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Europe and the Muslim world after September 11th
- a lecture given at the Marmara University in Istanbul on December 12th 2001

In an article entitled "The Clash of Civilizations?" which attracted considerable attention when it appeared in the journal Foreign Affairs in 1993, Samuel Huntington claimed that the global political process is entering a new era.With the end of the Cold War, the Western phase in international politics came to an end and the focus shifted to the interaction between the West and non-Western civilizations.

According to Huntington, the clash of civilizations will occur on different levels. At the micro-level, various neighbouring groups are in a state of conflict, which is often violent, along cultural "fault lines", fighting to control territory and each other. At the macro-level, states with different cultural ties are struggling for relative military and political dominance, for control over international bodies and for power over third parties.

Huntington´s argumentation might seem to have gained credibility after September 11 and the retoric of Bin Laden that followed the attacks but it contains a number of weaknesses.

Huntington draws straight lines across the world map showing the beginnings and ends of the various civilizations. He acknowledges that the Islamic cultural sphere has its Arab, Turkish and Malayan subdivions but for some reason he ignores the substantial Islamic contingent in Africa and he fails to give even a hint about the major differences that exist between an Islam that is strongly permeated by local culture and Buddhism in the Indonesian archipelago, an Islam influenced by animism in West Africa and Islam in its Arab heartlands. Huntington also ignores the fact that the concept of Islamic unity hardly existed 40 years ago. In fact, the Islamic world has been split ever since the death of the Fourth Caliph in 661 and not merely between Sunnites and Shiites but along other lines as well. Thus, Islam is a magma - a reservoir containing quite distinct concepts and ideas, ranging from nostalgic-utopian doctrines of salvation to a secularised cultural identity like the one existing in Turkey.

Islam with a capital "I" thus simply does not exist in religious terms and most certainly not in any political context.

Nevertheless, Huntington conjures up a picture of a green "Islamic International" but all efforts to build up an organization that tries to exert control by applying a clear control strategy have failed. Instead, the interests of the individual states have always gained the upper hand. The Iranian revolution has been regarded as a threat from its very beginning not only in Iraq but also in the conservative Arab states. Therefore a Sunni International was to be established to stop the ideological bushfire spreading from Iran. But despite their oil resources, the Sunnite monarchies were not more successful than the ayatollahs in their attempts to establish a new political/ religious order.

Thus instead Islam has so to say become "nationalized" and, in the same way as the Arab front states built up their own Palestinian organizations in an attempt to control the Palestinian nationalism today we can see that in accordance with the national interests of the sponsor country the various Islamic organizations propagate a brand of Islam, be it Shiism, Wahabism or other. Thus, e g Saudi Arabia has financed all the Sunni organizations in Afghanistan on condition that they were hostile towards Iran. Similarly the FLN regime in Algeria supported the Tunisian fundamentalists in An-Nahda while at home they were trying to crush the local Islamic organization FIS.

Special Egyptian characteristics and an Egyptian identity much older than Islam were one of the the reasons why Sadat was able to break with the putative Arab-Islamic community and recognize Israel. Similarly, Turkey is not going to turn its back on secularism and align itself with Central Asia rather than Europe unless the West forces the Turks to make this choice. Ankara looks to Brussels Paris, London and Berlin, not to Ashkhabad , Almaty or Bishkek.

Hence, the frontiers for Islamic fundamentalism have already been drawn up right from the start. There is also no correlation between the strategic decisions taken by states and the domestic cultural opposition. Attacks on Christianity are a particularly prominent feature in Saudi Arabia, the primary ally of the United States , which does not permit the existence of any Christian churches on its territory, whereas innumerable Christian communities can exercise their belief freely in Syria and Irak.

Huntington is even willing to meet Saddam Hussein halfway when he defines the Gulf War as a "war between civilizations". In fact, no other conflict has so clearly demonstrated how the interests of the state predominate over the religious sphere. Saddam did not at first justify his attack on Kuwait in religious terms - he did so only when he was forced to retreat by a coalition formed by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and Syria, together with American, French and British forces. The Saudi Royal family even managed to mobilize Islamic authorities who in a "fatwa" proclaimed that the fact that American infidel soldiers were defending Mecka was not in conflict with the teachings of Koran.

Iran was biding its time and despite all its anti-American rhetoric had nothing against "the Great Satan" working for the ayatollahs.

Thus, Huntington´s proposition that there is a clash of cultures at the macro level is not soundly based. He seems to be on a firmer ground when he claims that conflicts at the micro level will run along the "fault line" between cultural spheres. The conflicts in the Caucasus seem to support this thesis and even more so the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia where the front lines largely followed the traditional frontier between the Eastern and the Western Roman Empires and later between the Orthodox and the Catholic Church.

Even these arguments do not bear closer examination, though. Civilizations do not control states. On the contrary, states control civilizations and they intervene and defend their own civilization only if it is in the state´s interest to do so.

In the Caucasus the front lines do not comply with the cultural fault lines: in the war between Azerbajan and Armenia Teheran has tried to act as a mediator and tended to support the Christian Armenians rather than the Muslim Azeris.

In Bosnia, the Serbs claimed to fight for Christianity against Islam. It is true that the wars in former Yugoslavia followed the cultural boundaries between the Eastern and the Western Roman Empires and developed into a war between Orthodoxy and Catholicism and Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Islam. But this was primarily the result of the Serbian nationalism combined with the determination of the Communist Party bosses not to surrender their power. The Serbian offensive, aiming to establish a Greater Serbia, was initially directed against their Christian neighbours, Slovenia and Croatia. In Bosnia the Muslims stood for a secular, civilized society while the Orthodox Serbs behaved like autistic nationalists, demonstrating a bigotry and narrowmindedness comparable with that of the most fanatical exponents of Islamic nationalism and in Bosnia as well as in Kosovo forces from "the Western civilization" intervened on the Muslim side.

The real clash today is thus not between civilizations but within them - between Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews with a modern and progressive outlook and those with a medieval one. Jerry Falwell, to take one example, told his television audience after the attck on the World Trade Center that America "deserved" to be punished. Abortion providers, gay right proponents and federal courts that banned school prayers "had made God mad".

Islam and Christianity have lived side by side for almost 1 400 years, always as neighbours, mostly as rivals and far too often as enemies. In fact, they may be regarded as co-religionists since they share the same Jewish, Hellenistic and Oriental heritage. At one and the same time they have been old acquaintances and intimate hereditary enemies, and their conflicts have been particularly bitter precisely because of their common origins. Both sides have been divided more by their similarity than by their differences.

As a result the Islamic culture is not as strange as it would appear to be in the light of our prejudices and clichés. One of the most widespread myths is that Charles Martel, the ruler of the Franks, saved the West from destruction by his victory over the "Saracens" at Poitiers in 732. The Saracens were driven back over the Pyrenées and returned to southern Spain where a Muslim state then continued to flourish for almost 800 years. This Islamic presence on the European continent did not lead to a collapse of the Western civilization but to a unique and fruitful symbiosis between Islam, Christianity and Judaism which resulted in an unparalleled boom in science, philosophy, culture and art.

At the close of the Middle Ages, both Islam and Judaism were constitutive elements in the formation of Europe. As a result, Islam is at the same time an alien, an original and - due to growing migration - a new element in the Europe of today. A Europe that is increasingly populated - similarly as the Moorish Spain - by the once called "enanciados" - that is to say by people who live in a no-man´s land between the different cultures. There are already about 20 million Muslims in Europe and their numbers will still increase as a result of the continuing migration. Estimates speak about 60 million in 25 years. The European Union is therefore no longer conceivable without the " Islamic green" component. Whether it will be possible to construct the "European house" based on the model of Alhambra - the symbol of the multicultural Moorish Spain - is therefore a decisive question for the future of Europe. Racism, intolerance and a narrow nationalism have gained strength throughout Europe, in reaction to a level of immigration which is insignificant compared with what we are likely to encounter in the future. These problems are already so serious that they can only be solved by joint European endeavours and a consistent European immigration and refugee policy. There are several questions which need to be faced.

To what extent should European countries be opened up to non-European immigration, including the reception of refugees?

What religious, cultural and linguistic elements in the identity of immigrants are to be furthered, tolerated or resisted? Multiculturalism has become a prestigious concept, but it has a broad spectrum of meanings, ranging from the question of whether the genital mutilation of girls should be tolerated or whether girls should be allowed to wear veils in schools, to the issue of home-language training and multicultural curricula.

One essential prerequisite for successful integration is that we build up our knowledge of the diversity of Islam and the varied nature of Muslim immigration. Now that the red peril has disappeared, we are often urged to believe that it has been replaced by a green Muslim threat. There is clearly a risk that this image will be exploited to reinforce a feeling of European unity by depicting a scenario of uniform, fanatical Muslim masses preparing to storm the bastions of the West's welfare system under the green banners of Islam, with scimitars in one hand and the Koran in the other.

The Muslims in Europe are not a featureless Third World mob, but consist of people from all classes in society and with varying degrees of religiosity. The majority have a relaxed relationship to religion and only a minority are organized members of a religious or political community.

As a result, Europe is not currently facing the threat of a fundamentalist fifth column of Muslim immigrants. Instead, Islam's internal splits are clearly reflected in the Diaspora. Muslims in Europe are not only divided by their different languages, cultures and skin colouring, but also by the various branches and sects of Islam which, in addition, are often in bitter competition with each other for Islamic souls. Furthermore, we must also take political antagonisms into account, for example between Kurdish and Turkish immigrants. Perhaps the greatest problem currently faced by Muslim immigrants is that their diversity has meant that they often lack a common spokesman or a representative organization which can present their case.

A policy designed to facilitate the integration of Muslim immigrant groups must be based on the following prerequisites.

1. There are already large Muslim communities in most West-European states. These communities will not only expand but they will also demand greater political influence as increasing numbers of Muslims become naturalized citizens and become enfranchised in their new home countries.

2. Muslims are not as easy to integrate and not as willing to be integrated as previous immigrant groups. An Islamic identity encompasses customs and traditions which deviate from those which are regarded as normal in the societies in which many Muslims are now living. Demands will be made for special rights and for a special status, in addition to the entitlements enjoyed by the native population. In many cases, these demands will not only be difficult to satisfy, but also impossible, and this will lead to tension.

Undesirable and undemocratic political tendencies in their countries of origin may be chanelled into their new home countries by Muslim communities. Both the governments of Muslim states and the various sects and organizations will attempt to exploit the immigrants for their own purposes.

In the light of these factors, what is the best way to integrate Muslim immigrants?

Although Jews and Christians are accepted as "peoples of the book", Islam has always, with som exceptions like India, been a dominant and hegemonistic religion in historical terms. In Europe, Muslims must learn to live as a minority and to accept the fundamental pillars of modern European societies, that is to say pluralism and a secular social system characterized by tolerance of people with a different political or religious viewpoint.

The objective must be integration which is as rapid as possible, taking into account and respecting those who, while respecting our values, wish to maintain their own cultural and religious identity. Taking into account special religious features must not, however, extend to excusing pupils from aspects of their education which do not suit their parents. Muslims must themselves become active in working for young people, so as to give a generation which has grown up in Europe a cultural background of their own while, at the same time, integrating them socially into their new environment. The Muslim communities must cooperate with each other and avoid fighting out their theological disputes openly on European territory.

As a result, a "domestic" leadership will have to emerge, thus permitting the elimination of the label attached to Islam as an alien and dangerous cult. This domestic leadership will not only consist of Muslims born in Europe, but perhaps also of native converts.

Most Muslims consider that they must comply with laws and regulations in their new home countries, but this willingness is undermined in many quarters by external appeals by organizations which prefer a "pure" Islam, without compromise. As a result, we must not tolerate the establishment of parallel political institutions, like the attempts of Kaplan to create "a caliphate state" (Halifele devleti) in Germany or Siddiquis creation of a separate Muslim parliament in Britain.

We must not be too easy-going in dealing with religious and political fanatics who utilize their exile in Europe for subversive activities directed against their home countries or for internal disputes. Under no circumstances should tolerance be extended to totalitarian views or ideas. While we should demonstrate sympathy for Islam as a religion and ensure that the prerequisites for the exercise of religion are as favourable as possible, we must also demonstrate firmness as regards compliance with our own laws. At the same time, we must beware of regarding all religious expressions as signs of fundamentalism, or unwillingness to adapt and to become integrated into our societies. A process of islamization amongst immigrants is only dangerous if it comes into conflict with the norms of a pluralistic society and a democratic state. For many immigrants from Muslim countries, religion and a general sense of piety are one way of counteracting the feeling of rootlessness which they experience. Thus, religion may be a by-product of the break with their own cultural background and not necessarily a protest against the new society in which they are living. Hence, greater religiosity is not the same thing as suspicion and intolerance of a secularized European environment but may, instead, create an inner tranquillity which promotes tolerance and hence integration.

Individuals who devote themselves to preaching a doctrine of hatred directed against Europe and against Christianity, and who abuse our pluralistic societies, must be dealt with firmly and rejected. But, at the same time, we must not regard radical Muslim groups as an expression of an overall campaign to attack the Western World from within. There is no such plan and, furthermore, there is no Muslim leadership capable of drawing up such a campaign. Antagonism and enmity between different sects are often stronger than hatred of the Western World. Apparently, only 6 per cent of the Arabs in France regularly visit a mosque and only a few of the 60-70,000 Muslims in Sweden who practise their religion are fundamentalists. As far as the vast majority are concerned, the cultural and identity-supportive aspects of their religion are the most important factors.

Only a depoliticized and liberal Islam can be integrated into Europe, and such an integration is only possible if it is paralleled by economic and social integration. In its turn, one prerequisite for a development of this kind is controlled immigration and a common European immigration policy designed to create a liberal and tolerant Islamic community in Europe. If this is to be achieved, those who are willing to become integrated must feel that they are welcome and that they belong here. The feeling of "where do I belong?" is one of the primary breeding grounds for fundamentalists who want to create and exploit a spiritual ghetto under the banner "you have no affinities either here or with your corrupt and morally decadent government in your home country - you have to fight against both of them".

If Muslim immigrants are to be able to feel that they belong, it is essential that:

1. Islam is recognized and regarded as a "domestic" religion. There is nothing which intrinsically indicates that a Muslim cannot be as good a Swede as a member of the Pentecostal Bretheren or an adherent of the Jewish faith, or that mosques cannot be as natural a feature of Swedish cities as churches have always been in Aleppo, Damascus, Mosul or Cairo.

2. Education in the Islamic faith is not only improved, but is made mandatory in our schools. The demonic factor needs to be eliminated on a mutual basis. Ignorance breeds prejudice and hatred. As a result, the media must also rectify the stereotyped and oversimplified view of Islam which is currently conveyed.

3. Society protects everyone who wants to be integrated into European society, but who is under threat and under pressure not only from local extremists and groups which are hostile to immigrants, but also from Muslim extremist groups.

4. Immigrants are given an opportunity to formulate and articulate their views and wishes.

5. We pursue development cooperation and foreign policies which are designed to reduce the pressure of immigration and to make immigration more manageable in human and political terms.

If immigrants are integrated in this way, the Islamic communities in Europe can become a bridge between Europe and immigrants' countries of origin. "Euromuslims" will then be able to set an example, and transfer democratic approaches and liberal ideas and reforms to their native countries. This would enable a fruitful triangular relationship to develop between the Islamic communities, their native countries and their new home countries, since many people living in the Diaspora want to maintain close contacts with their origins.

On the other hand, if integration fails and immigrants with a Muslim background feel that they are subject to religious tutelage, forced into ghettos and socially marginalized, with continuing high rates of unemployment we will have to reckon with the emergence of underground fundamentalist Koran schools in our immigrant suburbs, and with teachers who urge their pupils to fight with all the means at their disposal against what they regard as oppressive European societies.

Instead of a modern, tolerant "Euroislam" we would then see the development of a "Ghettoislam", supported by fundamentalist forces in the Islamic world. Radical mullahs throughout Western Europe are currently attempting to exploit the psychological, cultural and material problems of Muslim immigrants for their own purposes, and politicians such as Jean-Marie Le Pen, Jörg Haider and most recently Pia Kjaersgaard are giving them wind in their sails as a result of the polarization which they have advocated in France, Austria and Denmark.

If developments move in this direction, we must reckon that militant Muslim organizations will also endeavour to pursue their struggle with the Western World - which they regard as the incarnation of all evil - in Europe.

In this case, a "holy war" can become a reality in Western Europe sooner than we suppose, not in the form of a military struggle between the West and the Islamic world or the clash of civilizations that Huntington has in mind but as a kind of permanent guerrilla warfare in the ghetto-suburbs of our major cities.

To prevent this from happening is the greatest challenge for European politicians today.

Ingmar Karlsson

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