The alleged ghosts haunting Post-Immigration Europe are varied, yet somehow related to Islam. For numerous reasons, Islam is perceived and described as an obstacle to social cohesion in Europe. However, these notions presume a relation between Islam and politics that does not reflect the faith of the majority of Muslims – neither in Europe, nor in the MENA region, nor in other majority-Muslim countries. In order not to foster a conflict that does not exist, European societies must acknowledge the variety of individualized Islamic diversity.
The State of Post-Islamism
Presumptions against Islam as a potential spoiler of social cohesion of European societies mostly refer to Islamic fundamentalism or Islamism. Derived as an Arab response to the influx of European modernity, Muslim intellectuals sought to describe Islamism as a distinct paradigm for Arab societies in opposition to European ideas and values. Accordingly, Muslims should not live in a community with secular foundations, but with an Islamic one. Islamist activism therefore sought to increase the presence of Islamic symbols to emphasize its political claims.
Through the increasing visibility of Islamist activism, the public presence of Islamic symbols raised discontent especially in European societies. This can be traced back to several factors, including the following three reasons: 1) public space is both rendered secular and dominated by the Christian religion at the same time, 2) Islamic values are perceived as backwards and not in harmony with basic human rights principles; and 3) Muslims are suspected of not being willing to respect and obey secular law of their host state. While those sentiments blatantly generalize and exaggerate, they nevertheless refer to Islamism’s fundamental claim to oppose European modernity.
However, already in the 1990s, when Islamism was still about to become the “menace of European societies,” it was already in massive decline. The patterns of religiosity were changing. That happened in North America, in Europe, and in the MENA region. Theorists describe this state as post-secularism and post-Islamism. It is characterized as a state of reconfigured religiosity beyond common structures and institutions: religions did not vanish as expected due to progressing enlightenment, but were freed from structural and institutional constraints. While churches and mosques are less frequented, people still believe in god or other transcendental entities and practice their faith in autonomous ways.
Religious Pragmatism in the Post-Immigration Society
Muslims in Europe have reacted to the criticism towards their religion as being a spoiler to European values, principles and rules. Seeing the European societies that they were born into as their own home societies, they adapt their Muslim identity to the respective context. Eventually, they live and practice their faith not in opposition to the habits, routines and values of the majority society, but in accordance with them. Thus, someone can be Austrian, Syrian, a heavy metal fan and still consider herself a faithful Muslim, which she expresses through wearing the hijab. Similarly, someone can consider himself to be a strict believer of Islam, wear a long beard to express his devotion to Allah, and at the same time be an advocate for human rights.
Therefore, being Muslim and publicly expressing this identity is unrelated to any set of oppositional values or secular principles. Surveys that do not take that into account draw odd conclusions. More comprehensive and sensitive surveys about Islamic religiosity and its practice indicate a high level of pragmatism and tolerance for the respective surroundings.
Adding to Social Cohesion
The natural state of society is a state of diversity – homogeneity is artificial. Within this state of diversity, today’s Islamic diversity of individually constituting one’s (religious) identity coheres with other religions and their expressions. Islam, like other religions, is an exceptional identity that prevents antagonism in Europe’s diverse societies due to its pragmatic and flexible state and thereby adds to social cohesion.
However, presuming antagonism and a menace to European societies evokes resentments with Muslims that in some cases can foster antagonistic conceptions of identities: the Salafist jihadi is a very marginal but prominent example. Nevertheless, this artificial antagonism can be countered and prevented. At first, the non-Muslim majority of societies must acknowledge the existing diversity of individual and pragmatic expressions of the Islamic faith. Above all that involves politics, the media and civil society. Yet, that also involves the establishment of active engagement from new types of organizations that can represent the majority of the Muslims – most Muslims have nothing to do with mosques and related organizations.
One of the most crucial phases for constituting one’s identity takes place as a teenager or a young adult. In order to prevent young Muslims from falling for antagonistic conceptions of Muslim identities, ordinary non-antagonistic forms of living one’s religious identity have to become common sense. Above all, that has to be facilitated in schools through teachers of the Islamic religion. Thus, profound and academic education for school teachers of Islam has to be provided. In addition to that, the Internet is an important place where young Muslims interact. Above all, it is an almost infinite source for anyone who is about to constitute one’s identity. Therefore, the Internet has become a controversial source since jihadist militia like Islamic State rely on it as a means of recruitment. Thus, much more non-antagonistic Internet content has to be created – Salafist jihadism has to be ideologically overwhelmed, so to say. Various projects contribute to this goal, such as the Allahu Akbar Ramadan video challenge in Austria. Eventually, all of that contributes to making visible the silent majority of Muslims in Europe as a non-antagonistic part of society which again adds to social cohesion of its societies.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maximilian Lakitsch is a peace and conflict researcher at the University of Graz. Prior to his position at the university, he worked in various research, peace and development NGOs in Austria and in Lebanon. His academic work extends to conflict theory, peacebuilding, religious conflicts and the MENA region with a focus on Syria, Lebanon and Israel/Palestine. Maximilian studied Theology, Philosophy and International Relations at the University of Graz and at the American University of Beirut.