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Challenges to coexistence in Europe

August 30, 2012

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KARACHI, Aug 30: Preconceived notions, lack of trust and confidence in one another are some of the major factors responsible for a widening gap between Muslims and other communities living in Europe that need to be bridged.

These views were expressed by retired ambassador Shahid M. Amin while speaking at a workshop on ‘Multiculturism in Europe in the light of international developments after 9/11’, organised by the Area Study Centre for Europe at the University of Karachi in collaboration with The Hanns Seidel Foundation, Islamabad, on Thursday.

Author of a book ‘Europe and the Muslim World: Coexistence or Conflict?’, Mr Amin said Muslims constantly lived under a state of perceived injustice to the Muslim world — a mentality that in turn encouraged “extremist groups to seek justification for their actions”.

He added that the failure of the United Nations to resolve the Palestine and Kashmir issues and their lack of commitment to it had contributed to this perception of victimisation in the Muslim world.

Mr Amin, who is a regular speaker at the Department of International Relations, the University of Karachi, said some people considered that a clash of civilisations was developing, a kind of anti-Semitism of Muslims. “But this goes back many years from the Ottoman Empire to the more recent colonialism of Muslim lands and the Gulf war, Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan. This left behind a legacy of tension, war and bitterness,” he said.

Dr Rashid Ahmed Khan, the dean of the faculty of arts, social sciences and law at the University of Sargodha, touched upon the history of Muslims in Europe in the past 1,200 years.

Both Dr Khan and Mr Amin were of the opinion that the clash between Western civilisation and Muslims was not new to history that was replete with examples of when the two societies had met whether in peace or in conflict.

Hans Juergen Paschke, head of mission of the consulate of Federal Republic of Germany in Karachi, highlighted the importance of managing migration and making integration of migrants a priority for countries receiving them. He said there were seven million foreigners in Germany today and that around 60 million Germans had an immigrant background, the majority of whom hailed from non-European countries.

“Integration works if there is an acceptance of social, economic and cultural life,” he said. For integration to succeed, he added, a person migrating to Germany needed to learn the German language, have a fair understanding of Germany’s history, legal system, laws and constitution. He then explained the scope of education, work and labour laws for foreigners interested in a long-term residency in Germany.

Dr Moonis Ahmar, the director of the Area Study Centre for Europe at Karachi University, said: “We cannot get caught up in the game of blaming others for everything. If they (the West) have been unjust and unfair it’s because of their (Muslims’) weakness.

“No one has the right to question my religion and ethnic identity. I have the right to practise my religion and I am answerable to God for it.

But I don’t agree with blocking traffic for prayers — it’s not just about your ‘right’ but also about showing ‘responsibility’.

“There should be freedom within certain limits through increased tolerance and understanding,” he added.

Dr Ahmar said there was a gap in the economic and social development of Muslim states as compared to European countries and emphasised that Muslims should instead focus on bridging that gap.

The speakers were of the opinion that the past 30 years had seen one of the largest migrations of Muslims to Europe in recent history and as a result of this movement, their population in Europe had more than tripled. This, along with the negative reputation Islam had acquired due to the activities of terrorist groups identifying themselves as Muslims, the war in Iraq and the decade-long war in Afghanistan, had contributed to an increasing level of Islamophobia in non-Muslim countries, they said.

They added that the key to eliminating this prejudice was to create a better understanding of the Muslim culture and religion for Europeans whereas at the same time, a greater effort by Muslim communities to integrate into mainstream European society.