One thing that I guess I could have learned just pondering the world from my chair but that I don’t think I really understood until I went to the Netherlands and talked to people involved in politics there is the extent to which the “new atheism” — which is mostly like the old atheism but involves people acting like jerks — is specifically bound up with some problematic anti-Muslim sentiments. Previously, things like this Christopher Hitchens column bashing Hanukkah had struck me as merely weird; something along the lines of the contrarian tick that led Will Saletan to proclaim the truth of white supremacy only to be embarrassed when the thesis turned out to be primarily backed by white supremacists, except taking on a much less harmful form.
That’s because here in the states, we understand “religion” to mean “Christianity” (and predominantly Protestant Christianity at that) and in public life the “secular” alternative is understoo- as encompassing a vague pluralism that’s friendly to minority religious groups, not the strident anti-religious sentiments of a Hitchens or a Richard Dawkins.
In Europe, though, the face of “religion” is increasingly Islam whereas elements of the secular consensus are part of a national identity that elements of the right can embrace. It was explained to me, for example, that one thing Dutch people worry about when they worry about Muslim immigrants is that socially conservative Muslim immigrants might spoil their same-sex partnership law. I joked that conservatives should love immigration, then. But in reality the forces of indigenous religious conservatism are way too weak for anything like that to happen. So instead of a system of cross-currents, where both a cosmopolitan left and a traditionalist right find something to admire about growing diversity, you get a substantial block of people pushing against Muslim immigrants from both a secularist and a nationalist perspective.
From the point of view of an American liberal, it’s an awkward situation. One doesn’t want to say “you guys should get rid of your progressive views on gender roles because it would make it easier for Muslims to assimilate” but at the end of the day it is much easier for Muslims to go along get along in a country like the US where traditionalist attitudes have more political clout. Of course, if more American conservative Christians decide to go the Pat Robertson route and decide to support Rudy Giuliani on the grounds that fighting Muslims is the ultimate expression of Christian values, then our advantage here will rapidly erode.