March 07th 2017

The Islamic challenge

Politics between holy war and European values
Professor Bassam Tibi, professor emeritus of International Relations at the University of Göttingen and Andrew Dickson White Professor at Cornell University, N Y; founder of the academic discipline of Islamology

In the frame of the MCI Alumni & Friends lecture series the Entrepreneurial School® welcomed the founder of Islamology and International Relations professor emeritus of the University of Göttingen Bassam Tibi. Professor Tibi, born in Damascus, Syria and brought up in strict Islamic tradition, arrived in Germany as an 18-year-old. In the course of his studies he was strongly influenced by European values such as represented by Critical Theory, particularly by Adorno, Horkheimer, and Habermas. 20 years later he was appointed professor at Cornell University in the USA; today, he says his way of thinking is American. He therefore separates science from belief and speaks as a scholar and scientist rather than as a member of the Muslim faith.

The proportion of Muslims in Europe is on the rise, additionally fueled by the migration movements of recent years. At present, 30 to 35 million Muslims live in Europe, eight million of them in France and six and a half million in Germany. At this point, Tibi makes a distinction between Islam and Islamism: Islam designates the religion (Iman), while Islamism refers to the goal of establishing a state according to Islamic principles and values (sharia). According to Tibi, the Islamic challenge can be traced to the fact that 63 percent of the Muslims living in Europe are supporters of Islamism. This occurs in essentially two forms, with the majority of Islamists supporting a peaceful variation of institutional Islamism. The means to achieve the desired Islamic state is here found in democracy. Tibi sees an example of this in President Erdogan’s Turkey. However, there is also a group of Islamists who consider jihad a legitimate means to attaining the Islamic state. Jihad as a holy war is then to be attributed to Islamism and not to Islam in general.

Both institutional Islamism and jihadism endanger European values. The danger for Europe is exacerbated by the fact that European identity is not consistently perceived as inclusive identity, i.e. as an identity that is based on shared values, but also commonly understood as based on ethnicity (i.e. exclusive identity). Members of non-European ethnicities therefore find it difficult to gain access to a European identity.

Islamism will at least remain an issue in Europe for the next 20 years. Professor Tibi proposes a possible solution to the problem by promoting the Europeanization of Islam as the adaptation to European values, combined with an inclusive European identity. Support for the media, politics and liberal Muslims, whose voices should be raised when Islamist acts of terror and attacks occur, is just as important as is bringing up children according to an Islam that includes European values: it has to be possible to be both a Muslim and a European.

The discussion to follow was chaired by Claus Reitan, seasoned journalist and media expert, with the highest competency and professionalism.

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