This essay is part of our collection on Islam and immigration. See the full collection here.
Many interesting and ridiculous things have been said and written about the terrible ISIS attack on innocents in Paris. Yet, because of the manipulation of mass media, our memory is anesthetized. If we are not now, we will soon be ready to forget the tragedy in Paris, as we have already forgotten the tragedy of the Russian airplane in Sinai, the killing of Israeli citizens, and Boko Haram’s massacres in Nigeria, Egypt, and Tunisia. This is just the latest slaughter, which we will soon forget.
For twenty years I have been a public figure in Italy and for some years one of Europe’s most influential politicians supporting family, life, freedom of religion and education. I know of what I speak.
Europe did not analyze the situation after the attacks at Madrid station in 2004 or in London in 2005. After the two attacks in Paris (on January 7 and November 13), we are beginning to do so now. These attacks should spur Europeans to deeply reflect on the shallow model of foreign integration generally adopted in our continent. The fear of our European identity and our Jewish-Christian roots was publicly shown through the European Convention, which led to only two results in two years (2002-2003): the abolition of Jewish-Christian roots and citizens’ rejection of the text in several European countries.
In fact, since 2002, after the meeting between Pope John Paul II and the Convention’s President Valery Giscard D’Estaing, we understood that there was a clear political will to exclude Jewish-Christian roots from the Convention’s text, which should have become a sort of “European Constitution.”
During the discussion among the “national delegations” it was not possible to reach any agreement on the “European Jewish-Christian roots,” as the European Parliament’s plenary assembly rejected any reference to the continent’s “Jewish-Christian” roots in the draft text of the European Constitution on 24rd September 2003.
The final text, approved during a EU Intergovernmental meeting held in Rome in December 2003, should have been ratified by national parliaments or approved through a referendum, according to any EU country provision, but it was abandoned, because of citizens’ rejection vote by referendum in France (May 25th, 2005; ‘No’ by 55%),and in Netherlands (June 1st, 2005; ‘No’ by 62%). After these results, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, Poland, Portugal and the UK decided to postpone and then cancel their referenda.
Though it may be enlightening to analyze how Europe hates its roots or wants to forget them, a more productive approach would be for Europe’s leadership to start by admitting that the EU lacks an adequate integration model.
Superficial Multiculturalism Leads to Religious Segregation
The EU’s current assimilation model led to the segregation of most people coming from Islamic countries. There are “Banlieue” districts in every European city, in which the rules regarding social and community life are completely different from the ones adopted in the rest of the city. Official secularism has led to a rise of sharia.
In some cases, especially in England, the judgments delivered by sharia courts are equivalent to the ones delivered by national civil courts. In the UK, the Islamic Sharia Council runs more than eighty-five sharia courts. In some areas of certain Swedish and German cities, Muslims (who represent the majority of the area’s population) ask—not always in a peaceful way—for Koran courts and different rules formally respected by national civil authorities. According to a recent police report, there were more than fifty-five “No-Go Zones” in Sweden last year. In Germany, after the huge protest against free speech organized in 2012 by Salafists in Bonn, some radical Muslim communities in the western part of the country organized “Sharia Police” patrols attempting to impose obedience to religious law.
The idea of a superficial multiculturalism, in which everything is conformed to State nihilism and secularism without reference to any religious reality—especially the Christian one—has miserably failed. The golden rule of assimilation led only to the cultural attitude of “dissembling” or lying about one’s true beliefs; this is the practice of “taqiyya” that is not only permitted but often required among Shiites. In recent decades, an increasing number of young Muslims have rebelled against the pressure to assimilate to the secular culture in this way, and they have refused to conceal the true nature of their religious beliefs. They want to live their faith in every sphere of their lives. Some of them choose the Jihad as a way to freely give testimony of their faith.
European totalitarian secularism is strong, and a discriminatory, violent attitude against religion is spreading. The latest report from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE-ODHIR) shows a serious and troubling increase in hate crimes against Abrahamic religions. Attacks are increasing not only against Muslims and Jews, but especially against Christians. Mass media coverage is not helping to ease the tension. After the Paris attacks, the newspaper Liberation published a long editorial attacking the hashtag #prayforparis. Mass media showed only the gatherings that took place in public spaces, not the Masses or other religious services held in churches to intercede for the innocent victims.
Most Westerners don’t want to think about the fact that millions of human lives were lost because of the decision to exclude God from public life. It is easier to argue with Putin than to reflect on how the Western world is becoming more and more similar to Soviet society as we progressively exclude God from history and our civic memory.
Integration Must Be Built Upon Cultural Identity
By contrast, every successful model of cultural integration has been built upon a real respect for other faiths and other cultures—a respect that starts from the proud affirmation of one’s own cultural memory and personal identity. Common sense, phenomenological philosophy, and the testimony of human history all demonstrate that integration must be founded on respect for both one’s own personal and national identity and the personal and national identities of others.
Jewish philosopher Martin Buber affirmed that the fundamental structure of the human person consists of his or her capacity to build relations with others. A person builds his or her identity by being in relation to others through a state of openness and dialogue. The human being becomes himself or herself not in isolation, but through building relationships with others. Similarly, in a collection of essays titled Person and Community, the young Karol Wojtyla offered a brilliant analysis of the relationship between the human being and God, and that between the human being and the community. Such relationships ought to include acknowledgment of and respect for differences in faith and culture.
As Europe and the entire West world have abjured not only God, but their own historic, cultural, and religious roots, it has become increasingly difficult for modern Europeans to understand and find solutions to current problems.
The fact that Europe bans Christmas traditions in public schools, as well as Christmas songs, nativity scenes, Christmas decorations, and public processions in memory of patron saints (see, for example, the abolition of St. Martin’s Day in Germany) is not due to the complaints of Muslim citizens or children. I have never heard of protests organized by Muslim communities or parents on this matter. In the vast majority of such cases, Christian traditions are abolished because of political decisions taken by governments and school authorities. Such authorities use the trivial excuse that they “don’t want to offend anyone” of a different faith and that they wish to “maintain a peaceful atmosphere” that does not encourage terrorist attacks. The terrible risk of religious violence and the tragedies that have occurred are actually used by the supporters of totalitarian secularism to repress cultural memory and restrict religious freedom.
This vicious cycle has led to formal requests to abolish texts and books associated with Christian faith from schools programs. The most striking case happened in spring 2012, when Gerush92 (an organization of researchers and experts that advises the UN Economic and Social Council on education, development, human rights, and conflict resolution) asked for the abolition of the Divine Comedy from every European school because it is anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, racist, and homophobic.
Such cases clearly illustrate the totalitarian spirit of this new secularism. The new secularism is not only interested in controlling today’s society; it also seeks to deprive future generations of the keys to unlock and interpret of our personal and international memory. The abolition of books like Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun,” the Rule of Saint Benedict, and the novels of G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, Graham Greene, and Cormac McCarthy will not help society to develop integration and mutual respect. On the contrary, such repression will lead everyone to new unbearable forms of slavery.
There’s nothing more discouraging than the lack of hope. In Europe, we see—on a grand scale—the same phenomenon that is taking place in our private lives. Europe and the Western world can only emerge from this downward spiral by putting religious faith and respect for history and tradition at the center of our communal and personal lives. When one has taken a wrong turn, sometimes the only way to reach the goal is to come back and take the well-trodden path, abandoning dangerous shortcuts and doing the hard work necessary to ascend the summit.