Europe must move beyond mere tolerance

When, a decade ago, Slovenia was about to join the European Union, one of our Eurosceptics offered a sarcastic paraphrase of a Marx brothers joke about getting a lawyer: Do we, Slovenes, have troubles? Let us join the EU! We will have even more troubles, but we will have the EU to take care of them! This is how many Slovenes now perceive the EU: it brings some help, but it also brings new problems (regulations and fines, financial demands to help Greece, etc). So is the EU worth defending? The real question is, of course, which EU?

A century ago, Gilbert Keith Chesterton clearly deployed the fundamental deadlock of the critics of religion:

“Men who begin to fight the church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the church … The secularists have not wrecked divine things; but the secularists have wrecked secular things, if that is any comfort to them.”

The same holds true for the advocates of religion themselves. How many fanatical defenders of religion started out attacking secular culture and ended up forsaking any meaningful religious experience?

In a similar way, many liberal warriors are so eager to fight anti-democratic fundamentalism that they end up flinging away freedom and democracy themselves. If the “terrorists” are ready to wreck this world for love of another world, our warriors on terror are ready to wreck their own democratic world out of hatred for the Muslim other. Some of them love human dignity so much that they are even ready to legalise torture – the ultimate degradation of human dignity – to defend it.

And does the same not hold also for the recent rise of the defenders of Europe against the immigrant threat?

[Extract. Appeared in The Guardian on January 25th 2011.]