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Intolerance in Europe

by: Rabbi Jeremy Rosen - Last updated: 2004-10-29

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

This week the European parliament effectively blocked the appointment of the executive by the new President of the European commission, the Portuguese, Manuel Durao Barrose.

The main (though not the only) reason the European Socialist parliamentarians were up in arms was their opposition to the appointment of the Italian Rocco Buttiglione as the Justice commissioner. Of course the Right Wing counterattacked.

Signor Buttiglioine has offended the MEPs because he is a practising Catholic and pally with the Pope, and believes that homosexuality is a sin, women should make the home their priority not a career, and asylum seekers should be held in transit camps in North Africa before being considered for refugee status. Yes, he sounds exactly like a spokesman for the Nazi KKK ideology of Kirche, Kuche, and Kinder (Church, Kitchen, and Kids). Or, indeed, like a spokesman for right-wing Jewish Orthodoxy with a dose of Conservative xenophobia! 

In an interview on BBC this morning, I heard Buttiglioine say that he believes homosexuality is a sin in the opinion of his own religion but not a crime under European law. As justice commissioner his role would be to uphold European Law even if his religious views were in conflict with them. Indeed, he is quoted as saying that ‘morality and law do not and should not mix and I believe in freedom which implies not imposing on others what one considers correct.’ This last part is a perfect libertarian, liberal position which I totally support (‘though I know many of my co-religionists might not, certainly in Israel, and, of course, many if not most religious Muslims would not either).

His view accords with that well-known Talmudic phrase that ‘The Law of The Land is the Law.’ In other words, as citizens of governmental entities with laws different from one’s own religious views, one has two options: accept the local laws, or move on. Some might recommend staying on and trying to change the system. Others might recommend trying to overthrow it! But clearly (Rav) Shmuel in the Talmud thought like a good liberal!

Indeed, it exactly echoes the position of John F. Kennedy who was challenged on the issue of whether his Catholic religious beliefs would interfere with the way he, as President, would run the United States. He said, ‘It is not relevant what Church I believe in, but rather what kind of America I believe in.’

Now, I am hardly the person to support Catholic theology, and I don’t and I won’t. But I am concerned about intolerance. We have heard a great deal about Fundamentalist religious fanaticism but there is another danger coming from the other direction. This is the imposition of secular values on others.

I understand the French government’s decision to ban overtly religious symbols in its schools. But then it ought, in all equity, to be concerned about allowing nudity, sexual promiscuity, and a drug culture in its school population too. I am totally against governments interfering in the private lives of consenting adults. But this does not mean I have to agree that adultery or incest is a perfectly acceptable moral lifestyle? I would be wrong to impose my religious standards on others and, fortunately, my religion does not require me to. Orthodox Judaism does not see homosexuality as the same as heterosexuality. I do not believe it requires me to go around trying to convert one type into the other or imposing restrictions on one or the other. I strongly approve of training women to have qualifications that will enable them to be breadwinners and independent. But equally I believe that they should have the choice if they prefer to stay at home with their children or keep the home fires burning.

I find the intolerance of the Socialist MEPs astounding. They seem to expect that everyone working in the EU has to agree with their particular moral standpoint. What is even more amazing, as a columnist in The Times pointed out, is that had the candidate been a Muslim, sharing exactly the same beliefs, there is no doubt they would not have opposed the appointment. Certainly anyone familiar with European politics must be aware of the deep strain of anti-clericalism that coexists in frenzied antagonism with a very conservative Roman Catholicism, in many countries with a long and strong Catholic tradition.

In the recent debates over whether to admit Turkey or not, the issue cropped up again and again as to the Christian nature of Europe that might be threatened. We have, I had thought, thankfully left the Christian propriety feeling of ownership of Europe behind us. On that basis I welcome the influx of other religions. But, just as I expect newcomers to respect the traditions of tolerance that characterize the theory of Europe (if not always the practice), so I expect equal tolerance of religious views even when they conflict with Marxist or Socialist ones.

In other words, this isn’t even a matter of tolerance or anti-clericalism. This is pure dirty politics. The dreams that the EU would rise above corruption and political machination is a chimera. The EU in its corruption presents an image of the worst, not the best.

No wonder we are so apathetic about yet another bureaucratic political structure. While the world around us deteriorates ecologically, we are throwing billions at layers upon layers of useless political systems that should be scrapped. I used to support the European dream on the grounds that its overriding laws on human rights would ensure no return to the rigid intolerance of either left-wing Marxism or right-wing Fascism. Sadly, both are alive and kicking in the EU.

In this week's Torah reading ( Genesis 30) Avimelech castigates Avraham for assuming his government was corrupt. The moral of the story is not judge by what countries claim or pretend but rather how they act!