In a recent article in Thinking Faith, the new(ish) online journal of the British Jesuits, Michael Kirwan, SJ provides an interesting discussion of Dutch Islamophobia in the light René Girard’s mimetic theory. He suggests that, unlike the case in France which has a longer secular tradition, the Dutch reaction to Islam – which functions as a reminder of the “repressed sacred” – reflects discomfort at being reminded of their own religious culture which they rather suddenly discarded, and at the increasing dissatisfaction with the secular society which has replaced it.

I hesitate to comment much on Dutch society as my experience of it is rather limited. However, Kirwan’s analysis does make a lot of sense. I remember being quite taken aback when first arriving here at how much nostalgia there appeared to be for the Christian past among people who were not necessarily practising Christians. Religious artefacts which had been discarded in the 1960’s were becoming sought after treasures in antique shops. And a “Christian” identity becomes a way of defining oneself over and against the other, which is increasingly seen as Muslim. But it can also be a way of defining oneself over and against secularism, even when it has very little religious content. I think of someone I met recently who didn’t believe that Jesus even existed but insisted that she was a Christian – which she understood as being “spiritual” – and who got quite offended when I questioned her use of the word! Of course this is not limited to the Dutch – I seem to remember Rowan Williams making a similar point in Britain recently, and of course the reaction to his comments on Sharia points to a similar dynamic – but it does point to the faultlines of contemporary society. And Kirwan’s article provides a useful key to further reflection. Girard is one of the people I’ve been wanting to read for years now – I suppose that I should get down to him sometime!

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