Tapu Misa on current affairs
Tapu Misa is a Herald columnist focussing on Pacific affairs

Tapu Misa: How to live up to freedom's ideals


Is New Zealand a Christian nation? There was a time when I would have answered in the affirmative - and that was before I joined the flock.

Now I see it as akin to asserting that New Zealand is a white nation (and yes, dear readers, people do say that to me when they're trying to make me feel especially welcome).

Those who make the claim fail to see the distinction between a nation whose institutions and laws are founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and the modern reality of a country that is now home to an increasingly diverse group of people.

That's what Anders Breivik, Norway's "Christian terrorist", as some in the left have gleefully dubbed him, found so hard to stomach: the others in his midst; the idea that Europe was no longer the preserve of white Christians like him.

Yes, the self-proclaimed "saviour of Christianity" is a madman, a psychopath who doesn't represent most fundamentalist Christians.

But there's no denying he's a Christian, albeit one occupying the lunatic fringe of the faith, along with those who murder abortion doctors, picket the funerals of US servicemen, and pray for President Obama's death. (And no, I don't think it's unChristian of me to say that.) Breivik is too far gone to appreciate the grim irony, but the war he's waging in the name of "our Christian cultural heritage" makes him indistinguishable from the fanatical Islamists he rages against, and betrays Christianity's teachings more surely than anything the perceived enemy (Muslims, liberals et al) could ever manage.

Religious zealots all look the same, whatever faith they twist to justify their irrational obsessions.

It's not yet known whether Breivik acted alone when he embarked on his killing spree last week, but what is disturbingly clear is that much of what's contained in his 1500-page manifesto, in which he rants against multiculturalism, immigration and the so-called "Islamisation" of Europe - isn't all that fringe.

As Gary Younge has argued in The Nation magazine, "fascism - and the xenophobic, racist and nationalistic elements that are its most vile manifestations - has returned as a mainstream ideology in Europe. Its advocates not only run in elections but win them".

Younge points out that "in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France and Italy, hard-right nationalist and anti-immigrant parties regularly receive more than 10 per cent of the vote. In Finland the figure is 19 per cent; in Norway, 22 per cent; in Switzerland, 29 per cent. In Italy and Austria these parties have been in government; in Switzerland, where the anti-immigrant Swiss People's Party is the largest party, they still are".

"In Germany, the best-selling book since World War II is by former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin, who blames inbreeding among Turks and Kurds for 'congenital disabilities' and argues immigrants from the Middle East are a 'genetic minus' for the country. In a poll published in the national magazine Focus last September, 31 per cent of respondents agreed that Germany was 'becoming dumber' because of immigrants; and 62 per cent said Sarrazin's comments were 'justified'."

This is not to say that anti-Semitism and jihadism don't exist among Muslim communities in Europe. But multiculturalism isn't to blame for that, and Younge argues the threat is overstated (Muslims make up only 3 per cent of Norway's population, for example), and "the most potent anti-Semites and bigots in Europe ... are not Muslim; they are Christian".

And it is they, not Muslims, who refuse to integrate.

"The primary threat to democracy in Europe is not 'Islamofascism' ... but plain old fascism," Younge writes. "The kind whereby mostly white Europeans take to the streets to terrorise minorities in the name of racial, cultural or religious superiority."

Breivik described multiculturalism as "an evil genocidal ideology created for the sole purpose of annihilating everything European".

Actually, it's about peaceful co-existence. Which is why our future isn't in trying to become a Christian nation, or a white nation, or a Muslim nation, but to be the kind of nation that lives up to the highest ideals of a free society. For that we need secularism.

Not the soft secularism that allows everything in the name of religion, or the hard secularism that goes overboard trying to remove any traces of religion, whether that be the inclusion in a 9/11 memorial of a cross of steel beams that remained in the rubble at ground zero (which an atheist group has filed a lawsuit against), or a few burqa-clad women going about their lawful business.

But the kind of secularism espoused by Thomas Jefferson, who held that all "shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, opinions in matters of religion".

- NZ Herald

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