Tariq Ramadan spoke to Today’s Zaman while in İstanbul for a conference by the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey (KAGİDER)An interview with Today’s Zaman
You have an article called “Manifesto for a new ‘We’” which was published in The Independent. I would like you to explain what “We” means?
I describe it as a manifesto for a new “We.” We live in pluralistic societies in the West, as well as in Muslim countries like Turkey. We are not even clear about what it means to be a pluralistic society. Instead of speaking about our differences, the principle at the beginning is to accept that these are pluralistic societies. We have no choice. The West now is full of pluralistic societies. Islam is a Western religion as well as a religion for Muslim-majority countries, and we are bound by the laws of the country, we speak the language of the country, we are loyal to the country and we have our objective. And this objective is that you and I, Muslims, non-Muslims, atheists, agnostics, Christians, Jews are to come together and do something to work together. So a new “We” is a vision for more contribution and to stop talking about integration.
When we look at Europe, we see some problems occurring one after the other in countries such as Greece and Spain. It starts with an economic crisis and a social crisis and then transforms into hatred and the exclusion of foreigners. Is this really the case in Europe?
The situation in Europe and in the West by and large is not very good. We have trends coming from far-right parties and populist parties targeting Muslims because they are undermining the homogeneity of the society, the culture and living together. I am Swiss by nationality, and in my country we voted against the minarets, we are talking about the burqa and headscarves. Any visible symbol of Islam is perceived as a danger, and the parties are building on that. At the same time, what is happening at the grassroots level is much better because you have Muslims settling down, working, contributing and doing their jobs. So I think that there is a state of tension within society because we are facing an identity crisis within the Muslim communities, who are asking “who are we?” and within the surrounding society. Now what we have to do is to be much more involved in society and not let far-right parties and populist parties set the political agenda. We should be much more involved in society to create a new “We.” We are citizens. We are not minorities and we are not the victims of a minority mentality. We should be involved in society; this is the best way in fact to react to the trends that we see today in Europe.
Is Islamophobia still an issue in Europe?
Yes, I would speak about racism against Muslims. Muslims are targeted if they wear a headscarf, if they have a Muslim name or if they appear to be like a Muslim. It is still difficult to get a job, to get a house, to be respected and the atmosphere is very difficult. So I would say yes, there is Islamophobia. Many people are really experiencing phobia, which means fear. Muslims should respect people’s fear by responding to their questions and should also resist the instrumentalization of fear in what I call emotional politics. Emotional politics uses this fear just to win the next election.
The integration of Muslim immigrants and Europeans was considered a challenging issue in Europe. Today can we talk about the contribution of the third and fourth generations to European society rather than their integration into society?
I would say that we have to differentiate between the discussion on Islam and Muslims in Europe, or European Muslims, with immigration, because immigration is an ongoing process. We keep speaking about immigration. Now we have millions of Europeans and we are reaching the fifth generation, not only the third one. Regarding the fifth generation in some countries such as France and the UK, we still speak about British citizens of immigrant backgrounds, of French citizens of immigrant backgrounds. These are now citizens and it means that for many people Islam is still a foreign religion and a religion of immigrants and we have to show now that it is not true. As you said, the success of integration is to stop talking about integration. It is now to speak about contribution and living together. Still, we will have immigration problems but they are not connected to Islam, they are connected to the fact that Europe cannot survive if there are no people coming from the outside. We need migrants and immigrants to help us in the economic field but we deny this. So there is an economic need and a cultural resistance. But this is another situation, it is another discussion. We have to distinguish between European Muslims living in the country as citizens and contributing and how to deal with the new immigrants who are coming in, and we have to deal with them on political, social and cultural grounds, of course.
Do you find the dialogue between Muslim immigrants and Europeans sufficient?
I speak about citizens talking to their governments. I think that at the local level it is much better than what we see. At the national level we have controversies like in the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Germany and Norway. So I would say it is not enough and we have to improve the dialogue, but if we look at the local level we can find that there are very interesting processes and trends. It is going to be a very long process. It will take at least two generations before we settle down. So we have to be patient, we have to work for the future and for the next generation, not for the next election. This is something to be made very clear. We are not something to be bought and we are not to be sold. We are subject citizens, we want to be respected and we will contribute to a better future for our countries. This is our loyalty to the country; we want the best for our countries.
Can we say that the young Muslim immigrants are contributing more to European society?
Not only the new generation, not only the third generation. We have to keep in mind and to remind people that the first generation contributed to the rebuilding of Europe after World War II. We have to say this, we have to say that mothers and fathers, even grandfathers and grandmothers, came and they contributed to society. They built France, Germany, Britain, Sweden and Belgium. These countries needed these people and they were even asking these people to come. I was with Jack Straw, the previous UK secretary of state for justice, who said, “We went there to bring them here.” So we brought them to Europe. The first generation contributed, the second generation contributed and the third generation is contributing in many fields — within academia, on the social ground, in the arts, in music, in entertainment, in sports and in anything which has to do with culture as well. So, yes, of course, the contribution is huge.
Considering the misunderstanding and even conflicts between Islam and the West, is it about the clash of cultures or perceptions?
This is what I am saying. This is not a clash of civilizations; this is a clash of perceptions. So people perceive the other in an essentialist way. This is the West and this is Islam. Well this is wrong. There are lots of things that have come from Islam in the West, and there are lots of things from the West in Islam. So they intertwine, and I would say that this perception that there are two blocs and two entities that are striving and conflicting is wrong. It is much more our perceptions that are problematic.
Do you find the Alliance of Civilizations [AoC] useful in terms of people understanding each other?
It is always useful to have platforms where you have dialogue. Now you have to ask what the intentions are and where they lead us. The first thing is that while we were talking about the clash of civilizations before, people are now talking about dialogue and alliance, saying we have to work together, and that’s fine. I was involved in this and I was invited to a meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations two weeks ago in Cordoba. My point here is really beyond that. We have to remind ourselves that dialogue and alliances should not only be symbolic and far removed from the people. So if you talk to Muslims at the grassroots level today, Europeans and Westerners at the grassroots level, these people don’t even know what is happening. So these are specialists talking to each other that are far removed from the grass roots and it has no impact. I would say dialogue and alliances are fine but we have to ask the questions of “where” and “with whom.”
Do you find Turkey to be a complex country on the basis of the idea that concepts such as modernism, secularism, Islam and women’s issues are still controversial subjects and are not likely to be settled?
I think it is not going to settle for the next two generations. There may be more controversy in Turkey than in other countries, but still it is the same everywhere. Turkey is really at the crossroads of being involved in the EU, being involved in the West and being faithful to Islamic principles. This is exactly what we see within society. So how do you deal with this? By being faithful to tradition, to practices and to principles. There are tensions, and they are difficult to overcome. This is why, as you said, Turkey has not yet settled; but it is a necessary process, and my hope is for Turkey to lead or pave the way for Muslim-majority countries to show that it is possible to have democracy and transparency but still to remain faithful to Islam. It is possible not to impose anything on women, not to push people to remove the headscarf and to be able to be fully Muslim and completely modern. This is possible, and I think that Turkey is under pressure because some in Europe want Turkey to forget much more about their principles and some other Muslims are saying you are betraying and forgetting Islam. Sometimes, you know, when you are walking down the streets in İstanbul you can feel the tension between modernization and tradition and this is part of the Turkish identity today. You are facing the challenges of your time.
Some people in Turkey support the French style of secularism, while others feel closer to the American style. What are your thoughts on the application of secularism on Turkey?
I think that Turkey should find its own way. It is not going to follow the footsteps of the French or the American system. Now we need to put things into context. The secular system was imposed on this country in a way which was very very tough. So there are developments and steps that we have to take into account. There is no way for Turkey to go ahead and push forward to find new solutions in the future if it does not question the kind of secularism that it has. You cannot just come out and say that everything which is religious is wrong. That’s not going to work. I think that Turkey should, step-by-step and in a very patient way, find its own way to solve the problem. The rule of law? Yes. A secular system? Why not, if no one is prevented from practicing her or his religion according to his or her understanding?
You are also saying that there is one Islam but many interpretations of Islam. Do you think that much of the responsibility falls not to the system in which we are living but to the individual herself to learn the original sources of Islam?
There are two things. Any individual, whether that person is a man or a woman, needs to have a basic knowledge of Islam. This is a personal commitment and responsibility. I mean you have to do that. You have to know why you pray, how to pray, what the meanings of the five pillars of Islam are and what the meanings of the six pillars of faith are. All of this is basic knowledge. Now when it comes to interpreting the Quran, you can’t. It is not for everyone to do that. Worshipping is the way for everyone to be close to the spiritual text. Your heart is moved by what you are reading. When it comes to extracting rules, not everyone can do this.
Is the Muslim world falling away from the original text and teachings of Islam?
Oh yes, in many ways. As I said today, when we speak about women, when we speak about politics and corruption, we are forgetting many of the ethical teachings and lessons that are given by Islam. So, I think that we have cultural distortion coming from the Turkish and the Arab culture, the Asian culture and even the Western culture, and we also have reductionism, which is a very literal way of reading the text but not contextualizing the text. Once again, there are things which are immutable; they are not going to change in our religion. Not everyone can just read the Quran and interpret the very meaning of it. Scholars can do that.
You say “Don’t just talk to the West, talk among yourselves.” There is a huge Muslims population but they are weak in power. Is this about their lack of confidence?
Yes, I think that is completely right. I think what is missing for Muslims today is self-confidence. We don’t lack power. We have lots of power. The Muslim-majority countries have money and the petro-monarchies have money. Even if you look at what is happening in Turkey, there are lots of opportunities. So let us use these opportunities to do something which is more important with confidence, by being more assertive and in line with our principles and understandings. The psychological factor is so important.
Source: Today’s Zaman