Do Muslims not belong in this Christian Europe?

From Seville to Sarajevo and beyond, there is no

corner of Europe that can claim to be free of eastern


By Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

16 December 2002

Awfully dejected this week after Turkey was yet again

rebuffed, discouraged from even thinking it could be

considered as a member of a European Union described

by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing as a Christian club. The

sentiments were echoed by Germany's conservative

leader, Edmund Stoiber, and others too. Ah, yes, now I

understand these particular values which form the

basis of this wonderful Union of theirs. They are to

be based only on Christianity. So that's why Europe

had to energetically burn those millions of Jews

50-plus years ago. The continent's terrific human

values could not be sustained when it contained such a

large number of un-Christian souls. How interesting

that it is the German and French leaders ? with their

shameful anti-Semitic history ? who are keenest to

keep Europe Christian.

And now other threats are being made by all manner of

barbarians knocking at the doors: Hindus, Sikhs,

Baha'is, Buddhists and ? most of all ? those infernal

Muslims. We allowed them to enter our countries so we

could exploit them, and now they think they can

actually belong to this ancient civilisation. The


Their decision has knocked back reformist European

Muslims who are fighting against Islamist ideologues

who also see Europe as "Western" and a place with

alien and abhorrent ideas which must be rejected or

terrorised by true "jihadis". The humiliation of

Turkey gives the ideologues ammunition against all

that Europe stands for, including many of the precious

principles so many of us Muslims espouse, not because

they are white and Christian but because they are

universal and right.

Turkey so far has proved itself worthy by holding a

fair election and sticking with the result ? an

overwhelming victory to the Islamic party ? even

though the result alarmed the secularists who have

held power for decades oppressing, among others, the

opposition Islamic parties. (I think the West would

have been better pleased if the victors had not

behaved with such sophistication and as proper

democrats. If only they had started chopping off hands

and stoning adulterers, it wouldn't have been so hard

to dismiss their latest application.) Yes, many human

rights abuses still remain to be sorted out and

Turkey's ruling party has to prove itself. But this

should be another reason to encourage Turkey to join

us and to start to live by the rules which the EU

holds sacrosanct.

Millions of people live in Turkey today who, until

this week, were undecided whether their destiny lay

with the West or with the Islamic nations to the east.

They supported Nato and they thought of themselves as

a meeting place of cultures where hordes of Western

tourists could drink themselves to a good time as long

as they stopped to listen to the calls to prayer,

always hauntingly beautiful. Many ? too many ? will, I

fear, veer towards groups and nations which are

uncompromisingly anti-West. Powerful people such as

Abdullah Gul, an adviser to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the

leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party,

already feel Turkey should stop begging to gain entry.

As an ardent European, I feel let down and embarrassed

by the EU leadership this week. Tony Blair was the

only one in Copenhagen who appeared to understand the

consequences of the EU's stupid and discriminatory

decision on Turkey, and its criminal lack of

imagination and of basic knowledge on its own history.

The East bedazzled Europe for centuries and its goods,

peoples, thoughts, ideas, books, fabrics, jewels,

crafts, arts, music, sexual practices and foods were

craved, hunted down, brought over, admired and

absorbed by every corner of European life. From

Seville to Sarajevo and beyond, no corner of Europe

can claim to be free of Eastern influence. Espresso

coffee, hand-painted tiles, fountains and squares,

science, medicine and mathematics all contain the

cultural DNA of the Ottoman empire (which was, like

all empires, both good and rotten), of the Egyptian

and Persian empires, and many other civilisations,

including China and India. I was in that most English

of places, Lewes in East Sussex, last weekend and

loved it for its palpable presence of history, Tom

Paine and all that. Wandering around the house of Anne

of Cleves, I saw huge old tapestries with pashas and

Turkish princesses as well as Chinese and Indian


In his book Islam in Britain 1558-1685, Nabil Matar

shows how "Muslims and their Arab-Islamic legacy were

part of the religious, commercial and military

self-definition of England". Coffee was brought here

and installed in coffee houses by Turks, who took

slaves from undefended British coastal areas. Love and

hate came and went between the two just as it did, and

does, between France and England. The influences were

more profound and long-lasting in Spain, Italy, the

Balkans and some former Soviet satellite states.

Philosophers such as al-Farabi (who died in 950)

re-established Greek thought and wrote on statecraft

in books which informed Thomas Aquinas. Ibn Sina

(known in the West as Avicenna, who died in 1037)

built on the teachings of Aristotle and wrote some of

the most respected books on science and medicine.

Today the traffic is the other way around. The West

bedazzles the East with its technological

developments, arts, literature, goods, ideas and

ideologies. These are craved, hunted down, found and

absorbed by so-called Eastern civilisations. For

centuries, neither the East nor the West has existed

without the other.

The effects of the EU's decision on Turkey will be

pessimism and more mutual antipathy. It gives strength

to those with the meanest instincts, the determined

xenophobes, and encourages a wilful ignorance and

misrepresentation of Europe's identity. It is a

betrayal of many of us who pay taxes to keep EU

grandees in the lap of power. If the EU is only

Christian where do we, the non-Christians, fit in? Do

we bulldoze our temples, mosques and synagogues and

walk with red holly wreathes whistling Beethoven's

Ninth to show that we belong?

It is said that the EU is holding back Turkey to stop

the increasingly popular, far right-wing parties from

exploiting a mood which is at present susceptible to

Islamophobia. I scream with frustration when I hear

this dangerous garbage. Yes, as a BBC journalist,

Angus Roxburgh, reveals in his new book Preachers of

Hate: The Rise of the Far Right, since 11 September

support for fascism has reached 17 per cent in Europe

and is rising. But, by refusing to get going on

Turkey's admission to the Union, such abominable ideas

are only encouraged.

And how do reformist Muslims get out of this one? What

do we say when we are asked, as I already am: "So what

about your Europe now? Where is their equality? Where

are their just values?" While Europe plays these

games, hundreds more bright young Muslim men and

women, who see through the cant, will seek affirmation

in the company of people we should truly fear.

The EU has arrived at a moment of destiny. It needs to

become a credible and dynamic world player to

counterbalance the hyper-power. Unlike the US, it has

a long relationship with the Muslim worlds and it is

more trusted when it comes to the Middle East. Yet

today it has betrayed these possibilities and stands

condemned by those of us who had such hopes. What

else, but dark despair? 


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