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Question: When did the Christian right become a serious factor in U.S. politics?

Ian Buruma: It's always been around, but I think it was under Ronald Reagan that it began to be a sort of serious organization. Before that these same people existed, but they weren’t politically so well organized and I think it was under the Reagan Administration that they realized that there was a vast source of voters to tap into and, from the point of view of the Christians, to influence policy.

Could a European conservative Christian movement develop in response to Muslim immigration?

Ian Buruma: I don’t think it’s impossible that there will be a rise of Christianity in Europe as a reaction.  I don’t think you can see great proof of it so far, although there is much talk now of sort of the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of western or European civilization, which you didn’t hear so much about before as though the Jews and the Christians have always been such brothers in arms, so there are signs that it could happen and but not yet on a very large scale.

Why hasn’t the U.S. reacted toward Middle Eastern immigrants as Western Europe has?

Ian Buruma:  There are I think various reasons for that.  One is that most immigrants from the Middle East in the United States tend to be more middle class, better educated, many of them are Christians and they’re not concentrated so much as the European cities.  In the European cities the Muslim immigrants on the whole are from village cultures, not very well educated.  They came over as guest workers and they’re very concentrated. So if you go even many provincial towns and countries like the Netherlands you’ll suddenly see a very large number of people in headscarves and beards and so on in a way that you don’t really see anywhere in the United States.  Here it is just one minority amongst many.

Why don’t Western conservatives have more common ground with Islamic traditionalists?

Ian Buruma: Well, if by conservatives you mean Christian conservatives I think because there is historical antagonism towards Islam, but it’s necessarily entirely true that there is no common ground.  I think for example when the book, Salman Rushdie’s book, was burned there were actually conservatives in the West who had total sympathy with the Muslims and thought he had it coming and ran in favor of tightening up blasphemy laws, and so it’s not always true that there is no common ground.

Recorded April 21, 2010


Fundamentalism, East and West

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