Some things change, and some things stay the same. The current furor around France’s relationship with its Muslim citizens in recent weeks seems new, but contemporary European history would teach us otherwise. The question is: Did we ever learn those lessons?

In 2005, the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published an article with cartoons the newspaper claimed depicted the person of the Prophet Muhammad. In the article, the culture editor of the newspaper wrote:

Modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech . . . we are on our way to a slippery slope where no-one can tell how the self-censorship will end. (emphasis mine)

The assertion was clear: contemporary democracy, freedom of speech, secular society—even modernity itself— is “rejected” by “some” Muslims. The “some” here refer to those who object to the cartoons. The culture editor, in making this claim, tied together modernity, secularism, and democracy into the broader ideological frame of Western civilization.

It’s important to reflect on this statement in the aftermath of the October 2020 killings carried out in France by radical Islamist extremists, as well as Macron’s previous claims of a “crisis in Islam.” In the wake of these killings, many of the same issues have been raised.

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This article was originally published in Contending Modernities.