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Euro - Islam: The Dynamics of Effective Integration

Date & Time

Jun. 21, 2006
9:00am – 10:00am ET


Euro - Islam: The Dynamics of Effective Integration
June 21, 2006, 9:00 am - 3:00 pm

John Sitilides: As Chairman of the Wilson Center Southeast Europe Project, and on behalf of my colleagues at the West Europe Studies, the East Europe Studies, and the Middle East programs, it is a pleasure to welcome you to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars this morning for what we believe to be a seminal conference on the topic of European Islam: The Dynamics of Effective Integration.

Proper appreciation is in order here. I would very much like to thank my colleagues Stephen Schwartz, Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, and Julienne Nelson, President of the European Institute, for their collaborative skills and partnership in structuring this conference.

I thank Scott Carpenter, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, who will deliver the keynote address today, and Ambassador Samuel Zbogar of Slovenia, which will launch an ambitious program centered on the question of European Islam when it presides over the European Union in 2008.

I thank the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars for making available the federal grant that helped to finance this conference, and I thank Andri Peros, Program Specialist at the Southeast Europe Project, who transformed that grant into this conference.

And I thank, in advance, all of our distinguished panelists, especially those who have traveled from Europe to share their insights and perspectives with us today as we assemble to explore what I believe to be one of the pivotal strategic issues in the trans-Atlantic relationship today – and increasingly, I am personally concerned – as we look beyond the horizon.

Today's conference on European Islam was structured to examine and, hopefully, to provide policy insights into the current and future state of Islam in Europe and its impact on U.S. relations, both with Europe and with the worldwide Muslim community, through three central questions:

• Can European society absorb and fully assimilate those Muslim immigrants who seek liberty, opportunity and full citizenship for themselves and their future generations?

• Can Muslims in Europe tolerate and accept Western values and lifestyles, to more deeply integrate their communities into mainstream European societies?

• Lastly, can European Muslims and non-Muslims collaborate to marginalize and eventually root out fanatical or militant Islamism and to build an effectively integrated, thriving, and enduring Islamic model?

Ladies and gentlemen, to formally open the conference and to begin to explore these issues, it is my pleasure to introduce my partner in this enterprise, the president of the European Institute, Julienne Nelson.

Julienne Nelson: Thank you, John. It is a very great pleasure for me to be here with you this morning and I would also like to thank John Sitilides, his colleges at the Woodrow Wilson Center, and Stephen Schwartz, Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, for organizing what promises to be an exceptional day of thought provoking conversation and exchange of views on a very important subject.

Indeed, the issues raised by the topic of Euro-Islam impact so many areas: justice, homeland security, labor policy, governance of modern democracy, to name just a few. It is absolutely essential that we come to better understand and address these issues together. That is why I am pleased to have the European Institute co-sponsor this conference. Ambassador Zbogar told me some time ago the importance of, what the United Nations refers to as the "dialogue of civilizations," to Slovenia, a government that has formed an international task force on this subject in order to help prepare Slovenia their turn at the E.U. presidency in the first half of 2008. In the E.U. governance system of course the frame work for what will be accomplished during the six months of the presidency is laid out well in advance in order to make a substantive contribution during the short amount of time that the country actually holds the presidency of the European Union. Slovenia is the first country to have the "dialogue of civilizations" as one of the priorities of the E.U. presidency, so it is a perfect fit that they are with us here today and excellent timing in so far that they are able to share their views and ideas on this very subject.

I would now like to introduce a good friend, His Excellency Samuel Zbogar, who became Ambassador of Slovenia to the United States on September 15th, 2004. He previously served as State Secretary, also as Head of the task force for Slovenia OSCE presidency in 2005, as well as Deputy to the U.N. Security Council, Minister Plenipotentiary, and Deputy Permanent Representative of the Slovenia Mission to the United Nations and various positions within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His diplomatic career is long and impressive. Afterwards, if there is time you can ask him a couple of questions in English, Italian, Croatian, Serbian, or French, but John says do so quickly. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome His Excellency Samuel Zbogar.

Ambassador Samuel Zbogar: Thank you very much. Thank you. Good morning, everybody. First, thank you Julienne for your very nice and kind remarks. It is always a pleasure to work with the European Institute, the only think tank that we are actually a member of here in Washington. We participate and work together with many, many think-tanks, but the European Institute because it is European is the only one that we are somehow a member of.

First, I want to commend also the organizers of today's conference: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, European Institute, and the Center for Islamic Pluralism. It is an honor for me to be here today and to open and address the conference.

The theme of Islam and Europe, the issues of integration and dialogues of civilization is a challenging one. The organizers succeeded in assembling a very respected list of panelists, which itself proves of the need for such discussions and which is a guarantee for interesting and thought provoking debates. We are looking forward to today's exchange of ideas, lessons learned, recommendations, how to develop further Euro-Islam relations within Europe as well as outside its borders. The conference also follows and probably in some parts builds on the event organized recently by the Austrian presidency of the European Union here in Washington on the theme of immigration, integration and identity.

You might be wondering for the reasons that I am standing here this morning as the Ambassador of Slovenia, which does not have a significant group of Muslim population nor a problem of their integration into society. However, the interest for Islam-West relations dates, for Slovenians, back to the time of the Ottoman Empire when the Empire was occupying the Balkans and trying to invade Vienna. There is a famous story or legend told at home of a Slovenian peasant named Tinker Pan who supposedly defeated the Turks and thus rescued Vienna, or so we are to believe. Slovene literature, in general, has many references to Islam and the most famous one outside of Slovenian borders is in Vladimir Bartol's Alamut, from the thirties, which was the time of fascism in Europe. This work was translated into nineteen [languages] and tells the story of blind faith and indoctrination. Through [the history in] Islam [of the sect known as] Assassins, it speaks about the rising dangers of authoritarianism and totalitarianism in Europe.

But to come to more serious reasons for my presence here today, I think there are three. First, Slovenia is a country whose one-third of the constitution speaks about human rights, the protection of human rights, and the rights of minorities. As such, the country's foreign policy attaches great importance to human rights and fundamental freedoms including, freedoms of thought, conscious, religion, belief, and freedom of expression. Second, Slovenia is in close proximity to the region of the Western Balkans where Muslim groups are predominant in minority populations in several of the states there. Slovenia established special relationships with those groups already during the time of Yugoslavia and later during the wars in the region. Many found shelter in Slovenia and Slovenia supported their cause in its foreign policy. Thirdly, mentioned by Ms. Nelson, Slovenia is a member of the European Union. The European Constitution, even though it has not entered into force yet, speaks in its preamble of culture and diversity as the basis of the European Union identity. The quote reads, "BELIEVING that Europe ...wishes to remain a continent open to culture, learning and social progress; and... CONVINCED that, while remaining proud of their own national identities and history, the peoples of Europe are determined to transcend their former divisions and, united ever more closely, to forge a common destiny."

"United in diversity", these words are used very often and should apply as much for the European Union as for the relations among different cultures and civilizations across the border. Better understanding of the diversity of cultures is needed in Europe in order to assure friendly relations among citizens and other people living in the European Union, as well as outside of its borders.

The issue of Islam-West relations and integration of minorities are issues that cannot be addressed separately. After recent developments with the cartoons and riots in several European cities and growing discontent between religions and cultures, there is concern among European Union policy makers for European Union political harmony, social prosperity, as well as cultural and religious tolerance, and recognized norms of acceptance of social diversity. The same concerns are also coming to the forefront of pubic discourse. There is growing consensus, however, that in order to effectively address real causes of the problems more attention should be given to the strengthening of inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue, as well as enhancing tolerance, mutual respect, and understanding between cultures and religions, and integration of minorities.

The European Commission put out a proposal declaring 2008 as the European year of international cultural dialogue. This is also the year when Slovenia will preside over the European Union. For all the reasons mentioned above, we declared the dialogue of civilization as one of the top four priorities of our presidency, the others being the constitution, enlargement and energy. We are determined to make a proactive contribution by addressing tensions between the western and Islamic civilizations through initiating projects that will help improve the dialogue of cultures. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Dimitry Rupel, has established a high level task force of international experts that could and would help generate new policy recommendations at the EU level related to the issue of the dialogue of cultures. The task force will be supported by the Center for the European Perspective, an independent and non-profit organization that was officially inaugurated on the 23rd of May this year. The mission of the center's task force is to promote and build mutual understanding between western civilization and Islam. Moreover, the aim is to try and minimize the tensions that exist in political, social, cultural, and religious spheres in the EU, Muslim communities in the EU, and between the EU and Islamic states.

The target populations of the task force are Muslim communities living within and outside the European Union. They need to be engaged actively through grassroots projects. One of the Center for European Perspective's areas of engagement is in education. Project activities in this area are intended to be two way. Another area of work will focus on research of the Islamic tradition and culture. This includes the history of intercultural relations between Islam and Europe. The third area of engagement is in the field of mass media. With the frequent presence of misinterpretation, stereotyping, prejudice, negative attitudes, and malicious representation of Islam and Muslims, project activities are aimed at education of journalists and editors in the realm of objective reporting and Islamic history. At the same time, improving the image of Islam through countering negative writing is one of the main tasks of Muslim communities living in the EU. This will be one of the main ideas that we have at this point of how the center and the task force will work. Ladies and gentlemen, the director of the Center for European Perspective, Mr. Denis Risman, is here today as well as his collaborator researcher Mr. Primoz Sterbenc. They are both present today to participate in the conference and to listen and to hear from the panelists. I also believe that they will participate later on with their intervention in the discussions.

Most of all, I am sure that today's discussions will trigger many ideas and bring forward many recommendations on how to steer the preparations for our presidency in 2008. Thank you very much.

Panel A: Culture, Religion, and Public Policy: Defining the Stakes

• Moderator: John Sitilides, Chairman, Wilson Center Southeast Europe Project
• Dr. Irfan Ahmed Al-Alawi, Barrister at Law and Lecturer in Islamic Theology and Islamic Spirituality (London, England)
• Dr. Jocelyne Cesari, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, Harvard Divinity School
• Dr. James Lyon, Special Balkans Advisor, International Crisis Group

John Sitilides: Ladies and Gentlemen, for centuries, Muslims have been an integral part of Europe and European history. In recent decades, they have emigrated in force throughout Europe, from the shores of the Norwegian Sea to those of the Mediterranean, from the Iberian coast to the Ural Mountains, and to just about everywhere in between.

European Muslims today number about fifteen million residents – and I stress residents, not necessarily citizens in Europe – in both current and future EU member states. The upward demographic trajectory points to a continued proportional population increase of Muslim Europeans far greater than non-Muslim Europeans, who face overall population decline for the foreseeable future.

Furthermore, the political, economic, social, and legal marginalization of many of Europe's Muslims have led to a series of significant problems within European societies, highlighted by the realization that fanaticism and militancy have taken root in communities that increasingly and brazenly reject the societies in which they exist.

This realization was amplified by the reaction to the September 11th terror attacks against the United States, the series of murderous terror bombings in Istanbul, in Madrid and in London, the assassinations of – and physical threats against – prominent European critics of Islam, the riots unleashed throughout France last year, and – as Ambassador Zbogar noted – the reaction to the Danish cartoons that mocked the Prophet Muhammad earlier this year.

In the past, European multiculturalism enforced a climate of tolerance, of intolerant Muslim views and beliefs, within liberal European societies. Now, many Muslims are viewed in Europe with suspicion and alarm. Extremist elements preaching violent jihad have come under increased surveillance and scrutiny. In response, Muslims often accuse European governments of anti-Muslim racism.

Here in the United States, the historical record is not unblemished. Christian fanaticism served as a foundation for institutional slavery in this country, for the formation of the Christian Knights of the Klu Klux Klan, and the lynching of black citizens. More recently, religious and cultural rejection of American constitutional values and ideals have inspired abortion clinic bombings and murders. Importantly, though, neither of these are part of the modern American environment. They are either part of the historical past or occur in such rare instances that they pose no serious threat to the national well-being.

In modern Europe, however, government, civic, and religious leaders now grapple with proposals to identify radicalism, reform educational systems, and even to regulate imams and mosques with an eye towards marginalizing extremism and fostering more effective integration of Muslims into secular liberal European societies.

This first panel will look at the issues of culture, religion, and public policy as they pertain to European Islam, both in terms of convergence and divergence. Therefore, I posit several broader questions before my colleagues on this distinguished panel, with the expectation and anticipation that their presentations, and the dialogue to follow, will help to better assess the current landscape and build a platform for resolving some of these problems.

• Can Europeans possessed of political correctness and multicultural tolerance withstand Muslim rejection of decedent western lifestyles, especially on such volatile issues as women's empowerment, open sexuality and drug abuse?
• Can Islamist fundamentalism and religious totalitarianism co-exist alongside and within secular and often atheistic Western European societies?
• Can and should extremist religious beliefs even be tolerated within a European identity founded upon the Enlightenment?
• How do European governments and open societies embrace Muslim immigrants, desperately needed to prevent labor shortages and to fund future pension payments for an aging European population, while they are effectively segregated in many "separate but equal" environments that perpetuate their marginalization and isolation, further fueling Islamist extremism and intolerance?

In laying out the background for the panel, I welcome our first presenter, Dr. Jocelyne Cesari of the Harvard Divinity School. I understand that the biographies of all of our panelists are available, so there is no need to go into professional backgrounds here. I thank Dr. Cesari for joining us – and the microphone is yours.

Dr. Jocelyne Cesari: Good morning everybody. First, I would like to thank the organizers of this event: Mr. Sitilides, Ms. Julienne Nelson, and Mr. Stephen Schwartz and of course Andri Peros, who has been more than helpful in bringing us here.

I would like to setup a picture of a Muslim in Western Europe. My own research concerns more north Europe than south Europe, but we will see if there is some kind of convergence between north and south. First, I would like to give you some data information on the Muslim presence in Europe. I am a little sorry about the appearance of this slide. As you know, most of the western European countries do not count people by religion. We have estimates, except for the United Kingdom that introduced two years ago a question on religious membership on the census data, all over Western Europe we have only estimates on the number of Muslims and for that we use and combine different kinds of statistics, especially statistics from immigration because one of the specificity of the Muslim presence in Western Europe is to be the consequence of post-World War II immigration in a way that is unknown in America, for example. In Europe, most Muslims have an immigrant background. There is a sort of automatic correlation in the mind of policy maker, in the mind of journalist, in the mind of the lay citizen of Europe that Islam and immigration are synonymous in the recent history of Western society. This is already a particular point that has to be taken into account, because unfortunately this is not even deconstructed in the discourse we have on immigration, on Islam, and on religion.

The second point that I would like to insist upon right now is what I call the "post-colonial status" of these immigrants. We are not talking about any kind of immigrant coming to Europe. Most of them already had a relationship with the Western country in which they settled down. There is a memory here and this memory and history is not a peaceful one. It is based on the war of independence against the colonial power. Of course, there is an exception that could be Germany. Germany has never been a colonial power, but the relationship between Germany and Turkey and the Ottoman Empire has been based on this relationship of power or domination. It also explains why we have a privileged route of the Turkish migration to modern Germany. It means that people are not coming in an empty blank space. It is not the classical pattern of immigration like we know here in the US. People have a history and once again it is a history based on an unequal relationship of power between the two sides. It means that lots of perceptions, images, and visions of what Islam is have been shaped not by this recent post-World War II immigration but by the previous history. It is very typical in France, for example, in the way that the French government, politicians, or even intellectuals look at Muslims and the Islamic presence in France today with patterns and schemes of interpretation that go back to the colonial times.

Another particularity of the Muslim presence in Europe, which makes them also very different from the Muslim presence in Europe if we look only at the immigrant part of it, is the socio-economic conditions. These are features that cut across all of Western Europe. We are not talking here about one particular country, but most of the Western countries. The level of unemployment is quite high. Once again, how do we measure the level of employment of Muslims when some of them are citizens and they disappear from official statistics as Muslims? It's a long story and I don't have time to get too technical here, but we have some data. All the statistics we have each show that everywhere in France, in Germany, an in the UK the average of unemployment is most of the time double the national average and sometimes triple. It goes from 20% in the UK, to 22% in France, to 21% in Germany, while the national average of unemployment is between 6% in the UK, 13% in France, and 8% in Germany. I can add more statistics that show the socio-economic vulnerability on education, so Muslims tend to be less educated and have fewer degrees than the national average. Their housing is also less commodity and more segregated than the national average of housing. Once again, in the big cities we are talking also of a Muslim presence that concerns the most important cities all over Europe: Paris, Berlin, London, Madrid, Amsterdam, and so on.

With regard to, the demographic question, which has recently become a huge concern in Europe and the US, I have read a lot of positions and declarations on the rise of the number of Muslims. It is true that the first generations that came to Europe, in the 60s and 80s and still come, tend to have a higher rate of fertility than the national average all over Europe, but what serious demographers show is that when they tend to settle down, the second generation that gets socialized in the countries, their levels of fertility tend to match the national averages. Having said that, it is not possible to say that we are going to see the number of Muslims outnumbering, so to speak, or overtaking the national non-Muslim populations. But what we can see is that in some cities, areas, and some neighborhoods is that there is already a majority of Muslims. You can see that in some schools. You can see that in some particular areas in the outskirts of Paris, in some parts of Northern England, or in some parts of Berlin as well.

The socio-economic marginalization is often combined with residential segregation. We are getting here to the definition of the ghetto. When you have a concentration of socio-economic, ethic and religious features together in an urban area we are hearing the definition of the ghetto and this kind of situation exists all over Western Europe. This brings to a specificity what emerges in the political discourse, in academic discourse, and in the discourse of Muslims themselves, as well actually, that brings collusion between ethnicity, religion and poverty. I think this is a very dangerous connection, really dangerous. This is because Muslims, when they live in these ghettos, tend to attribute their socio-economic marginalization to Islam and to say to the non-Muslims that we are in this situation because of Islam and because we are Muslims. People do not accept this as such. They do not criticize or question their conditions on other criteria, which is very dangerous politically and civilly speaking.

On the other side, non-Muslims tend to consider failure in school, failure in the job-market, failure in the housing-market, and in integration into mainstream society as conditions that tend to be attributed to Islamic origin, which is also a political danger because it tends to essentialize the perception of this population on one attribute and tending to downplay the ethnic and cultural diversity of these Muslims. What we can see is a huge diversity in terms of linguistic skills, customs, relationships between men and women that are not automatically defined by Islam but by culture, ethnicity and patriarchy. This is a very rough picture of the Muslim presence in Western Europe. I want to just give you that, but I will not be very long on that because it goes back to the more theoretical and methodological approach that we have had in the research we have done so far.

Usually, when European scholars look at Islam they tend to look at the Muslim presence and try to find out in the group the indicating factors that will explain the integration into mainstream society. They look at Muslims and what is changing or not changing in the way that they are living in lets say France, the UK, or wherever. In doing that they tend to ignore that their presence has changed and is changing the institutions of the mainstream or dominant society. If we do not take into account these two poles we are missing a big piece of the process of integration. It is not enough to look only at Muslims and Islam. We have also to look at the dominant norms, values, and institutions that have been at the forefront in the interaction and communication with the Muslim presence all over Europe. If I can coin that in a very caricature way, I would say that Europe is changing Islam but Islam is also changing Europe.

Islam is changing Europe, meaning that since Muslims have been integrating into mainstream societies we have seen new ways of looking at secularism, multiculturalism, and security issues. I think that it is quite interesting to see that it is not possible to look today at the secular values as it was before Islam. Everywhere the debate is open on the status of religion in public spaces, on the interaction between public and private spaces, and the same is true of multiculturalism. Do not think that Western European societies have been multicultural in a sort of enthusiastic way or consensual way as in Canada, for example. Multicultural policies have happened with the question of integrating these Muslim presences. There was some way of managing diversity within a society from before, think of the "pillar model" from the Dutch and the religious and linguistic diversity in the UK as examples. It is very interesting to observe that when Muslims came as immigrants all these procedures that were already in place were not applied to them. There has been an interesting debate in the Netherlands of creating a new pillar for Islam and Muslims with a big controversy on that and it did not happen. New procedures and new measures have been created to include these Muslim immigrants and all these measures have failed. What we have witnessed in the last five years is a high critique of the multicultural policies.

Europe is changing Islam, but I think I can keep that for the debate. There is obviously a secularization of Islamic practices in the different European societies. At the same time, there is a tendency to be more conservative and more fundamentalist. You cannot avoid both, because, within Muslim communities, the debate is going on and it is not an easy debate. It is not going smoothly. I put these two pictures of a young Muslim woman competing in a beauty contest. This is exactly what secularization is. This young woman is becoming an individual and it does not mean that she is not an observant Muslim. She is probably observing most of the rules and prescriptions of Islam with a question of modesty and so on. So you have this going on.

I am sorry to be going so long, but it is important. On the shari'a debate there is a misperception. Muslims in Europe do not want to change the nature of European states. The challenge is not, and I have data on this, in creating Islamic governments. The debate is on the tension between Islamic prescriptions when it comes to family, gender relations, and children with the dominate civil laws. There is indeed a shari'a debate, but it is not where people tend to look at it. It is very interesting, because data from the World Values Survey shows that, which is that the question on the recognition of sexual minority, on homosexuality, on relationships between genders that tend to be in the dominant society more liberal than within the Muslim community.

Having said that, much of the naivety in Europe is based in the thinking that when Muslims become citizens and become socialized in different schools, systems, political parties and so on they tend to cut off relations with the Muslim world. What we see in our surveys is actually that this integration of Islam and Muslims within Western Europe is happening within an international environment. That is what I call the influence of globalization. This can take several forms. We tend to look at the jihadi influence. It is not the most important one. The most important one is probably the Salafi influence, but there are also other kinds of interpretations of Islam that are coming from outside and clashing within different contexts when it comes to citizenship, integration, and culture, especially culture. The resistance is in terms of culture. Just as the West tends to essentialize Islam and Muslims, the West tends to be essentialized and assigned negative attributes by some Muslim leaders and clerics. We are also witnessing this kind of confrontation in terms of opposite values and it is most of the time connected to international or transnational trends.

John Sitilides: Thank you very much. I want to assure Dr. Cesari that we will have an opportunity to further explore some of these issues that you raised here during the question and answer period. Our second speaker is here as the Special Balkans Advisor of the International Crisis Group, Dr. James Lyon.

Dr. James Lyon: Thank you for the invitation. I am very pleased to be here. I don't get to the US as often as I should.

I am going to be addressing, to a certain extent, the issue of Islam in the Balkans. In particular, I would like to use the Sandzak area, the mysterious Sandzak that everyone hears about but no one knows anything about, as a bit of a case study for what Islam is like in the Balkans.

For those of you who are familiar with Balkan Islam it is usually quite more open and tolerant than the variants that are typically experienced in the Middle East or that we see popping up in the Western European countries. Muslims and Christians often worship in the same sights. Many of them have holy sites that are common to both faiths.

You have the Bektashi that provide a very interesting and I think stabilizing influence. Unfortunately, th


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