The Mediterranean Dialogue held in Rome between December 1-3 included a series of panel discussions and workshops which gathered experts, academics, government officials and businessmen to share their insights and provide solutions for a lasting peace for a region in turmoil.
One of the most interesting panels addressed the threat of religious intolerance in Europe. The panelists discussed counter-narratives to fight religious extremism. Olivier Roy, a French professor at the European University Institute in Florence, cautioned against rashly linking Islam with terrorism. He also argued that the current violence is simply politics and not a clash of civilizations.
Professor Roy refuted the prevalent perception that radicalization is the result of failed integration. He explained that many of the European extremists were well integrated and spoke French, English and German. They are very Western in their approach and hardly know anything about their Islamic tradition. He stated that they are more likely influenced by the violence in movies and video games. According to research studies these recruits do not belong to a Muslim community and most of them are not religious and many of them are petty criminals and drug addicts.
He goes on to say that Islamist radicalization can neither be attributed to current foreign policy nor to colonial crimes. These young radicals don’t know anything about the colonial wars in Algeria. They want a radical break from their parents’ generation and find in their version of Islam the best way to express, experience and live their rejection of society.
In Europe, the trend is to consider any religion as a potential problem. In France, the answer to radicalism is to marginalize religion moreSamar Fatany
The problem with Islam in Europe is the lack of a common narrative that connects all Muslims. There is a need for a European Muslim narrative. Muslims belong to different identities and European decision makers do not have any positive teachings on Islam. The identity search among young European Muslims has triggered the turmoil.
The French scholar believes that the way to counter the narrative of ISIS is by not depicting it as the biggest threat to Western civilization and not to allow radical Islam to have a monopoly on Islam. He argues that we should encourage the rise of normal Islam, not a moderate Islam. The concept of moderate Islam is totally misleading. We should let normal Islam emerge as a religion in the public sphere.
In Europe, the trend is to consider any religion as a potential problem. In France, the answer to radicalism is to marginalize religion more and to expel it from the public space and that is a problem he says. He believes that if Europe expels religion from the public space, then it will give religion to the extremists and the radicals.
Professor Roy asserts that France does not have an Islamization of society. In polls, only 20 percent of Muslims in France are really practicing Islam. In fact, what is prevalent is the secularization of Muslims. But the more secularization you have, the more religion is visible because religion is not integrated into the dominant secular culture. Unfortunately, he says, religion in Europe now seems weird to people.
The French scholar concluded by highlighting the need to urgently take a multidisciplinary approach when tackling the phenomenon of Islamist radicalization. He believes that radicals are not reacting to a real situation or conflict. They are in a virtual war, he says, pointing out that ISIS almost never mentions real conflicts. Instead, it attracts radical youth who are not adjusted to any society. It is not the revenge of the Afghans or Iraqis against the Americans. It is not connected to real struggles. They live in an imaginary world.
Professor Roy believes that in Europe today the terrorism and refugee crises are linked, according to public opinion, with the young generation of Muslim youth who are making trouble. However, their problem is more related to disenfranchisement and petty delinquency than to Islam.
Appreciating European values
Mufti Nedžad Grabus of Slovenia talked about the situation of Muslims in his country and said that some people try to create problems for the Muslim community in Slovenia. However, he stressed the fact that the Muslim community in Slovenia are Europeans and appreciate their European values. They are moderate and do not have militants among them.
The Mufti argued that problems occur when people do not enjoy equal rights and when they are not allowed to satisfy their spiritual needs. He demonstrated how Muslims in Slovenia pushed for their right to construct their own mosques and to worship and live in harmony with the rest of the society.
The Slovenian Mufti believes that it is better for European governments to allow Muslim religious and cultural institutions to operate overtly and not be forced underground.
Both panelists presented the voices of wisdom and positive solutions to address the growing threat of terrorism and the radicalization of young Europeans. Their presentations provided a new perspective to the situation of Muslim immigrants in Europe. They refuted some of the misconceptions that linked Islam to extremist ideology and offered practical solutions that could effectively counter the terrorist propaganda that is creating the divide between the West and the Muslim world.
At a time when the region is going through a turbulent and violent cycle, the value of the Mediterranean Dialogue 2016 initiative organized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Italian Institute for International Political Studies cannot be underestimated. The dialogue, which addressed regional challenges, led to the formation of new ideas and the rethinking of traditional approaches.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on December 17, 2016.
Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”