Julie spoke on secularism and Islam in Europe today at an event arranged by The Socialists and Democrats Group in June 2015 to discuss 'Islam in Europe'.
A secular state, with a clearly defined separation between Church and State, is integral for enabling democracy, equality before the law, and a diversity of identities. The idea that multiculturalism, with a presence of diverse religious groups, threatens secular or liberal ways of life is a dangerous argument, used by the right wing in Europe to inspire xenophobia. Secularism is a firmly rooted component of democracy, yet it is counter-productive as soon as it compromises minority rights, freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
When considering Europe as a multi-religious continent the relevant surveys show that only a half of Europeans believe in God, and approximately 25% are fully agnostic or atheist. On the other hand, only 2% of Europe’s current population identifies as Muslim.
Secularism need not be detrimental to the religious freedom of Europe as it is not a religion, and it should not force citizens to be secular but instead should treat all citizens equally regardless of religion. Secularism should enable religious freedom and social inclusion, rather than the opposite.
The debate happening now in response to the recent tragedies in Paris in February 2015 is very important, and it is just as important not to muddle it with ill-defined terms. There is no “right to feel threatened” or “right to be offended”. Different democratic legal systems, notably the US on one extreme and Germany on the other, developed legal thresholds to determine what amounts to incitement to hatred or violence. A criterion often referred to is that of “imminent harm” to others that may be caused by the expression in question.
Freedom of expression relates to the relations between the state and the citizen, not amongst various bodies in society. Regardless of what kind of expression is made, citizens do not have the right to murder one another in retaliation. Freedom of expression does not guarantee good taste, and many would say that much of that published in Charlie Hebdo is tasteless and offensive. Leaders from around the world who have a track record of silencing expression and violating privacy and other human rights in their own countries have since used Charlie Hebdo for publicity.