This raises the larger question of toleration. At the completion of the first phase of the Christian reconquest in Spain and Portugal, Muslims—who by that time were very numerous in the reconquered lands—were given a choice: baptism, exile, or death. In the former Ottoman lands in southeastern Europe, the leaders of what one might call the second reconquest were somewhat more tolerant, but not a great deal more. Some Muslim populations remain in the Balkan countries, with troubles still going on at the present day. Kosovo and Bosnia are the best known examples. The question of religious tolerance raises new and important issues. In the past, during the long struggles between Muslims and Christians in both eastern and western Europe, there could be little doubt that the Muslims were far more tolerant, both of other religions and of diversity within their own religion, than were the Christians. In medieval Western Christendom, massacres and expulsions, inquisitions and immolations were commonplace; in Islam they were atypical and rare. The movement of refugees at that time was overwhelmingly from West to East and not, as in later times, from East to West. True, non-Muslim subjects in a Muslim state were subject to certain disabilities, but their situation was vastly better than that of unbelievers and misbelievers in Christian Europe.
These disabilities, acceptable in the past, came increasingly into conflict with democratic notions of civilized co-existence. Already in 1689, the English philosopher John Locke, in his Letters Concerning Toleration, remarked that “neither Pagan, nor Mahometon, nor Jew, ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion.” In 1790, George Washington, in a letter to a Jewish community leader in Newport, Rhode Island, went even further, and dismissed the very idea of toleration as essentially intolerant, “as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.”
By the late seventeenth century the practical situation was much better in Western Europe than in the Islamic lands. And from that time onwards the one got better, the other got worse. Discrimination and persecution did not disappear in the West but, with the glaring exception of the Nazi interlude in continental Europe, the situation of religious minorities was better in the confident, advancing West than in the threatened, retreating East.
Muslims, and also many of their non-Muslim compatriots, did not see it that way , but thought of toleration in somewhat different terms. When Muslim immigrants came to live in Europe they had a certain expectation, a feeling that they were entitled to at least the degree of toleration which they had accorded to non-Muslims in the great Muslim empires of the past. Both their expectations and their experience were very different.
Coming to European countries, they got both more and less than they had expected. More in the sense that they got in theory and often in practice equal political rights, equal access to the professions, welfare, freedom of expression, and other benefits.
But they also got significantly less than they had given in traditional Islamic states. In the Ottoman Empire and other states before that—I mention the Ottoman Empire as the most recent—the nonMuslim communities had separate organizations and ran their own affairs. They collected their own taxes and enforced their own laws. There were several Christian communities, each living under its own leadership, recognized by the state. These communities ran their own schools and their own education systems, and administered their own laws in such matters as marriage, divorce, and inheritance as well as religious observance. The Jews did the same.