Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Mogherini’s vision of Islam and the West

The EU’s high representative understands the common bonds between Islam and the West, as shown in a reassuring message delivered at Cairo University, writes Al-Sayed Amin Shalaby

Al-Ahram Weekly

In the 8 July edition of Al-Ahram Weekly, I wrote about “a voice of wisdom from Europe.” The voice came from Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative, when she addressed on 24 June a conference in Brussels on “Islam in Europe.”

At the conference, she reminded the audience 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.”

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 underlined this vision of Islam and the West during her visit to Cairo on 3 November. In her presentation at Cairo University, Mogherini started by recalling the concept of “the clash of civilisations”, which she regards as mistaken for several reasons.

Today, she said, the idea of a clash of civilisations has been taken over by the Islamic State (IS) group — “terrorists who encourage sectarianism to expand their own power, who exploit divisions for their own interest.”

She continued, “Is that our interest? Is that the interest of European youth, and of Arab youth? I believe our common interest is rather the opposite. Our interest is defeating this narrative, wherever it might come from. And it is up to us.”

Mogherini recalled European and Islamic history, saying, “If you look at our history, at our values and our future, there are so many things that unite us. This is the real challenge today. Will we focus on what drives us apart, or what keeps us together?

“For how long will we let our differences define our relationship? For how long will we deny our common interests, following the easy but false rhetoric of a clash of civilisations, while so much in our history and our future unites us?

“There are so many reasons for us to stand together, in our history and in our future. There is so much we have in common. This is what drives me here today: the hope in a common future for Europe and the Arab world.”

Mogherini highlighted the “shared values” of Europe and Islam today, saying, “What we share is much more powerful than the forces trying to divide us. We hold the same belief that all humans are equal — all the ‘children of Adam’, as the Holy Quran calls humanity.

“And we feel the same desire, the same aspiration for democracy, dignity, prosperity and peace. This makes me believe that we don’t just share a long history: we can also share a common future. A future that will be as good as we manage to shape it, together.”

Mogherini provided her version of a “common agenda” for the future. “Look at the world around us today. Europe and the Arab world have the exact same interests. We want a peaceful Middle East. We want to end terror, and to live free from fear,” she said.

“We want justice and dignity in our societies. We have the same nightmares, and the same dreams. We have all the right reasons to stand side by side, and face the current crises together.”

To prove that there are good reasons to be hopeful, Mogherini recalled a personal experience: “I went to high school . . . in Rome. Not far from my school, there was the building site of a new mosque. The mosque was completed a few years after my final high school exam. I watched it growing up. It is today the largest mosque in the European Union and in the Western world.

“Rome, the heart of the Catholic Church, is also home to so many Muslims. There is no contradiction in this. For centuries Europe has been home to Christians and Muslims, Jews and non-believers alike. Islam is part of Europe’s history. Islam is part of Europe. As well as Christianity is part of the Arab world, of Arab societies.”

Mogherini’s lecture at Cairo University confirmed her constructive and enlightened vision on Islam and West that she had earlier expressed in Brussels in June. We are hopeful that, as she as promised, she will share her vision with her partners in the EU.

Our media institutions dealing with the West, in particular, should be active in circulating and using Mogherini’s vision in the “war of ideas.” Her words could be instrumental in our war of ideas with the dark forces that have distorted Islam and tried to drive a wedge between Islam and the West.

 In this context, Al-Ahram Weekly’s role is very much appreciated.

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

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