Antideutsche protestors, Berlin. Al-Quds Day, 2013.

The unfinished project of Enlightenment has been traversing an especially dark stretch of forest lately. From restrictions on traditional Muslim clothing, to strong resistance to the building of mosques and Islamic cultural centers, much of Europe has seen a sharp rise of what might be called intolerance of intolerance. Particularly in countries with strong democratic traditions, such as France, these moves are typically robed in the rhetoric of modernity.

Accommodating religious and cultural differences that are seemingly incompatible with progressive values is increasingly regarded as foolhardy and weak, an attempt to win favor where no favor can be won. While it can be celebrated up to a point, difference must ultimately be reduced to the common denominator of abstract rights that take precedence over particulars. Or at least that’s the reasoning of those liberally-minded people in the West who mean to draw a line in the sand where Islam is concerned.

More and more, this way of thinking is playing havoc with traditional conceptions of the political arena. Leftists who once would have refused any contact with conservatives on principle now find themselves demonstrating alongside them against the “Islamification” of secular, First World democracies. And those who pursue a multicultural agenda find similarly odd bedfellows, such as the proponents of old-school, laissez-faire capitalism, which never met a difference it couldn’t eventually use to turn a profit.

The placards seen in this photograph are a perfect example of the former phenomenon. Captured during the celebration of al-Quds Day in Berlin — a pro-Palestinian holiday originally dreamed up by the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeni — they combine boilerplate leftist slogans such as “Against Racism!” with a disturbing undercurrent of discriminatory urges. More troubling still is the way that bold statements like this one get repurposed in order to confront long-standing issues, specifically Anti-Semitism. When some of the most degraded minorities in Europe are tarred with the accusation of promoting its resurgence, the effect is strange, to say the least.

 

Commentary by Charlie Bertsch. Photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit.