How can tensions produced by the presence of Muslims in the West best be overcome? From what sources do these tensions arise—from economic and social factors or from cultural and value differences? What role does public policy play in addressing these tensions for the benefit of all citizens? What does the current landscape of Muslim communities in the West look like? What visions might be offered for the future? What tools can be used to build community resilience, prevent extremism, promote successful integration, and enhance security? In what ways can Muslim youth and women help infuse new vitality into Europe? What practices, if any, have been proven successful in addressing security and integration issues? Should the practice of Islam itself be adapted in any way to the realities of life in the West?
These questions and more were addressed and answered during presentations, debates, and working group sessions over the course of the conference “Muslim Youth and Women in the West: Source of Concern or Source of Hope?” The conference was held May 15—17, 2007, in Salzburg, Austria, and was convened by New York University Center for Dialogues: Islamic World—U.S.—The West at the Salzburg Global Seminar.
The Center for Dialogues’ founder and director Mustapha Tlili opened the conference by noting the complexities surrounding issues of muslims in the West: the weight of historical memory, the distortions of globalization, the media's simplistic reductions and politicians' instrumentalizations. Mr. Tlili proposed the consideration of a new "citizenship pact" that would take into account today's diverse societies in defining the terms under which the integration of Muslim communities in the West should occur. Such a rethinking of the reciprocal obligations of state and citizens could offer hope for the future rather than alienation.
The mayor of Salzburg, Heinz Schaden, welcomed the conference participants and noted that Salzburg is a particularly appropriate site, as the city has the largest number of residents of non—European origin in the European Union and Islam is the second most popular religion in the city’s schools. Salzburg Global Seminar senior vice president and chief program officer, Edward Mortimer, added that conference participants had an important contribution to make in forging new relations of trust and mutual respect among people of different religions and cultures.
Austrian Federal Minister for European and International Affairs, Dr. Ursula Plassnik addressed the issue of building confidence among people of different social, cultural, and economic backgrounds, so all can live harmoniously together. While Europe is already pluralistic in many ways, it is time for Europeans to ask some self—critical questions regarding whether current policies support rather than stifle cultural differences. She mentioned the need to develop tools that prevent young Muslims from becoming stuck in a spiral of hopelessness. As for Muslim women, she noted that this group comprises women with a vast range of education levels, backgrounds, family situations, countries of origin, and personal orientations toward Islam. The challenges they face, including employment issues and battering husbands, are certainly not limited to the Muslim population. She closed by cautioning participants about the danger of indifference, which is frequently camouflaged as tolerance in Europe’s dealings with its Muslims citizens. Instead, she suggested we emulate the image of two extended hands: one extended toward Muslim communities in Europe and the other extended toward the Muslim world beyond Europe’s borders.
The conference brought together 60 policy makers, community leaders, scholars, media professionals, and activists from Europe, North America, and the Arab world, including Muslims and non—Muslims. Among the attendees were Rabin Baldewsingh, deputy mayor of the Hague; Sophie Body—Gendrot, director of the Center for Urban Studies at the Sorbonne; Ambassador Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, secretary general of the Organization for Security and Co—operation in Europe (OSCE); Abdelmajid Charfi, professor emeritus of humanities and Islamic studies at the University of Tunis; Roger Hardy, Middle East and Islamic affairs analyst for the BBC World Service; Karen Brooks Hopkins, president of the Brooklyn Academy of Music; Shireen Hunter, visiting scholar at Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim—Christian Understanding; Kamel Kabtane, rector of the Grand Mosque of Lyon; filmmaker Zarqa Nawaz; Farhan Nizami, director of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies; Farah Pandith, senior adviser on Muslim engagement at the State Department; Tariq Ramadan, professor of Islamic studies at St Antony’s College, Oxford University; Iqbal Riza, special adviser to the UN Secretary—General on the Alliance of Civilizations; Martin Schain, professor of politics at New York University; and Susan Scholefield, director general for Equalities in the United Kingdom’s Department for Communities and Local Government. Participants heard presentations on the statistical makeup of Europe’s Muslim communities, arguments in favor of viewing Muslims’ integration in the context of general immigration issues, and case studies relating to the United Kingdom and United States, official approaches to integration, and security. Participants also engaged in vigorous debate over such critical issues as the role of the state vis—à—vis Muslim communities, the relationship between integration and security, and whether religious identity or socioeconomic position is the better lens through which to examine integration. The conference concluded with a session focused on providing concrete policy recommendations—as well as means of accountability to determine the effectiveness of the recommendations in fostering Western acceptance of diversity in general and particularly of Muslims as welcome and equal citizens.
The conference reached the following conclusions, which are expressed as an “action plan” to facilitate their implementation:
Western media frequently depict Muslim communities (both in the West and the wider Muslim world) in terms of negative stereotypes. The result is widespread misconceptions that damage relations between Muslim and non—Muslim communities. In response to this are the following proposals:
The exchange of “best practices” —sharing case studies of successful approaches to integration, security, and religious practice—was generally seen as a useful exercise, despite some participants’ reservations that the context of Muslim experiences differs significantly from country to country. The following can help to promote this exchange:
Integration is relevant not only in relation to security issues, but requires a careful rethinking of the rights and responsibilities of citizens as well as a willingness to expand the traditional ethnic and religious profile of the “standard” citizen.