In the autumn of 2006, the Dutch were dismayed over a book that had been published by the country's then justice minister, in which he speculated over the introduction of Shariah law in the Netherlands.
"How can this (the introduction of Shariah) be prevented legally?" the minister wrote. "Simply calling it 'impossible' would be scandalous. The majority counts. This happens to be the essence of democracy."
If two-thirds of the Dutch public favored Shariah, the minister argued, its introduction would be unavoidable. Forced onto the defensive, the minister explained that his comment had merely been a reference "to the democratic principle" that a two-thirds majority is all it takes to amend the country's constitution.
At the same time, of course, he criticized the ongoing immigration and integration debate. "I don't like the tone of the political debate," he said. "To say: 'You must conform and accept our norms and values as your own; be reasonable, do as we do,' doesn't conform to the way I think things should be handled.'"
But the minister neglected to explain exactly how he thought things should be handled. His omission only reinforced the impression among many in the Netherlands that what he really meant was that it is not the immigrants who should "conform and accept our norms and values," but the Dutch who should conform to the norms and values of immigrants.
In the summer of 2007, Tiny Muskens, a liberal Catholic and the former bishop of the Dutch city of Breda, proposed replacing the word "God" with the word "Allah." Allah, he said, is a nice name for God and, for this reason, we shouldn't feel uncomfortable about referring to God as Allah.
A short time later, the Social Democratic mayor of Brussels, Freddy Thielemans, banned a rally -- scheduled to take place on the sixth anniversary of 9/11 -- to protest the gradual Islamicization of Europe. He also instructed Brussels police officers not to smoke or eat in public during the month-long Ramadan fast, so as not to offend Muslims. A bit farther south, in Zurich, police officers were asked to acquaint themselves with Islamic culture by voluntarily refraining from eating or drinking for an entire day during Ramadan.
How "Islamic Extremism" Disappeared
Meanwhile, the BBC announced a new policy on its Web site's "Section on Islam": Any mention of the Prophet Muhammad was to be followed by the phrase "Peace be upon him." The move, a BBC spokesman explained, was intended to ensure a "fair and balanced" portrayal of Islam.
It didn't take long before the British Home Office announced a new rule applicable to all official government statements: Phrases like "war on terror" and "Islamic extremism"" were no longer to be used. Home Secretary Jacqueline Jill Smith explained the reasoning behind the rule: Extremists, she said, act, not in the name of Islam, but in opposition to their faith. For this reason, she argued, their activities ought to be referred to as "anti-Islamic activities." Ms. Smith was essentially using a rhetorical trick to wipe terrorism off the table.
As is common in England, the minister's directive was accepted without much opposition. Only a handful of critical Britons were astute enough to ask why, in the days of IRA terrorism, the organization's activities were not referred to as "anti-Irish activities."
And now a British cleric wants to introduce Shariah in England. Mind you, this is not just any pastor from some tiny village in Wales, but rather the spiritual leader of the Anglican Church, Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury. According to Williams, Britain must consider the fact that some citizens cannot identify with British law. Accepting some aspects of Shariah, he argued, could help to avoid social tension. Under Williams' proposal, people involved in marital conflicts and financial disputes would be able to choose between British law and Shariah.
The archbishop could actually be right -- on a purely factual level, at least. It would indeed help to avoid social tensions if Muslims were not required to observe the aspects of British law governing marriage and divorce. Even a few non-Muslims might find this option rather appealing. A "temporary marriage," as is possible under Shariah, could certainly have many advantages, especially if "temporary" means only a few hours or days.
A Cafeteria-Style Society?
But the bishop is mistaken if he believes that one can structure a society like a cafeteria, where diners can choose between meat and vegetarian menus. A little bit of Shariah is just as unrealistic as a little bit of pregnancy. Shariah regulates all aspects of life, and anyone who proposes assuming only parts of Shariah fails to comprehend its inherent inevitability. Imagine if we were to allow nudity in public swimming pools, but only under the condition that each visitor be allowed to decide which article of clothing he or she wishes to remove.
The proposal by the archbishop of Canterbury is evidence of more than just an unbelievable naiveté. It also reveals how far the idea of preventive capitulation in the face of an unsolvable problem has advanced.
Proponents of preventive capitulation would argue that because some immigrants are unwilling or unable to accept the rules of society, society should assume the immigrants' rules. For them, "integration" could also be defined as the need for the majority to conform to a minority.
Voting under the Burqa
When the day comes when coeducation has been eliminated in schools and the burqa becomes mandatory for all women, when pubs no longer serve ale and female passengers have their own separate compartments on buses and trains, where they can feel safely protected against the lustful eyes of men, that will be the day when even the last opponents of Shariah will have to admit that social tensions have in fact declined. Those who live in windowless basements need not live in fear of getting sunburned.
What's next? Will women have the right to vote without having to show their faces? What a wonderful idea! Women being allowed to show up at polling places and cast their votes while veiled from head to toe -- provided, of course, they bring along two forms of identification and a witness who can vouch for their identity.
Not in England -- not yet, at least. But precisely that is possible in liberal Canada, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, whose titular head is the British monarch.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan