Mr. Tlili opened the roundtable portion of the session by noting that for Muslims around the world, Islam is more than just a private matter of faith. It is also an external reference, and Muslims are concerned about issues affecting their fellow Muslims over the world. Thus in order to respond to concerns of Muslim constituents, local authorities in the West must understand global issues. In addition, he noted, in the last few years many European countries have come to the conclusion that their approaches to integrating their Muslim communities have failed. One new proposal is to develop and define a “citizenship pact” that would not be a binding agreement, but rather a clear understanding of what is expected from Muslim citizens in the West. He remarked that the present session explored these issues from two perspectives: the geopolitical angle, which ties together the domestic and global, and the local angle, focusing on the interaction between Muslim communities—in Europe, in particular—and their adopted countries.
He then asked Ambassador Ralph Scheide, deputy director general for political affairs and director of the Near and Middle East Department and Africa, Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs of Austria, how, in his view, Austria’s recognition of Islam has furthered the integration of Austrian Muslims.
Ambassador Scheide started by discussing Austria’s history, which differs in certain respects from other European countries. Islam was recognized as an official religion in 1912, after the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s absorption of Serbia–Herzegovina. In the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, Austria absorbed a large number of Muslims from different countries (beginning with Turkey), many of whom now have Austrian nationality. These people came as guest workers, as did people from the former Yugoslavia. In the 1990s, Austria absorbed refugees from the Balkan wars, first from Bosnia and then Kosovo, many of whom have remained and become Austrian.
Ambassador Scheide next pointed out that European states deal differently in their relations with Islam as a religion. In Austria, “churches” have an official status, whether Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. From the Austrian state’s point of view, he added, it is an advantage to have a direct interlocutor for the Muslim community with whom all relevant issues–education, building mosques, etc.–can be discussed.
Mr. Tlili next asked Ambassador Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, secretary general of the Organization for Security and Co–operation in Europe (OSCE), the following questions:
Although Muslim majority states of the OSCE are at the margins of Muslim world, they are key for European security, especially since the fall of the USSR. These states have undergone profound changes–among them a reawakening of Islam. How do you assess these changes and relate them to Muslims in Europe? Do you see similarities, lessons to be learned, or best practices when you compare the situation of Muslim communities in Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union? How do you assess the variable “Islam” in the security equation created by the situation that I have just described, particularly as regard repercussions on Muslim minorities in Western Europe?
Ambassador Perrin de Brichambaut began by noting that some might wonder why someone who deals with security was present at a conference on Muslim youth and women in the West. He explained that since 1975, the OSCE has defined “security” broadly because political agreement among states does not mean real peace if the human, economic, and social dimensions are not satisfied.
He noted that the OSCE had remarkable success encouraging the fast transformation of post–USSR societies. Having a common framework of values has proved very successful for these countries. However, the OSCE has had less success with countries where democratic conditions are less favorable for cultural and economic reasons. Hence today most of the OSCE’s attention is dedicated to easing the democratic transition in parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where the rule of law has not yet been as successfully consolidated.
The question we share, Ambassador Perrin de Brichambaut noted, is whether such a value–based, collective, “peer pressure” approach can be effective in terms of the integration of new groups and new minorities in OSCE states. So far the OSCE track record has been less brilliant in this new field. For the past five years, the OSCE has been addressing the issue by promoting tolerance. This has been achieved through a series of meetings in Córdoba, Spain, which stressed that all communities and all religions shared equal responsibility for promoting dialogue, nondiscrimination, mutual respect, and understanding. The meetings found that national minorities want to participate actively in normal, mainstream society but need support. At the same time, they want rights protecting their full identity: their language, culture, and religion. It is easy to assert rights, Ambassador Perrin de Brichambaut noted, but translating them into practical implementation is crucial–and more difficult. He added that two other meetings are to be held, one in the fall on Islamophobia and another on issues regarding youth.
The OSCE has also been trying to combine the principles of security and respect–the need to fight terrorist groups and to respect human rights and the rule of law (for example, the need to balance freedom of speech with protection for the symbols of religious life). He added that the question of standards on this issue is still being debated among the OSCE states. Today, the OSCE is in dialogue with its Mediterranean partners on issues of tolerance. In discussing the Danish cartoon incident, Mediterranean states like Egypt and Algeria were the most vocal in demanding investment in the issues of respect and dialogue. The OSCE is actively involved in seeking a more permanent and solid exchange with these partners for the future.
Mr. Tlili then asked Iqbal Riza, special adviser to the United Nations Secretary–General on the Alliance of Civilizations, to give his opinion on the role of the High Representative and describe what the Alliance of Civilizations can do to facilitate the integration of Muslims in the West.
Mr. Riza said that the Alliance of Civilizations’ responsibility is to follow the recommendations on two levels: the political and the operational. On the political level, the source of tensions between the Muslim and the Western world arises from the internal state of the Muslim societies that are trying to keep up with the rapidly changing world and Western interventions in the Muslim world post–1945. Possible ways to alleviate these tensions may include the Irish model: bringing extremists into the debate.
Mr. Riza noted that today, religion is playing a role in politics all around the world and not just in the Muslim world. In Europe, for example, over 70 percent identify themselves as being Christians, while in the United States, the president ran on a platform that he frequently identified as “Christian.”
Mr. Riza also noted that the complaints of Muslims regarding Islamophobia in the West need to be matched by a recognition of the “Westophobia” common in the Muslim world. The media on both sides are exacerbating the problem by presenting a negative view of “the other.”
Finally, Mr. Riza suggested that the “Jewish question” of the 1930s might have relevance as a comparison to today. In the 1930s, Europeans asked whether Jewish communities were fully integrated or whether they were separate communities within Europe. This question led to problems and ultimately the Holocaust. Is there a “Muslim question” developing in Europe today?
Mr. Tlili asked Ambassador Hans Gnodtke, commissioner for dialogue with the Islamic world and dialogue among civilizations, German Federal Foreign Office, whether he believes that the time has come for Western European countries to seriously consider developing a citizenship pact as described earlier. Ambassador Gnodtke said that replacing integration with a social contract would change labels but not the problem. It is a challenge to define what Muslims can expect from their chosen nations and what these receiving countries can expect of the immigrants. One may call the outcome either integration or a contract, but the core issue is coming to terms with the stress that this population shift puts on both the migrants’ communities and the receiving countries. Ambassador Gnodtke added that it was not appropriate to deal with this issue at the European level because of the differences between the states in terms of the respective legal and constitutional bases of citizenship and the composition of the migrant population. He also noted his involvement with the German Islam Conference’s Working Group One, dealing with “German society and the consensus on basic values.” It is one of three working groups of the German Islam Conference, a program of negotiation and communication between the government and the German Muslim community. Working groups two and three deal, respectively, with “religion and the constitution” and “the bridging role of media and economy.” He went on to say that there was a consensus among Muslim participants that they were happy to be in their chosen countries and generally able to practice their religion more freely than in some of their countries of origin. However, things were not ideal; they had aspirations and hopes that they had expected to realize in their country of choice that they had not be able to fulfill.
Despite this consensus, Ambassador Gnodtke asked why receiving countries looked at Muslim populations as a problem. In answer to his own question, he stated that the problem was related to the access of migrants to the labor market, in particular the Muslim youth in Germany who have higher unemployment rates than non–Muslims due to their lack of language skills. This barrier is usually overcome by the third generation, while the original immigrants remain insulated in homogeneous communities with access to satellite TV in their native tongue. He noted that education is the key to fighting this problem, which has no specific relation to Islam but is just a general migration issue.
Ambassador Gnodtke continued by stating the necessity for Muslims in the West to come to terms with the majority society. Issues of gender equality, adequate opportunities for young girls, and the right of young people to choose their own education are not specifically religious issues, but are complicated by the traditions of patriarchal societies of origin. For example, Turkish officials visiting Germany claimed that the Turkish immigrant population in Germany was more “backward” than society in the big Turkish cities; this group would be under the same pressure to assimilate if they moved back to urban Turkey.
Ambassador Gnodtke suggested that classic integration issues should be addressed differently than in the past, by establishing a dialogue with the people directly affected as well as with Muslim community leaders. This should be promoted at the national level. He added the impossibility of the German state to recognize any religion, due to its national legal system, but that five main Muslim congregations in Germany agreed to form a coordinating council and would apply for public status so as to obtain financing.
He also raised the need to keep in mind that only 20 percent of Muslims in Germany are organized in religious communities, and that within the Muslim communities, there is a lot of diversity (Shia, Ismailis, etc.). To do justice to them all, a social pact cannot be attached while treating Muslims as one homogeneous group.
Next, Mr. Tlili asked Farah Pandith, senior adviser on Muslim engagement, U.S. Department of State, to discuss if any lessons from the American experience of integrating minority groups would be valuable for Europe, and to what extent a solution to these issues would undercut support for extremist trends.
Ms. Pandith said there were no lessons to be given. The United States is a country of immigrants with no integration policy for Muslims or any other ethnic group. Estimates indicate that 3 to 12 million Muslims from more than 80 different ethnic backgrounds live in the United States today. She then explained that the United States took a long time getting to the point of nonprejudice and laws for equality. Muslims have benefited from other groups who came to the United States beforehand and fought these battles.
In addition, Ms. Pandith argued that there are some interesting points that make it possible for American Muslims to feel part of the community. First, there is an understanding that everyone has the same civil rights and is equal under law. Second, Muslims and other groups tend to quickly blend their American identity and their cultural traditions. For example, at Thanksgiving, Italians eat pasta with turkey and Pakistanis eat biryiani with turkey. Third, in the workplace, Muslim Americans cannot be discriminated against because of their religion. They enjoy the hard–won legal freedom to wear ethnic dress and to pray. Fourth, many Muslim Americans learned English and learned to empower themselves within the community by watching their neighbors. Imams have found it essential to speak English to be able to communicate, in particular with youth seeking religious guidance. Ms. Pandith commented that the American narrative of being American “first” is insinuated early on (for instance, in school). It takes priority but leaves space for ethnic and religious identity. While immigrants often came to the United States with the thought of returning “home” to their country of origin, the next generation tends to identify the United States as home and where they are going to stay. Feeling at home is a key part of keeping away the feeling of being a victim.
In regard to European Muslim communities, Ms. Pandith remarked that the youths she encountered were raising a number of questions: Why do we feel like victims? Why do we have to choose between being a European national and a Muslim? Why are imams teaching us in Turkish rather than in German? Why don’t our parents encourage us to feel like Europeans? Why are our parents not more intent on education? In the United States, immigrant parents have generally pushed their kids to learn. Education is seen as a ticket to equal access. By contrast, she noted that in Europe there is no similar push and that it is easy to feel like a victim if you cannot find a job and thus a place in the community.
Wael Mousfar, president of the Arab Muslim American Federation in New York, responded to Ms. Pandith’s comments by suggesting that American Muslim and Arab immigrants may integrate and thrive because they become citizens. In Germany, he said, he had heard that Muslims are not allowed to become citizens as easily as in the United States, leaving them excluded from the system–from having a say in government or running for office.
Ambassador Gnodtke responded by saying that German law has been changed to give immigrants easier access to citizenship. Even under the old law, it was possible to become German–more difficult, but the myth of Germany simply not granting nationality is just a myth. But Germany does require those who want citizenship to give up their nationality of origin. In the Turkish community, many have opted against citizenship, perhaps in the hope that Turkey will join the EU.
Sophie Body–Gendrot, director of the Center for Urban Studies, the Sorbonne, noted that these comments made no distinction between generations of immigrants, from those who just arrived to the third generation. There is a huge difference, particularly with respect to women and youth. She mentioned an example taken from a conference in Berlin, in which a young French man of Arab origin and a young German man of Turkish origin shared the same frustrations–of employment and also of resenting their fathers, who kept links to countries of origin and sent money there, out of the pockets of their families in Europe. There is common ground among people of the same immigrant generation across countries–hence the need to delineate generations. Martin Schain, professor of politics, New York University, responded to Ms. Pandith’s comments by cautioning against too much optimism when comparing American and European Muslim communities. The American Muslim community is better educated and better employed than the overall U.S. population, making the comparison with Europe potentially misplaced, since the European Muslim community is less educated and employed in fewer numbers, as clearly demonstrated by the background paper that the Center for Dialogues disseminated to the conference participants.01 Also, he noted, at least a third of the American Muslim community is African American and native to the United States. In the United States, there is confusion between the Arab community and Muslim community. These considerations raise the question of conceptualizations. In Europe, many community issues are questions of class as much as religion: Muslim Europeans are largely working and middle class, while in the United States, they are middle and upper–middle class. Ms. Pandith agreed with Mr. Schain’s comments: salary, education, and context make a huge difference in the immigrant experience. She cautioned against using the expression “lessons learned” saying that the whole world is learning together.
Hassan Qazwini, an imam from Detroit, responded to Mr. Riza’s positing the development of a “Muslim question” along the lines of the “Jewish question” and its terrible result. Imam Qazwini doubted that a holocaust was a realistic possibility today, for Muslims or any other group. However, he noted that there are voices in the United States speaking of an expulsion of Muslims from the country and asked whether Mr. Riza saw this as a possibility. Mr. Riza noted that he had asked participants to keep in mind what happened in the 1930s and had not stated that history would repeat itself. However, in terms of the negative effects of suspicion being placed on a certain community, and that community’s exclusion from society, a holocaust is only the most extreme example. If a certain atmosphere is created to make life in the host country uncomfortable for a minority group, the group might start leaving of its own accord. Extremists say, well if they do not like it here, they can go back. But this attitude ignores the very reason why the first generation chose to emigrate: because conditions were bad in the country of origin.
Mr. Riza noted that immigration has been a fact for millennia, and integration has meant different things in different times and places. In the United States, for example, there is both a fully integrated Chinese community as well as Chinese people in “Chinatowns” who still do not speak English. However, these immigrants are not seen as foreign plants or a threat to society. Muslim communities have been susceptible to violence and radicalism because of problems in the source communities as well as the lack of opportunities in receiving communities, particularly for working–class citizens of immigrant background. It is an unfortunate fact, Mr. Riza claimed, that the upper classes in minority communities do not identify with the working class.
Abdul Wahid Pedersen, foreign relations manager of the Muslim Council of Denmark, said that he lives in the heartland of the Muslim “ghetto” of Copenhagen. He worries because he sees Danish converts like himself feeling that they are being pushed out of mainstream Danish society from the moment they take up Islam. They may eventually feel compelled toward some kind of clash or confrontation with the majority society. This problem must be addressed so that alienation and anger do not result. He added that the media are an important part of this process.
Ahmed Turkstani, professor, Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University, asked about the role of the Muslim world in the issue of integration, since events in the Muslim world have a direct effect on Muslim minorities in the West. Mr. Turkstani also asked whether the recent call for integration is a response to radicalization. He questioned the difference between integration and assimilation, whether one is more “complete” or absolute than the other.
Ambassador Gnodtke responded to Mr. Turkstani’s question about integration by asking participants to bear in mind what young Muslims complain about: lack of social recognition, which cannot be ordained from above but comes only from merit. It can only be achieved by integrating into society, which involves making society aware that one is contributing to the common wealth. For this to happen, one must speak the language and engage with and participate in society. If minorities choose to remain out of the mainstream, they cannot gain recognition. The state needs to support integration; it cannot make it happen, but it can facilitate it. Mr. Riza responded to the question of why people migrate by saying that migrants move for better economic and social prospects, which are often realized by the second and third generations. To integrate and assimilate, migrants have to know the language and know and respect the rules of their new country. He noted that there are various models for this process, including the “melting pot” in the United States and Canada. He also noted that Chinese communities that have not fully integrated are nevertheless not violent. What has happened with Muslim communities in Europe cannot be disconnected from acts of violence, for which one cannot simply blame differences in clothing or not learning the language. When it comes to harming host societies as happened in London, responsibility is with homegrown British Muslims.2 Host communities’ fear and suspicion arise from these acts of violence. However, he noted, host communities also need to be tolerant–of what women wear, for example, whether a headscarf or a miniskirt.
Shireen Hunter, visiting scholar at the Center for Muslim–Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, observed that the problem of Muslim communities in the West today cannot be divorced from the broader strategic context of the Western world’s relation with the Islamic world. Why does the West feel so much more threatened by Muslims than by, for example, the Hare Krishnas, she asked. Is religion the issue? The Middle East has also seen secular extremism. Ms. Hunter noted that the colonial context changes European relationships with Muslim communities. While she felt that Ms. Pandith’s description of the United States was too rosy, Muslims in the United States are not in the situation of coming to live in a former colonial power. She noted that in the 1960s, the United States was willing to accept a large number of South Asian immigrants because the United States is a multiracial community. Also, the United States is larger than European states, which are smaller and more homogeneous, making race a greater issue there.
Ms. Hunter reiterated the point raised earlier that integration is a two–way street, with immigrants in a stage of “probation” that they must adapt to the mainstream before having the legitimacy to contest it. She pointed out that in recent years, reporters calling her to ask about Muslims in the United States have been asking about her religion, to which she responds by asking why her religion is pertinent.
Imam Qazwini said that Muslims consider the fate of Muslim minorities in non–Muslim states seriously. They have taken concrete steps by working with the OSCE and other organizations on training courses for immigrants, with additional courses for countries with the most immigrants. He noted that the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is also working with nonmember states and NGOs, with joint programs planned.
Mr. Pedersen mentioned a debate sparked by a Danish member of parliament who compared the headscarf with the Nazi swastika. The debate developed into one on the niqab, he said, which very few women in Denmark wear.3 However, a Danish convert who worked as a day care provider was caught up in the debate. Although parents were very satisfied with her work, the local government took her off the job, and said, according to Mr. Pedersen, that “you girls wearing this sort of veil are not ready to participate in the labor market.” Mr. Pedersen also cited the example of forced marriages, agreeing that while there is no compulsion to marriage in Islam, there is a need for tolerance from the other side. Ideally, a Danish girl who wants to marry a Muslim, for example, should not be pressured by her family to call off the marriage.
Rabin Baldewsingh, deputy mayor, The Hague, said that the most striking aspect of the session was the degree of hope expressed by the participants. The greatest challenge today is getting people in urban, multicultural areas to commit to one another and to the local community. The Netherlands prefers the term “citizenship,” with its connotations of belonging, caring, and sharing, instead of “integration.” He asked Ms. Pandith to elaborate on how to create the mindset she discussed, of people feeling a kind of ownership in their city. How, he asked, can we in The Netherlands, a humanistic Catholic society, make a welcome home for Hindu and Muslim immigrants? Ms. Pandith responded by saying that in The Netherlands, there are Muslim–elected officials at all levels, including high offices. This example offers hope, and those elected officials are role models. She added that community involvement is needed on the business level, including programs to bring young people from minority communities into local businesses, helping motivate them to turn their hopes into something real. Governments can contribute by using the Internet to further empower and establish connectivity between Danish, French, British, and other youth.
Karen Hopkins, president of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Regent of the Department of Education in New York City, responded by saying that she wanted to return to the issue of language. In New York, the largest percentage of high school dropouts is ESL (English as a second language) students. Why is there not a universal commitment to solving this problem? Israel, for instance, uses intensive immersion to teach the national language so newcomers can participate and join in society. In–depth language teaching is not the center of school policy in the United States and the European Union–why not? Ambassador Gnodtke agreed with Ms. Hopkins that language is the key to joining society; for people who do not speak the language, everything else is locked. In Germany, he noted, there is a concentration on language training, but universal fluency cannot be accomplished by government offices alone. It also requires commitment from parents and pupils.
Farhan Nizami, director of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, also asked participants to consider what the host countries’ responsibilities are to reinvent their historical narratives to accommodate those who come in. Furthermore, regarding the issue of violent extremism, he asked whether it should be addressed in terms of law and order or in terms of cultural and social polity. In response, Ambassador Perrin de Brichambaut noted that the nation–state model has historically been and continues to be the model for Europe. Change requires time, as well as specific efforts to put things into perspective. This is a republican project, as in the case of France, which offers the nation as a place for shared values rather than a shared historical background. Progress is happening gradually, with new textbooks coming out that reflect France’s new multicultural reality. But the teachers themselves have to be trained to teach the new narrative. As for cultural violence, he stated that immigrants must recognize the rule of law, even when it is not fair or effective, since deeper societal change takes time. This is what the OSCE is trying to encourage; governments, media, NGOs, educators, private and public enterprise, and civil society all have a role to play in this process.
Naheed Qureshi, board member, Muslim Advocates USA, noted that there had been job discrimination against American Muslims even before September 11, and new targeting and scrutiny since then, including an increase in hate crimes, discrimination at work, housing, and so on. These actions contribute to the feelings of marginalization and exclusion among the Muslim community. It is not only a question of learning the language or getting an education and a job, but also about being welcomed and accepted. We need to think about how Muslim communities are treated and how lives are affected in the post–September 11 world.
She illustrated her point with a personal anecdote, noting that while working as an attorney for the federal government in the field of human rights and hate crimes, she was traveling on business with her boss, the assistant attorney general, to attend a community forum. She was detained in the airport for two hours despite having been born and raised in the United States, never having lived anywhere else, and being a native speaker of English. She is in a position to work with the government to build relationships with the Muslim community, and yet she was treated as a foreigner.
The session closed with Salah Al–Wahibi, secretary general of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Saudi Arabia, stating that youth all over the world have problems, and unemployment exists even in the wealthy Gulf Cooperation Council countries. He also noted that there have been Muslim minorities all over the world, including in Europe, who have been present for more than 12 centuries and who have frequently had positive experiences. Some communities have sophisticated links with the local government, the federal government, and society at large. Muslim minorities are not something new, and there are many positive experiences out there. At the same time, Muslim communities in the West today are having problems, while in Mecca, there are Burmese and other non-Saudi communities that have been there for more than 40 years and yet still speak their own languages and are unable to cope with the Arabic environment. They are illegally immigrating to other areas of the kingdom, like Riyadh. This is becoming a concern because these communities are poor, and crime rates are rising in Mecca and Jeddah.
Regarding Ms. Pandith’s presentation, he suggested that she drew too rosy a picture of the situation before September 11 and that after September 11, the image of Muslims is no longer a positive one, in particular, from the perspective of security agencies. Even white American Muslims have been interrogated for hours in U.S. airports. They go to Mecca, he explained, but while they are there performing their religious duties, they remain concerned about the problems they will face at immigration upon their return to the United States.Back to the top.