“Sweden matters, too,” he says. “I think the following needs international publicity — please take it and use it.”
Last week all Swedish politicians of any weight, their supporters and partisans, lobbyists, and also ordinary people met up at Almedalen in the town of Visby on the Baltic island of Gotland. This has been a growing tradition since 1968, when the custom was introduced by the socialist Olof Palme (at that time Minister of Education) giving an improvised speech to a few believers from a lorry platform.
Last week was filled with speeches, discussions, meetings, concerts and musical performances (bread and circuses for the people), and other opinion-forming events. The complete Social Democratic Workers Party (SSP) was there, also representatives for the Workers Union (LO), the leaders of the non-Socialist Parties, the Prime Minister himself (a.k.a. HSB = he who decides), Göran Persson, the minister of finance Pär Nuder, etc. Others present: from the French parliament Ségolène Royal, a socialist; Helena Benouda, a convert, from the Swedish Muslim Council; and last, but not least, Tariq Ramadan, professor.
Tariq Ramadan visits Sweden quite often these days, and on this occasion he was invited by the Islamist-friendly Christian wing of the Social Democratic Party — aptly called Broderskapsrörelsen (the Brotherhood Movement) by their outstanding Mohammed-fan and organizer: “It is good that we have these contacts with the Muslim groups in Sweden — Ola Johansson” (“Det är bra att vi har de här kontakterna med de muslimska grupperna i Sverige — Ola”)
An intense election campaign is in progress — the Parliamentary election is in September — and the Socialists are anxious to solicit Muslim voters — up to 400,000 votes might be at stake.
Tariq Ramadan appeared on Wednesday the 5th of July, from 10:00am to noon in the Methodist Church, Adelsgatan, Visby. His talk was entitled:
To be a muslim in Europe — Is there a worthwhile place for Islam? (Att vara muslim i Europa — Kan islam få en meningsfull plats?)
Tariq Ramadan was introduced by Peter Weiderud (chairman for the Brotherhood Movement, former Secretary General of the Conference of European Churches) simply as a “scholar and professor” from London.
During the week in Almedalen a few collaborators of the liberal-conservative think tank ‘Timbro’ were reporting. One of these was present at the Tariq Ramadan speech and tried to pick up as much of it as possible; the results can be read here (or see below).
Is there anything the Swedish Social Democrats will not permit themselves to do in order to win votes?
From Timbros Almedalsblogg:
Tariq Ramadan: It’s important for westerners to listen to the discourse within the mainstream Muslim community. Muslims aren’t the only ones who have to reevaluate their perceptions. There is a new Muslim presence, a new Muslim visibility. Third-, fourth- and fifth-generation Muslims are beginning to question who they are and what the future holds for them. We [Muslims] are far behind the realities of our societies. The European societies are changing and we have to take this into account.
400,000-500,000 Muslims live in Sweden and there are millions of us throughout Europe. We can either focus on the few bad apples or we can look at the vast majority, the mainstream. Arabs and Muslims have long contributed to European society and culture. It is therefore wrong to refer to Europe’s Judeo-Christian history. Tell me how you read your past and I’ll show you how you view your present. One of the biggest problems is ignorance. There is a deep identity crisis in Europe. We must define a new “We.”
Ignorance, suspicion and mistrust: People in Europe wrongly assume that Muslims are here to “Islamify” their new home countries. Muslims, on the other hand, tend to nurture a victim mentality. This creates a climate of mistrust. There must be a “revolution of trust,” and we must move away from an “evolution of fear.” Islam is complex… don’t oversimplify it. The anti-Muslim discourse traditionally reserved for far-right political parties is now being co-opted by Europe’s mainstream parties.
What does the religious integration mean? Muslims have been minorities for a very long time, not least in Africa. But it is new for Muslims to be minorities in secular societies. People are confusing social problems with religious problems. The riots in the French suburbs were not about religion, but rather social and economic injustice. The religious integration is, in fact, complete.
I am Swiss by nationality, Muslim by religion, Egyptian by memory, and internationalist by principle. People ask “who are you?” in order to define what they are not. They want to pigeonhole you. When one contributes to a society, one’s nationality is never questioned.
The majority of Muslims deplore extremism. Islam condones neither arranged marriage nor violence against women. People want Muslims to communicate values that dovetail with their own values. This makes them feel better about themselves… reaffirms their belief systems.
Some main points:
- The Muslim presence in Europe is a test…a positive test. Our presence forces you to ask questions about yourself.
- Every country has its assets and liabilities. Important to ask: What are our values? What is the gap between what you say and what you do? Are you practicing what you preach? One cannot compare one country to another. Sure you can compare Sweden to a dictatorship and feel like you’ve won…but it’s not a real contest. You need to compare Sweden to Sweden.
- We need to sow the seeds for the “revolution of trust” at the local level…we need to create trust at the local level. This will help to create the conditions for a new “We.” Let everyone come together, with Swedish common values as the foundation, to create a new identity. We much teach more inclusiveness in our schools.
- European silence is the cause of violence in suppressed societies, such as we are seeing in the Palestinian territories.
Questions and answers:
Peter Weiderud: Are European societies afraid of religion? Tariq Ramadan: Yes, but people also misunderstand what secular means. Secularism is used a weapon against religion. We need to embrace pluralism. Secularism should create room for all faiths in society. We have to get back to the roots of secularism. PW: Is there a secular fundamentalism? TR: Yes, in France we are dealing with many secular fundamentalists. Two years ago the French government amended the law, making it incompatible with the Muslim presence. Many French people have a very narrow interpretation of secularism. PW: What is the situation for Muslims in Sweden? Helena Benaouda: Islamophobia is the gravest form of discrimination in Europe. The headscarf is a big issue in Sweden, of course. And it creates barriers, especially in the labor market. PW: How can we nurture the internal dialog in the Muslim community? TR: The Islamic creed and practices are the same wherever you go. The core values are identical. But there are different interpretations of Islam. And there is not merely the moderate and the radical. This perception is ignorant. There is a great expanse of interpretations under the banner of Islam. We need platforms where these various groups can come together and dialog. Publik: How will Turkey’s joining the EU affect Islam? TR: We have to agree on the parameters. Religion is not the question. We have to speak about laws and values. It boils down to principals, not religion. Islam is now perceived as a threat. The Turks are afraid that integrating with the EU will dilute their identity. They are living as Muslims and democrats. But Europe must respect their religion and traditions. Senegal is an Islamic country, for instance, yet it is also a democracy. Publik: You talk of mistrust and suspicion. What role do the Islamic countries in the Middle East play? TR: Everything happening in Islamic countries is not black and white. In the Palestinian case, for example, one can understand a situation without justifying it. The Americans revoked my visa and said that to understand is to justify. You can understand why the Palestinians do what they do, but I don’t justify it. Let’s understand the roots of extremism. The Muslim presence in Europe must condemn extremism, but also explain why it is there. I have to condemn hudud, for instance, because it is wrong. We can’t be silent; it’s a question of moral dignity. Billy McCormac: Can you compare Muslim integration in the United States and Europe? Has one succeeded better than the other? TR: There are some major differences to consider here. The Muslims who immigrate to the United States are primarily well-educated professionals, who by virtue of their background find it easier to assimilate into the American society. The Muslims who immigrate to Europe are of far more modest means. The acceptance of the American community has helped to remove tensions. At the same time, Muslims remain far removed from the corridors of power.
A far more suitable comparison with European Muslims is the African American Muslims. Here you have people living in ghettos, on the margins of society. They have no voice, no power. Whereas many Middle Eastern Muslims have become seamlessly integrated into American society, the black Muslims languish on the sidelines of society, much like their brethren in Europe.
— Written by Billy McCormac
Bibliography for this article:
Frère Tariq : Discours, stratégie et méthode de Tariq Ramadan (Broché)
Workers’ Liberty: Tariq Ramadan is not our ally