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On 9/11 the West woke up to its ignorance of Islam and the state of Muslim public opinion - in the Middle East and the diaspora. This debate was our response. Initiated by Londons Goethe Institute, European cultural institutes, in conjunction with openDemocracy, have collaborated in a series of live debates featuring leading scholars of Islam from Europe and beyond on the relationship -historical, theological, social and political.
The sophisticated exponent of a European Islam, Tariq Ramadan, articulates a project that speaks to a continent, and a faith, in transition. openDemocracys Rosemary Bechler encounters a complex mind on a restless journey.
Belgiums historic, multicultural port city of Antwerp is the site of a bitter political contest involving the Flemish nationalist Vlaams Blok and the militant Arab European League supported by young people of Moroccan descent with the citys ancient Jewish community targeted by both. As European elections approach, Nick Ryan reports from Dyab Abou Jahjahs backyard.
The charismatic leader, Dyab Abou Jahjah, is giving voice to a militant new form of Arab European identity. His Arab European League (AEL) is growing in Belgium, France and the Netherlands, and plans to expand across Europe. He demands that Europeans hear him and calls on Arabs to take the rights they feel they are denied. openDemocracy went to Antwerp to listen.
The French parliaments decision to ban conspicuous displays of religious belief in schools including the Muslim headscarf has outraged many liberals and believers, while gaining the support of a majority of French people. An American Muslim critically examines the principles at stake on both sides.
Behind the French parliaments ban on religious apparel in schools lies not anti-Muslim prejudice but the secular, liberal reasoning that gives the French republic its life and soul, argues one of the policys architects.
Frances education system has long worked to transform peasants, migrants and believers into national, secular citizens. Will the process fail with the headscarves worn by the countrys young Muslim women?
The combination of artificial borders, repressive leaders, and poverty creates great problems for African people seeking fairness and freedom. In the age of terrorism, religious zealotry adds dangerous fuel to the mix. Is violence in Nigeria an augury of the continents future?
In spring 2003, Sonja Hegasy argued in openDemocracy that Arab intellectuals evasion of the challenge of globalisation was central to the Arab worlds culture of victimhood. Here, Mona Abaza writing before the death of Edward Said, a key reference-point in the argument responds that the seizure of Enlightenment values by an American-led imperial project undermines the search for an equal relationship between east and west.
The rhetoric and practice of jihad used by militant, Saudi-sponsored groups today is a corruption of its deeper meaning. Stephen Schwartz in vigorous response to Ed Hayess history of the word, and writing as a Muslim assails the intolerant, hypocritical and ultra-violent forces who violate a truly Islamic tradition that demands both just methods and just ends of struggle.
Jihad has become one of the most inflamed and misunderstood words in the political lexicon. How did this happen, and what is the true meaning both of the word and its abuse? A student of Islam tracks the long journey from Islamic theology to global politics, registers what has been lost and found along the way and asks what can be done to restore truth to language and reason to thought.
Politics begins with the way we use words, George Orwell reminded us. At a precarious moment for relations between Muslims and their others it is important to recall that Allah is not the name of the Muslim god; that God, Allah and Yahweh are different words for the same deity.
The arrival and settlement of significant Muslim populations in Europes heartlands is often met with political oppression, security obsession, and religious suspicion from its governments and media. It need not be so, says a British Muslim convert: Muslim migration could reinvigorate Europe, if the continent can learn to think globally, resist irrational reflexes, and rediscover itself in the encounter with its most significant other.
The German Bundestags first parliamentary representative of Turkish descent is currently in Washington, comparing how minority groups organise themselves politically in the United States and Germany. Recently named Multicultural Man of the Year by a German radio station, he turns a sometimes appalled gaze on his homeland, and asks how far Germany has to go to fulfil a truly multicultural vision.
Anti-Muslim sentiment in post-9/11 Europe contends that Muslims compound their alien status by claiming special treatment from their hosts. But what if the aspiration to a recognised Muslim identity is itself characteristically European? In the British context, Tariq Modood argues that a healthily multicultural society needs to accommodate religion as a valid social category and rethink Europe so that the Muslim them becomes part of a plural us.
Muslims across the world are engaged in a great debate about the fundamentals of their faith. The discussions among European Muslims often focus on how to sustain the meaningfulness of their religion within a new environment. Here, a Muslim still in the process of arriving in Britain examines the tension between nostalgia and oblivion which afflicts his generation, and proposes a creative understanding of Islam for the new century.
Joan Smith: I want to start with good news. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Egyptian academic and human rights campaigner who has already spent fourteen months in prison, convicted in two separate trials on charges of corruption and defaming the country, has just been released from prison with his sentence overturned and his name cleared.
Gilles, you know Professor Ibrahim, and indeed began your return to the Middle East after 9/11 with a visit to Egypt. Why was that?
Gilles Kepel: My very first book was on Islamic movements in Egypt. The Society of the Muslim Brothers, created in 1928, was the cradle of the Islamist movement in its present form. After the trauma of 11 September, a certain spiritual need arose in me to ‘go back to the roots’, in two senses: first, to the country where it all began (even if the Muslim Brothers today cannot be held accountable for 9/11); and second, to the roots of my own investigations into this universe – because of course, 9/11 challenged everyone’s views about those phenomena and about the relationship between the Muslim world and the west.
A western news agenda dominated by hostile, careless coverage of Islam distorts reality and destroys trust. It is countered on the Muslim side by a fierce, unimaginative partisanship. The result, says the founding editor of Q-News, is a mutual siege mentality that serves neither side well. This makes a dynamic, relevant, and professional Muslim media all the more necessary.
Concerned by the Arab worlds culture of victimhood, a German Arabist issues a vigorous challenge to the prevailing sentiment of anti-globalism among the Arab intelligentsia, typified by the prominent Egyptian intellectual Sherif Hetata.
Europes relationship with Turkey a country whose historical legacy is at once imperial, martial, Islamic, Asiatic, and European - has always been problematic, and frequently refracted through culture as well as politics. A Turkish scholar traces the fascinating evolution of an alien but also intimate and surprising figure in the English literary imagination.
Moroccos complex colonial and post-colonial history, and its fusion of regal and religious authority, cast a particular light on current debates about religion and secularism in the Islamic world. Here, a French writer visits her homeland after a years absence and finds a different space of freedom under the stars.
This survey of the crisis facing Switzerlands marginalised Muslim minority opened a recent discussion at Londons Goethe Institute
Diverse, isolated from one another as from their host culture, Muslims in Switzerland face the most basic problems of language, health and worship.
Chaired by Farian Sabahi, speakers Francis Piccand and Amira Hafner al-Jabaji responded to questions from the audience.
Can Muslims in western Europe move beyond social stagnation, and in the process help their neighbours towards a new understanding of the identity they share? Are the problems of Muslim people living in western, secular societies caused by too much religion, or too little? A young British Muslim travels to Bosnia and discovers a fresh perspective on these vital questions.
The new leader of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is touring Europe in the wake of his massive electoral victory, to advance his country's negotiating process over entry into the European Union. But Erdogan's AK party is pro-Islam and he himself was banned from standing for office. One of Turkeys most distinguished commentators takes us through the tensions and paradoxes brought to a head by Erdoğans success.
Islamic and Western governments share a concern to define just behaviour and just government. But the advocacy of universal human rights by secular democracies challenges the idea of basing social order on religious principle. In a discussion co-hosted by the Iranian government and Londons Goethe Institute, two respected scholars debate the tensions between and within their different conceptions of social justice.
Religion, secularism, and human rights: responses to Heiner Bielefeldt and Mohammad Saeed Bahmanpour
The discussion at Londons Goethe Institute between Heiner Bielefeldt and Mohammad Saeed Bahmanpour on Islam, human rights, and social justice was followed by a vigorous debate. How does Samuel Huntingtons Clash of Civilizations argument measure up to the experience of Sudan, Turkey and Iran? Is the application of sharia law in modern states realistic or desirable? And is secularism a lived reality or a social ideal?
Werner Schiffauers intimate study of the politics of a Turkish Islamic community in Germany was part of the Europe and Islam series of talks. At Londons Goethe Institute in July, Werner Schiffauer and Deniz Kandiyoti discussed with the audience the prospects for reformation in Islam, the relation between citizenship and diaspora politics in Germany and Britain, and the consequences for democracy of educational and generational change in Muslim communities.
Are Islam and democracy incompatible? The evolution of a radical Turkish Islamic group in Germany suggests that the pursuit of fundamentalist goals can itself create the space for a rational appraisal of tradition. By seeking truth in origin and scripture rather than history, successive generations of Islamists may be drawn even despite themselves towards a more flexible commitment to a network society of social individuals. This may not yet be democracy; but it is reformation.
International events suffer peculiarly from the impact of the mass media on the formation of ‘public opinion’. Unlike home reporting, there are no alternative channels to balance the ‘message’.
The media not only constitutes almost the sole source of information for the images and attitudes that they create. They also perpetuate historically inherited stereotypes and cultural imaginaries that form part of the national collective memory bank.
The imperial imaginary
In the mid-1990s, when I was visiting professor at Columbia University, a rather simple question arose which, in spite of its simplicity, was still unanswered at the time: Why did Islamist movements succeed in seizing power in places, such as Iran, whereas in the majority of cases, such as Algeria, they failed?
I hoped that, by addressing this question, we would be able to find some clues to understanding Islamism, a subject that produces more value judgments than cool analysis.
"Think, America. Why do we hate you?" This sentiment, which appeared in the first demonstrations against the war on terrorism, expresses two essential requirements of a new Western approach to the Muslim world: to think and to know.
openDemocracys public meeting on 7 March 2002 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London addressed the theme of Women, Islam and Modernity. Here is the audience discussion that ensued.
openDemocracys public meeting on 7 March 2002 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London addressed the theme of Women, Islam and Modernity. Farah Khan here questions the tenets of Western fundamentalism.
openDemocracys public meeting on 7 March 2002 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London addressed the theme of Women, Islam and Modernity. Balanced between two worlds, Sarah Joseph here revises her ideas about freedom.