The Danish cartoons caricaturing Muhammad that enraged Muslims around the world in 2005 may also have started a Christian backlash in Europe.
Historian Philip Jenkins writes in the conservative magazine Chronicles (January) that since the cartoon controversy, “the prospects for Christianity in Europe seem better than they have for decades.” It wasn‘t so much that Muslims challenged Christians as that the debate over Islamic militancy, religious tolerance and multiculturalism brought up old questions of religious identity and common European values. Just as the secularists went on the defensive, the “more directly Christian ideas and institutions are challenged, the more need there is to justify and defend these, to think more, say, about why Catholic schools maintain crucifixes on their walls.”
Even in Denmark, where few care about the People’s Church, “most deeply resented the challenge to its role in national life. And some asked why Danish high schools required pupils to read the Koran but not the Bible.” The right in Britain may also have been invigorated by the controversy. In recent years, the “growing independence of the different components of the United Kingdom has encouraged a new sense of English identity, using as its flag not only the old Union Jack, but the Red Cross of Saint George, and the related celebration of St. George Day.
Although few English people currently use the new cult as an explicit token of religious confrontation, extremists exploit its Crusader associations,” Jenkins writes (St. George allegedly appeared to Christian forces during the Crusaders’ siege of Antioch in 1098). Even the establishment Church of England has become more forthright about reminding Europeans about their Christian roots.
In 2006, a report by the church charged that multiculturalism tended toward “privileging Islam,” and suggested that “there is an agenda behind a claim that a five percent adherence to ‘other faiths’ makes for a multi-faith society.”
(Chronicles, 928 N. Main St., Rockford, IL 61103.)