Just over 200 years ago, Europe was ruled by various monarchs and dictators, as had been the case for thousands of years previous. Freedom and liberty were privileges, not rights. When French Republicans stormed the Bastille in 1789, it marked an epoch in the French Revolution and European history. Its legacy would serve as a precursor to the establishment of the principles of future democracy in Europe, as set out in the The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789): “No one should be disturbed on account of his opinions, even religious, provided their manifestation does not upset the public order established by law.” In the following two centuries, international human rights charters as well as European constitutions adopted by the countries were heavily influenced by, and to some extent based on, the ideals of the French Revolution and the Declaration. Through the ages Europe fought against communism and fascism that threatened such freedoms. After a long history of religious intolerance and persecution, Europe successfully established itself as a place where religious followers could have freedom of conscience, belief and expression.
Unfortunately, contemporary events have shown that in certain European countries this ideal of ‘freedom of religion’ is not being adhered to properly. Some recent laws against religions are quite oppressive, intolerant in comparison with the standards of the Declaration. In parts of Europe, religion is being suppressed by a wave of what has been described by some as oppressive secularism; Muslim headscarves banned in France, an attempt to ban crosses from schools in Italy, and now the Swiss ban on the construction of minarets.
When a Danish newspaper printed debasing cartoons of the Holy Prophet(saw), voices all over Europe stood up in defence of ‘freedom of expression’, and, to rub the point home, the cartoons were re-published in several newspapers. When Muslims, or followers of other religions, want to express themselves, through minarets etc. those same voices do not defend free expression by religious followers; instead, they are content for such freedoms to be curbed.
In Switzerland, one of the arguments put forward is that certain Muslim countries do not allow Churches and Synagogues etc. to be built. As this publication has proved time and again, such ‘Muslim’ countries are not representative of the true tolerant teachings of Islam – the Holy Prophet(saw) even welcomed a Christian delegation to pray in the mosque and granted other religious followers full rights of worship and complete freedom of religion. This begs the question that if some Muslim countries have abandoned the noble principles of Islam, should Europe abandon its noble principles of liberty and freedom also?
The European ideals of liberty and freedom for all, which took thousands of years to establish, must not be forgotten. These privileges must be granted to all peoples, no matter what their religious denomination is. It is likely that we have not seen the end of unfair measures against religious fraternities; rather this is probably only the beginning of a wave of discriminatory measures directed against religions, and in particular Islam. Credit must be given, however, to a large section of the European Press that voiced serious dismay over the Swiss minaret ban, and to a significant section of the European population who have voiced their opposition to these measures. It is hoped that the voices of the vast majority of open-minded and liberal Europeans rise above the minority of right-wing bigots.