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“Europe should re-establish its enlightened values”

“Europe should re-establish its enlightened values”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

Tans lecture by political activist Maajid Nawaz

The Muslim question – that’s the greatest challenge for Europe today, according to Maajid Nawaz, who gave the Tans lecture last Monday. Nawaz, co-author of Islam and the Future of Tolerance, believes that both Islam and Europe need to reform in order for us to build a society in which people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds can live together.

Nawaz starts the night at the School of Business and Economics off by apologising for the trouble people had to go through to get in. Indeed, security was tight. Bags and coats were not allowed in the lecture hall and all attendees had to show their ID before entering. This all took some time, which is why Studium Generale, the organiser of the Tans lecture, urged people in advance by e-mail to come an hour early.

After also apologising – "It's my British nature" – for not speaking Dutch and expressing his condolences to the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting and their families, he is ready to start for real. "The only countries in the world that punish homosexuality and sex outside marriage by death, cut off limbs to punish thievery and where blasphemy is a crime are countries with a Muslim majority. Many of the countries that are at war are countries with a Muslim majority. Countries that have an absolute monarchy or theocracy? All of them have a Muslim majority. My fellow Muslims, this must make us think. It is because of these sorts of dysfunctions that hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of people have migrated to the Western world. Never in history have so many people voluntarily chosen to relocate. They end up in countries that are almost the diametrical opposite of the context they come from. Now that's a unique social experiment. And we have to recognize that it's a challenge."

This hasn’t been done enough in the past, Nawaz feels. He is referring to the 1990s’ concept of multiculturalism: ethnic groups interacting while maintaining their distinct cultural practices and priorities. The problem with this is that while cultures are defined by their distinctiveness, commonalities are required to establish unity. In reality, cultures exist next to each other, but not together. "The result of tolerating differences is what we see before us today. In a 2009 survey amongst British Muslims, 0 per cent said they found homosexuality morally acceptable. In a 2016 survey, 52 per cent of them supported criminalizing it. Between 2015 and 2017, 4500 new cases of female genital mutilation were discovered in the UK, yet no one has ever been convicted for it. I’m painting a bleak picture, but also a realistic one. Supported by result after result from surveys and statistics."

Triple threat

Europe is currently facing a triple threat: the far left, the far right and Islamic terrorism. "The far left has created a fear to be called racist, bigoted or culturally insensitive. It has paralysed people. In February 2017, the West Midland police department tweeted that they will not prosecute female genital mutilation because it's not in the child's best interest to convict their parents. Now replace that excuse and put it in the context of white pedophilia. Would the police ever justify not prosecuting a white parent for child abuse 'in the interest of the child'?"

These sorts of things add fuel to the fire of the far right, says Nawaz. "Far-right extremism is rising all over Europe. In every election, politics are shifting to the hard right. A big part of that is fear over migration and these clashes of values."

Time to reform

The solution, concludes Nawaz, is to reform. Not just Muslims and Islam, but Europe too. "Europe should re-establish its enlightened values. A secular, liberal, democratic culture is superior to what the Taliban or ISIS wants to implement. It's not intolerant or racist to say so. Discussing values is not racist. Islam is not a race. It's an idea that has convinced 1.5 billion people in this world, and no idea should be beyond scrutiny.

“Secondly, we need to replace the multicultural society by a multi-ethnic society.” In a multi-ethnic society, members interact with each other and conform to a common structure.  

Nawaz continues: “Thirdly, we need to marry immigration with integration. I support refugees and immigration, but I want it to be measured, to prevent the backlash we've been experiencing now. Otherwise, liberals like me end up winning the battle but losing the war.

“Lastly, we need to develop nationalities that are citizen based, not race based. In Greece today, there is a large group of people who are considered ethnically Albanian and therefore not culturally Greek, even though they were born and raised there. Turkish guest workers in Germany had to wait three generations to become German. That must change."

Human morality

When it comes to Islam, the first step is divorcing morality from dogma, says Nawaz. "I don't need scripture to tell me that it's wrong to murder a child or stone a woman to death. You can live life upon a human concept of morality; you don’t need to ask your Imam. Another thing that needs to be ditched is the desire to synchronize sharia and state law – what's illegal and legal can't be the same as what is halal and haram. It's actually a modern idea to do so. The Koran doesn't mention law or constitution or any of these words. Caliphate just means successorship in Arabic, there is no system left by the prophet."

Lastly, Nawaz thinks Muslims should embrace modern scriptural reasoning and forget the notion that being a Muslim is both a religious and a political identity. "Islamists will talk about Muslims around the world as if they are one nation; that’s not true. Those two need to be separated."

Who is Maajid Nawaz?

British-Pakistani Maajid Nawaz (1977, Southend-on-Sea) is a political activist and founder of Quilliam, an anti-extremist organisation that focuses on religious freedom, human rights and democracy. In 2015 he wrote the book Islam and the Future of Tolerance, together with the American philosopher Sam Harris. It consists of a dialogue in which the liberal Muslim crosses swords with the provocative American atheist.

Nawaz has personal experience with Muslim extremism. At the age of sixteen, he joined Hizb ut Tahrir, a worldwide Islamist organisation that aims to establish a caliphate. After spending four years in an Egyptian prison, he changed course and distanced himself from Hizb ut Tahrir. The topic didn’t come up during the Tans lecture. Only after being asked about it by a member of the audience did Nawaz mention his extremist years, saying, “that’s a talk in itself”. 

Studium Generale has recorded the lecture, you can watch it here: https://mediasite.maastrichtuniversity.nl/Mediasite/Play/ae3c8b034e9e44138e53606869e0f6521d (unfortunately, the first 20 minutes are without footage, due to technical problems with the camera, so only sound)

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