A European issue of toleration: Why purpose-built mosques are so contested
The first section of this paper tries to demonstrate that the mosque conflict is a veritable issue of toleration within contemporary pluralism. This argument requires a preliminary reassessment of the theory of toleration concerning: (a) the reassessment of the private/public divide as a useful boundary for toleration; (b) the intersection of the horizontal and the vertical notions of toleration, namely the social attitude and the political dimension; (c) the politicization of cultural issues by the democratic process, which tends to transform the cultural dialectic between majority and minority into a political one. In the case of mosques, the author argues that the problematic difference engendering the conflict is not the Muslim religion per se, nor its practices of worship which are allegedly incompatible, offensive and unacceptable by democratic society. It is rather that the Muslim religion provides a unifying label to group together many immigrant communities whose growing number and presence are perceived as threatening the orderly stability of the social standards of the cultural majority. This argument is pursued through the analysis of some comparable European cases concerning mosque building. Showing that resistance to mosques, as well as to other Muslim practices and customs, is not produced by a clash of civilization will help to fight the thesis of “Islamic exceptionalism”, meaning the specific difficulty tied to the reception of Islam and its manifestations in European countries.