Posts Tagged ‘europe’
Such was the global political upheaval of last year that many across the political spectrum were moved to ask whether 2011 would become as era-defining as 1968 and 1989. Even those uncertain about the aims and prospects for the Arab Spring couldn’t help but feel inspired by the youth-led demands for democracy and change, which stood in stark contrast to the seeming conservatism and apathy of their Western counterparts. Similar enthusiasm for the spirited rebellion of the young has been shown towards a number of anti-austerity movements such UK Uncut, Spain’s Indignados, Alexis Tsipiras’ Greek SYRIZA coalition and the youthful support for Hollande in France. Meanwhile, from one-off demonstrations such as SlutWalk to large-scale calls for social change like Occupy, social media has become an increasingly influential mobilisation tool for global protest.
Yet a celebration of the radicalisation of previously apathetic youth turns to profound concern over the rise of a ‘new European far right’, with the likes of Hungary’s Jobbik and Finland’s True Finns complemented by the electoral breakthroughs of Le Pen in France and Golden Dawn in Greece. There is much discussion of how what unites European youth is the relative hopelessness of the ‘jilted generation’, saddled with debt, ageing populations and high unemployment. The exodus of the young from crisis-ridden countries such as Ireland and Greece seems to indicate the depths of youthful desperation, although some see opportunity for new allegiances and communities of interest to be formed through the turmoil. For some, last summer’s English riots were an angry and incoherent reaction against the politics of austerity; for others, however, the nihilism of the riots suggested that the generation told they have ‘no future’ had become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Do Europe’s youth need to unite together as particular victims of the crisis, or would such a perspective simply breed division between the generations, undermining social solidarity? Is it useful to discuss social movements and problems in generational terms at all? Are there grounds for apprehension in the rise of populism, or is there a danger of scaremongering? Is there potential for a European Spring, or is it more a case of hope springs eternal?
Speakers / discussants:
emeritus professor, English and American studies, Middlesex University; author,Riot City: protest and rebellion in the capital
writer; head of sociology, JFS Sixth Form Centre; contributor, spiked
writer; editor; campaigner; former senior editor, Prospect
DPhil candidate, Oriental Studies, Oxford University; journalist; regular panellist, BBC1′s Big Questions
researcher in the problematisation of happiness and wellbeing, University of Kent, Canterbury
journalist; former campaign coordinator and web editor, Hacked Off
I was interviewed in Zaman newspaper on a variety of topics including Muslim integration and the place of Islam in Europe - you can read the piece here in Turkish
|Avrupa’da iyi eğitimli, üst-orta sınıfa mensup, içinde yetiştiği toplumla bağlarını koparmamış genç Müslümanların sayısında kayda değer bir artış var. Myriam François-Cerrah bu profilin dikkat çekici temsilcilerinden biri. Cerrah’ın söyledikleri ise ezberleri bozacak cinsten…|
Avrupa’da İslam ve Müslümanlara dair tartışmaların seçim kampanyalarını etkilediği bir süreci geride bıraktık. Bu sırada ‘Avrupa ve İslam’ kelimelerinin çoğunlukla artan yabancı düşmanlığı ve İslamofobya ekseninde yan yana getirildiğine tanık olduk. Her ne kadar Endülüs’ten bu yana Avrupa’nın yerel bir unsuru olsa da, İslam’ın sadece göçmenler ve azınlıklarla ilişkilendirilerek değerlendirilmesi yaygın bir alışkanlık hâline geldi. Oysa Fransa’daki seçim kampanyalarının da işaret ettiği üzere İslam harici bir faktör olmaktan çıkıp Avrupa’da gündem belirleyen ve ‘Avrupalı’ kimliğinin oluşumuna katkıda bulunan önemli bir referans olmaya doğru ilerliyor. İslam sadece göçmenlerin, yabancıların temsil ettiği bir fenomen değil, Avrupalı Müslümanlar sayesinde içeriye ait, yerli bir bileşen artık. Bu tespitin izlerini, sayıları her geçen gün artan Avrupalı yerli Müslüman’ın varlığında da görebiliyoruz. Özellikle Batı Avrupa’da iyi eğitimli, üst-orta sınıfa mensup, içinde yetistigi toplumla bağlarını koparmamış genç Müslümanların sayısında kayda değer bir artış gözleniyor. Myriam François-Cerrah bu profilin dikkat çekici temsilcilerinden biri.
Fransız baba ve İrlandalı annenin kızı olarak 1983 yılında İngiltere’de dünyaya gelen François-Cerrah’ın genç yaşına rağmen çok renkli ve etkileyici bir öyküsü var. Soyadındaki ‘Cerrah’ı İngiltere’de yaşayan Türk asıllı eşinden alan Myriam, entelektüel bir ailede büyümüş. Anlattıklarına göre, yatırım bankacısı olan babası tarih ve felsefeye çok düşkün biridir. Annesi ise Marksist – feminist literatüre aşina bir öğretmen. Myriam, evdeki tartışmaların entelektüel gelişiminde büyük katkısı olduğunu, özellikle annesinin fikirlerinden çok etkilenerek yetiştiğini söylüyor. Gençlik döneminde tam bir Jean-Paul Sartre hayranı olan Myriam, onun hayatı ve fikirlerine hâlâ saygı duyduğunu belirtiyor.
Çocuk yaşta oyunculuğa başlayan Myriam François , Hollywood tecrübesi sonrasında eğitim hayatına devam eder. Cambridge Üniversitesi Sosyal ve Siyasal bilimler bölümünden mezun olduğunda 21 yaşındadır. Kültürel anlamda Katolik olarak yetiştirildiğini söyleyen Myriam, o dönemde şüpheci bir Hıristiyan olduğunu ve organize dinlere karşı güvensizlik duyduğunu anlatıyor. İslam’la ilgilenmesi Müslüman bir arkadaşıyla yaşadığı tartışma ertesinde başlamış. Arkadaşına fikirlerinin yanlışlığını gösterebilmek için Kur’an okumaya girişen Myriam, sonrasında daha açık bir zihinle onu anlamaya çalıştığını ifade ediyor. Fatiha süresinin başında, ilahi hitabın tüm insanlığa yönelmiş olması onu şaşkına çevirmiş.
Kur’an’ın dilini hem tanıdık hem de farklı bulduğunu, bazı taraflarıyla ona eski kutsal metinleri hatırlattığını ama bazen onlardan çok farklılaştığını söylüyor. Kur’an’ı okudukça Hıristiyanlık hakkındaki şüphelerinin netleştiğini fark eden Myriam, insanın kendi fiillerinin sorumluluğunu tek başına taşıyan varlık olarak tanımlandığını görünce aniden kendisini bir yetişkin gibi hissetmeye başladığını söylüyor. Myriam François, rölativizmin hüküm sürdüğü bir dünyada Kur’an’ın objektif ahlaki ilkeler ve referans çerçevesi sunmasının önemine işaret ederken onun mesajından nasıl etkilendiğini şu sözlerle ifade ediyor: “Felsefi konulara her zaman derin ilgisi olan biri olarak Kur’an’ın insanlığın bütün felsefi mirasının zirvesi olduğunu hissettim. Adeta Kant’ı, Hume’u, Sartre’ı ve Aristoteles’i birleştirmişti. Varoluşun derin sorularına bir şekilde adres gösteriyor ve onlardan en hayati olana ‘neden buradayız?’ sorusuna cevap veriyordu.”
Myriam François-Cerrah’ın Kur’an’ı anlama çabası ona hayatında yeni bir sayfa açar. Cambridge Üniversitesi’nden mezun olduğu yıl Müslüman olmaya karar verir. Pek çok arkadaşı onun bu kararıyla başka bir faza geçtiğini düşünür ve fazla hırpalanmadan dönmesini ümit eder. Myriam, arkadaşlarının bu seçimin aynı zamanda bu dünyaya ait, profan bir seçim olduğunu anlayamadıklarını söylüyor. Çünkü müslüman olmak bu dünyadan el etek çekmeyi gerektirmiyor. Bazı arkadaşları ise kararını anlayışla karşılar ve onu desteklemek için ellerinden geleni yapar. Çocukluk arkadaşlarının bir kısmı ile hâlen çok yakın olduğunu ve onlar sayesinde ilahî mesajın evrenselliğini gördüğünü söyleyen Myriam için, Müslüman olsun olmasın her insanın yaptığı iyi amellerde ilahî değerlerin ışıltısı var.
Hz. Muhammed’in (sas) kişiliğinde kendinden önce gelen Hz. Musa, Hz. İsa ve Hz. İbrahim gibi çok büyük vazifeyle görevlendirilmiş birini gördüğünü söyleyen Myriam, onun hakkında sahih bilgiye ulaşma konusunda sıkıntılar yaşamış. Başka tarihî şahsiyetlerin hayatı söz konusu olduğunda Batılı araştırmacıların uyguladığı ‘tarihî relativizm’ yönteminin Hz. Muhammed (sas) söz konusu olduğunda bilinçli şekilde, onun şahsiyetini küçümsemek adına ihmal edildiğini fark ediyor. O yüzden onun hayatı ve kişiliğini oryantalist iftiralardan arınmış şekilde hakiki olarak anlamak için çok çaba sarf etmiş.
Myriam François-Cerrah Müslüman olduktan sonra MEND adında Filistinli bir STK için çalışmak üzere bölgeye gitmiş ve ‘şiddet içermeyen sorun çözme teknikleri’ konusunda eğitimlere katılmış. 2005 yılında ise Ortadoğu politikaları konusunda yüksek lisans tezi için Amerika’ya Georgetown Üniversitesi’ne giriyor. Amerika’dayken dış ilişkiler konusunda pek çok makaleye imza attığı gibi Bassam Haddad’ın ‘Araplar ve Terörizm’ adlı belgeselinin yapımına katkıda bulunmuş. İngiltere’de yayımlanan ve genel yayın yönetmenliğini İngiliz muhtedi Sarah Joseph’in yaptığı İslami hayat tarzı dergisi ‘Emel’in eski editörlerinden biri olan Myriam, hâlen dergiye katkıda bulunan isimler arasında. Exeter Üniversitesi’nin Avrupa Müslüman Araştırmaları Merkezi tarafından hazırlanan ‘İslamofobya ve İslam karşıtı nefret suçları’ başlıklı çalışmasına bir bölüm yazan Cerrah, şu sıralar Oxford Üniversitesi’nde doktora çalışmalarına devam ediyor.
Myriam François, kendi duruşunun, içinden çıktığı topluma ve kültürüne karşı bir reaksiyon ya da muhalefet olduğu kanısında değil. Bilakis bunu şimdiye dek biriktirdiklerinin takdire şayan olduğunun bir tür sağlaması gibi algılıyor. İlk zamanlar kendisini İngiltere’deki İslam toplumuyla özdeşleştirmekte zorlanmış. Pek çok caminin kendisine cazip gelmediğini ve bazı kurallar ve teşrifatın kafa karıştırıcı ve sıkıntı verici olduğunu itiraf ediyor. Bazı şeyleri çok garipsemiş, bazı tavırları ise çok karmaşık bulmuş. Dış görüntüye, haricî olana öze ait olandan fazla önem veriliyor oluşu onun için hâlen hayal kırıklığı olmayı sürdürüyor. Myriam, kendinden emin ve kendini iyi ifade edilebilen ve günümüz tartışmalarına katkıda bulunabilecek bir ‘İngiliz Müslüman Kimliği’ne çok ihtiyaç olduğu görüşünde: “İslam yabancı bir din değil, biz Müslüman olarak kendimizle irtibatımızın kesildiğini, kendi kimliğimizin izlerini kaybettiğini düşünmemeliyiz. İslam bize ait doğruların ve iyinin onaylanması, kötülerin ise düzeltilmesi anlamına geliyor.”
İslamofobya ile ilgili çalışmalara katılan Myriam, bu olgunun Avrupa’da yükselişte olmasını ekonomik sorunlara bağlıyor. Kriz dönemlerinde hem yabancı düşmanlığı hem de ayrımcılık vakalarının arttığına dikkat çeken Cerrah, araştırmaların son dönemde pek çok Avrupa ülkesinde İslam karşıtı tavırlarla birlikte anti-semitizm’in de yükselişte olduğunu gösterdiğinin altını çiziyor. İslamofobya’nın yabancı düşmanlığının bir parçası olduğunu düşünen Cerrah, Edward Said’e atıfta bulunarak, oryantalist müktesebatın, Batı’daki mevcut İslam algısını hâlen etkilemeye devam ettiğini ifade ediyor. Avrupa’da artan İslami görünürlüğün tetiklediği tartışmaların ülkeden ülkeye değiştiğini söyleyen Myriam, Fransa’da bunun büyük problem hâline gelmesini şöyle açıklıyor: “Fransa’da bütün vatandaşların Cumhuriyet yapısı içinde eriyeceğine dair mit, bunun büyük bir problem olarak algılanmasına sebep oluyor. Vatandaşlık nosyonu, eşitliğe işaret etmek üzere bütün farklılıkların silinmesi üzerine inşa ediliyor. Oysa gerçeklik böyle değil, bütün vatandaşlar farklı. Bu farklılıklar ortadan kaldırılamaz. Eşitsizlikler devam ettiği gibi vatandaşların topluma katılımı noktasında entegrasyon problemi ortaya çıkar.”
Bütün Avrupa ülkelerinde Müslümanların işsizlik, ayrımcılık, ırkçılık, düşük eğitim düzeyi gibi ortak problemleri olduğunu hatırlatıyor. Bunun yanında ülkeden ülkeye değişen problemler var. Mesela İngiltere’de başörtülü kadınları hemen her sektörde görebilirsiniz fakat Fransa’da bu durum nadirdir. Avrupa’da aşırı sağın yükselişi pek çok azınlık için ortak problem.
Avrupa’daki anlatı, Hıristiyanlık ve Museviliğin modern Avrupa kimliğinin gelişiminde etkili olduğu yönünde. Myriam bu konuda hemfikir. Fakat “Hıristiyanlığın yahut Museviliğin paylaşıp da İslam’ın paylaşmadığı ne tür değerler vardır?” sorusunu sorarak ilave ediyor: “Onlar da bizim tarihimiz ve değerlerimiz cümlesindendir.”
Müslümanların, Avrupa kimliğini oluşturan değerler konusundaki tartışmada taraflardan biri olması gerektiğine inanıyor: “Bunun ötesinde ortak kültürümüzün iyi taraflarını muhafaza etme noktasında, toplumumuzun gelişimi için, hastalıklarımıza çözüm bulmak için Müslümanlar da katkı sunmalı.Daha iyi bir Avrupa, hatta daha iyi bir dünya için diğerleri arasında onların da sesine kulak verilmeli.”
Myriam Cerrah ‘İngiliz Müslüman kimliği’ne ısrarla vurgu yapıyor. Bunun tam olarak ne anlama geldiğini sorduğumuzda verdiği cevap şu: “Bir İngiliz olmak İngiliz tarihini, kültürünü bilmektir. İslam 7. yüzyıl Hicazi Arap kültürünü İngiliz kültürü ile değiştirmeyi gerektirmez. İslam’ın değerleriyle kendi farklı kültürlerimizi geliştirmek, arıtmak ve zenginleştirmek durumundayız. Müslüman olmak ‘yabancı’ olmak demek değildir. Bana göre İslam temas ettiği her kültürü en kâmil şekilde zenginleştiren ahlak ve değerler bütünüdür.”
Myriam François, soyadındaki ‘Cerrah’ı İngiltere’de yaşayan Türk asıllı eşinden almış. Türkiye’yi ve Türkleri çok sevdiğini belirtiyor. Her yıl eşinin memleketinin bulunduğu Karadeniz’e geldiklerini, özellikle Kaçgar dağlarında rafting ve trekking yapmaktan hoşlandığını anlatıyor. Türkiye siyasetiyle ilgili gözlemlerini ise şöyle ifade ediyor: “Türkiye hakkında biraz çalışmıştım. Bazı Avrupa ülkelerinde olduğu gibi yolsuzluk önemli bir problem. Bunun yanında ordunun rolü ve son yarım yüzyılda politik alana yaptığı müdahaleler Türkiye’nin seçtiği demokratikleşme yolunda bir tehdit olmaya devam ediyor. Fakat Avrupa ekonomisi derin bir durgunluk yaşarken Türkiye’nin patlama yapıyor oluşu da dikkat çekici ve bu konuda Türkiye’den öğrenecek çok şeyimiz var.”
Sinema, idealleri yaymak için iyi bir imkân
Londra’nın Fransız muhitinde doğup büyüyen Myriam François-Cerrah’ın henüz 12 yaşındayken popüler bir Hollywood filminde rol alması onun hayat hikâyesinin en ilginç ayrıntılarından biri. Myriam (o zamanki adıyla Emilie François) çocuk yaşlarında oyunculuğa merak salar.
Lokal bir tiyatro grubunda derslere devam ederken kendisine bir oyunun birkaç bölümünde rol alması teklif edilir. Bu şekilde başlayan oyunculuk macerası Hollywood filmlerine kadar uzanır. 1995 yılında Emma Thompson ve Kate Winslet’in başrol oynadığı gişe filmi ‘Sense and Sensibility’de çocuk oyuncu olarak kamera önüne geçer. 1997’de çekilen ‘Paws’ ve 2000’deki ‘New Years Day’ filmlerinde ise başrol oyuncularından biridir. Myriam François-Cerrah oyunculuğa ve o dönemki iş arkadaşlarına hâlâ büyük bir muhabbet ve saygı beslediğini söylüyor. Ona göre sinema, ideallerin yayılması için çok elverişli bir imkân sunuyor. Bu yüzden film sektörüyle ilgisini kesmeye niyetli değil. Kamera arkasında da olsa bu sektörde bir şeyler yapmaya devam etmek istiyor. Film endüstrisinde daha çok Müslümanı görmek umudunda olduğunu da özellikle vurguluyor.
Nigel Farage, UKIP Leader and MEP, and I doing the press preview on Sunday 6th May 2012, 9h30pm, discussing the French and Greek elections which headline the papers.
This is a lecture I delivered at the university of Southampton, a join Islamic society and Feminist society event in January 2012.
The war drums are beating. Yesterday’s announcement that the EU has formally adopted an oil embargo against Iran, follows the news that Britain, America and France are sending six warships led by a 100,000 ton aircraft carrier through the highly sensitive waters of the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran had threatened to close in response to growing sanctions, including a partial freeze on assets held by the Iranian Central Bank in the EU.
The strategic importance of the Strait of Hormuz, located between Iran and western ally Oman, cannot be overstated, nor can the clear signals being sent by this unified show of force. Tankers carrying 17 million barrels of oil pass through this waterway every day, accounting for 35 per cent of the world’s seaborne crude shipments. And the “naval exercises” being undertaken there by both parties are no practise mission. Earlier this month, General Ataollah Salehi, commander of Iran’s armed forces, threatened to respond with “full force” if any US carrier ventured into the region’s waters, stating: “We don’t have the intention of repeating our warning, and we warn only once.” Meanwhile, Iranian nuclear scientists have been murdered in less than mysterious circumstances, as the US sent its military chief General Martin Dempsey to Israel on Friday, to urge the country “to keep the channels of communication open with Washington,” amid concerns the Jewish state could launch a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, a concerning scenario given its 300 actual, not potential nuclear warheads. The hawks who pushed for the invasion of Iraq are hankering after a repeat scenario in Iran, while the sequels are still festering next door…
In his Cairo address in 2009, Obama assured the Muslim world, “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect.” But the actions of Obama’s government have been anything but a new beginning. In fact, his current policies on Iran in particular are an extension of initiatives begun under the Bush administration and which regard Iran as a threat to America’s strategic interests – read control – over the region. In March 2011, General Petraeus, of Iraq infamy, informed the Senate Committee on Armed Services that “the Iranian regime is the primary state-level threat to stability”, to which academic Noam Chomsky wryly commented that the term “stability” could be translated as “firmly under US control.”
Current tensions are really just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The US has a long and established presence in the Middle East, with military bases in more countries than you can shake a stick at. In fact, if you joined the dots, you could draw a fairly tight circle around Iran, something the Iranians are not blind to. Meanwhile, as the Arab revolutions throw out, or attempt to throw out, traditional US allies in the form of longstanding despots, a new leadership is trying to emerge, one which will seek alliances most conducive to national interest. And while the despots looked to the US as an ally, unsurprisingly, the US is not viewed particularly favourably amongst the Arab people, suggesting truly democratic governments might not provide the sort of regional cooperation the US has long been accustomed to. In a 2011 poll, in five out of the six Arab countries surveyed, the U.S. was viewed less favourably than Turkey, China, France—or Iran.
Far from seeing the U.S. as a leader in the post-Arab Spring environment, the countries surveyed viewed “U.S. interference in the Arab world” as the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East, second only to the ongoing Palestinian occupation. And whilst Iran is not viewed particularly positively either, polls indicate that when Arabs were asked questions about Iran or its nuclear program, and the U.S. and its threats of sanctions or military action were a part of the question, Arabs would indicate strong support for Iran and its defiance on nuclear issues. Current sanctions are likely to bolster support for Iran in the region and crucially, reduce support for America and its allies.
Though the nuclear threat posed by Iran is held to be the imperative for current action, a military and intelligence reports to Congress in April 2010 [Lieutenant General Ronald L. Burgess, Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, Statement before the Committee on Armed Services, US Senate, 14 April 2010; Unclassified Report on Military Power of Iran, April 2010; John J. Kruzel, American Forces Press Service, "Report to Congress Outlines Iranian Threats," April 2010] makes clear that the Iranian threat is not military. Iran’s military spending is “relatively low compared to the rest of the region,” (around 1/80th of US military spending) and its military doctrine is strictly “defensive, … designed to slow an invasion and force a diplomatic solution to hostilities,” with only “a limited capability to project force beyond its borders.”
On the thorny nuclear issue, the report states that “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.” Whilst this is hardly reassuring, the most recent report by IAEA officials in November of 2011, suggests that development of this ‘deterrent’ has yet to be actualised. In other words, despite the breakdown of talks between Iran and the EU in Turkey last year, there is still time for a diplomatic resolution. Particularly since in recent weeks, EU officials say the Iranians have been sending signals about resuming talks.
Surrounded by US military bases, locked in a cold war of its own with the US, and all too aware of military incursions into neighbouring countries, Iran is seeking a deterrent to ensure its national sovereignty. The fact that a poll in September 2010 by the International Peace Institute found that 71 percent of Iranians favoured the development of nuclear weapons, suggests the government is not alone in its concerns. And it certainly doesn’t escape attention that the US has favoured dialogue rather than military action against other US nemesis, nuclear weapon holder North Korea…
So if Iran doesn’t yet pose a nuclear threat, nor is its impetus for seeking a nuclear deterrent beyond a diplomatic resolution, is an oil embargo the best way to proceed?
It is worth remarking at this point, the real cost of these sanctions to our economies, not to mention to poverty stricken Iranians, 10 million of whom live under the absolute poverty line (according to 2010 official figures) and for whom sanctions have already made imports 24% more costly. Iran has experienced sanctions since the 1979 revolution but the current oil ban is the most significant toughening to date. Europe accounts for around 20% of Iran’s oil exports and with European economies struggling, a hike in oil prices is the last thing our sluggish economic recovery needs. Despite suggestions that the beacon of human rights that is Saudi Arabia is prepared to fill the void, the impact felt will be dramatic. And for what? Critics suggest the measure will do little to change the course of the Iranian nuclear program and the embargo could end up hurting the EU more than Iran. “I don’t know why Europe is going along with this. (…) [Joining the embargo] will backfire,” says Iraqi Manouchehr Takin, a senior oil markets analyst with the London-based Center for Global Energy Studies. Cynics can now look to Libya, where conveniently, production by European oil companies is increasing and offering an alternative source to help quell demand…
And if you thought the rest of the world agreed with us on this embargo, you’d be wrong – Japan, China and India have all baulked at the proposal, suggesting it would be ineffective and damaging to the global economy. What this lack of consensus means concretely, is that any loss in sales for Iran from Europe will be offset by the hike in the cost of crude, compensating for any loss of revenue. At whose cost? Why yours of course.
The current upsurge in tensions is a reflection of a poorly played diplomatic card.Threatening Iran through so-called ‘hard power diplomacy’ is not diplomacy – it’s just threatening. The spread of nuclear weapons is a significant cause for concern and commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) treaty essential. However, while Nuclear powers continue to ignore Article VI of the treaty which “obligates the nuclear weapons states to liquidate their nuclear stockpiles and pursue complete disarmament,” other states concerned about their national sovereignty will continue to view nuclear weapons as one of the only ways to ensure their national sovereignty.
Isolated, marginalised and defensive, current sanctions do little to foster the only possible solution to this crisis, the creation of a more trusting atmosphere where Iran is not backed into a corner where it feels nuclear weapons are its only and last means of self-defence. Historical precedents indicate that sanctions have little to no effect on Iran’s political decisions – instead, the latest oil embargo is guaranteed to make life harder for average people both in Iran and Europe. This collective punishment will do little to convince Iranians that the West isn’t “the great Satan” and is sure to bolster support for Iran in the Arab world where it will be viewed as the underdog. Europe needs to take the lead and move away from an over-emotional US led discourse which allows skewed ideological imperatives to trump national interests and global stability.
Current tumult over bans and restrictions on religious symbols are largely a smokescreen for the real issues which plague our society and the rest of Europe. As the economy shows little sign of recovery, the rise of the far-right in Europe poses a fundamental challenge to longstanding European values. Standing against a ban on religious symbols is the current frontline for combating a corrosive and exclusionary ideology which is chipping away at the ideals of a free and fair society. People of religion may be on the frontline, but it is the fundamental and guiding principles of our nations which are truly at stake.
Undeniably, Europe has in recent years become a progressively worse place to be a person of faith. According to a recent Pew Poll (2010), Europe had the largest proportion of countries in which social hostilities related to religion were on the rise from mid-2006 to mid-2009. In an earlier poll, the Pew Survey of Global Attitudes found that hostile attitudes to Jews were rising all across continental Europe and that suspicion of Muslims in Europe was considerably higher than hostility to Jews, though the increase in anti-Semitism had taken place much more rapidly. Whilst Americans and Britons displayed the lowest levels of anti-Semitism, one in four in both countries were hostile to Muslims
This increased hostility aimed at religious communities is largely linked to the rise of divisive, xenophobic and racist ideas and groups across Europe, whose growth has been fuelled by the economic depression. It is an all too familiar and recent pattern in European history, that when the chips are down, the usual suspects – public services and migrants, become prime targets for hate and government policies (sometimes indistinguishable). After the economic devastation of WWI, German cartoons of the time depicted people with wheelbarrows full of money who could not buy a loaf of bread. It was in this climate, that Hitler’s vitriolic discourse found an eager audience as he blamed Jews for the country’s woes. And the pattern is not limited to Europe. In America, illegal immigrants from Mexico are often used as scapegoats during periods of economic hardships.
The real issue, namely addressing a dysfunctional economy, dominated by a financial sector driven by speculation rather than productive investment, is not so easily or willingly addressed. Nor is the growing gap between rich and poor, our spiralling living costs, or the deterioration of our public services.
Life has become increasingly hard for Britons and is set to get much harder as inflation is predicted to hit a three year high. FareShare, a food supply organisation for the vulnerable and needy, have seen a drastic increase in the number of people unable to feed themselves at a most basic level. After bailing out the banks, nine out of ten Brits are now poorer than this time last year, NHS waiting time is up drastically and the cost of living has gone through the roof. Meanwhile our politicians have proposed a bill which will end the NHS as a comprehensive service equally available to all, while spending £750million on nuclear weapons. People are understandably angry and in such times of desperation, populist discourse finds an avid audience.
The economic squeeze has led many to support nationalist parties who promise to favour the ‘native’ population and largely expel immigrants (or those who look like immigrants) to relieve the economic strain. In 2010 Sweden became the third EU member state to find itself without a governing majority after elections marked by the rise of far-right and anti-immigration parties. The Netherlands and Belgium are in the same position. Far-right parties are currently in government in Italy and also sit in the parliaments of Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia and Slovakia, as well as in the European Parliament.
In Hungary, the far-right Jobbik party – whose name means “movement for a better Hungary” – has its own uniformed street militia, the Hungarian Guard, who target the country’s Roma population. Critics say the militia bears a disturbing resemblance to the Arrow Cross, Hungary’s Second World War fascist militiamen, who collaborated with the Nazis in killing tens of thousands of Hungary’s other prominent minority, the Jews. In a speech which could be attributed to a number of mainstream European parties today, the Jobbik party spoke about stopping Roma, the country’s biggest ethnic minority, from ‘sponging off the state’ – forcing anyone claiming benefits to perform public service in return and promising to “give back Hungary’s national pride and identity”. The party achieved 17 per cent of the vote in general elections.
Even in traditionally liberal countries, the far-right have made significant gains. In Sweden, the stridently anti-immigration platform of the Sweden Democrats secured the party 5.7 per cent of the vote and 20 parliamentary seats in the 2010 general election, enough to deny the governing centre-right coalition a majority.
In the Netherlands, the far-right Freedom Party came third in June elections after its poster boy, Geert Wilders described Islam as a “fascist ideology”, comparing the Quran to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
Here in the UK, UKIP has sought to unite conservatives and fascists on areas of apparently overlapping concern by proposing a burka ban. Not to be outdone, Conservative MP Philip Hollobone proposed such a bill in parliament this summer. And in 2008, two British National Party MEPs were elected, followed in 2009 by the creation of the English Defence League, which according to Dr Matthew Feldman, who runs the UK’s only research unit on new media and domestic extremism, has links to the Aryan Strike Force (ASF).
But the most worrying developments have to be in former fascist states. In France, the National Front, performed strongly in March’s regional elections with 15% of the vote, with its talk of expulsing illegal Roma immigrants and comparing the presence of French Arabs to the Nazi invasion. Two polls published in March this year suggest that Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, would beat Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of a presidential election.
In Vienna, the Mayor’s Freedom party almost doubled its vote in recent elections, running strongly on banning minarets (as in neighbouring Switzerland), despite there being only one minaret in the Austrian capital, and advocating the ban of Islamic headgear, as was pledged in the Netherlands, in its efforts to “to keep the city’s blood Viennese”.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, to note that the Austrian government recorded a 28% increase in xenophobic, far-right, racist, islamophobic and anti-semitic crimes since last year.
In Germany, referring to its Turkish population, which lest we remind ourselves was invited to Germany after WWII to help do the hard labour of reconstructing the country, Interior Minister Hans Peter-Friedrich, said Islam “does not belong in Germany”. Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin’s book, Germany is doing away with itself, is currently in its 14th edition and is Germany’s best-selling book since WWII. It claims that Turks, who make up around 5% of the population, are “dumbing down” the country with their inferior gene pool. A poll published in October showed 31% of respondents agreeing that Germany is “becoming dumber” because of immigrants and 62% said Sarrazin’s comments were “justified”.
Banking on the political capital to be gained from sourcing Sarrazin’s popularity, Merkel stated that the nation’s “multi-kulti” project had been a complete failure.
This slippage of far-right discourse into the mainstream is not singular to Germany. In fact, the debates during France’s recent regional elections were largely dictated by the National Front and the banning of the Burka united the political spectrum with virtually no dissent. In Italy, proposals to ban the burka even had the support of human-rights groups. And here in the UK, British TV personality and member of a conservative think tank, Douglas Murray argued in a speech to the Dutch Parliament that “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board.”
It is precisely this growing acceptability of far-right themes and ideas in the mainstream, which is so deeply concerning. It is worth recalling that in 1928, the Nazis achieved less than 3% of the national vote in Germany. Today, many fascist parties have ten times that number. Their influence is therefore commensurate and cannot be ignored.
In different countries, the Far-right takes different forms and has differing focuses but common themes are evident: Anti-immigrant, anti-semitic, islampohobic and promoting long standing myths of national purity and exclusionism. These groups offer convenient scapegoat solutions to less tangible or accessible problems.
During the Burka debate in France, UMP politician Frederic Lefebvre summed up the current climate when he stated that women who wear the face veil should be “deprived of their rights”. It is precisely the type of climate in which an elected representative can speak of depriving a fellow citizen of her rights that must absolutely be challenged. As regressive policies become increasingly common, from Theresa May suggesting the UK’s Human Rights Act be scrapped, to being urged to spy on and denounce one’s neighbours, it is essential we stand against this nihilistic tide, for an affirmation of our core values as Europeans. These are values fought for by our forefathers and often enshrined in founding documents. The themes are universal and universalist. Human rights. Equality. Justice. Pluralism. Solidarity. Human rights. Freedom. Freedom of thought. Freedom of speech. Freedom from fear and persecution. Real and meaningful freedom, with no caveats or exceptions.
(This article can also be found here)
A talk I delivered at Northampton University in February 2011, in light of David Cameron’s Munich speech on Multiculturalism:
Last week, I participated in the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations conference which brought together 100 active Muslim youth from across Europe to discuss the key issues and challenges facing all of us in Europe and to exchange ideas and experiences and cooperate more closely. My contribution is below:
1. OPENING SESSION, Thursday 30th, 9:30 – 11am
My opening statement:
European Muslim Youth often face a multiplicity of challenges which tend to get boiled down to simplistic issues of identity politics in a political climate ill-equipped to deal with the more substantial and substantive issues facing Europe more generally. As Greece teeters on the edge of the abyss, stubbornly high unemployment is plaguing France and in the UK, we can’t seem to shake a stagnant economy – at the same time, unions are calling for strikes, student fees are hitting the roof as are food prices and of course, the only thing politicians seem to be able to agree on in this time of heightened emotion, is that “Muslims” are a problem.
This singling out of the “Muslim” component of one’s identity can often lead to an internalisation of that prognosis, so that in response to riots in France over primarily issues of economic and social marginalisation, a leading French imam issues a fatwa denouncing the violence as “unislamic”. The fact of the matter is, much of what is attributed to Muslims as “Muslims”, by which I mean referencing their religious identity, is often a misattribution. The vast majority of problems faced by European Muslims are faced by other sections of European society, be they issues related to employment, racism, sexism, poverty… and a central challenge, as I see it, is for Muslims not to allow ourselves to be defined in narrow terms and not to define the struggles we face in narrow and exclusionary terms. For every case of so-call Muslim exceptionalism, there is usually a significant universal principle in need of defending. To take a case very close to my heart, in my native country of France – While much of the discussion over headscarves and Burkas has been presented in what I term “exceptionalist” terminology – “those Muslims, at it again, making unreasonable demands”- what is really at stake in that discussion, is a broadening of the French definition of femininity – What does it mean to be an autonomous woman in France? What does it mean to have rights over my own body? Not to be judged for the length of my skirt or the amount of skin I’m showing…or not. And of course, this example, of the attire of French Muslim women, which is in essence a feminist struggle for a woman’s right to choose her own definition of femininity, feeds into another even more universal principle, the right to self-determination, the right to make choices about one’s self, for one’s self, unfettered by the state or anyone else. In France this discussion should and has to some extent been tied into the question of national identity and Muslims mustn’t shy away from this discussion. Europe is home, European countries are our countries and we have a stake and a say in the painful process an aging Europe is engaged in, as it attempts to define its identity in a global village, where those Europe ruled over yesterday have spawned Europe’s dynamism, its youth, who question the very values which spawned European imperialism and which are used to justify today, a two-tier system within Europe.
The crux of the issue for many European Muslims is how do we live out our faith in countries where there may be widespread suspicion if not hostility to it. Of central importance will be a thorough identification with one’s country, not necessarily an easy process when people’s responses to us may be hostile – Being European means understanding our history, our culture, and navigating our values confidently, selectively, in order to best determine how, in our context, we enjoin the good and forbid evil. The answers are unlikely to be uniform across our differing contexts, and that itself will reflect the country specific trajectories which must define how we map out our contribution to the bettering of our society, for all its members. Being true to our faith, means staying true to its values, wherever they may come from and denouncing those it opposes, wherever those may come from.
In a way, we face a double challenge, within our community, to move beyond culturally specific practises which muddy the reputation of our faith and which foster and engender oppression, and distinguishing the broad and rich Islamic ethics, often narrowed by their country or at times even region specific understandings, so that they can be applied to improving not just our community in the restrictive sense, but our society and our global village. Ultimately, being a European Muslims isn’t about forgetting one’s ancestry, nor is it about denying Europe’s historical or more recent wrongs, it is about taking the universal ethics of Islam, and as fully engaged citizens, using those to make the world a better place.
2. SESSION 2: MUSLIM YOUTH: WHAT FUTURE IN EUROPE? Thursday 30th, 11:30am – 1pm
– Is there such a thing as European Islam?
It seems un-doubtable to me that the way, we as European Muslims conceive of our faith, is distinct and reflecting of our environment. Many friends of non-European ancestry have commented to me the extent to which they understanding of Islam, their practise is remarked upon and at times even derided when they visit the country of their origins. From the way they may dress, to what they consider important or central in the faith, when we travel abroad, we tend to realise just how “European” we are and this, has a necessary impact on our understanding of the religion. Of course, we share an inviolable core, the essentials, the foundations – but in our concerns, our activism, we are and rightly so, shaped by our environment. This can be both positive or negative obviously – it can be negative when we internalise a politicised view of ourselves and forget that at its core, Islam is a spiritual program for personal development – once we master ourselves we move out from there, but we always look at ourselves first when there is a problem, when we are irked, when we face hostility – the first place we should be looking for answers are within ourselves – are we living up to our ideals. There is clearly a rich tradition of this in Islam, from making 70 excuses for people to Quranic ayas where Allah tells us he won’t change the situation of a people until we change ourselves.
In our priorities, it seems clear to me that the concerns of the European Muslim community reflects our place in the “first world” – we are not lobbying for clean water, basic human rights or the right to a free press – our problems, whilst not seeking to discount their importance, should never allow us to feel defeated or negative, because frankly, in the grand scheme of things, our priorities as European Muslims reflect first world problems, not the most basic struggle for human dignity which the vast majority of the world continues to struggle for today.
So the priorities for European Islam in terms of our campaigns will reflect the broader concerns of a first world nation.
The recent movement towards ecology is in some regard, a reflection of a growing realisation in the first world, that we can’t keep exploiting natural resources and not pay some kind of serious consequence for that. Those in the third world, despite often being those most affected by the impact of ecological degradation, don’t necessarily understand, due to lack of education primarily, the frustration some of us may feel at how people dispose of their rubbish, or deal with the delicate balance of life – or treat animals…but Muslims have been increasingly present on the eco front, from a Muslim presence at the climate change camp, to emel’s “Eco Jihad” front cover – many European Muslims now conceive of environmental struggles as an integral part of responsibility, as Muslims, to be vicergents of God on this earth…to some extent, it seems obvious to me that the distance between what are clear ethical ideals in this realm and the action of some Muslims reflects just how unbalanced we are – even our basic relationship to the land, to the environment is off balance…not to mention our relationships to one another…
Those who dispute the existence or the relevance even of “European” Islam often like to state that there is only one Islam – of course there is – but let’s not be blind to the particular cultural manifestations of Islam in different settings, from dress codes, to architecture, gender relations and political systems. It seems clear to me that the reason a young woman might choose to wear a niqab in France will differ from the reason given by a woman in Pakistan.
– What do you think should be the priorities of European Muslim youth organisations?
The central priority in my view ought to be overcoming the victim mentality and forging confident, educated young people able to articulate the contribution Muslims can make to improving the world around them.
Determining what Islam has to offer young people is a real challenge when those minds are oversaturated by a constant stream of messages suggesting happiness and fulfilment can be achieved through the material, that our worth as human beings is dependent on our capital, financial capital for men and primarily physical capital for women and that religion is a hindrance to the achievement of the only thing that is scientifically knowable, that is the ephemeral pleasures of this temporal life. It’s important we offer young people – all young people- an alternative to the dominant model of success, one which offers real meaning, substance, a stake in defining themselves and the world around them and empowering them to recognise that Islam offers a paradigm for human fulfilment that is more meaningful, more ethical and more rewarding…
In the marketplace of ideas and ideals, in which we’re competing against the Miley Cyruses and Fifty-cent models, human embodiments of capitalism and materialism, we must align us ourselves with the alternative world order – the one in which profits don’t supersede human dignity, in which we raise our daughters to care more about those going hungry than going hungry themselves so they can’t fit some pseudo-physical ideal –where our boys are valued not on their salaries but on their contribution to helping the poor.
We need to find ways of better communicating Islamic education – there have been vast strides in educating the young – by which I mean we’ve realised that rote learning with a stick is less successful than praise or reward based methods, but I still think we can improve vastly on our teaching methods – we need to capitalise on new media to use the media to access people with the ease of film, TV, art – books are great, but they don’t reach anything like the audience of a blockbuster – we need more young people, solidly grounded in their faith, entering the media, so that we might start producing cultural output reflecting the beauty and richness of our faith – but without necessarily shoving it down people’s throats… I want to see Muslims making blockbuster films, putting on astounding plays and producing music hits which resonate with the youth – we need to be confident enough in what we have, to draw on that and package it to make it more accessible. Contributing to our culture, European culture, means publishing novels which contribute to enriching that culture, which enter into national dialogue, it means producing films which speak to the sensibility and cultural core of each of our countries, while infusing our work with the spiritual message which is a universal language which need not be named to be recognised.
We need to address the problems within our community and not leave other organisations to deal with them – we need to be true to the saying of the Prophet (saw) when he said help your brother whether he is the oppressor or oppressed – when Muslims are behaving badly, not only should we not side with them, by virtue of them being Muslims, but we should actively work to restore the ethical ideals of the faith, educating along the way to ensure coming generations don’t have to go through some of the same oppressive cultural practises disguised as Islam, we see today.
But we also need to contribute confidently to bettering our community with a big C – Homelessness, domestic violence, the aged, youth work, animal shelters – Europe has many problems and very few volunteers – in fact, far far fewer than are needed to cover our needs. Muslims can draw on our immense capital for charity and community activism, to become invaluable members of our society – and many are already doing great work in this arena. The bonus is that community work often puts us face to face with people who might otherwise have limited contact with Muslims…allowing us to break down barriers of fear or misunderstanding.
- Do Muslim youth have enough role models?
The short answer is no – but someone I myself consider a role model once said to me you shouldn’t sit around waiting for one – be the role model you wish was out there! So yes, we do need more role models and we especially appear to need more female role models – I often play a game when I see a Muslim event, by trying to guess how many female speakers they’ll have – I rarely need more than one hand to count on – sometimes I don’t need a hand at all!
- Are we, as a Muslim community, failing our youth?
Definitely – we may even be failing our community more broadly – when I go to university campuses and I get asked by a young woman studying law whether once she is married she is allowed to work or visit her mother without her husband’s permission – there is a serious problem. When I see young girls in headscarves wearing more makeup than a Maybelline model and holding hands with a boyfriend, I know there is a serious problem. When I watch so-called Islamic channels and the youth programs on them, which frankly my 8y daughter finds laughable – there is a problem – I can’t even find a good Quran stories series for my kids – the stories are either badly written or so simplistic, the essence is lost – and yet I grew up reading marvellous Bible stories, which brought alive the prophets and made me identify with their struggles – I have yet to see anything close to equivalent in the literature available to Muslim youths. To some extent, this also reveals the low standards within our community – when we laugh off “Muslim time” or “Muslim organisation” we are becoming complacent with the standards we really ought to be setting in our community. When we host events, for the youth or not, people shouldn’t have to premise their response with “for a Muslim event, (….it wasn’t bad)” – what does that say about what we really understand “Muslim” to mean…
Finally, unless we start to associate Islam with fun for our youth, not dry rules and limitations – I know, controversial – but until then, we’ll keep losing people. Studies suggest children learn best when they are playing – Where are our summer camps where kids can learn to canoe, rock climb, ski or windsurf and enjoy Quranic stories around the campfire in the evening? I know a few, very few organisations, do organise such things, but this is where the future lies, in not secularising our faith to a Saturday morning madrassa, but making it a lived experience, where Quranic learning is intertwined with fond memories of roasted marshmallows and midnight dips.
- Do Muslim mainstream organisations meet the needs of Muslim youth? Do we need a new model away from the older generation?
A few mainstream organisations do seem to be making the very painful leap into giving young people the leeway they need to devise events and activities suited to their needs. But because Muslims don’t trust themselves, and lack confidence in their outlook, they don’t trust their youth and therefore tend to keep a fairly tight leash and firm – some might call meddling hand – in youth activities. Some of the elder generation are still debating whether we can listen to music, maybe with drums – while our kids are humming lady Gaga and Rihanna. FACT. Segregated venues, dry lectures, absence of women, a lack of pedagogical training – all reflects the generally fairly poor efforts made to engage our youth who, overarchingly attend mixed schools, where they listen to engaging singers, rappers, actors addressing them using the latest medium based on solid studies of what young people want to see and hear. FACT.
- What is our relationship as European Muslim youth to the rest of the ummah?
The umma or the worldwide Muslim community is our family – that is to say, if you heard a family member was in need, presumably you would leap to their help. Similarly, we are not lacking in causes, from water sanitation, to basic medical care, to education, political rights, human rights more generally – Muslim youths should be engaged in all of this and more. But to be exclusively interested in your family is selfish and at odds with Islamic ethics – Sayidna Ali (mAbph) said a person is either your brother in faith or your equal in humanity – there are many of our equals in humanity also in dire dire need of a voice. European Muslims are in a privileged position through our access to positions and persons of power, through the innumerable rights we benefit from in our countries, from the voice we can have in the public sphere without fear of repression, persecution or even death – that is a privilege in this world – we are part of a small privileged minority with a voice and it is our responsibility to use that voice, to be the voice of the voiceless, the call for help for those unable to make themselves heard, Muslim or not.