On The Immanent Frame, Rogers Brubaker writes about a new “Christianist” secularism in Europe. According to Brubaker religion is not just the target of what he calls assertive secularism but that it also informs it as its ‘putative foundation’. Brubaker notes that assertive secularism is not just anti-religious even though it presents itself as a defense of Western values against liberalism (what Tebble has called identity liberalism), but is religious by, first of all, transforming Europe’s diverse postwar immigrants and their descendants into ‘Muslims’.
It is religious furthermore through its pre-occupation with Islam which results in engaging with Christianity: “If “they” are Muslim, then in some sense “we” must be Christian (or Judeo-Christian).” Christianity is then not at odds with liberalism, secularism and christianity any more, but increasingly regarded as their very foundation. This development is made possible by three interconnected phenomena: secularization of Northern and Western Europe; the culturalization of religion and citizenship; and the increasing salience of the opposition between the (Judeo-)Christian civilization and Islamic civilization.
Brubaker regards the Netherlands as the most exemplary case for his argument. Referring to the work of my Dutch collagues Paul Mepschen (and others) and Peter van der Veer, Brubakers states:
As Paul Mepschen and colleagues have noted the Netherlands stands out even in Europe for its degree of secularization and for the relatively uniform progressive moral views of “native” Dutch people on social issues, especially issues of sexual morality. Unease about attacks on homosexuality and homosexuals was skillfully exploited by the charismatic, openly gay populist politician Pim Fortuyn, whose party surged to prominence in 2002. Of course Fortuyn also tapped into other kinds of anxieties about immigration that have fueled populist nationalist parties elsewhere. But he repudiated the “extreme Right” label and emphasized his interest in protecting the liberal culture and permissive lifestyle of the Netherlands (including liberal drug legislation, legalized physician-assisted suicide, and gay marriage) against what he characterized as the “backward” culture of Islam. As he asserted in an interview, “I refuse to start all over again with the emancipation of women and gays.”
The assassination of Fortuyn by an animal rights activist and, two years later, the murder of his friend and fellow provocateur, the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, by a Dutch-Moroccan Islamist gave further impetus both to a distinctive kind of nationalist rhetoric, in which gender equality, sexual freedom, and gay rights were elevated to defining characteristics of “Dutch culture,” and to civilizational contrasts between the Christian (or Judeo-Christian) West and Islam.
Of course the culture of sexual liberation, as Peter Van der Veer has observed, was as sharply opposed to the strict sexual morality of the Netherlands’ not so distant Calvinist past as it was to Islam. But the rapid and extreme secularization of Dutch society since the 1960s and the marginalization of serious Christianity made it possible to claim a culturalized Christianity—a “Judeo Christian humanistic culture,” as Fortuyn called it—as the matrix of gender equality, gay rights, and freedom of speech.
The mantle of Pim Fortuyn was assumed after his death by Geert Wilders, who has given the populist anti-Islamic civilizational rhetoric an even cruder and harsher cast. He has characterized Islam as “the greatest threat to the survival of our civilization”; proposed to ban the Quran as a “fascist book” that incites violence; and, in the wake of 2016 terror attacks, called for “de-Islamizing” Europe and refusing entry to Europe for all Muslim immigrants: “We have imported a monster, and this monster is called Islam.” In the run-up to the 2017 parliamentary elections, Wilders’s Party for Freedom is currently polling at over 20%, more than any other party in the fragmented Dutch political landscape.
The Netherlands is a bit of an atypical case, in particular when it comes to sexual liberation and gay rights and Brubaker acknowledges, yet populist parties in France, Norway and Denmark have been playing with similar themes. It is has consequences for how we analyse, for example, populism. Instead of being nationalist the populist Right rhetoric may increasingly become ‘civilizationist’. Indeed, this civilizationist rhetoric may connect many different and sometimes seemingly contradictory themes: christianity, secularism, gay rights, a European identity, against the European project of the EU.
Read the whole article: A new “Christianist” secularism in Europe « The Immanent Frame