Dialogue with the Muslim World and Islam in Europe
West-Eastern Experiences - Tensions and Intellectual Exchange
Europe and the Muslim world have been closely connected for centuries. The relations between Western or European and Islamic societies was marked by conflict as well as understanding and fruitful co-operation enriching both sides. In addition, this historic relationship has substantially contributed to the development of society and science, philosophy, arts and culture, to mention but a few.
Global and regional political, economic and social development, in recent years, has troubled the relationship between Western, European and Islamic societies strongly and manifold. Throughout the world, people are witnessing unsettling changes. Non-Muslims and Muslims alike became victims of terror and violence by people pretending to act "in the name of Islam". Misunderstanding and prejudice seem to grow on both sides even though information systems and means of communication are highly sophisticated.
The appeal of Islamist movements and of political Islam seem to be on the rise in the Muslim world. Often in line with radical criticism of globalisation, Western models of society (and here, in particular, of emancipation of and equal rights for women) and political concepts such as democracy, pluralism, universal basic human rights are rejected or have even become targets. During the so called "cartoon crisis" in 2006, fundamental misunderstandings and lack of communication led to a heavy diplomatic crises between Europe and Muslim countries and to violence against European citizens and institutions.
Following these unfortunate developments, a number of political and social initiatives have come to life in order to reduce prejudice and promote mutual understanding and respect. This impetus must be strengthened and new ways found for a broader dialogue and for better co-operation.
Islam in Europe - Chances and Challenges
Islam is present in Europe (especially in Spain and Sicily) since the 8th century: for a period of five hundred years, the Turkish-Ottoman rule shaped the Pannonian Area and various other countries. In Greece, the Balkans, Romania and Bulgaria Muslim communities exist for long and their integration into Europe has never been questioned. Islam, therefore, is an autochthonous religion on the European continent.
Tension with and within Muslim immigrant communities is on the increase, in many European countries. Muslim immigrants are faced with discrimination and intolerance, whereas their identity has becomes affiliated with their religion. It is certain that the political, economical and social challenges of integration can only be met by efforts on both sides and that these challenges are not necessarily linked to religion in the first place. Because the great majority of young Muslims in Europe a multiple identity and the compatibility of Islam and European modernity is a living reality.
Another challenge can be seen in the prevention of young people becoming radicalized. For many young Muslims, the globalised internet and global Islam seem to have become a substitute for a homeland they can not find in the societies they live in. Non-Muslims and Muslims alike, state and religious organisations are equally challenged by these developments. Pluralism and the opportunity to develop and live multiple identities are an essential characteristic of the European model of life.
Austrian Tradition of Dialogue Activities and Perspectives
Austria has a long standing tradition of dialogue activities with Islam and Muslim communities. Since July 1st, 2007, the TASK FORCE Dialogue of Cultures in the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs continues and even intensifies the dialogue activities. Since the initiative of the former Austrian Foreign Minister Alois Mock, Austria has contributed to the dialogue between the major world religions and has supported inter-religious dialogue activities. Among those initiatives have been, for example, the numerous activities of the Religious Theological Institute of Saint Gabriel, such as the “International-Christian-Islamic Conference” that took place under the title “Peace for Mankind” (1993) and “One World for All” (1997) and the Round Tables in Teheran and Vienna in a three-year-interval (the last one held was "Peace, Justice and Their Threats in Today’s World", February 2003, Teheran).
Among the preconditions for these Austrian initiatives was the legal recognition of Islam in Austria in 1912, excellent relations with the Islamic Religious Community in Austria that is the official representation of the approximately 400.000 Muslims living in Austria, as well as with a great variety of Muslim organisations in Austria, in Europe and worldwide. Based on the joint initiative of former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and the Islamic Religious Community in Austria, the first Conference of European Imams and Heads of Islamic Centres was held in Graz in June 2003, of which a follow-up conference was held in Vienna in 2006. In both of their declarations, the Imams declare Muslim identity compatible with their social identity as Europeans, state their recognition of pluralism and democracy and affirm the validity of human rights. The Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs regards the continuity of the Conference of European Imams and Heads of Islamic Centres as an important contribution to the future formation of an Islam in and of Europe and to the development of a European Identity of the Muslims in Europe.
The starting point of our dialogue initiatives is the conviction that although religion and religious identity have increasingly gained importance, regional conflicts must not be understood simply as culturally or religiously motivated. Lack of mutual understanding must be overcome by dialogue. Strengthening pluralism within societies and reducing prejudices and foe images be it in Austria, in Europe or in Muslim countries – also play a crucial role. Dialogue, therefore, must not refrain from controversies, must endure open debates in order to make the complexity of the issue at stake transparent and enable differentiated perceptions still safeguarding the universal acceptance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The international Conference "Women Leaders - Networking for Peace and Security in the Middle East" that took place in Vienna on May 30 and 31, 2007 is an example for this comprehensive understanding of political dialogue with the objective of supporting the participation of women in politics and ensureing their presence at regional and international negotiation tables.
In this context, the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security is of utmost importance. The Austrian government has approved a national action plan for the implementation of this resolution.
- Women, Peace and Security: Austrian Action Plan for the Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000)
The following aspects are crucial for Austrian dialogue projects:
- Political, cultural, social and economical dialogue projects are addressed mainly but not exclusively to predominantly Muslim countries (including to their non-Muslim, pluralistic societies), and to Muslim communities in Europe.
- Enlargement of the target groups, i.e. inclusion of civil society, of people coming not only from major cities and of participants that have usually not been taken into consideration for dialogue projects and has not yet been exposed to "the West" or been "Westernised".
- Tackling concrete social and political challenges in a solution orientated and practical way and promoting co-operation with civil society activists, including the media.
- Dialogue as an important aspect of social, regional and global conflict prevention, of conflict management and peace building also includes aspects of development co-operation.
- Strengthening the role and participation of women in society and the integration of young generations (multipliers);
- Regional priorities: the Mediterranean area and the Middle East, the Balkans, Turkey and Islam in and off Europe.
Dialogue in the Framework of the European Union and the United Nations
The European Union and its members have actively supported dialogue activities, mutual understanding and respect and will continue to do so. The EU delared the year 2008 the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. With the establishment of the Anna Lindh- Foundation (Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures) headquartered in Alexandria/Egypt, intercultural projects focussing on issues such as human rights, democracy and political participation, civil society, sustainable development, training and education, information society, responsibility of the media, women’s rights, youth and others, are in the process of being implemented in the framework of Euro-Mediterranean partnership (27 EU member states and 12 Southern Mediterranean states).
Within the ASEM framework, Austria takes part in working groups on expert level, at conferences in Larnaca/Cyprus in 2006, in Nanjing/China in 2007 and in Amsterdam in 2008.
In the light of the global challenges, the United Nations constitute the essential framework of international inter-religious and intercultural dialogue activities. In this context, the Alliance of Civilisations is a highly valuable initiative in which Austria has been actively participating.
Austrian Initiatives on European and International Level
September 21 2011:
Panel discussion “Jewish, Muslim and Christian Perspectives on Combating Discrimination and Promoting Inclusion” in the context of a visit by 18 members of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Young Leadership mission to Austria. Together with members of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious communities they discussed best practices in mobilizing society, in particular youth, for the fight against all forms of discrimination and marginalization. A special focus was placed on the interreligious dialogue as a crucial step towards mutual respect.
September 19 2011:
Conference “Role and Responsibility of Religious Communities and Civil Society for Conflict Resolution in South Caucasus” as part of the Black Sea Region initiative, moderated by former EU Special Representative Ambassador Peter Semneby. Representatives of the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, the Council of Europe, OSCE and Austrian Development Agency (ADA) as well as members of religious communities from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and civil society representatives discussed ways towards a peaceful conflict resolution. A central question was the constructive and effective role religious communities can play in fostering mutual respect and dialogue.
June 6-10 2011:
Austrian Indonesian Dialogue Symposium “Religious Pluralism, Freedom of Religion – Responsibilities of State, Society and Religious Communities“ third meeting of 32 experts from Indonesia and Austria, including high-level representatives of different religious communities; in co-operation with the University of Vienna and the University of Salzburg.
5 – 10 March 2011:
"3rd Training Seminar for Turkish Religious representatives in Austria", Vienna. Follow Up to training sessions in November 2008 and February 2010. Seminars and field trips for Turkish imams on priority issues including educational system, situation and rights of women, religious pluralism, inter-cultural dialogue and integration in Austria and Europe.
23 – 27 November 2010:
First "Arab-European Young Leaders Forum (AEYLF)"; Focus: "Promoting Responsible Leadership, Innovative Forms of Cross-Cultural Cooperation"; 57 participants from 21 countries from the European Union, Turkey and member states of the League of Arab States (LAS); Partners and sponsors: League of Arab States, the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt, the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), as well as the City of Vienna and departure wirtschaft kunst und kultur gmbh. The objective has been to create a vibrant and sustainable forum to connect young professionals in politics, civil society and business from the European Union, Turkey and the Arab world and to make participants effectively co-operate within and across sectors, countries and regions. A core element of this initiative is the presentation, discussion and counselling of projects in the fields of "Empowerment and Participation", "Economy and Employment" and "Environment and Sustainable Development". Visiting local initiatives related to these issues in the respective host country/city constitutes an additional element of networking. The first AEYLF is a direct follow-up from the conference "Europe and the Arab World - Connecting Partners in Dialogue" from December 2008. The second AEYLF is scheduled for 2011 in Cairo.
Opening Speech of Dr. Michael Spindelegger, Federal Minister for European and International Affairs, Austria
Opening Speech of Mr Amre Moussa, Secertary General of the League of Arab States
List of AEYLF-Participants
24 – 26 June 2010:
International Workshop on „Promoting Female Leadership in Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue“ with participation of Jewish, Christian and Muslim experts and religious representatives from/ based in Europe, Turkey, Israel, the Arab world, Iran, USA and Canada. Co-operation partner: Faculty for Catholic Theology of the University of Vienna. The objectives of this workshop have been to strengthen progressive and reform-oriented positions and to promote the role of women in intra- and inter-religious dialogues. Furthermore an international network of female participants, active in academia, civil society and politics shell be established and be supported to implement the objectives mentioned above.
21 – 25 June 2010:
Dialogue initiative with Singapore: Visit of a high-ranking delegation of 7 members from Singapore lead by Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr ZAINUL Abidin Rasheed to Vienna. Priority areas of the programme were related to dialogue issues such as religious, cultural and ethnic diversity in Austria, in particular also the situation of Islam and Muslim citizens.
The range of issues included challenges and good practices in Austria and Europe with regard to integration policies as well as to prevention of radicalisation and security.
Senior Minister of State Zainul held a lecture on "Managing Social, Cultural and Religious Pluralism and Diversity - the Singapore Experience" at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna on 22 June.
3 March – 3 Mai 2010:
Diplomatic staff exchange in the field of Dialogue of Cultures between Austria and the League of Arab States;
16-17 April 2010:
International Conference: Democracy in a Multi-Ethnic Society: Experiences and Challenges in Bosnia and Herzegovina; jointly organized by the Faculty of Law (University of Vienna) and the Faculty for Political Sciences (University of Sarajevo); in cooperation with: Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, Austrian Regional Cooperation Office in Sarajevo, “Living Together in a New Europe” foundation, Center for European Integration Strategies (CEIS), Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe (IDM), Austrian Renner Institute, Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Austria; international expert discussions on the implications of the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the Case of Sejdi´c and Finci vs. BiH and future perspectives for the constitutional reform in BiH.
21-25 February 2010:
“Training Seminar for Turkish religious representatives in Austria”; Vienna. Experts provide information and training sessions for Turkish religious representatives that work in Austria about the country, issues of migration and integration, religious and cultural pluralism and inter-cultural dialogue in Austria and Europe to effectively support the religious representatives' community work and their own integration; in co-operation with the Austrian Integration Fund (ÖIF), the University of Vienna and other partners.
start of project patronage “The Role of Women in Dialogue: Empowerment and Consolidation“; Lebanon; empower Women in the Near East, the Middle East and the Gulf States; establish female experts and multipliers in dialogue processes on regional, state and international level with a 3 year program;
14-16 August 2009:
Trilogue Salzburg “Voices for the Future: Global Crises and the Human Potential”; in cooperation with Bertelsmann Foundation;
29-30 June 2009:
Symposium "Identity and Participation: Cross Cultural and Muslim Youth in Europe", Vienna; joint initiative with the Alliance of Civilizations; opening speeches by Austrian Foreign Minister Dr. Michael Spindelegger and the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, Jorge Sampaio; more than 80 experts from EU member states, Turkey and the USA discussed in 2 Workshops; Round Table discussion with representatives from politics, religious communities and academia.
27-29 May 2009:
Austrian-Indonesian Dialogue Symposium "State, Law and Religion in Pluralistic Societies – Austrian and Indonesian Perspectives"; first meeting of 33 experts from Indonesia and Austria, including high level representatives of different religious communities; in co-operation with the University of Vienna.
17 - 19 December 2008:
Austrian - League of Arab States joint conference on "Europe and the Arab World - Connecting Partners in Dialogue", Vienna; 3 Workshops on expert level (strengthening women; promoting pluralism and diversity management; promoting intercultural dialgoue and youth participation in politics and society of young people); Ministerial High level Meeting on December 19 (EU member states, Turkey, League of Arab States members);
2 - 6 November 2008:
"Training seminar for Turkish religious representatives in Austria"; Vienna. Experts provide information and training sessions for Turkish religious representatives that work in Austria about the country, issues of migration and integration, religious and cultural pluralism and inter-cultural dialogue in Austria and Europe to effectively support the religious representatives' community work and their own integration.
October 20 2008:
Colloquium on "Turkey’s New Foreign Policy Strategies 'between East and West'? Diplomacy and Diplomatic Cultures in Dialogue", Vienna; expert discussion on better understanding of diplomatic cultures and initiatives with high political advisers, high ranking diplomats, and experts from Turkey and Austria;
15 September - 15 November 2008:
Diplomatic staff exchange in the field of Dialogue between Austria and Indonesia.
14 - 16 August 2008:
Trilogue Salzburg, “Global Visions: Are We Speaking a Common Language?” together with Bertelsmann Foundation, participation of Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik
23 - 25 June 2008:
Workshop on "Inter-religious and Inter-cultural Dialogue from Gender Perspectives" in Vienna; 25 women experts from 18 countries and various disciplines (theology, history, sociology, etc.), institutions and civil society discussed issues such as "Religion and Culture as Legitimization of Discrimination against Women", "Identity and Cultural Transformation – Consequences for Concepts and Realities of Citizenship" and "Gender Perspectives on Radicalisation of Religion, Politics, and Society". The objective was to strengthen voices and perspectives of women and raise gender awareness in dialogue activities.
3 - 6 June 2008:
"In Dialogue" with Indonesia - Leading Muslim Executives from universities, pesantren and Islamic mass movements in Solo, Central Java, and Padang, Sumatra visit Germany (May 25 – June 3) and Austria and meet representatives of parliament, government, universities, civil society organisations and Islamic associations (in cooperation with the German Ministry fro Foreign Affairs).
28 and 29 January 2008:
Media Training Seminar on "Media Monitoring" in Vienna for about 20 women journalists from the Middle East and Austria in order to promote media activities that support dialogue and reconciliation and build confidence. Initiative emanates from the conference “Women Leaders-Networking for Peace and Security “ of May 2007.
20 November 2007:
Press Conference; Austrian Foreign Minister Plassnik presents the concluding document of the conference "Muslim Youth and Women in the West - Source of Concern or Hope?“ which took place from Mai 15 through Mai 17 in Salzburg; further participants: Prof. Tlili (New York University, Center for Dialogues: Islamic World - US - The West), Ms Zeynep Elibol (head of the Islamic Technical College) and Mr Alexander Osman (founder and board member of the Austrian Muslim Youth organisation).
5 - 6 November 2007:
Symposium "Shaping our European Future – Networking of Serbian and Kosovar Women", Vienna, Diplomatic Academy; Participation of important Serbian and Kosovar politicians and experts on education, media and business; inaugurated and chaired (Round Table) by Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik.
12 - 13 August 2007:
Trilogue Salzburg, "Paths and Pitfalls of Inter-religious Understanding" (together with Bertelsman Foundation)
30 - 31 May 2007:
International Conference "Women Leaders – Networking for Peace and Security in the Middle East", Vienna; Participants included US-SoS C. Rice, FM of Israel Tzipi Livni and Palestinian representative Hanan Ashrawi, several female participants on ministerial level from Arab countries; expert meetings in the fields of media, business and networking of politics and civil society; inaugurated and chaired (Round Table) by Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik.
15 - 17 May 2007:
Conference "Muslim Youth and Women in the West – Source of Concern or Source of Hope?", Salzburg Seminar; supported by the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs and inaugurated by Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik; Report Muslim Youth and Women in the West
Euromed-Seminar "Rassism und Xenophobia in the Media – Respect and Understanding for all Religions and Cultures" in co-operation with the European Commission and the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia; Vienna;
22 - 23 March 2007:
"Islam in Europe", Vienna, Diplomatic Academy; participants included FM of Bosnia and Herzegovina Sven Alkalaj, Mufti of Sarajevo Mustafa Cerić, the President of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria Anas Schakfeh, researchers and experts; supported by the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs and inaugurated by Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik. Program of the Conference "Islam in Europe"
Second Conference of European Imams and Heads of Islamic Centres in Vienna; supported by the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs.
During the "cartoon-crisis", Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik invited then Foreign Minister of Denmark, Per Stig Møller, the Danish Bishop of Lolland-Falster, Steen Skovsgaard and the Grandmuftis of Syria and Bosnia-Herzegovina for a dialogue-meeting to Vienna.
International Conference "Islam in a Pluralistic World", Vienna; participants included heads of states such as President Jalal Talabani of Iraq and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, former President of Iran Mohammed Khatami, high-ranking representatives of Islam, Christianity and Judaism and many other distinguished participants, such as Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi.
Touring exhibition “Muslims in Austria” about Muslims’ participation in the Austrian society and public life;
First Conference of European Imams and Heads of Centres in Graz supported by the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs; opening by the former Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner.