On 24th-25th June, 2015 the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) hosted their annual conference in the European Parliament on the theme of ‘Islam in Europe.’
The conference was particularly interesting as it featured a variety of speakers, ranging from academics, religious leaders, politicians and other professionals. The topics covered were also broad, addressing politics and religion, the dynamics of radicalisation, integration and progressive Islam.
The purpose of the conference was to address the recent challenges to Europe’s basic values, such as tolerance, free speech, gender equality and secularism, by extreme elements acting in the name of Islam.
In turn, it also sought to address the spread of far right anti-Muslim hate and Islamophobia by calling on progressives to take the lead in the mainstream approach to tackling radical extremism.
In particular, I was asked to speak about radicalisation and what feeds it. All in all, although extremism is never justified, there are a number of factors in Europe that are linked to its rise. Western foreign policy undoubtedly plays a part, as Muslims feel enraged by US-backed dictatorships, the lack of intervention in the wake of bloodshed and murder perpetrated by Middle Eastern leaders and the double- standards on issues such as Israel and Palestine.
Domestic factors also play a role such as poverty, lack of opportunity, marginalisation, rising discrimination and draconian secular laws such as the French Hijab ban imposed in the name of secularism.
All of this creates a ‘space’ for extreme groups to manipulate vulnerable, disenfranchised youth and make what seems to be a ‘just’ case for what is merely a cause for power, control and terror.
It is imperative that progressive elements regain this ‘space’ by reconnecting with all communities living in Europe and by offering a show of solidarity with them in the unique challenges, struggles, fears and hopes that they face.
It is crucial to break down feelings of mistrust spurred on by an increasing pressure to assimilate inorganically. We must create an environment of genuine inclusion and acceptance; an environment in which all communities feel empowered enough to flourish and thrive in their own unique way.
A society’s true strength is in its diversity, as the range of cultures, experiences, outlooks and different skills feed its growth. Forced homogeneity, on the other hand, can only suffocate and repress this, fuelling the sort of tensions we see today. As the EU Foreign Affairs High Representative, Federica Mogherini said ‘you can put labels on boxes but you cannot put labels on communities.’
Radicalisation is a largely a symptom of the many issues that affect European society today. Our double standards on the world stage, our fears and insecurities related to the ‘other’ that leads us to crack down on minorities, our fears and insecurities related to our own past and so much more are all part and parcel of the same problem. Its time to confront these issues honestly if we are to halt the rise of extremism in its path.