netherlands, specifically supporting direct election of more public officials. He also bases much of his appeal to the vast majority of Dutch people who lead secular lives.
Many of Wilders' views are reprehensible and rightist. Wilders wants to create several official state religions so he can exclude Islam. He wants to reinstate childish and counterproductive restrictions on the use of drugs not patented or sold by Big Pharma. Wilders is so reckless that he actually wants to build more nuclear power plants in the Netherlands.
The most controversial of Wilders' views, at least that I'm aware of, are his efforts to ban immigration from non Western countries and to restrict the growth and practice of Islam. There are legitimate reasons to disagree with these policies, to put it mildly. However, the attacks on the policies tend to ignore the problems causing so many Dutch people to agree with these proposals. A couple of years ago, I wrote about a conversation I had with a Dutch gay man which illustrates some important points. I don't know if he agrees with Wilders' platform, but his experiences illustrate the problems that Wilders takes advantage of. Here's the beginning of that post.
A recent conversation I had with a Dutch gay man really opened my eyes to a point of view on the difficult relationship between the Dutch majority and the Muslim majority. It is different than the racist stereotype (which probably applies in some cases), the views of American Christians who hate Dutch Muslims because they aren't Christian, and the claims of many on the European left about Islam and the West.
The Dutch have managed to build a largely secular society where women are free to have abortions (with government funding too) and queers are treated as equals. The Netherlands deserves a tremendous amount of credit for this achievement.
Many Muslim immigrants have attacked abortion and advocated outlawing it. Many Muslim immigrants make bigoted statements against lesbian, gay, bi, and trans people and advocate against equality for queers under the law.
There is a sizable segment of the Dutch population that just wants to keep their basic human rights. Also, immigrants have an obligation to respect the societies they move to. Immigrants certainly have a right to their own ways, but they are obligated not to impose those ways on the countries where they are guests.
The Dutch worked long and hard to tame the beast of Christianity. Now, they are being confronted with another beast, Islam.
The behavior of many Islamic immigrants to the Netherlands is actually quite similar to many of the early European colonists in what would become the US. Those colonists often went to America to flee persecution in Europe only to advocate and practice persecution against their neighbors in the colonies.
The reality is that Islam is a homophobic and misogynistic religion. So are Christianity and Judaism. Yet, many who are otherwise left in their political leanings launch hateful and bigoted attacks against anybody who speaks out against the bigotry of these religions. What we have here is the insufficently unexplored phenomenon: religious privilege.
About.com's Agnosticism and Atheism section has a good review of religious privilege in terms of Christianity.
A more generalized description of religious privilege follows.
Religious Privilege Is:
1) The belief that, just because you see your religious beliefs as sacred, others are obligated to believe so or act as if they do.
2) The tyrannical and hypocritical notion that religious views should not be held to the same levels of scrutiny as any other views. This is very commonly asserted in regards to homophobic and misogynist religious views.
3) Insisting on any kind of state subsidy for your religious beliefs.
4) Asking for or receiving exemptions from the laws everyone else has to obey, based on religious belief.
5) Claiming that religions should be subsidized by not having to pay their fair share in taxes.
6) The claim that belonging to your religious group makes you superior to people who do not.
7) Making religious claims to support political positions or trying to involve religion in public policy in any other way, shape, or form.
8) Using any means to impose your religious tenets on anyone else.
I'm sure that other examples of religious privilege can be explored, but the pattern should be obvious by now. Religious privilege is a form of discrimination just as any other kind of status based privilege is. It's a form of bigotry and discrimination that atheists are beginning to speak out against more forcefully.
The left in Europe has made strong and bigoted statements in favor of religious privilege for Islam as a misguided and emotional response to the bigotry that targets Muslims in Europe. In the US, the left's acquiescence to religious privilege is based both on intimidation by Christian and Jewish groups and by the religious beliefs of many among the American left.
Until the European left can more forcefully speak out against the rampant misogyny and homophobia that is commonly preached in Europe, their responses to the Wilders of the world will seem bizarre and irrational — largely because they are. The idea of some European leftists defending a misogynistic and fascistic practice like the Burqa only becomes more painfully disturbing when one remembers that most women who wear them do so because of economic and violent intimidation. More importantly, the Burqa is based on the woman hating notion in Islam that the female body is a dangerous thing that must be covered in order to keep men from completely losing their minds and their control.
When well meaning people defend the dangerous heterosexist rhetoric that is so common among Islamic clerics in Europe, just as it is common among Christian clerics here in the US, they are not only asserting religious privilege. They also have found a new excuse for their own heterosexist attitudes and agendas. This kind of bigotry can have very real consequences, as it did for a gay man in the Netherlands who was gang assaulted by Muslim youth.
Apologists for religious bigotry claim that the Muslim youths in Europe and the Christian youths who queer bash are not very deeply involved in the religious beliefs and are "ignorant" of the views of those faiths. This is ironic because they are acting out quite consistently with the ideologies of the Bible and Koran. Even if this claim was based on an accurate accounting of the backgrounds of the assailants, it would still be wildly deceptive. The preachers of the respective faith intentionally demonize queers in the hopes that their rhetoric will result in bigotry, discrimination, and violence against us.
In that previous blog posting, I also made a point that is well worth repeating.
When some on the left attack secular values and government, they have lost their way. Religion is a reactionary force in society, and one of the most important projects of the left is to reduce the role of religion in the state and everyday life. It really doesn't matter what the religion is.
I should expand on this slightly. Part of the reason why religious belief is inherently reactionary is that it requires a kind of thoughtless, anti intellectual faith that defies all reason and evidence. All religions are completely silly to the rational mind.
Religious belief requires an enormous amount of socially approved brainwashing. The brainwashing and the social approval of that brainwashing condition people to accept other kinds of brainwashing, including that which promotes prejudices and gets people to lash out bizarrely against their own economic interests.
The European left would be far more effective if they acknowledged the very real problems of misogyny, heterosexism, and religious extremism which are far too common in Muslim communities while working to educate people that these irrational belief systems were and still are used to keep Muslim people from challenging the real systems of economic power and oppression. An acknowledgment of the enormous corruption in the Islamic Republic of Iran while simultaneously acknowledging the rampant corruption in the Roman Catholic Church as well as in most Protestant Christian churches would be a helpful as part of that process.