‘Current Challenges to Religious Freedom’ with Anton Tunega Foundation (Slovakia).
– Heiner Bielefeldt, Prof. Dr. Dr. H.c., University of Erlangen-Nürnberg
– Ján Figel’, Ing. PhD. Dr.h.c. mult., Anton Tunega Foundation
– Rebecca Shah, Senior Fellow & Principal Investigator Religion & Economic Empowerment Project, Archbridge Institute
– Miriam Lexmann, MEP, EPP, Member of DEPA – ModeratorMiriam Lexmann Ján Figel Religion
NET@WORK Day 1 – Panel 1
Live-streams - Multimedia
25 Nov 2020
Perhaps there is no better proof of Hagia Sophia’s universality than the array of names it has borne over the centuries. Αγία Σοφία, Sancta Sapient, Ayasofya, were all used to refer to this Christian Basilica dedicated to the Holy Wisdom. It served for 1500 years as a place of worship for Christians and Muslims and, as of a few days ago, as a World Heritage Museum under UNESCO’s patronage.
It is this monument that Turkish president Erdoğan decided to re-convert into a mosque by reversing Kemal Atatürk’s decision from 86 years ago. For Atatürk, the symbolism of turning Hagia Sophia into a museum was clear. After a century of wars and persecution of its religious and ethnic minorities, the Ottoman Empire had been significantly reduced in both size and population. His dream for “peace at home, peace in the world” required neutralising religion as a source of internal division or external threats.
The reopening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque is planned for 24 July, the anniversary of the signing of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923. The Treaty regulated the borders and international commitments of Kemal’s new republic, including respect for both minorities within its borders, and the sovereignty of its neighbours. The symbolism could not be more apparent: Erdoğan sees this treaty as an obstacle to his ideological and strategic revisionism. The geopolitical implications of the Hagia Sophia decision are clear.
This decision goes beyond Turkey’s relationship with Greece, a country that has, for obvious reasons, taken the decision as an affront. It also goes beyond Europe and the West as a whole, as Erdoğan’s objective is to keep his domestic base mobilised. This move undermines global norms, rules, and efforts of inter-civilisational dialogue. The casualty of this decision may end up being nothing less than peace and understanding on a global scale, undermining relations between the West and Islam as a whole.
Turkish officials claim that Hagia Sophia is a purely internal matter. However, it is hard to see how the international community can ignore the emergence of radical civilisational discourses in Turkey, like the statement of AKP Party’s deputy chairman, Numan Kurtulmus, that “[…] those who conquered It by the sword also own the property rights”. Such statements are unworthy of a country privileged to host myriad World Heritage monuments, which, however, also come with international responsibility. All states hosting UNESCO sites are repositories of humanity’s shared history and universal values. Consequently, they are accountable for how they treat this global patrimony.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Hagia Sophia decision comes at a very delicate political time for Erdoğan. The recent local elections in Turkey, the collapsing economy, and the mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis have created unrest in Turkey that the AKP government cannot handle. As is typical for populist and authoritarian regimes, the remedy for the inability to deal with citizens’ actual problems is a turn to nationalism and religious fanaticism.
The decision was preceded by a publicity campaign to create the impression that the Turkish population is supportive. But in a recent survey by Istanbul Economics Research, Turks appeared divided: 47% were in favour, while 38% were against. Additionally, many Turkish scholars and politicians (Orhan Pamuk, Ahmet Davutoglu, and Ekrem Imamoglu, among many) called it a terrible mistake. Much as everything else Erdoğan does these days, this decision just serves to divide Turkish society, solidifying his base while targeting his opponents. Contrary to how Erdoğan tries to present it, opposing Hagia Sophia’s reconversion into a mosque does not equate to ‘opposing Turkey’: it means standing up to a regime which an increasing number of Turks are growing hostile towards.
Erdoğan is on a frontal attack against all values of the West’s past and present, from secular ideas of democratic liberalism to its Christian heritage. When geopolitical reorientation becomes embedded in a language of cultural inconsistency, it is difficult to see how there is any way back. A move that signals such blatant disregard for Turkey’s international commitments, even in the cultural field, can only portend further brinkmanship in the political and strategic field. Europe must be under no illusion. Turkey is an important partner. But you can only be a partner with someone who also sees you as one. If the EU wants Turkey to return to the table as a reasonable interlocutor (under the current government, or another one), the EU must prove it is a serious actor in its own right against Erdoğan’s provocations.
The Hagia Sophia decision is part of a long series of hostile acts against Europe by a regime degenerating into a rogue actor. The EU has more than sufficient justification to impose targeted, proportionate, but, if necessary, escalating sanctions in a variety of fields – economic, touristic, military – on Erdoğan. This is not meant as a punishment against the Turkish people, or to rupture the EU’s ties with Turkey terminally. There is simply no justification to indulge a regime that engages in such blatant authoritarianism at home, and aggressive revisionism internationally. A firm stance against Erdoğan is in the interest of both democracy in Turkey, and stability in the region.
Finally, a note about EU foreign policy more generally: Hagia Sophia has highlighted the importance of cultural heritage, particularly in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, as a topic of international diplomacy. Cultural heritage beyond the EU’s borders is a legitimate concern. The EU has long been absent in this area, at a time when wars have taken a horrible toll on cultural and religious diversity in its strategic periphery in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. A ‘strategic Europe’ must also be one that is ready to defend culture, civilisation, and diversity, not only at home, but abroad as well.
“Oh Kemal, I Have Surpassed Thee!” – Erdoğan’s Folie des Grandeurs
16 Jul 2020
In the current debates about Islam, scarce attention is devoted to the long-term integration of different cultures within a system based on the rule of law and individual liberties. With specific reference to the prevalent culture among Muslims of immigrant descent in Western Europe, quantitative surveys and reports show the persistence of a divergence from mainstream views on topics such as gender equality, religious freedom and sexual orientation. The primary victims of this phenomenon are to be found within the Muslim communities themselves: the ‘outcasts’ who, in spite of their Muslim background, do not adhere to the prevalent cultural code and may become targets of hostility. The lack of adequate integration policies for newcomers and the absence of socio-cultural interconnections between many Muslims and the native European populations deepen the divide, thereby reinforcing the Islamic identity at the expense of the national one, and fostering prejudice on both sides.
To promote liberal democratic rules and values both among newcomers and within the wider society, integration policies should be adopted in the framework of school curricula, reception centres and integration courses. These measures should always be tailored to individuals, rather than the ethno-religious groups to which they belong. It is also paramount to bring together, as much as possible, people of different backgrounds and ethnicities, in order to foster intercultural exchanges. All this would not lead to a levelling, monocultural model, but a pluricultural one focused on individuals and their chosen identity. All cultures or traditions are to be accepted and embraced, as long as they respect the rule of law and individual liberties.Integration Religion Social Policy Values
Lifting the Integration Veil: Outcasts from Islam in Western Europe
06 Mar 2020
The East-West divide in the EU has recently received much attention. While certain national leaders on both sides have tried to capitalise on it politically, data on the attitudes of the general public in the two subregions convey a more complex picture.
This paper analyses European polling data on people’s attitudes regarding several key societal questions. It concludes that the opinions of Western and Eastern European populations are in fact converging on key societal issues, and that EU policies should reflect this growing consensus.Democracy European Union Religion Society Values
East Versus West: Is There Such a Thing as a European Society?
11 Dec 2019
The Eastern Orthodox Church is on the verge of a schism after the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (PoC) to grant the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) ‘autocephaly’ (independence) from the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). The Kyiv Patriarchate is one of the three Orthodox churches in Ukraine, the other two being the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.
From the perspective of Western Europe, where societies have thoroughly secularized in recent decades, the ecclesiastical feuds of the Christian Orthodox world may seem remote and esoteric. Still, in the East and Southeast of Europe faith stimulates many people, and disputes over the jurisdiction and status of local churches is an important proxy of ethnic, nationalist and political cleavages. The consequences of a potential schism between Constantinople and Moscow will be significant and reverberate throughout Europe.
Contrary to the Catholic world, the Eastern Orthodox Church has no central authority. Τhe Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople ranks as primus inter pares among the heads of 14 Orthodox autocephalous churches, having the authority to call extraordinary synods when needed to deal with ad hoc issues, such as autocephaly rights.
The granting of a Tomos – i.e. independence – to UOC-KP by Constantinople threatens the status of the currently dominant Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) that is under the direct influence and control of the Moscow Patriarchate. As expected, this move was confronted fiercely by Russia, which sees Kyiv as the birthplace of its nation. On 15 October 2018, the Russian Orthodox Church announced angrily that it was breaking off all ties with PoC.
These developments have important religious, economic and geopolitical consequences.
After the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, and during the emergence of the Russian Empire as a great power in the 18th and 19th century, Moscow tried to supplant Constantinople as the “Third Rome”, the guardian of Orthodox Christianity. Additionally, the rise of nationalism and the creation of national Orthodox churches in the Balkans and elsewhere undermined further the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s position. Nevertheless, against all odds, the latter survived until today as the spiritual beacon of Orthodoxy.
The Russian Orthodox Church never stopped to act as the long-arm of the Russian political establishment, even during the Soviet era. In other words, the Russian state, be it Czarist or Soviet, always used its national church and its religious channels as a tool of geopolitical influence and often as a source of pressure within the Orthodox world.
At the same time, UOC-KP’s autocephaly is another episode in the Ukrainian crisis. An autocephalous Ukrainian Church means that the Russian Church is losing not only a big number of adherents – almost 30 million – but also one-third of its total parishes outside Russia. In other words, this development is a great blow to Putin’s idea of a “Russian World” (Russkiy Mir) built around ROC’s religious and cultural influence.
Since the beginning of the war in Eastern Ukraine, many of the UOC clergy openly supported the Russian invasion. This had a negative impact on the perception of the UOC by the Ukrainian people. This in turn made UOC-KP’s need for recognition as autocephalous all the more urgent. Given the previous experience of Russian interventionism in Ukraine, one should not exclude provocations and the outbreak of violence when the newly recognised Ukrainian Patriarchate will claim authority over parishes and religious monuments which now are under the control of UOC.
With its extreme decision of excommunicating the PoC, ROC hopes to create a split inside the Orthodox world and to bring other Orthodox churches under its authority. For now, apart from the Patriarchate in Antioch – which toes Damascus’ line of full alignment with Moscow – and the more conservative Patriarchs of Serbia, Georgia and possibly Bulgaria, the rest 9 autocephalous Orthodox churches do not show any intention of endorsing the decision of ROC.
Constantinople’s decision to recognize ROC-KP was a decidedly high-risk move that can spark an all-out confrontation with Moscow. The first target could be the Monastic Community of Mount Athos, an autonomous polity within the Hellenic Republic. The Russian authorities, through heavy financing of the Russian Monastery in Athos, have tried to increase their religious and political presence in the Balkan Peninsula. Another focal point could be Cyprus and Bulgaria, due to strong cultural and historical ties and a strong Russian presence there.
All of the above-mentioned countries and churches are obviously inside the EU. Therefore, it is apparent that Brussels, the Vatican and the US – which for many years has supported the PoC – should strongly endorse and support UOC-KP’s autocephaly. At the same time, their support for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is in a permanent virtual state of hostage of the Turkish state, should be strengthened both rhetorically and practically. It is almost certain that Russia will use Turkey, with whom it currently enjoys good relations, as its proxy in order to exercise immense economic and political pressure on the PoC.
Ukraine autocephaly looks irreversible at the moment. But Orthodox Christianity will come out of this conflict wounded and weakened. At the same time, this is an opportunity for all other established churches of Christianity to support and rejuvenate the prestige of the Ecumenical Patriarchate that is under threat not only by its Turkish guardians, but now by Russia as well.
This is a mission that perfectly dovetails with the West’s interest in deterring Russia’s use of soft-power through religion that aims to destabilize its neighboring countries. The struggle over Ukraine’s religious communities is part of a much larger confrontation that has only begun.
Russia’s Religious Soft Power: Is Christianity Ready for a New Schism?
19 Oct 2018
There are currently about 44 million Muslims living in Europe, out of which some 20 million live in the European Union. Precise numbers are impossible to come by. If the 20 million figure for the EU is correct, it would represent less than 4 per cent of the EU’s population.
The EU’s Muslim population is composed of two main components: autochthonous, or settled, Muslims in Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus and other countries, and Muslim immigrants and their descendants who live predominantly in Western Europe.
The latter group is made up of Muslim citizens originating in former European colonies across the world, guest workers made permanent and their family members, and refugees and economic migrants who may or may not have come to the EU legally.
Islam increasingly plays a role in European politics. The uncontrolled influx of asylum seekers and migrants in the years 2015-16, one that has caused so much political upheaval, was predominantly from Muslim-majority countries.
Many, although not all, terrorist attacks in Europe in recent years have been perpetrated by individuals who claim an allegiance to Islam. And the ideology of Islamism, albeit often non-violent, poses a challenge to our liberal democratic systems. Some features of the complex relationship between the European majority society and Muslims are sometimes forgotten.
Islam does not easily fit the existing state-church relationships in the EU. Built on the hierarchical structure of Christian churches, these relationships assume the existence of a leading authority for each religious body. The European state-church relationships also assume that there is strict separation between state institutions on the one hand and religious institutions on the other.
This separation has been historically instituted to limit church influence on government. Islam is different from today’s Christianity in that the former is a religion, a basis for law and a way of life in one. This difference between Christianity and Islam does not preclude peaceful coexistence of Christians, Muslims, adherents of other religions, atheists and agnostics in Europe.
Nevertheless, incorporating Islam into the European public sphere requires innovative policymaking at the national level, one that guarantees both freedom of religion and the preservation of the European way of life.
Issues within Islam
Islam is by far not the only religion that has ever condoned violence, as the briefest look at any European history book will tell.
Nevertheless, Islam is currently facing problems in adapting to modernity, in a reversal of adaption to Western-type institutions that Muslim-majority countries in Asia and Africa experienced in the twentieth century.
Most European Muslims are normal citizens of our societies, contributing to the economy and public life.
The minority that turn to the ideology of Islamism adopt views that in the words of Thomas Volk, an author in a recent Martens Centre publication, ‘militate against democratic institutions and propagate various forms of religious and political activism, from instituting sharia law to pan-Islamic political unity and the establishment of a caliphate in Europe.’
Some young Muslims in Europe are facing a conflict of identities, being split between belonging to traditional communities of their parents and the modern secularised Western culture. Unable to identify with either of these cultures, they may adopt the radical views of violent jihadism.
The path to Islamism is aided by several unfortunate facts. Like most nominal European Christians in relation to Christianity, some European Muslims have only scant knowledge of Islam.
However, it is often Muslim religious illiterates who turn to violence. Those imams that are active in immigrant Muslim communities are often not acquainted with European culture and fundamental rights anchored in our constitutions and therefore are not in a position to provide guidance.
The Internet serves as a tool for radicalisation, propagating fundamentalist versions of Islam. Finally, a few Muslim-majority countries, for example Saudi Arabia, finance Sunni Islamic radicalism as part of their worldwide contest with the Shi’a branch Islam, and with the modern world as a whole.
The individual and collective rebellion against the ‘decadent’ majority culture becomes an attractive option not only for criminals but also for apparently well-integrated youngsters, longing to serve a life cause. This also explains that about 10 per cent of European jihadists are converts.
Religious schooling for young Muslims (one grounded in the Koran and religious teachings, in the European way of life and Europe’s constitutions), controls of the Internet and checks on foreign financing of mosques are the logical measures to be adopted by European legislators and policymakers.
The majority culture
A 2015 survey by the Pew Research Centre revealed that views of Muslim minorities in Europe depend on the country. In Italy, 63 per cent of those surveyed had an unfavourable opinion of Muslims in their country but the figure was only 33 per cent in Germany and 27 per cent in France.
However, a 2017 opinion poll by Chatham House showed that an average of 55 per cent agreed with the statement that ‘all further immigration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped’. Longitudinal studies of European majority views of Muslims are hard to come by and we should not automatically conclude that these views on Muslims are getting worse.
Continuing secularisation complicates the acceptance by Europeans of the religious devotion and symbols associated with Islam. The belief that a strong Muslim identity undermines national identity is related to these concerns.
What is clear is that the failed management of the migrant and refugee crisis, resulting in an influx of people from Muslim-majority countries, has given voice to protest parties that politically use and even promote the popular apprehensions of Islam and Muslims. Islamists and right-wing populists end up feeding on each other, and radical discourse is making its way into the political mainstream.
Effective immigration controls, better guarding of the EU’s external border in collaboration with third countries (while adhering to universal human right standards in dealing with migrants and refugees), as well as tackling the stubborn issues of immigrant integration are among the necessary policy elements in assuring the majority that coexistence with Islam in Europe is possible.
And if European governments, political parties, civil society and religious associations succeed in forging strong national and European identities and loyalty to our constitutions, this coexistence can even be beneficial to our societies.Vít Novotný Immigration Integration Islam Religion Society
Some remarks on Islam in Europe
18 Dec 2017
Despite the EU’s official motto ‘United in Diversity’, the bloc is experiencing a profound crisis in which diversity is threatening to dispel unity. Instead of harmony, diversity increasingly spells conflict. A variety of factors are behind this strife, including terrorism, the uncertain position of religion in public life, the unclear situation of minority groups (including autochthonous minorities and the Roma), radical Islamism, insufficient integration of immigrants and a loss of personal status and identity due to globalisation.
These phenomena are occurring against the backdrop of the recent economic crisis, instability in Europe’s neighbourhood, and the uncontrolled influx of migrants and refugees in 2015–16. All these developments are feeding conflicts both among the member states and between the EU institutions and national governments, as well as a cultural war between globalists and identitarians that cuts across European societies.
The European People’s Party, and governments at all levels, need to engage with the ‘forgotten part’ of society without compromising on pluralism and personal freedoms. They need to promote a concept of state which allows different religious and secular opinions to thrive. They should combat extremism and, in cooperation with civil society, encourage a public culture that defends tolerance and liberty. They should promote a critical reading of the Koran.
Developing concepts of citizenship with a focus on immigrants is crucial, as is effective participation of autochthonous minorities and the Roma in public life. Taking such steps would ensure that internal and external adversity does not destroy European unity.Ethics EU Member States Immigration Religion
Unity in Adversity: Immigration, Minorities and Religion in Europe
08 Jun 2017
Power is decaying everywhere. In business, politics, the military, religion and even in chess, jokes economist Moisés Naím pointing at the decline of Russian supremacy in this field. In The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn’t What It Used To Be (2013) Naím argues his case with compelling evidence, while making an obvious reference to Francis Fukuyama’s classic book The End of History and the Last Man.
A book in which the American political scientist saw the triumph of Western liberal democracy after the Cold War as a possible end point of mankind’s ideological evolution. Does the ambitious reference live up to its promise then? The author surely comes close to that.
He kicks off by presenting a very clear definition of power as ‘the ability to direct or prevent the current or future actions of other groups and individuals.’ ‘Power’, he says, ‘has a social function. Its role is not just to enforce domination or to create winners and losers: it also organises communities, societies, marketplaces, and the world.’ This refined analysis proves to be an indispensable foundation for his conclusions later on.
When debating the issue of ‘power’ Naím does not forget to mention the patriarch of power theory: 17th century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes said that ‘during the time men live without a common power, a Leviathan to keep them all in awe, they are in that position which is called war and such a war as is of every man against every man.’
These days, the world is confronted with power shifts, secularization and a steady decline of traditional institutions. According to the author, the current Leviathan is therefore nowhere to be found and with this statement he does have a point.
In business, for example, the market power of large firms has declined due to global competition in emerging economies. Large enterprises like Nokia and Yahoo have lost their significance, and it is clear that the future belongs to creative small firms and dynamic technological companies. Power in the corporate sector is diminishing and harder to hold on to when you get it.
The monopoly position once held by traditional political parties as spokesperson for society’s grievances, hopes and demands has been eroded. In Europe especially, the influence of traditional political parties is fading rapidly: on average only around 4.7 per cent of the national electorates are members of a political party today.
This trend has paved the way for the success of ad hoc, fast paced, electoral machines. Some extremist parties are also profiting from it, given the fact that they often profit from the so called ‘protest vote’. One has to look no further than the results of the 2014 European elections for a confirmation.
The author presents the case of the decline of military power too. He coins the term ‘minilateralism’ to indicate that at present it takes a smaller amount of countries or resources to make a global impact. Al Qaeda spent about $500,000 to produce 9/11, whereas the direct losses of the destruction plus the costs of the American response to the attacks were $3.3 trillion.
Unfortunately as with this case and other examples, facts and figures used in the book we do not get the most up to date information. In a rapidly evolving international world order where regional conflicts multiply this is no minor detail, and one might have wished for more recent examples.
Finally, Naím considers the decline of religion, arguably one of the direst cases in the book. Religious organisations traditionally had the power to determine the patterns of social behaviour. The decline in the number of practicing Christians represents a drastic case of decay of power, removing it from large hierarchical and centralised structures and in favour of a constellation of small and nimble autonomous players.
The overall decay of traditional institutions cannot be without consequences; without them, the risk of disorder emerges. Moreover, their demise implies the disappearance of the highly specific knowledge they often embodied, which is not easy to replicate for newcomers. Additionally, the more slippery power gets, the more likely it is to be governed by short term incentives and fears.
On a psychological level, these changes in power structure, traditional hierarchy, predictable norms and rules can lead to disorientation, because the social function of power, so clearly captured in Naím’s definition of it, is hindered. Interestingly, Naím believes the danger of alienation in modern societies is even more severe than that of recent threats such as radical Islam. Had it been written this year (as opposed to 2013), this position would have been controversial, to say the least.
In the final chapter, the author states that ‘big power is not dead, but these old institutions are more constrained than ever in what they can achieve.’ For our societies to adjust to this new reality, a new wave of political and institutional innovations will be needed. We had one such wave of political innovations after World War II, when the desire to prevent another global conflict led to the creation of institutions such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Union. A new wave of innovations brought about by the transformation of power structures, Naím argues, is inevitable.
Overall, The End of Power is a highly sophisticated work. Although the book is not flawless – for a second edition the author should definitely consider updating his facts and figures – it offers an interesting interdisciplinary reflection on the corrosion of traditional powers. It remains to be seen if the book will become a classic comparable to Fukuyama’s The End of History. In the meantime, The End of Power certainly makes for provocative reading and helps us realise what momentous and often unnoticed transformations power is undergoing in our time.
The European centre-right was a front runner in developing some of the now ‘traditional’ institutions founded after World War II. It should therefore remain future-oriented and open to innovative solutions for the pressing societal challenges of today. However, it should do so without undermining its belief in the importance of strong communities and civil society.
The End of Power: A book review
14 Oct 2015
This paper contends that, contrary to the prevailing opinion, the EU is highly relevant to the issues of ethics and religion. Although policy matters should be dealt with at the lowest possible level, some are best dealt with by a common approach at the EU level of decision-making.
In examining areas such as ethics and the economy, human rights, multiculturalism and the relationship with the Orthodox churches, the paper applies the tests of subsidiarity and centre and centre-right values.
It also looks at areas that represent ‘unfinished business’ for the European People’s Party (EPP), including socio-economic and socio-cultural questions and the notions of social market. The author argues that member states and member parties of the EPP should lead the debate on ethics, values and religion.
Within the atmosphere of pluralism, dialogue and tolerance, the EPP should continuously cherish its Christian roots and values while responding to the economic, social and cultural realities of the day. The party should also leave enough room for those that belong to non Christian religions and have other beliefs and convictions.Christian Democracy Immigration Religion
Ethics and Religion: What’s the EU Got to Do with It?
07 Oct 2015
Freedom of expression was the assassins’ first target on January 7th in Paris, at Charlie Hebdo’s offices. But, deeper, lies a widespread feeling amongst those radicalized groups that resolve is on their side: nothing can challenge a strength drawn from the belief in God – and a sizable contortion of Islamic texts. We, Westerners, are just getting weak and lonely.
One of the masterminds of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), wrote pages on the subject while imprisoned in Guantanamo: “hundreds of American crusaders join the US Army, wear the latest military gear, eat the best food in Iraq and Afghanistan and play with their play stations while their enemies, the poor Muslim, can’t find their daily bread (…) but at the end, the American soldiers go back home and commit suicide.” (“KSM’s Statement to the Crusaders of the Military Commission in Guantanamo”, p.11).
Fundamentalists live off those narratives of sacrifice that mirror Western weak spots, turned into signs that history is presumably shifting in their direction. Favorites of that propaganda are plenty: hostages certain European nations are willing to give millions for, soldiers protected behind heavy concrete walls, caricatured as devilish drone players, the loss of meaning, the absence of values that fundamentalists believe a democracy cannot sustain in the long run. To paraphrase KSM again, “happiness is not found in music, dancing, or in living a so called free life (…)” where only divorce and AIDS supposedly await all of us.
Charlie Hebdo had found happiness in freedom, like many of us. They were targeted because they pushed freedom to an edge that some refuse to handle and accept. Facing that tiny minority, Charlie cartoonists never lost themselves in excuses, fear or hatred. They continued their work despite recurring threats with visible glee and great courage. “I would rather die standing up than live on my knees” were Charb’s famous words. There is a lot of inspiration to be drawn from this behavior.Michael Benhamou Democracy Extremism Islam Religion Values
Charlie Hebdo massacre: a test for Western character
09 Jan 2015
The European People’s Party (EPP) examined its values at the Bucharest Congress in October 2012. The result of this reassessment, the Bucharest Party Platform, affirmed the six core values of the EPP: the dignity of human life in every stage of its existence, freedom and responsibility, equality and justice, truth, solidarity and subsidiarity. These values are inspired by the Christian Democratic philosophy. Although today’s EPP includes also parties that do not consider themselves Christian Democratic, all member parties of the EPP draw inspiration from these values. After an exploration of the foundation of the EPP, this paper examines the party’s core values, tracing their origins to religious writings. The paper outlines how these values translate into the practical policies of the EPP: the party’s response to Europe’s economic crisis and addressing issues around free movement and access to social benefits in the EU. The paper demonstrates that values underpin the party’s policies but also that practical politics leaves room for interpretation.Christian Democracy Ethics European People's Party Religion Values
The Christian Democratic Origins of the European People’s Party
11 Dec 2014
Jana Hybášková has served as the Ambassador of the European Union in Iraq for almost four years. She speaks fluent Arabic and is highly familiar with the current situation in Iraq. When speaking about the conflict with the Islamic State, she points out the influential role played by Chechnya: “We confirmed that key flows of Islamic State arms, munitions and finance comes through Chechnya.”
What type of conflict do we see in Iraq? Is it really a religious war?
Religions plays a very important role, IS is instrumentalising Sunni Salafi Islam, which has vast potential for radicalisation. They’re worse than Al-Qaeda. But it’s much more than just a religious war, enforcing a sectarian type of religion. Organised crime, including the trafficking of women and children, selling human organs and illicit oil plays a major role in the Iraqi conflict. The antiquities market is similarly important. They use the experiences of Ba’ath military command and tactics and use the Caucasus Emirate as a model for their proto-state.
Who are actually the people behind IS and who is their leader Abu-Bakr al Baghdadi?
No one here knows the proper identity of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He definitely is not the man from the Youtube pictures from one of the Mosul mosques. We only know, from certain privileged information, that from the very beginning he created a centralised leadership nucleus together with two other prominent Ba’ath leaders. That means that the old Ba’athist party is a significant presence in the creation and the structure of the Islamic state. The Chechnyan presence is also significant. This is not widely acknowledged in Europe but we have confirmed that key flows of Islamic State arms, munitions and finance comes through Chechnya. It is well known that there were contacts between the Chechnyan Islamist Dokka Umarov’s representatives and Iraqi insurgency groups during the winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
Unfortunately, the Caucasus Emirate has served as a model for the Islamic State. So if we continue to label Islamic state as simply a terrorist group, we are missing the point and we are making a strategic mistake. We have to admit that they are state structures. It is not just a group of people who performing hit-and-run attacks, they are a group of people who put international advertisements seeking to hire top oil engineers and experts, they are a group of people who run a financial economy, who have ministries, who desperately try to provide nine millions of people with 24/7 electricity and who are able to generate quite substantial means from exporting oil. Unfortunately, Islamic state is much more than a terrorist group.
Is the Islamic State structure now strong enough to survive the elimination of its current leadership?
I think that the future is now being decided in Kobane. The Battle for Kobane is reminiscent of the Somme or Verdun. It is a place of no strategic importance but it has become a war of attrition consuming more and more Islamic State resources. The Battle for Kobane is reducing and degrading the military capacities of the Islamic State, forcing withdrawal from places such as Baiji or Zumar Zhoud, connecting Kurdistan and Sinjan, which are more significant strategically. Holding the Islamic State at Kobane is, therefore, likely more effective than airstrikes. Of course, airstrikes can be effective if used in conjunction with Iraqi security forces on the ground. At the moment Iraqi security forces require major restructuring, training and changes in command structures. All this, however, will take a considerable amount of time.
Does Islamic State, with all its brutality, have the support of the general population?
We do not have very precise information about what is happening inside of the Islamic State. The brutality there is enormous. We have learned of Pol Pot style deportations of populations, families are divided, males and females are segregated, non-Sunni men are humiliated and sent to areas out of the key urban cities while women are enslaved. On the other hand, we have very clear information about some Sunni tribes trying to resist IS. Sadly I recently received information that the Abu-Nimer tribe that resisted IS was recently executed. The same fate is likely awaiting the Barawa family which is trying to protect the strategic Haditha town. There are victims not only among Christians and Yazidis but also among the Sunnis.
There are around 1.8 million internally displaced people and refugees, around half a million people have no access to humanitarian assistance. They are in the deserts, the Kurdish mountains to the North and south of Kirkuk. In the North we have a very dramatic humanitarian crisis where we cannot reach around 200 000 Sunnis. Some Sunnis from the area around Kirkuk have now no other option than to return back to the Islamic State. This should be a serious warning for us. At the same time, as I have already said, IS is developing a state structure – it provides electricity and water to people, it runs ministries, shops and hospitals which wasn’t always the case under Maliki’s administration.
You are talking about Sunni resistance. So the fight isn’t just between the Muslims and ‘the others’?
The key enemies of the IS are the Shia, not the Christians or Yazidis. But the enemies of IS include also non-radical Sunnis. For instance the Kurds are predominantly Sunni but they are still on the other side of the barricade. IS is pushing a very strict type of Salafi Islam called the Raqqa law which bans sports; music; cigarettes; alcohol and forces women to stay at home. Many Sunnis are, on the contrary, quite liberal. But of course the position of their Sunni opposition is much better than that of Christians. The Yazidis are worst off, they are not ‘people of the Book’ and are considered worshippers of devil and therefore are targets for genocide and extermination.
Who is buying all the illicit things like oil or women?
I cannot comment on this, it is currently- being investigated by the United Nations.
How many fighters does the Islamic State control? In a vast territory of 120 000 km2 with 9 million inhabitants, they have to resist many enemies: Kurds, the Syrian army, Western armies and others. How do they manage this?
Estimates differ so much that I’m not going to say an exact number. I understand that for the Europeans the issue of foreign fighters is extremely important and highlighted but there are definitely much more foreign fighters coming from Arab and Islamic countries than from the European Union. I mean fighters from Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, and Algeria and of course Pakistan and Afghanistan but also a vast number of the Chechnyans and people from the Islamic component of the former States of Soviet Republic. The leader of the Islamic State of Chechnya Dokka Umarov offers the IS a great support.
Is IS a threat for the European Union? Do they intend to commit terrorist attacks in Europe as they say in their online magazine Dabiq?
I don’t think that at this very moment they will commit an attack in Europe. They are now concentrating on building the state, on building their internal structure and strengthening internal statehood. How this would in long-term reflect European security is of course a big question. However, European concern should be focused on the 50 million refugees and displaced in the world. More than 2.5 million refugees are in the vicinity of Europe, most of them coming from Iraq and Syria. This refugee crisis in the immediate vicinity of Europe cannot stay unnoticed. It will definitely influence Europe economically but also will have security repercussions.
What should Europe do now?
Some Member States are offering military support, but the issue is much broader. The current coalition has sixty eight states that offer a wide range of supports. However, I think we could be better organized through EU military staff, especially on the information side. I would actually create an EU information fusion centre on the military activities of the Member State but this must be done by the Member States. The European External Action Service cannot play any role in this beyond suggestion. I’m very grateful to Germany that just donated 82 million dollars for humanitarian assistance to Iraq which is an enormous amount. I’m also happy with the support of France, UK, Italy, Ireland, Denmark and Sweden. Unfortunately I must be critical of the United Nations structures which are quite slow.
We also need to push the new Iraqi leadership, the government lead by the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, towards reconciliation, to bring back justice, to approve a law on federal courts and a provincial law on federalisation. The Sunnis felt abused in Iraq during Nuri al-Maliki’s government, this must change. We must also support a dialogue about the oil revenue sharing between the Kurds and the rest of Iraq in order to bring Kurds back to the table and to empower much better cooperation and coordination between the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi security forces.
Was this our mistake during Nuri al-Maliki government, that we didn’t pressure him enough to make the necessary reforms?
Yes, we should have exercised much stronger international pressure so that he would lead an inclusive government and perform the necessary reforms. But we all turned mainly to the United States. Unfortunately, Obama decided in 2011 to evaporate the US presence in Iraq almost overnight. The word ‘evaporate’ describes this decision, because he didn’t negotiate any kind of long-term post-presence strategy. That was the wrong decision and we are paying the price for it now. Maliki was denying all the legitimate needs of the Sunni population, he didn’t issue amnesty for tens of thousands of illegally detained Sunni hostages, he abused counterterrorism laws and he couldn’t ensure basic services to the province of Anbar.
When the Sunni population in Anbar started to demonstrate, the predominantly Shiite security forces massacred them in Hawija. This Hawija massacre was never properly investigated. So Sunnis were asking and asking the Iraqi government for protection, health, education and energy services for more than fourteen months and none came for them, on the contrary they had to face security oppression from the Shia militias. So they turned for protection to the Syrian jihadist group Al-Nusra, the former high level representatives of the Iraqi Ba’ath party and to the Chechnyan leaders.
How long can the conflict last?
It will be a long-term engagement. I don’t see it as a matter of weeks or months.
Can Iraq as a state hold together?
After being here for three and a half years I’m a strong believer in the country. The chance still exists but we need a lot of work, energy and money. The future of the whole region is questionable.
Interviewed by Vladka Vojtiskova, edited by Eoin O’Driscoll.
Jana Hybášková serves as the Ambassador of the European Union in Iraq (since 2011). She is a Czech politician and diplomat; from 2004 to 2009 she was a Member of the European Parliament for the European People’s Party. She graduated in Arabic at Charles University in Prague, she was Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Slovenia, Qatar and Kuwait.Foreign Policy Islam Religion Security
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