Symposium on “Migration, Islam and Multiculturality held in Ankara

On 11-12 April 2013 the Migration and Politics Research Centre of the University of Hacettepe (HUGO) in Ankara, Turkey held an international symposium on ‘Migration, Islam and Multiculturality’, organised in cooperation with Oxford Center for Islamic Studies (OCIS) in UK, UNESCO-MOST Turkey, International Migration Organisation (IOM), The European Union Harmonization Committee of Turkish Parliament and EMISCO. The symposium was honoured by the presence and contribution of the President of the Turkish Republic, Mr Abdullah Gul. Keynote addresses were also given by the Rector of the University of Hacettepe, Prof Dr Murat Tuncer, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Prof Dr Besir Atalay.

Over two days, with more than ten individual sessions, the symposium brought together a distinguished group of politicians, NGO representatives and academics to discuss the challenging situation of communities with Muslim background in contemporary Europe, explore ways in which civil society can effectively combat Islamophobia, and actively promote a genuine inter-cultural way of life in Europe. The multiple ‘othering’ of Muslim communities in Europe, especially since 9/11, has led to a dramatic deterioration of their status within their societies and has cast a shadow on Europe’s proud humanistic traditions of tolerance, freedom, and equality. Participants underlined the crucial importance of a human rights discourse in relation to anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimination. In addition, the need for growing participation was underlined as a necessary strategy for combating misconceptions and addressing the danger of further marginalisation of Muslims in Europe.

The European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion (EMISCO) was the only NGO involved in the organisation and on the advisory board of the symposium. Our members attended and contributed to the proceedings. EMISCO’s President, Dr Doudou Diene, made a passionate plea for a positive human-rights perspective on the rights of Muslim communities in Europe. Mr Bashy Quraishy, EMISCO’s Secretary General, focused on the positive contribution made by Muslims in European societies and criticised existing models of state ‘multi-culturalism’ in Europe as failing to promote respect for Muslims and ensure their equal participation in European societies. Instead, he argued, a truly inter-cultural perspective is needed, coupled with a recognition that Muslims have been and are even more now an integral part of European society, culture, and history. Mr Quraishy finally underlined the role that Turkey should play in defence of Muslim communities in Europe and as a strong advocate of their human rights.

A number of EMISCO members contributed their thoughts on Islamophobia. Prof Bulent Senay reflected on the philosophical and historical dimensions of Islamophobia, from the time of Luther and the Reformation onwards. Prof Aristotle Kallis argued that Islamophobia has been embedded through a divisive mainstream language of ‘othering’ that needs to be addressed first in order to effectively shift the discussion in the west away from its current anti-Islam and anti-immigrant prejudices. Ms Rokhaya Diallo and Mr Veysel Filiz shared the platform of the session on ‘Islam, Europe and Multiculturality’, highlighting instances of Muslim ‘othering’ in media and public discourse. Mr Filiz also stressed the need for Muslim communities to fight against discrimination with a positive outlook that focuses on their historical and contemporary positive contributions to European society, identity, and culture.

Finally, Mr Jean-Marie Heydt, President of the Council of Europe Conference of INGOs, addressed the critical role that civil society can and must play in reversing the current negative attitudes in Europe against Muslims and immigrants, through enhanced participation and a consistent advocacy of human rights in every sphere of life.

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