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Deadly Tolerance and Secularization

New book reviews on the subject of religion

Günther Lachmann: Tödliche Tolerance. Die Muslime und unsere offene Gesellschaft. (Deadly Tolerance. The Muslims and our Open Society), Piper Publishers, Munich 2004, 296 p.

Hartmut Lehmann: Säkularisierung. Der europäische Sonderweg in Sachen Religion. (Secularization. The European special way in the way of religion), Wallstein Publishers, Göttingen 2004, 167 p.

Reviewed by Simone Dietrich.
Translated by Angelika Stieglbauer.

24.06.2005 · Reviewed by Simone Dietrich

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At the beginning of the 21st century European societies are faced with great challenges in the handling of religions. Whether in the Netherlands, Great Britain or Germany, the belief in a peaceful multi-religious society is shaken by acts of violence. At the same time the significance of religion is heavily disputed in the Christian-oriented Europe of today.

Günter Lachmann analyses in his book the relation between the Western majority society and the Muslim minority. Already the title makes the author’s position clear: According to Lachmann the integration of Muslims into German society has failed. As a reason for this he mentions a false understanding of tolerance. Because tolerance in the shape of indifference and ignorance - as it is practiced on both sides - has deadly consequences. The violences of Hoyerswerda, Mölln and Solingen in Germany support his thesis, Lachmann argues.

How could this have happened? The author tackles the question by delineating social development processes over the last forty years. He analyses rationally, poses inconvenient questions and shakes the readers with provocative theses. He denounces the dealings of the majority society with the Muslims focusing especially on the German immigration policy. He reproaches the governments of Adenauer to Brandt for having recruited millions of Turks as foreign workers for the country without combating the tensions arising from this by measures to foster the integration. In fact the foreign workers have been tolerated, but accommodated in exclusion, in delimitation to the social majority – similar policies were drafted later to deal with Turkish asylum-seekers under the government of Kohl. Lachmann sees in this the origin for the failed integration of Muslims in Germany. At the same time he expounds the problem of the lack of integration in the consciousness of Muslims, which secures the continuity of a parallel world. When poverty and poor educational opportunities come together, religion takes on an important role in shaping identity among Muslims and compensates feelings of social inferiority. When instrumentalization by radical preachers kicks in– Lachmann argues – the step towards terror is not far. Covered by the right to religious freedom, radical Islamists find fertile grounds for spreading their messages in Muslim ghettos. The author answers to the question, why so many hints of terrorism lead to Germany: "The attacks in the USA and in Spain have their origin in a radical Islamism, which only was be possible in the Muslim districts of Hamburg and Madrid [through misinterpreted tolerance]" (p. 275).

In view of these social dissonances the book pleads for a genuine living together on the basis of critical tolerance. The Muslims should seriously integrate themselves. The majority society on the other side must accept different traditions but also demand adaptation. Problematic is Lachmann's plea for a policy, which tries to force a mixture of Muslims and non-Muslims in the districts. It remains questionable, if Muslims' willingness for integration will grow through such measures. We also encounter Germans, who voluntarily move to Berlin-Kreuzberg, a predominately Turkish district, especially because of the Turkish culture. Above all, in the diaspora, forced migration wakens the desire for the native country and its traditions. Importantly, parallel worlds correspond with the spirit of a globalized world. A necessary precondition for a peaceful coexistence above all is equality, which results from an improvement of the social conditions and educational opportunities. In his book, Lachmann has done an important step towards living together.

For Hartmut Lehmann the question of the future of Europe is closely connected with an increased awareness of religious tolerance. But the main focus of his book "Secularization" lies on Europe's attitude towards its own Christian tradition. Through the lense of an historian Lehmann analyzes the European secularization process and the development of Christianity since the Enlightenment. Lehman argues, that only in Europe secularization has triumphed and further on: "In a globalized world secularization can be characterized as the European Sonderweg (special path) concerning religion" (p. 58)

In a comparison with the USA Lehman underlines serious differences in the significance of Christianity within the Western enlightened world; the comparison of Europe with other regions like Latin America or Africa follow. While outside Europe Christian traditions play an important role in private as well as in public and political life, Europeans have developed a particularly distant attitude towards their religion. Lehmann points out several reasons for the unusually high degree of secularization in Europe: (1) the secularized languages of Europe, which in comparison to the sacral Arabic cause distance to the religious sphere (2) the excessive Christian indoctrination through absolutistic regimes and churches from the early Middle Ages to the 19th century and (3) consequence of the belief in political ideologies, such as Leninism, Stalinism and National Socialism, which either destroyed or corrupted Christian traditions. In this context, Lehmann raises relevant questions: Is a re-strengthening of the religions in Europe possible? Is the secularization only a momentary phase in the history of Europe? Or turns the European Sonderweg (special path) into a "civilizing" pilot project, which other cultures will adapt to? Or could it even happen that Europe will approach religious cultures? Particularly interesting are his references to the expansion of fields of research concerning the development of Christianity worldwide. On the whole the book captivates above all by its analytic accuracy and future-oriented thinking but suffers at the same time from a suboptimal combination of individually composed essays.

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