Giorgia Meloni is wrong about the Islam-Europe compatibility problem. Look at Albania

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When we encounter such controversial statements from leaders holding responsible offices, endorsing policies that discriminate against Muslims or impose restrictions on Islam, mere cries of Islamophobia are not enough. The apprehension toward Islam and Muslims has a nuanced history, and finding a solution is difficult without a sincere acknowledgment of the roots of this history.

While we advocate for the recognition of Muslims leading peaceful lives, we must also confront the reality that a section of Muslims adhere to political Islam, posing a genuine threat to democratic values due to their rejection of equality and liberty. It’s essential to recognise that the traditional interpretation of Islam envisions a society where Muslims are the ruling class, and non-Muslims are, at best, tolerated without equal rights. Additionally, this vision includes a State enforcing Islamic values, including the prohibition of blasphemy and policing societal morality, aspects that challenge the essence of European democratic order.

The late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had said in 2006, “We have 50 million Muslims in Europe. There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe—without swords, without guns, without conquest—will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades.” When leaders from the Muslim world make such declarations, they inadvertently frame Muslims and Islam as threats that seek dominance over Europe, disregarding avenues for peaceful coexistence with the diverse communities in the region.

The series of attacks on European soil under the pretext of hurt sentiments and jihad has forced us to recognise radicalism within the Muslim community as a threat. Beyond these incidents, certain individuals within the Muslim community demand the removal of LGBTQ rights or ‘blasphemous’ chapters from school curricula, citing moral objections. This not only raises concerns about accommodating diverse perspectives but also reflects attempts by Islamists to suppress free speech through violence and threats. This poses a significant challenge, as it grants undue authority to extremists in shaping the interpretation of Islam and defining the identity of Muslims. Every Muslim must have the right to define their identity without coercion from such radical elements.

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Muslims fighting radicalism

The significant challenge lies in the unfamiliarity and lack of expertise in Europe regarding Islam, and political Islam, and its cultures. State leaders like Meloni either make broad statements or avoid addressing the issue out of fear of being labelled Islamophobic.

It’s crucial to raise awareness that the Muslim community is not homogeneous. Even within Islamism, there are diverse perspectives. Islamist groups, like ISIS and al-Qaeda, resort to violence, while others, like Salafists, share political goals but refrain from violent acts. Then there are unorganised individuals who use democracy and the rule of law to advance political Islam. Recognising that ordinary Muslims view Islam as a personal faith and not a comprehensive societal solution is essential for understanding and addressing the complexities within the community.

It is disheartening that Meloni and many other world leaders often fail to acknowledge the numerous Muslims in Europe who have wholeheartedly embraced liberal and progressive values, actively combating radicalism.

One compelling example is the UK Member of Parliament, Sajid Javid. In 2019, while serving as home secretary, Javid demonstrated his staunch anti-Islamist stance by blocking the return of Shamima Begum, a British-born woman who had joined the Islamic State in Syria and married a Dutch-born fighter. Not only did Javid prevent her re-entry but he also revoked her citizenship, acting on intelligence reports identifying her as a security risk. Javid stood firm in his conviction despite facing backlash from the Left and the Islamist community.

In 2015, as the business secretary, Javid underscored his stance against Islamism. He urged British Muslims to challenge non-violent extremists who support the ideologies of the Islamic State. Javid labelled Islamism as an ideology fundamentally at odds with the values of Western liberal democracy—one that has inspired numerous attacks against innocent people. While there are Muslim leaders like Javid, it’s also understandable that without consistent support, trust issues are likely to persist.

I explored Muslim-majority countries in Europe to understand whether Islamic culture can coexist with European values. Albania, a country in the Balkans, caught my attention. Some might argue that Albania faces more economic challenges compared to other European nations but its government, laws, and society appear to align well with democratic values. The country embraces a multiparty system with legal protection against discrimination toward the LGBTQ community, even though it doesn’t currently recognise same-sex marriages. Albania upholds freedom of speech and doesn’t have stringent laws against ‘blasphemy’. Inter-religious marriages are commonplace, and the nation has a historical record of providing sanctuary to Jewish people during times of persecution in Europe.

There’s an argument suggesting that Albania’s progressive-liberal-democratic nature stems from its communist roots. While this may hold, the current reality is that Albania is governed by the Democratic Party, highlighting that a Muslim-majority country can embody both shared and distinct values in harmony with European ideals. The dynamic interplay between history, governance, and cultural influences showcases the nuanced nature of the country’s alignment with democratic principles.

In addressing challenges within the Muslim community, let’s remember: There isn’t a singular version of Islam. Acknowledging diverse interpretations is key to seeing Muslims beyond a homogenous bloc.

Amana Begam Ansari is a columnist, writer, TV News Panelist. She runs a weekly YouTube show called ‘India This Week by Amana and Khalid’. She tweets @Amana_Ansari. Views are personal.

(Edited by Ratan Priya)

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