The recent spate of terror attacks in Europe highlight a highly fragile relationship between European secularism and Islam. There is an urgent need to address the issue.
Europe is clearly on edge; recent spates of Islamist terror attacks targeting innocent civilians has highlighted the extremely worrying situation of law and order amidst the worrying state of the civilizational relationship in the European heartland. Beginning in France with the beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty followed by a string of other jihadist attacks in other European cities has sent shockwaves across the world which has resulted in a deep impact on the polity and life of the citizens. A new dimension of conflict has commenced in the European countries which threatens to tear asunder the religious amity of Europe and create a chimera which threatens to ignite a large geopolitical conflict based largely on religious and institutional grounds.
Decoding the conflict
The conflicts between European and Islamic civilizations are not new, it dates back to the days of the crusades- a series of religious wars sanctioned by the Vatican to retake the European lands captured and annexed by Islamic rulers to reconvert them on the lines of Christianity. These wars date back to the 8th to 11th centuries. Fast forward to the beginning of the modern age in Europe from the 16th century onwards which was accentuated by the Renaissance and the Reformation somehow deepened this conflict primarily on the basis that European countries began a global colonization of countries belonging to other civilizations and faiths.
The height of this colonization reached its climax during the various treaties signed during the First World War which allowed the victorious Allied powers to take over the countries of the defeated central powers and govern them as mandates under the aegis of the erstwhile League of Nations, among them the most prominent were the territories of the beleaguered Ottoman Empire recognized somewhat derogatorily as “The sick man of Europe”. Ottoman Turkey was regarded as the fourth caliphate and the Ottoman Sultan was recognized as the caliph. In the 1950s immediately after the termination of the Second World War, these colonies slowly gained their independence, noteworthy among them are Algeria, Tunisia, and other Islamic African countries.
One of the primary sources of this civilizational clash is the text of Islamic theologian and preacher Sayyid at Qutb who in his magnum opus Milestones articulated the inbuilt conflict between Europe and Islam and called for the overthrow of the Westphalian world order and the re-imposition of an Islamic caliphate. The Christian side too has its own share of anti-Muslim scholars and thinkers such as Robert Spencer and Olivier Roy who contributed to flaring up of virulent anti-Muslim tensions.
The notion of secularism in different European countries also appeared to be a potent cause for up stirring a clash of civilizations as the American political scientist Samuel P Huntington put it. Laicite which advocates the strict separation of state and religion in the French context appears to be the culprit if it is placed in the broad European framework. Based on this principle, successive French governments have taken steps which have alienated the Muslim brethren around the world such as the banning of hijab wearing, closing of madrasas in Europe and making the state language mandatory for getting jobs and availing of other services which were emulated in other European countries which accentuated the sense of dissatisfaction within the Muslim people.
Thus, the seeds of a fiercely conflictual relationship had been laid for quite some time which appears to threaten the European countries.
Mending the fissures
It is high time that European nation states undertake the arduous task of rebuilding the broken bridge with its Muslim minority populations because the more the distrust and contumacious behaviour between the people increase, the more fissures will emerge in the European polity which will entail horrific ramifications for the unity of the European Union in the foreseeable future. Some steps which can be taken just in the nick of time will help.
Firstly, holding interfaith dialogues and seminars on religious affairs at regular intervals will help. This will help the European and Islamic countries to undertake a deep understanding of the beliefs and culture of the religion of Islam and Christianity alike, its history, its religious books and ingrained aspects of religious matters.
Secondly, teaching courses of Christian and Islamic civilizations in not just European universities but also in the Islamic universities across Muslim countries; this step will go a long way in understanding the nuances of both civilizations while emphasizing on their good values, avoiding the friction points and addressing outstanding gridlock-like issues. Thirdly, An overarching state regulated program for de-radicalization of Islamist militants is vital; care should be taken to ensure that these miscreants are not released until promising results of the fact that they are capable enough of mixing to the mainstream of the society. Otherwise, there could be a recap of what happened recently in Austria.
Fourthly, reining in the extremist elements within every religion, the European governments must take strong steps to root out extremism on both sides of the religious and ideological spectrum. The recent arrest of dozens of far rights activists in Germany who planned large scale attacks on mosques as well as the Austrian and French raids on radical Islamic elements and closing down of Salafi and Wahhabi mosques which foment extremist beliefs are cases in point.
Fifthly, introspection on the part of recalcitrant and reactionary European leaders is an important necessity, this includes leaders like Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Viktor Orban of Romania. The European Union must collectively take stern steps through punitive economic and political measures to rein in these leaders who through their incendiary speeches fan the flames of communalism with the ostensible objective of promoting civilizational discord.
Hope for a better future
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”, this is precisely what is happening in Europe and elsewhere; the moot point is that the prophecy of Samuel P Huntington in his magnum opus “Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of World Order” appears to be slowly in the process of becoming the truth. But Europe has a chance to once again become the beacon of unity and hope for the rest of the world which is currently suffering from the scourge of a deadly pandemic. A healing touch is imperative at the time of depressive economic conditions, loss of millions of jobs and a constant fear of life.
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