Europe has been a continent of varying fortunes throughout its history. Democracy, humanism, the flourishing of arts and technology, and the constant flow of people have shaped it as much as the long register of upheavals and dark moments – conflicts, wars, revolutions, catastrophic loss of human life.
It was after the horrible destruction the two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century that some visionary politicians and decision makers chalked a new, optimistic course for Europe. Instead of rivalry, conflict, bloodshed and cruel atrocities, they decided to pursue a path of peace and progress, fostering co-operation between nations, cultures, and religions.
In the last decade, however, this momentum has come under increasing pressure. The 9/11 attacks in USA and other terrorist incidents in Europe produced a climate of fear and insecurity in European societies. Sections of the media and populist politicians presented these actions as representative of Islam as a whole, going as far as talking about a ‘war of civilisations’ and branding Muslim communities (and Islam as a whole) as a security threat.
This inflammatory rhetoric has been steadily moving into mainstream politics and society. There are frequent alarmist references to the ‘Islamification of Europe’. In media, Muslims are being presented as unwilling to ‘integrate’, especially vulnerable to ‘radicalisation’, and prone to terrorism. As Europe finds itself in the midst of an unprecedented refugee crisis, all these fears and insecurities, exploited by media and politicians, undermine the goodwill between communities, increase tensions and mutual suspicion, but also make Muslims feel marginalised, discriminated, and unwanted in Europe.
As a result, communities with a Muslim background have experienced a dramatic deterioration of the conditions of their life, with new challenges ranging from more subtle forms of discrimination to pressures for one-sided ‘integration’ and from legal persecution to increasing violent attacks on their communities. Recent reports have identified a dramatic increase in Islamophobia, online hate speech and xenophobic political discourse, counteracting integration efforts for inclusive European societies. At the same time, the commitment of many European societies to inter-culturalism has been wavering, both in official speech and in policy-making.
Since 2011, EMISCO in cooperation with intergovernmental Organizations and International NGOs, has proposed the ‘New Europe’ agenda as the basis for a new positive inclusive agenda for the continent. EMISCO has worked with its partners to articulate a program for a new, inclusive and plural Europe, as a road map and agenda for future generations and political actors representing Muslim communities in Europe. The proposed approach involved: rethinking European values through an inclusive, pluralistic approach that acknowledges the fruitful historical interaction between Judeo-Christian and Muslim values in order to move towards a more inclusive definition of what Europe stands for today; and introducing a new contract between governments, majority societies, and all ethnic and religious minorities, based on this positive restatement of European values.
After a series of successful events organised under the aegis of the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the institutions of the European Union, as well as national parliaments, EMISCO believes it is time to identify progress and celebrate good practice in the direction of fostering inter-cultural living in Europe. European citizens with a Muslim background have always played a very important and distinguished role in the life of the continent, in a wide range of spheres of activity. Civil society organisations have worked incessantly to raise awareness about both the problems facing minorities in Europe and about the value of a truly inclusive, inter-cultural Europe.
In addition, EMISCO believes that there are alternative models to that of official ‘state multiculturalism’ practised for decades in many countries of Europe. At a time when European governments talk of a ‘failure of multiculturalism’, examples of engagement with inter-culturalism and tolerance in the periphery of Europe serve as a reminder that more, not less, pluralism and mutual respect in the public sphere are needed to ensure participation and promote social cohesion. Whereas a number of European countries have reacted to perceived ‘failures’ of multiculturalism by promoting a rigid sense of identity served by forced ‘integration’ and suffocation of religious and cultural identities, other countries like Azerbaijan or Russia have shown themselves more committed to acknowledging diverse identities and providing ample space for their representation in the public sphere.
EMISCO organises a symposium on 30th November 2015 in the Brussels Council of Europe Office in order to discuss these more optimistic alternative models of inter-religious and inter-cultural living together in Europe. These examples highlight in the most eloquent and positive way that minorities in Europe actively engage with, and contribute to, the life and identity of the continent – a continent that needs to move away from rigid ‘identities’ in favour of cultural and religious pluralism that will enhance a sense of belonging for all its citizens.
13.00 – 14:00 : Registration and Lunch-Buffet
14:00 – 15:00
Is a new inclusive Europe possible?
Chairing the sessions:
Bashy QURAISHY – Secretary General of EMISCO
Ambassador Torbjørn FRøYNES
Head of the Liaison Office in the Council of Europe Brussels Office
Dr. Jean-Marie HEYDT
Chairman of the Executive Committee of the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe
Chairman of the State Committee on Religious Associations of Azerbaijan
Member of the European Parliament from S&D Group
Program Specialist for cooperation with the European Community – UNESCO
15:30 – 15:45
Panel 1 : European Muslims and their Role Models
Chair of the Panel:
Robin SCLAFANI – Director of CEJI
Emir KIR – Mayor of St Josse and Member of Belgian Parliament
Youssef HIMMAT – President of FEMYSO
Anissa MEZITI – Think Tank Different
Kadir DURAN – Editor of Brussels Corner
Oussama BENALI – Actor from Brussels
Panel 2 : Models of interreligious understanding
Chair of the Panel:
Michael PRIVOT – Director of ENAR
Mustafa HACI – Grand Mufti of Bulgaria
Milikh YEVDAYEV – Head of Baku Mountain Jews Religious Community
Ahmet METE – Mufti of Xanthi – Greece
Elnur AFANDIYEV – Press manager of the Orthodox Christian Community
Ayşe ELKILIC – Vice-CHAIR of THINKOUT
17:45 – 18:30
Closing Session – Conclusion of the Symposium
Rukhsana YAQOOB – President of Muslim Teacher Association – UK