According to the world’s largest international Muslim body, Muslims are seeing a shrinking tolerance in the west.
The Organisation of the Islamic Conference said recently: ‘Muslims have noted with concern that the values of tolerance are eroding and there is now shrinking space for others' religious, social and cultural values in the west.’
The statement followed the airing on two Danish TV stations of amateur video footage showing members of the Danish Peoples' party (DPP) taking part in a contest to draw images ridiculing the prophet Muhammad.
I lived in the Danish capital for almost ten years and visited again just recently. The DPP is a small party which does not represent the views of the majority of Danes, most of whom would consider themselves very tolerant of outsiders who wish to settle in their land.
I was asked by a London radio station whether or not I agreed with the sentiments expressed by the 57-nation OIC.
I can cite no evidence of a growing intolerance toward differing religious views in either Denmark or the UK, or any of the other European nations I visit regularly. But I do get the sense that people are growing impatient with the victim mentality which often seems to accompany the views of minority groups, religious and otherwise.
A leading Muslim representative group has now basically expressed the same sentiment, saying that members of its own community are too quick to complain about unfair treatment.
A victim mentality often leads to a sense of powerlessness, which can in turn produces despair. When people become desperate enough, they often vent their frustration and anger in acts of violence.
Muslims living in Western nations need to recognise that they are part of a pluralistic society. They should expect the freedom to worship and to live according to their faith, provided that they recognise the pluralistic nature of Western societies and the fact that if any faith underlies the national cultures of Western Europe, it is Christian faith.
There are too many voices crying out for special treatment. Some people, religious and otherwise, would like nothing less than to see the rewriting of European history, so that the special place of the Judeao-Christian worldview in the narrative is denied.
Now, from time to time some people of Christian faith bemoan the fact that pluralism is robbing them of a voice. The Church of England recently published a report that accused Britain’s government of showing favouritism toward Muslims and people from other minorities.
I think, though, that most Christians I know readily accept the fact that government and church are two separate spheres of influence. They play very different roles in society, but should complement one another in the sense that the church should not try to govern and the government should not try to play God.
Traditionally, reformed theology has taught that government must govern for all the people and not just for some of a particular theological persuasion, but it must do so on principles that recognise spiritual values.
This line of distinction between governmental institutions and religious interests is far less common in Muslim nations, where tolerance toward those of other faiths is often less generous as a result.
In a pluralistic society, there are only three ways to make a differing view known. The first is based on imposition. Terrorism is one expression of this approach.
The second is a laissez-fare approach. The polar opposite of imposition, it says that people should become so tolerant of one another that almost anything becomes acceptable. This position is a practical absurdity and leads only to the kind of political correctness that confuses issues and makes social cohesion harder to achieve.
The third approach is based upon persuasion. This one is not only the most workable, it also lines up best with the values expressed in the Christian scriptures. The idea of human conscience is one of the great legacies of Christian teaching.
In traditional Christian teaching, a person’s conscience may be misled, but it is still to be respected because it is God’s gift.
The victim mentality is neither helpful not attractive in any group of people.
It leads us away from engagement with people of differing views, polarising communities. It is draws people more toward imposition than persuasion as a means of change.