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Ian Buruma writes about politics and culture for a variety of major publications—most frequently for The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Corriere della[…]

Will fears about fundamentalist Islam spark a European version of America’s “Christian right?”

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

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

rn Question:
Could a European conservative Christian rnmovement develop in response to Muslim immigration?

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

rn Question:
Why hasn’t the U.S. reacted toward Middle rnEastern immigrants as Western Europe has?

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

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

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

Recorded April 21, 2010