Integration and Inclusion Seminar: What Policies towards Islam?
Chaired by President of the European People's Party (EPP) and former Belgian Prime Minister Wilfred Martens, the seminar invited European Foundation for Democracy Visiting Fellow Walid Phares to provide his expert analysis on a range of subjects including the terrorist threat emanating from the rise of radical Islamist groups in Europe, how to empower liberal Muslim organisations on the European continent, as well as his view on the recent democratic uprisings across the Arab world.
President Wilfred Martens underlined the importance of Dr. Phares' recent book "The Coming Revolution", which outlines the role of democratic civil society in fighting Middle Eastern totalitarianism. Dr. Phares stressed the importance of distinguishing between Islamist and non-Islamist groups, warning against viewing Islam as a single monolithic bloc. He said that only 5-8% of Muslims self-identified as Islamist and argued that the terrorist threat arose not from these low percentages, but rather from the Islamist minority's readiness to use violence to achieve their aims.
Professor Hendrik Vroom presented his report "Dialogue with Islam" to the seminar. Focusing on the four areas of acceptance, education, social cohesion and equal treatment, the report aimed to contribute to a "balanced and consistent EU policy on Muslim immigrants." Following this, the Paris-based Mosaïc Federation's President, Dr. Marouane Bouloudhnine, declared that European Muslims are "first-and-foremost citizens just like anyone else", and he called upon the "silent majority" to prevent Islamist voices speaking in their place. Chastening the European media, he stressed the very real need for liberal Muslim voices to be heard in order to counter populist far-right sentiment embodied in figures such as Front National President Marine Le Pen. The recent persecution of Christian minorities in majority Muslim countries such as Egypt, Syria and Lebanon was also highlighted by Estonian MEP Tunne Kelam. Italian Imam Yahya Pallavicini echoed the theme of citizenship, stressing European Muslims' responsibility to contribute to the prosperity of the country where they live, whilst exercising their right to be protected from xenophobic hatred.
In an emotional testament to the democratic awakening underway in Tunisia
(received to rapturous applause) ex-journalist Amel Arfaoui
claimed that such events demonstrated once and for all the compatibility of Islam and Modernity. Urging the European Union to offer an outstretched hand to Muslims pursuing democratic values both on the European continent and abroad, she expressed her joy at a new, youthful, democratic Muslim voice being heard. Adding to this, Dr. Phares
said that social media such as Facebook, Twitter and blogging are fast becoming the ultimate democratic tools for civil society across the Arab world, providing a crucial alternative to the already well-established online presence of Islamist groups. He urged the EU to invite young bloggers to come to Brussels to address the EU institutions. Discussing next steps in Egypt, he stressed the need to support as partners the disenfranchised youth who sparked the revolution.