Europe Is Failing Its Muslims

Thank you.  Thank you for the invitation, and, as we don’t have much time, let me go straight to some of the main points supporting this motion “Europe is failing its Muslims.”   Let me start by saying that we are living in a difficult situation.  If you listen to what is said in the European countries, the perception is very bad.  Seventy-five per cent, for example, of French people are associating Islam with violence.  The perception is that Islam is a problem and that Muslims are creating problems.  They are not really perceived at home in Europe.

And then we have lots of debate.  Every day we have a new debate, a new controversy.  Every single European society has its own debates, its own controversies, around the Muslim presence.  So what is happening?  This is where I want to tackle the issue, “Europe is failing its Muslims,” at five different levels.

The first one is the way Europe is defining itself, the self perception, the perception of the self.  The current discourse, and the general discourse, is that Muslims are not European citizens.  We have millions of Muslims that are already Europeans and this is the situation: when we speak about Turkey, for example, it’s as if we are speaking about people who are coming from outside, not acknowledging the fact that we already have Europeans that are Muslims in our country.  Not only this, on the geographical dimension, it’s as if, when we speak about Europe, we speak about Western Europe.  Eastern Europe is not there.  The Muslims who are Europeans for generations and centuries are not perceived as Europeans.  The Bosnian people are not Europeans; it’s as if because they are Muslims they are less European.

So these are two main points, at the level of the definition.  Now, if we come to the historical level, here again we have a problem.  When it comes to speaking about the contribution of Muslim philosophers, Muslim scientists, to the legacy of this continent, it’s as if the philosophers are not Europeans because they are too Muslim.  So, when you go back to the textbooks, nothing is said or not enough is said about this great contribution of the Muslim scholars, scientists, philosophers that were not only translators but were commenting and gave something to the European identity.

Not only this, now, if you come to the more recent history, when we speak about economic contribution, the fathers and mothers of the people who are now Europeans, who came to help the countries to be built after the Second World War or in-between the two World Wars, are missing in our self perception.

Our politicians very often they speak about their fellow citizens as if they don’t know who are these new citizens who are Muslim, and they are living with them.  It’s as if these new citizens are problematic because of their religion but not citizens as to their status.  And this is where we have this confusion: we speak about culture, and we Islamize the socioeconomic problems.  Muslims in our societies are facing unemployment, discrimination, and racism, and it’s not because they are Muslims, it’s because they are facing class discrimination, segregation, and wrong social policies.  So this is where this confusion is not helping to understand the sense of belonging to the country: you think that you have a problem with somebody because of their religion and not because they are citizens dealing with the job market, with unemployment, with the same violence — they are the same victims.  So this is something which is helping populist parties to win: when you culturalize the socioeconomic problems, when you Islamize the socioeconomic problems, the populists are very quick to use, to instrumentalize, the fear of the people to get voters supporting them.  And this is what is happening today.

At the cultural level, it’s as if the new visibility of the Muslims is just showing that they don’t want to integrate.  In fact it’s exactly the opposite.  The opposite: they are visible, millions are visible — it means that they are at home.  So, when you have mosques, when you have organizations, it’s not because you don’t want to integrate.  It’s exactly the opposite: you feel at home, you build your mosques.  Even this is also a very important point in the reality: so, it’s the opposite.

When it comes to food, curry, and couscous, that’s fine.  When it comes to money, Islamic banking, that’s fine.  But when it comes to dresses, when it comes to color, when it comes to something which is different, it’s not fine.  So we are selective in our integration.  Money and food, welcome.  Colors and dresses, no.

So, one last point.  Last point: when it comes to the media, it’s as if here we are only dealing with problems.  We are dealing with these controversies every day.  We are talking about violence, the minarets, the headscarf, all the problems — not talking about what is done at the grassroots level, the positive actions of the Muslims, the presence of millions who are silent and are constructive and contributing to the reality of our country.  This is not good.  So, what we have today is a very bad perception, and it’s an “us versus them” mindset that we are creating: “the Muslims are undermining the very essence of our culture.”  They are “outsiders” within our society, perceived as the “other,” and Islam and Muslims are perceived as problems.

Now, this is where we are failing: we are nurturing the perception that Islam is alien to Europe, that Muslims are not Europeans.  Islam is a European religion and Muslims are citizens.  And if you go from all these controversies showing that we are failing to what is happening at the grassroots level, many things are very positive.  At the local level, Muslims are Europeans, they are citizens, and they are building.  And let me say something which is important.  While we are talking about this, at the grassroots level the Muslims are understanding the West and Europe much better than before.  They are understanding and rediscovering their religion much better than before, and they also are coming up with new answers.  This is completely neglected in the current political discussion, in the religious discussion.  I would say, yes, I am supporting this motion because today we are failing, but it’s a question of time, because what I see at the grassroots level is much more positive than what is happening today in our political discourse or media coverage.  Things that are very important behind it, this is what I call the silent revolution, but we need time and it will be coming.  Thank you.

Tariq Ramadan is Professor of Islamic Studies on the Faculty of Theology at Oxford University, Senior Research Fellow at St Antony’s College (Oxford) and Doshisha University (Kyoto, Japan), and the President of the think tank European Muslim Network (EMN) in Brussels.  This video shows excerpts from the speech Ramadan made at a debate on whether “Europe Is Failing Its Muslims” sponsored by Intelligence Squared (in association with BBC World News and the British Council), Cadogan Hall, London, 23 February 2010, followed by excerpts from Douglas Murray’s speech.  The text below the video is adapted from a transcript of Ramadan’s speech published by Intelligence Squared.  Click here to listen to the other panelists at the same debate.

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