H.A. Hellyer is a senior affiliate fellow on the Royal United Companies Institute and on the Carnegie Endowment for Worldwide Peace.
By definition, one thing that’s “counterproductive” achieves the alternative end result from the one that you just wish to obtain. As I’ve contemplated European Council President Charles Michel’s name for the creation of a European institute to coach imams, it’s that phrase — counterproductive — that has come to thoughts repeatedly.
There’s nothing untoward, intrinsically talking, to favor the institution and improvement of Muslim establishments of non secular authority in Europe. That merely follows an present sample for Muslim communities traditionally and worldwide.
Muslim Chinese language developed their very own establishments when Islam took root in China within the eighth century. Southeast Asian seminaries for Islamic studying within the Malay Archipelago have been famend for his or her experience for tons of of years. Ottoman conventional madrasas, South African institutes — wherever Muslims lived, they’ve created their very own coaching establishments.
Sadly, Michel’s intervention dangers impeding that course of tremendously. The way in which by which the discourse is unfolding is not only going to fail to ship, it’s more likely to delay the endeavor tremendously and probably trigger irrevocable injury to all the enterprise.
I’ve spent the higher a part of 20 years researching Muslim European communities. What I’ve discovered presents nice floor for optimism — but in addition a lot trigger for concern when it comes to how they’ve typically been engaged with.
First, the optimism. If the supposition is that there aren’t any efforts at indigenization inside Europe’s Muslim neighborhood, I’ve excellent news. Efforts exist, they usually’ve been created from the bottom up. There are establishments just like the Cambridge Muslim Faculty within the U.Ok. that educate graduates from present Islamic seminaries, giving them extra contextualized coaching. They’ve additionally developed their very own university-seminary program — one I train in myself.
Western Muslims are equally studying their faith in quite a few seminaries and establishments throughout the European Union. Lots of them are, certainly, touring additional afield to check; to locations like Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Indonesia and Jordan then returning to their dwelling international locations, in full consciousness that there’s a must contextualize. Might they do higher? I’m certain they may. Significantly if such natural establishments, constructed from the bottom up quite than the highest down, had entry to academic funds — not “counter-extremism assist” — from the state, quite than counting on charity fundraising. However, irrespective, they do exist.
Now, the causes for concern. First, when governments become involved in indigenization, the efforts are all too typically solid as a part of a broader counter-extremism or counterterrorism technique. Which may make sense to sure components of the coverage institution, however it’s wholly counterproductive in relation to the Muslim communities the hassle is focusing on.
No neighborhood needs to really feel it’s being engaged with as a result of it’s a “downside” — a “problem” that has come from “exterior.” Relatively, they wish to be acknowledged as integral to the society of which they’re an element, and given help as a way to excel — not as a result of the institution fears them.
Any establishment for the coaching of imams established in opposition to such a backdrop of “countering extremism” will run the chance of being counterproductive, even when the establishment itself is a superb thought. Communities is not going to see it as governments attempting to assist; they’ll see it as governments attempting to social engineer them in ways in which governments ought to by no means do — and by no means do with different communities, non secular or in any other case. The most effective factor that European politicians can do for such establishments is to make sure they by no means speak about them and “counter-extremism” in the identical dialogue once more.
Graduates from such establishments might effectively curry favor with European officialdom — however the communities they’re meant to counsel and information is not going to view them as credible, or take them critically. Your entire undertaking of indigenization itself may grow to be a suspect one, indelibly linked to securitization and counter-extremism narratives, quite than the flourishing of an indigenous expression of Islam in these lands. And thus, any indigenization effort — together with wholly impartial ones — might be framed as in opposition to the very best pursuits of those communities.
French President Emmanuel Macron lately raised — fairly incorrectly — issues round “separatism” amongst Muslim communities in his nation. The creation of an institute established from the highest down may inadvertently transfer us nearer to, quite than additional away from, such an final result.
The story of European Islam will not be a brand new one. It goes again 14 centuries, and it has roots throughout the Continent. The present period has its personal challenges and specificities, however Muslim Europeans aren’t working from a tabula rasa — they’ve the experiences of earlier generations, whether or not amongst European Muslim communities within the Balkans, the descendants of Muslim Spaniards who’ve rediscovered their roots in Muslim Andalusia, current convert communities, or the generations of descendants of immigrants over the previous few a long time. All of those are a part of that story.
Muslim Europeans have a wealthy heritage to attract on. We must always wish to encourage the natural technique of frequently educating and uncovering that background — quite than stifle it by way of securitization efforts. If we interact within the improper means, we’ll engender exactly that sense of marginalization, and invite the overseas affect we declare to wish to keep away from.