Beyond Islamisation; a roadmap for integration of Muslims in Europe

The term Islamisation increasingly dominates the media, political campaigns and even daily life in European countries; however, many reject the term and the identification of a growing number of Muslims in Europe as a threat to European values.

On March 2, at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, both academics and figures from religious communities addressed the topic “Islamisation of Europe: Myth or Reality,” as part of a panel discussion organised by the Diplomatic Academy Student Initiative Conference (DASICON). It became immediately obvious from the onset that all panel members, despite their diverse backgrounds, were sceptical about the term of Islamisation.

Dr. Bassam Tibi, a Professor at the University of Göttingen, highlighted that Islamisation has been exploited by the far-right political parties and has thus become a “contaminated term.” He noted that many Muslims themselves connote Islamisation in a positive light, regarding it as “an enhancement of the house of peace.” Adding to Tibi’s views, Nermina Mumic, Federal Chairperson at “Muslim Youth Austria”, warned against the latent distancing behind a term such as Islamisation; she argued that the debate should rather focus on how Muslims can be best integrated into their European communities.

All four panellists pointed to complex narratives regarding Islamisation which needed to be challenged and engaged with, rather than ignored, especially as many of them are deeply engrained within European identity. According to Dr. David Selim Sayers, visiting professor at the University of Vienna, Islamisation in Europe derives from “a long tradition of viewing Islam as the Other.” Sayers argued that this view is a constituent building-block of the European identity and Europeans should rather focus on becoming conscious of this fact.

This view of Islam as “the Other” is a driving force behind the fear many Western Christians have of Muslims, which has often placed them at odds with one another. However, Father Peter Schipka, Secretary General of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, said he does not view Islam as a threat to Christianity but rather as a welcome addition to a pluralistic society. “The increase of Muslims –  is that a threat for Christians?” Schipka asked. “I would not support this opinion. I’m not threatened by pluralism in a free society, as long as it remains free.” Schipka added that he regards growing secularisation and a weakening of the Christian faith as starker problems facing the Church.

Still, Mumic was not convinced that the majority of Western Christians share Schipka’s views. “In the whole discourse, empathy is crucial for understanding each other,” Mumic added, “and I do understand that people are afraid when it comes to Islamisation.” Mumic believes that much of the fear stems from negative experiences in European culture with religious authorities. However, she reminded the audience that many Muslims want the same European values of human rights and equality, which is what is most important in the integration and Islamisation debate.

Mumic further added that the term “values,” when speaking about human rights, gender equality and other similar issues is actually misleading because these are in fact inviolable norms – norms which are also respected by the young Austrian-Muslims she represents. This ties in with the concept of a “Euro-Islam”, which was first propagated by Dr. Tibi in the 1980s. This concept, predicated on the claim there are diverse forms of Islam, holds that the European form of Islam is more liberal and accepting of these norms. What then for those Muslims arriving in Europe but coming from other forms of Islam?

Selim Sayers explained that such a process of adaption can be long, but it is evinced by the experience of the Turks in Germany who have found a place in European society not strictly limited to their Islamic roots.

While the panel did not exhaust all dimensions of this long-existing debate, many members alluded to a need for further, more direct dialogue with the Islamic community. Mumic spoke again about the troublesome subjectification behind such debates: “we talk about Muslims, but we do not talk with them.” Selim Sayers encouraged Europeans, especially the young population, to experience different aspects of this culture which are “not overdetermined by this overall discourse.”

“At the end of the day what we all want here in Europe is living together in peace, having a secure future.” Mumic said.

“Fueling debates of Islamisation suggests that Muslims are not part of the society. They are somehow different and because they are different they have to be treated differently. This is totally against our European values. Our European values are that we are all equal.”

Bassam Tibi Professor emeritus of International Relations at the University of Göttingen

Peter Schipka Secretary General of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference

Nermina Mumic  Federal Chairperson at “Muslim Youth Austria”

David Selim Sayers Visiting Professor for Turkish Studies at the University of Vienna

Moderation: Nicholas Lieb, ETIA candidate