Religion, Rights and Secular Society
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Religion, Rights and Secular Society

European Perspectives

Edited by Peter Cumper and Tom Lewis

The expectations of many that religion in modern Europe would be swept away by the powerful current of secularization have not been realised, and today few topics generate more controversy than the complex relationship between religious and secular values. The ‘religious/secular’ relationship is examined in this book, which brings together scholars from different parts of Europe and beyond to provide insights into the methods by which religion and equivalent beliefs have been, and continue to be, protected in the legal systems and constitutions of European nations. The contributors’ chapters reveal that the oft-tumultuous legacy of Europe’s relationship with religion still resonates across a continent where legal, political and social contours have been powerfully shaped by faith and religious difference.
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Chapter 14: Islam and secular values in Europe: from canon to chaos?

Jørgen S Nielsen


As politicians and the media constantly remind us, Islam and the presence of sometimes long-established Muslim communities in the countries of the European Union (and its immediate neighbours) often seem to be one of the main drivers in debates about the interaction of law, religion and the public space. The public profile of issues identified with Islam and Muslims gradually rose during the 1990s, taking on a marked security dimension towards the end of the decade that was strikingly confirmed by the events of 11 September 2001 and subsequent terror attacks in Europe. The centrality of the challenge has been emphasised by other ‘crises’: the Danish cartoons affair over the winter of 2005–6, the rise of anti-Islamic voices on the political right both within existing political parties and acting as the mobilising factor for new parties, such as that led by Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. Most recently, female dress, especially the wide range of fashion covered by what has become the generic term burqa, has become a focal point – the French debate leading to the banning of face covering in public, which came into force in April 2011, started a trend that has been copied in other countries, mostly at the local government level, although Belgium has also passed a law.

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