Following his arrest, the suspect has admitted the involvement in the incident and have been charged with five accounts including attempt to explode a weapon of mass destruction. According to officials, the suspect has been cooperating while claiming that he has acted alone. There has been some controversies as to whether the suspect should enjoy from Miranda rights or not.
French political scientist Olivier Roy is one of the foremost European experts on Islam. His new book, “Holy Ignorance. When Religion and Culture Diverge”, will soon be published in English. Eren Güvercin spoke with Roy about the current Islam debate in Europe
In Switzerland, a majority votes for a ban on minarets; in France and in Belgium, Islamic headscarves are heavily debated; in Italy, crucifixes are under fire. And also here in Germany, the debate about the Muslims is often very hysterical. Why do Europeans fear religious symbols or “foreign” religions so much?
Olivier Roy: The debate in Europe has shifted in some 25 years from immigration to the visible symbols of Islam. Which means a paradoxical thing: even people who opposed immigration acknowledge now that the second and third generations of migrants are here to stay and that Islam has rooted itself in Europe. So now the debate is about the status of Islam. And here we have a strange phenomenon: while anti-immigration feelings were mainly associated with the conservative right, anti-Islam feelings are to be found both on the left and on the right, but on two very different grounds.
For the right, Europe is Christian and Islam should be treated as a tolerated but inferior religion. There is – unfortunately – no way to ban it, because of the principle of “freedom of religion”, inscribed in our constitutions, international treaties and UN chart, but there are means to limit its visibility without necessarily going against the principle of freedom of religion – for instance the European court of human rights did not condemn the banning of the scarf in French schools.
For the left, the issue is more generally secularism, women’s rights and fundamentalism: it opposes the veil not so much because it is Islamic but because it seems to contradict women’s rights. Hence the debate on Islam hides a far more complicated issue: What does a European identity mean, and what is the role of religion in Europe; and of course on these two issues the left and the right have very different positions. But we see the rise of a new populist movement – like Geert Wilders in Holland – mixing both approaches, basically siding with the right but using leftist arguments.
In your book you say that fundamentalists like Al Qaida have nothing to do with the tradition of Islam. But for the people in Europe they appear very traditional … Are Al Qaida and similar organizations and movements a modern phenomenon?
Olivier Roy: The kind of terrorism perpetrated by Al Qaida is unknown in Muslim history as well as in Christian history. So in any case it is a recent phenomenon. If we consider some of its main characteristics – suicide attacks, execution of hostages, targeting civilians – they all have been put into practice recently, before Al Qaida, by other organizations: the Tamil Tigers for suicide attacks, the Italian extreme right in Bologna bombing in August 1980, and the Italian Red Brigades. If you look at the video of the execution of foreign hostages by Al Qaida in Iraq, it follows exactly the “staging” of the execution of Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades: banner and logo of the organization, hostage hand-cuffed and blindfolded, a group of “militants” staging a mock trial, the reading of a “sentence” and execution.
By its modus operandi, its form of organization, its target: US imperialism, and recruitment: young Western-educated Muslims or converts to Islam, it is obvious that Al Qaida is not the expression of a traditional or even fundamentalist Islam, but of a recast of Islam under the cloak of Western revolutionary ideology.
Are there similar Christian organizations? Can we find similar developments in Christianity?
Olivier Roy: It depends what you call “Christian”, and that is the same issue for Islam, too. Is violence motivated by faith or by a political ideology? I argue that in both cases the motivation is driven far more by ideology, even claiming a religious legitimacy, than by faith. There has certainly been a “white” Western terrorism, for instance at the Oklahoma bombing in 1995. But in fact there is no real symmetry: the present struggle looks more like asymmetrical warfare; Islamic radicals have no air force or air carrier. A radical Christian crusader who wants to fight Muslims does not need to enter a terrorist organization: he can just enlist in the US Air Force and become the pilot of a fighter-bomber. The US media have closely documented the fact that the US Air Force Academy of Colorado Springs is a hotbed of Christian evangelicalism, at the expense, by the way, of Jewish or atheist cadets.
How do you explain the success of such radical movements or ideologies? Are poverty and exclusion really the reasons?
Olivier Roy: No. All studies show that there is no correlation between poverty and radicalization: there are far more Saudis than Bangladeshis (in fact almost no Bangladeshis) among radicals. I think that the present struggle is a continuation of the old fault-line of anti-imperialist, third-worldist movements against the West and specifically the USA. Bin Laden says little about religion, but mentions Che Guevara, colonialism, climate change etc. It is also clearly a generational movement: Al Qaida is a “youth” movement of young people who split with their families and their social milieus and are not interested even in the home country of their family.
Also, there is an astonishing number of converts among Al Qaida, which is now acknowledged but not taken into account. The converts are rebels without a cause who would have joined the Red Army Faction or the Red Brigades thirty years ago but now go to the most successful movement on the anti-imperialist market. We are still in the midst of a mostly Western revolutionary millennialism that has turned away from the concept of establishing a new and just society. The new movements are profoundly sceptical about building a good society, hence their suicidal dimension.
Today some Europeans maintain that European culture is essentially a Christian culture, and hence that everything Islamic is problematic and alien for Europe. What do you think of this position?
Olivier Roy: They say that at the same time that Pope Benedict, following John Paul II, is saying that Europe is rejecting and ignoring its Christian roots. The debate on sexual freedom, abortion, gay rights is not one of Europeans versus Muslims, but rather of secularists on the one hand – and there are Muslim secularists – and conservative believers on the other, who could be Muslim, Catholic or Orthodox Jews. In fact, Europe is highly divided about its own culture, between secularists who consider the Enlightenment with human rights, freedom, democracy as the real birth certificate of Europe, and the “Christian culturalists” who believe that the Enlightenment also led to Communism, atheism and even Nazism.
Is there a real risk of Islamophobia in Europe?
Olivier Roy: The problem is how we define Islamophobia: Is it just another term for racism, and specifically racism against people with a Muslim name, whatever their real degree of belonging to a faith community, or is it the rejection of a religion? There are anti-racist militants who cannot stand the veil – that is the case among feminists. There are racist people who do not oppose the veil – because they think that anyway these people are too different from us. The issue is complex because we do not try to disentangle two issues: ethnicity and religion.
Of course in Europe most Muslims have a foreign ethnic background, but the disconnect between ethnicity and religion is increasing: there are converts both ways; there are atheist “Arabs” and “Turks”; and more and more Muslims want to be acknowledged as believers belonging to a faith community, but not necessarily as members of a different cultural community. We need to distinguish between “ethnic communities” and “faith communities”, because both suppose a different approach, and because “ethnicity” is less and less meaningful in terms of culture, but is more and more linked with skin colour.
In an interview you say that for example the biggest campaign against Darwin in Europe is being conducted by a Turkish Muslim, on the basis of translations of books written by evangelical Americans, and that there is then a convergence of values and norms, but also of the manner in which those religions translate their convictions into political action and intervention. How can the political world find a way to deal with this “drifting, deculturalized and globalized religion”?
Olivier Roy: I think that the “successful” religions are the global and deculturated religions like evangelicalism, Salafism, cults etc., not the traditional churches like the Catholic Church. This trend is dominant now. It does not make sense to fight against it, particularly in countries where constitutions prevent the State from interfering with beliefs. On the contrary, I think we should accentuate the separation of Church and State by implementing full equality between religions, but not on a basis of “multi-culturalism”; we should consider religions as “mere religions”, whatever they say about themselves.
The issue is not ‘what does Islam say’, ‘what does the Pope say’, but under which conditions a faith community can freely exercise its rights. Government should contribute to the unlinking of religion and culture, but rejecting the multi-culturalist approach to religion in favour of a neutral and strict freedom of religion within the framework of existing laws.
In the media we often have a dialectic of “liberal” vs. “radical” Islam. Is there a “liberal” or “radical” Islam? When we look at the five pillars, is it possible to do the prayer “liberally” or “radically”? Is this terminology actually applicable on this matter?
Olivier Roy: No. I think the mistake is to consider that to be a good citizen in society, a believer has to choose a “liberal” theology. The debate on the “reformation” of Islam is irrelevant. People who advocate a Muslim Luther never read Luther: he was not a liberal, and quite anti-Semitic by the way. The “formatting” of Muslims into a Western environment has nothing to do with theology. It is done by the individual practices and endeavours of the Muslims themselves. They try to reconcile their practices with the Western environment, and they find in this environment tools to do that, rethinking norms in terms of values for instance. In the long run these changes will certainly translate into a theological rethinking, but anyway it does not make sense to associate modernity with theological liberalism: to think like that means either distorting history or relying on wishful thinking.
Interview: Eren Güvercin
© Qantara.de 2010
Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de
Rabia Bouzian, a 24 year old woman of Moroccan origin, has been chosen “Student of 2009” by the Student Unions LSVb and ISO and the ScienceGuide website in the Netherlands. She will be awarded by minister of education Ronald Plasterk (PvdA) Thursday afternoon.
Bouzian studies at Rotterdam University and was selected based on her work to reverse a high drop out rate among Moroccan students.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) awarded the Emmy-Award winning television show, “The Simpsons,” with its first MPAC Media Award this past April 25th. Animation director Steven Dean Moore accepted the award on behalf of “The Simpsons” production team, over the episode titled “Mypods and Broomsticks” which features a Muslim-American family new to Springfield. Many stereotypes about Muslims were presented and debunked in the show, which ultimately helped the show’s patriarch, Homer, to realize that Muslim-Americans were very similar to other Americans. “I hoped to humanize them,” Moore told IFN referring to the Muslim characters, adding that he was “pleasantly surprised” by the recognition. During the MPAC awards reception, Amy Goodman, founder and producer of the internationally-syndicated radio show “Democracy Now!” was also applauded. The ceremony, held in Los Angeles, California, was held to applaud and “recognize voices of courage and conscience.”
The US government has officially asked Germany to accept as many as 10 inmates from the Guantánamo Bay prison, handing over a list to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office and the Foreign Ministry. The request was made last week during a visit by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who spent four days in Europe talking to top judicial and interior officials from the European Union about how President Barack Obama intended to close the prison within the year. “A specific request has been made,” a German Interior Ministry spokesman said Sunday. After his talks in Berlin, Mr. Holder said Wednesday that 30 inmates could be freed immediately if a host country would be willing to take them in. In all, about 50 of the 241 inmates cannot be sent back to their own countries because they may be tortured or face the death penalty there. In an apparent contradiction to the Interior Ministry, Mr. Holder had added that no “specific requests” or “specific promises” had been made. The German interior and foreign ministries said Daniel Fried, a senior diplomat and a member of Mr. Holder’s team, had presented the list. Mr. Fried, who has been the assistant secretary of state for European affairs and is a former ambassador to Poland, is now Washington’s top diplomat dealing with the closing of the Guantánamo prison. The issue has divided the German government. Mrs. Merkel’s conservatives are in no hurry to accept any former inmates, fearing that they could pose a security threat. The Social Democrats, Mrs. Merkel’s coalition partners, are more eager to accept them, for moral reasons but also because they want to give the Obama administration tangible help. Wolfgang Schäuble, the interior minister and a member of Mrs. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, discussed with Mr. Holder in detail the logistics of taking in any inmates. Mr. Schäuble has always made it clear that the United States has primary responsibility for the inmates, because it opened the camp after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But in recent weeks, Mr. Schäuble also said Germany might consider taking some detainees, under certain conditions.
With the Guantanamo Bay prison set to close within a year, little has been said in recent US/Canada meetings about the fate of Canadian child solider, Omar Khadr. This Globe and Mail article suggests that, assuming that he is returned to Canada, as opposed to incarceration in the United States, serious thought must be given to his rehabilitation and eventual reintegration into society.
One model is Saudi Arabia’s comprehensive counterterrorism program aimed at prevention, rehabilitation and post-release care. A central feature of the program is the recognition the state must also engage in a “war of ideas” to combat the ideological justifications of violence. The Saudi government asserts its interpretation of Islam in which loyalty and obedience to the state are paramount. The Saudi prison rehabilitation program includes art therapy and theological debates between scholars and prisoners.
In a message purportedly from Al-Qaeda’s No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, the speaker criticized president-elect Barack Obama’s foreign policy positions on Afghanistan and Israel, and condemned his worldview. Al-Zawahiri also stated that the president-elect has “a heavy legacy of failure and crimes awaits” him.
The message also made reference to Obama’s heritage, condemning the fact that while his father was a Muslim, Obama is a Christian. “You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims, and pray the prayer of the Jews, although you claim to be Christian, in order to climb the rungs of leadership in America,” the message said.
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) condemned the statement’s “threatening rhetoric and racial slurs.”
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A two-day Muslim prayer festival could be staged in Corporation Park, Blackburn, next month. The event – the first of its kind outside London – would attract thousands of visitors from across the North West, according to the group behind the plans. They hope the festival would help change the image of Muslims and how Eid is celebrated among the wider community. Eid, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan in which Muslims fast, is due to take place on October 1. Jalal ibn Sa’eed Mohabbat, one of the organisers, said: “The Muslim community has been crying out for such an event. “As well as prayers in the morning the two-day festival will include funfairs, Islamic stalls and children’s games. “However, prayers will only be held on the first day. “We will celebrate on a second day for others to join in who did not pray on the first day. “It is important that the host community sees a united Muslim community and two times a year we can show them what and who we are.” National group the Eid Celebration Committee is behind the plans. It held a pilot event in Ealing, London, which was attended by thousands. Mr Mohabbat said: “In London the response was overwhelming. “According to Islamic texts regarding the Eid prayer must be prayed outdoors and can be prayed inside a masjid if it is necessary.” Local organiser Ashfaq Ahmed told of his plans for Blackburn: “We are hoping to cater for 3,500 people and the plan is to attract people from across the region.”
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