Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1254, (9 - 22 July 2015)
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1254, (9 - 22 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

A voice of wisdom from Europe

The EU high representative for foreign affairs struck a constructive note at a recent conference on Islam and Europe that others would do well to heed, writes Al-Sayed Amin Shalaby

Al-Ahram Weekly

At a time when European citizens and Muslim worshipers are brutally killed by a group of terrorists who falsely attach themselves to Islam an event that raises outrageous voices in Europe against Muslims and Islam as a religion a thoughtful, responsible and constructive voice was raised by Federica Mogherini, the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy.

Mogherini used a conference on “Islam in Europe” to raise critical issues in the relationship between Islam and Europe. Mogherini regarded this European forum as finally approaching the question of Islam and Europe from the right perspective, after years of misunderstandings.

She recalled when she graduated two years before 9/11 and it was hard at that time to find a professor who would accept that political Islam could be the subject for a dissertation in political science. A lot has changed since then.

In the following years the idea of a “clash between Islam and the West” a phrase in which everything is put together and confused has misled our policies and our narratives.

Mogherini courageously and honestly believes that Islam holds a place in Western societies, concluding that Islam belongs in Europe. It holds a place in Europe’s history, culture, and food and what matters most in Europe’s present and future, whether Europeans in Europe like it or not. This is the reality.

In a broader context, Mogherini called on Europeans to be proud of their diversity, saying that the fear of diversity comes from weakness, not from a strong culture. She recalled European history, where many have tried to unify the continent by imposing their own power, their own ideology, and their own identity against the identity of someone else.

After World War II, the European project not only accepted diversity, but also expressed a desire for diversity to be a core feature of the union. It defined European civilisation through openness and plurality: “a mind-set based on blocs does not belong to us.”

Mogherini went further to speak about some people who are now trying to convince European societies that a Muslim cannot be a good European citizen; that more Muslims in Europe will spell the end of Europe. In her view, these people are not just mistaken about Muslims: they are mistaken about Europe, and have no clue what Europe and the European identity are.

Mogherini realistically recognised that Europe and Islam face common challenges in today’s world. The so-called Islamic State (IS) is engaged in an unprecedented attempt to pervert Islam, she said, to justify a wicked political and strategic project.

She recalled the king of Jordan talking to the European Parliament about IS: that their motive is not faith but power; power pursued by ripping countries and communities apart in sectarian conflicts, and inflicting suffering across the world.

To call IS “medieval”, Mogherini regards, is a mistake that does not help much in understanding the real nature of the threat we are facing. IS is something completely new. This is a modern movement, reinterpreting religion in an innovative and radical way.

It is a movement that, rather than preserving Islam, wants Europe to trash centuries of Islamic culture in the name of their atrocities. IS is not a “state”, and it is not a “state for Islam.”

To support her view, Mogherini recalled the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, arguing that there is no “Islamic State”, but a number of Islamic countries that the terrorists are trying to destroy, commenting that this is the reality we face and we don’t say this often, but we should do so to dismantle their narrative.

Mogherini concluded that IS is Islam’s worst enemy in today’s world. Its victims are first and foremost Muslim people. Islam itself is a victim. In the context of debate about what drives the followers of IS and what motivations convinced them to join the movement, Mogherini concludes that if we want to fight it we need first of all to know it and to understand it.

We need to know where it comes from, and how it got to be what it is. In trying to answer this question, Mogherini believes that IS propaganda fills a void, a vacuum. The terrorists are recruiting people who feel they do not have a place in their own communities that they do not belong in their own societies.

To deal with the roots of IS and its followers, Mogherini believes that the best way to prevent radicalisation in Europe and in our region is not only education, but also employment. So many well-educated and frustrated young people with a lot of energy, a lot of willingness to find their place in society and community, have lost hope.

IS thrives on people who have lost their place, their role, their sense of belonging and hope. We need inclusive societies, Mogherini said.

On democracy, Mogherini’s point of departure was that we should start saying more clearly that a society can be stable and safe only when it is democratic. However, she advised, we should understand that each country has a specific history and needs to follow its own path towards democracy.

Not so long ago, and still today, there are people in “the West” who argue that democracy can be exported militarily. But she reminded the participants in the conference how bad this idea was.

“This does not mean we are not ready to support democracy and democratic processes: quite the contrary. But we need to consider the specificity of each process,” Mogherini said.

Mogherini concluded that she is not afraid to say that political Islam should be part of the picture. Religion plays a role in politics not always for good, not always for bad. “Religion can be part of the process. What makes the difference is whether the process is democratic or not. That is what matters to us, the key point.”

The Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, impressed by her constructive approach to the relationship between Islam and the West, addressed a letter of appreciation to Mrs Mogherini, expressing its hope that this wise and constructive approach will prevail the discourse of European political and cultural institutions.

The council further urged all Egyptian and Arab civil society organisations to express appreciation to Mrs Mogherini.

The writer is executive director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.

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