By Mohammad Mazhari
April 11, 2021 – 15:35
TEHRAN – A London-based history professor says that today many people across the world face every day discrimination fuelled by the rise of right-wing movements.
“Many – as other minorities – struggle with everyday racism, now further fueled by the rise of right-wing movements,” David Motadel notes.
“The situation of minorities in Europe is overall better than anywhere else in the world,” Motadel, associate professor of international history at the London School of Economics and Political Science, tells the Tehran Times.
Motadel who has held visiting positions at Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Sciences Po, and the Sorbonne also believes that “Europe has sometimes been defined in religious terms, as Christendom. But there is a long history of Judaism in Europe.”
However, the author of Islam and Nazi Germany’s War and the editor of Islam and the European Empires, notes that “the majority of Muslims in today’s Europe is well-integrated and successful.”
Following is the text of the Interview with David Motadel:
Q: How do you see the status of Muslims in European countries in view of the rise of populists in Europe?
A: I am concerned about the growth of right-wing nationalist movements in Europe. Yet I am still convinced that the majority of Europe’s population is tolerant and will continue to resist these groups. We can already see a slight decline in their support in many parts of Europe. The Trump moment might be gone. But maybe I’m too optimistic.
Iranians are a highly successful minority, not just in Europe but also in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and elsewhere in the world.Q: What are the main causes of far-right groups’ return to power in Europe? Economic problems or immigration?
A: Research on the roots and nature of such discrimination shows that there is no straightforward answer. Around the world, radical politicians are benefiting from social and political instability. Economic crises and social inequality are driving people to extremism. Yet material causes alone are not sufficient to explain the phenomenon. We should not forget that many of the populist movements have solid middle-class support. Concerns about social, demographic, and cultural change and anxiety about the complexity of the modern world are also important. Europe’s demagogues play on their fears, offering simple solutions, scapegoats, and a strong hand. We need to fight economic hardship and xenophobic bigotry.
Q: Why do some European states try to impose restrictions on Muslim communities under the pretext of fighting terrorism?
A: Thankfully Europe has not seen anything like Trump’s xenophobic ‘Muslim ban’. Yet, while there is little institutional, state discrimination against Muslims across most of Europe today, many – as other minorities – struggle with everyday racism, now further fueled by the rise of right-wing movements. Europe’s ethnic and religious minorities have been discriminated against throughout history. Just consider the histories of Europe’s Huguenots, Jews, Sinti and Roma; these are histories of exclusion and violence. At the same time, it is worth noting that the situation of minorities in Europe is overall better than anywhere else in the world, especially compared to many parts of Asia and Africa, where various religious and ethnic groups face discrimination and even persecution.
Q: Would the EU accept Muslims as countries and communities inside itself? Take for example Turkey, where some say the EU is a Christian club and there is no room for a powerful Muslim country.
A: The debate about whether Turkey is part of Europe is centuries old. It depends how you define Europe’s borders – geographically, culturally, religiously.
Too difficult to define, the geographic concept of Europe has changed throughout history. There have been the age-old controversies over whether Russia is part of Europe or not, although most now consider the Ural Mountains as the border between Asia and Europe, following the eighteenth-century Swedish cartographer Philipp Johann von Strahlenberg. In 1811, the Prussian geographer August Rühle von Lilienstern suggested including North Africa and the lands to the Indus, Amu, Tobol, and Ob as part of Europe. The German historian Karl Krüger advocated in the 1950s the idea that North Africa and the Middle East (West Asia) were part of a ‘greater Europe’, united by the Mediterranean as a Hellenistic-European cultural space. In contrast, around the same time, the British scholar Oscar Halecki claimed that the Ottoman Empire was not part of Europe because of its Islamic majority population, whereas Russia, with its Christian majority, had been part of Europe up until the Bolshevik Revolution.
It is noteworthy that this European concept was routinely defined in relation to an exterior Other, often the ‘Orient’, usually portrayed as inferior. ‘The battle of Marathon [against the Persians], even as an event in English history, is more important than the battle of Hastings’, John Stuart Mill once remarked. ‘If the issue of that day had been different, the Britons and the Saxons might still have been wandering in the woods.’
Europe has sometimes been defined in religious terms, as Christendom. But there is a long history of Judaism in Europe. And there is a long history of Islam in Europe. It includes Muslim majority countries such as Albania and Bosnia. So, defining the continent as a Christian space does not make much sense.
There was a serious debate about integrating Turkey into the EU in the early 2000s – a great opportunity at that time. The benefits would have been immense, on both sides. We missed that opportunity. Now the situation is different. We have a different Turkey. Erdogan’s mounting attacks on his people’s political freedom make it difficult for anyone in the EU to make the case for a Turkish EU membership.
Q: What are the main contributions and achievements of Muslims in Europe?
A: The majority of Muslims in today’s Europe is well-integrated and successful. While the first generations of Muslims who came to Europe as part of the post-colonial and labour migration of the 1950s and 1960s worked in low-paid factory jobs, their children’s and grandchildren’s generations are now rising in companies, universities, civil services, judiciaries, and parliaments. Just consider figures like London’s popular mayor, Sadiq Khan, or BioNTech’s vaccine inventors Özlem Türeci and Ugur shahin. The majority of Europe’s Iranians – who are not connected to the post-colonial and labor migrant community – are part of the bourgeois middle classes. In general, Iranians are a highly successful minority, not just in Europe but also in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and elsewhere in the world.
Q: How do you assess the impact of religion (either Islam or Christianity) on political decision-making in Europe?
A: Religion has, overall, no major impact on political decision-making in Europe. In most countries it is considered something private. Yes, Muslims take over official responsibilities, but that does not mean that their religion impacts their political positions. London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, is a great example. He is secular. At the same time, he is very open and engages wonderfully with all religious communities in London – Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, and so on. Politicians like him make Europe a better place.