Well, it’s been an interesting week of discussions about Islamic migrants. Actually… I’m not even sure that I should be using the term ‘Islamic migrants’ because it seems like most of these migrants are actually nationals of some particular variety who also happen to be Muslim. Would you say ‘Christian migrants’ when talking about Europeans? No. You wouldn’t. And why? Because you’d sound like a dick.

The go is, since the advent of the ‘Islam is the enemy of all mankind’ meme there seems to have been an growing level of intolerance for anything Islamic, be it distinctive dress, ritual prayer, big-crazy-looking beards… (face it, no one trusts men with beards. Islam should just start shaving those fluffy soup strainers off right now, and really get a decent PR campaign going to win hearts and minds in middle America).

I say a growing level of intolerance of Muslims because Islam has a fairly long history in places like the United Kingdom. According to my slightly dubious sources the majority of English Muslims are Punjabi, Pakistani or Gujarati from the former colonies. Most seem to have emigrated after Indian independence, and have lived in Britain for a couple of generations.

Any more detail provided by me at this stage is going to look like a college essay so I’ll call it quits. You get the idea. Lots of Muslims, mostly from former British colonies. Lived peacefully for decades. Etc.

Right. Moving along.

Now, I know there’s always been a certain degree of animosity towards Asians in the UK for a fair old while, and it was in the USA that I first heard the term ‘sand nigger’, but I’d be interested to see evidence of a British government seriously considering banning aspects of a minority’s culture before 2001. And I’m not sure you could find it. I’m familiar with decisions to prevent things like genital mutilation, but I can’t recall any attempts to ban religious dress.

What we could be witnessing then is a movement to change the tolerance level in liberal democracies.

In regard to migrant assimilation, all liberal democracies share a common premise of tolerance. In support of this premise it’s common for variety in governance to occur, for instance between extremely individualistic states like the USA and France, and former social democracies, such as Australia and New Zealand. At one end minorities are expected to ‘fit in’ the best they can and to assimilate both immediately and intergenerationally. At the other end minorities are assisted to fit in and probably provided with state assistance to do so. An example is state-funded English classes.

The tolerance aspect comes in when states tell migrants that they’re OK remaining culturally distinct, as long as they accept that things are done in the majority language, the host country’s laws are paramount, etc. Generally intolerance was only weighed against things that the majority found “repugnant”, the most oft-touted example being genital mutilation.

Naturally, political philosophers have argued for years about what an acceptable level of tolerance is. It’s an argument with a fair pedigree, and one that has actually had real-world significance! Which you can’t say about all political philosophy…

But, that real world argument has been shifting of late. With increasing intolerance among the general publics in places like the UK, and increasing violence from fanatics within minorities, we are witnessing a general movement away from tolerance and into measures to limit difference itself.

As I say, where once the benchmark for judging tolerance was ‘moral repugnance’, these days it is slipping towards, ‘not offending the majority’. So while No Right Turn is seeing movements to ban the niqab as an irrational marking of all Muslims as terrorists, I’m suspicious that what we’re actually witnessing is a movement in majority perceptions of “reasonable”.

Where once it was reasonable to let Muslims wear veils, it is now considered unreasonable for them to demand tolerance from the majority. And this seems to be entirely because difference is turning into a perceived threat, especially in countries with large Muslim minorities.

Put another way, once upon a time the majority imposed a set of standards that said, “just don’t do that dodgy stuff”. These days, because a culture of fear has been fostered, visible markers of religious difference are regarded as indicators of some kind of voluntary separation from the majority. Of course, they’re not. What they are is a natural separation brought about via immigration. And in the case of second and third generation immigrants they’re an indication that things like veils used to be considered by the authorities and government as tolerable.

So what I’m thinking is that what we are seeing is not a labelling of all Muslims as terrorists, but a pronounced de-liberalisation of places like the USA, UK and Australia.

And I’m not sure which is worse.

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