Fighting Islamophobia while maintaining EU values

Fighting Islamophobia while maintaining EU values

This Op-Ed tries to analyze the present and possible future of Europe in a Globalized world, the rise of populism which leads to fragmentation, the tendencies which threaten the core values of the EU with Islamophobia being the prevailing one, and recommends a framework for the Europeans to solve our identity problems without abandoning our democratic principles.

In order to understand where EU stands and where it heads to, we must comprehend that we live in a truly globalized world. Globalization is all about time-space compression. It is about interconnectedness and interdependence. Many scholars think of globalization as a source of conflict like the famous late HKS Professor Samuel Huntington. Others tend to present globalization as a struggle to find the middle ground between the Lexus and the Olive Tree as Thomas Friedman pointed out or between Jihad and McWorld as highlighted by Benjamin Barber. In both cases, we see that the tradition (olive tree) can be anachronistic and anachronism is identified with Jihad, a word to describe parochial tribalism and splintering factionalism. But also modernism as described by Lexus can lead to uniformity, isomorphism and the destruction of local identity (McWorld). Each EU country and especially Greece has an impressive cultural tradition but is also considered a fairly modern or even ultra-modern entity. So, we need to find a fine balance.

For the Europeans globalization could be seen as an opportunity to uphold our traditional values, to create cross-national social movements, to promote solidarity, to spread the “acquis communeautaire” and finally achieve decentralized participatory democracy that accommodates the local identity and provides welfare for all European peoples. However, globalization led to bigger inequality due to the asymmetrical capital flows and power distribution. The unregulated, top-down, imposed and exclusive character of globalization led to reactions. Furthermore, phenomena like the migration flows and terrorist incidents drove many people to fragmentation and populism, to the rejection of the “other”, mostly identifying the “other” with people of different color and faith.

Another European problem was and I suggest that still is the lack of common vision. The European ideal has been a different concept for the Germans, French or even the British that decided to leave the Union. The Germans always tend to see a common market and they seek a dominant role through economic integration. They are against military interventions and reluctant as regards diplomacy. The French envision Europe as an independent important political player under the French influence, realizing the dream of General de Gaulle. For the French, European autonomy, military capabilities and sometimes friction with America is necessary. The British, have usually been considered as the European troublemakers and have always thought of Europe as an American reliable partner. For them EU has always been just a pole in a bipolar Western-dominated world with great flexibility as regards national policies. The bridge between the two poles, namely Washington and Brussels, should be London by default.

The result of the lack of vision and the perceived identity-crushing globalization, accompanied by a pinch of migration and terrorism, was the rise of populism, usually in the form of xenophobic extreme right-wing parties. Some countries experimented with left-wing populism as well. There have also been some secessionist movements, either weaker as in North Italy or stronger as in Spain and the UK. A paradox is that the secessionist movements in Spain and the UK actually want to play a leading role in the EU and not leave the Union. Going back to the euro-skeptic and extreme right-wing parties, they focus their agenda on the fear of losing one’s identity due to the “invasion” of the “Muslim other”. EU, the beacon of democracy has been closing its borders, building walls, fences and trenches and there is a surge of the wrong kind of European fundamentalism, a fundamentalism that pays no attention to the fundamental morals and ethics of Europe and which rejects multiculturalism. Whole countries like Hungary, Poland or the Czech Republic have governments influenced to an extent by this ultra-nationalist and Islamophobic wave.

Nonetheless, and especially as regards the relation between EU and Islam, it should not be a strained one. The average European ignores the basic principles of this monotheistic religion and is driven by stereotypical demagogy or by the media which present the extremist Islam as the only Islam or the pure, the true one. Firstly, Islam is not by nature extremist and fundamentalist. There are 1.8 billion of Muslims in the world and it is self-evident that the extremists are few and numbered. The overwhelming majority believes in peaceful coexistence and the original Arab greeting of all Muslims is “peace be upon you”. They are not bound to wage jihad against the non-believers. The truth is that theologically Muslims have a divine direction and duty to respect the other religious communities. Actually, the most famous verse of the Quran is “there is no compulsion in religion”. Historically, the aforementioned religious communities have peacefully co-existed and thrived for centuries with Andalucía, Spain being the foremost example.

Secondly, there is a wide perception of Islam being by definition anachronistic and that scientific progress is not compatible with its values. The truth is far from that. During the Middle Ages the Christian Europe was far behind the Caliphates both as regards the culture and the civilization. Neither Islam nor Christianity have changed in a theological sense. So, we need to remember that the Ancient Greek Philosophers were first translated into Arabic and then into Latin-origin languages, that astronomy reached its zenith and sciences like algebra (Arab world) or chemistry (from khimia, Persian word) flourished. Until the 18th century the Medical science was based on Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and philosophy was influenced by Ibn Rashid (Averroes). Last but not least, the heritage laws in Islamic societies were during the Middle Ages much more progressive than the ones in the Christian societies.

Finally, and most importantly, there are social issues like the gender inequality or even abuses like slavery and severe/ cruel punishments associated with Islam. In many societies that are not yet modern, including some Sub-Saharan Christian countries, the position of women is much worse that this of men. Nevertheless, in a more civilized environment, Muslims have no problem to see females being even Heads of State, like Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, Tancu Ciller in Turkey, Mame Madior Boye in Senegal, two presidents of Indonesia, two presidents of Mali not to mention the current Vice-President of Iran (Masoumeh Ebtekar). In Tunisia, Iraq or even Sudan there are more female Members of Parliament than in Greece.

As regards abuses, slavery is practically abolished in all Muslim countries (with the exception of ISIS when it literally ran a State) and the stoning or chopping off of hands and heads is a rare exception with few examples in a fistful of countries.

This Op-Ed however is not about Islam, but about the future of the EU. If we understand the aforementioned misconceptions, then we can adopt another type of European fundamentalism, one that could help us create a truly United Federal Europe. This fundamentalism should be based on the widely accepted European principles, namely the Christian values, the Roman legislation, the Ancient Greek philosophy and the Renaissance and French Revolution ideas. Are the aforementioned principles compatible with Islam or other cultures? Definitely, yes. These principles actually include and embrace diversity and guarantee peaceful coexistence through mutual respect.

Starting with Christianity, Europe is very secular and the EU has an equal stance towards all religions, so there should be no difference vis-à-vis Islam. Even taking into account that Europe is predominantly a Christian continent, we could easily support the argument that Islamophobia is anti-Christian. Famous theologians like the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Durres and All Albania have declared and written that “from the existing religions, Islam is the Closest not only geographically but also theologically to Christianity”.

Moving on to the Roman legislation, it was the basis for all European legal systems and especially the French one. The right to fair trials with fair representation, the law being above all citizens and so many other rules, regulations or conventions is not incompatible with Islam. After all, in most Muslim countries, there is both the Islamic Law and the Civilian Penal Code and they co-exist. If a fanatic Muslim wants to abide only by the Islamic Law and disrespects or even disregards the Civilian Penal Code then he or she has no place in Europe, because that would be a threat to the European core values. In that sense only the fanatics cannot be accommodated in EU.

The ancient Greek philosophy is taught and admired in most Muslim countries. It is anthropocentric and has a wide spectrum of schools of thought, all of them contributing to diversity. A core ancient Greek value is that of hospitality. The King or Father of Gods, Zeus was named Xenios and he was the patron God of guests and a fearsome avenger of all wrongdoers to strangers. How can this be an exclusive rather than an inclusive culture?  Lastly, Renaissance and French Revolution ideas have to do with seeking the truth, with equal rights and with social contracts. Probably the words humanism and universalism describe the Renaissance ideas in the best possible way. The motto of the French Revolution was “Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!” Again, there is nothing exclusive in these ideas, and nothing ultra-nationalistic.

Hence, by returning to the fundamental European values, we get stronger and we can find a solid commonplace for all Europeans and a framework for all “others”, no matter what they faith or color is to integrate, as long as their core values are not against the aforementioned principles. We should also show compassion, especially to those Muslims who come to Europe as refugees, probably persecuted by other Muslims like the notorious ISIS, before its utter defeat. Practically as Europeans we need to wage a public awareness campaign as regards both our core values and the mainstream Islam. As regards the latter, European Muslims should be at the vanguard of this effort.

Concluding, pursuing purity might lead according to Eriksen to ultra-nationalism, politicized religion or apartheid. What we are bound to see in the future is a cultural hybridization, a mixing of cultures leading to unique combinations. This creolization, this combination of languages and cultures previously unintelligible to one another would be very positive if we apply the rule of law for everyone, if we are open to new ideas, if our philosophy is human-centric and if we tolerate, not to mention love each other. These principles are the fundamentals of Europe and they can be enriched by other cultures, other peoples, and other religions.