Islam is and will be a European religion

The birthrate among Muslim immigrants in Europe is three times higher than that of the non-Muslim European population. According to Sweden's consul general in Ýstanbul, Ingmar Karlsson, if this trend continues, the Muslim population will be doubled by 201

Islam is and will be a European religion

The birthrate among Muslim immigrants in Europeis three times higher than that of the non-Muslim European population.According to Sweden's consulgeneral in Ýstanbul, Ingmar Karlsson, if this trend continues, the Muslimpopulation will be doubled by 2015, while Europe'snon-Muslim population will decrease by 3.5 percent. Some estimates indicatethat in 30 years the number of Muslims in Europecould be as high as 65 million

The outspoken consul general, who is a doctor of divinity and the author ofmore than 10 books on the subjects of Europe's relationship with faith,terrorism, Islam and minorities, has said that the trend towards a multi-racialand multi-confessional Europe is unstoppable;therefore, Islam must be recognized and regarded as a "domestic"European religion.

Karlsson, whose latest book will be available in Swedentoday, titled "Europe and the Turk," said that Turkey's membership in the European Union woulddemonstrate the falsity of the argument that Islam and democracy cannot mix,also helping to bring about favorable changes in the Islamic world's attitudetowards Europe. "There is nothing whichintrinsically prevents a Muslim from being as good a Swede as a member of thePentecostal Bretheren or an adherent of the Jewish faith, nor is there anythingthat prevents mosques from becoming as natural a feature of Swedish cities aschurches have always been in Ýstanbul, Aleppo, Damascus, Mosul or Cairo,"Karlsson said. .

For EU membership, religion is not among the criteria, therefore, refusingTurkey's admission on religious grounds would send a dangerous signal,especially after Sept.11, 2001, Karlsson noted, adding that Turkey's rejectionby the EU would have a radicalizing effect both in the Muslim world and inTurkey itself. .

Referring to the Muslim population of Europe, Karlsson said, "A 'no' toTurkey on religious and cultural grounds would be disastrous for Europe sinceit would send an immediate and strong message to the fastest growing segmentsof Europe's population that they will always be considered unwelcome and second-classcitizens, even if they choose a secular way of life." .

"Sending such a message could, before we know it, lead to the emergenceof a ghetto Islam in Europe instead of amodern tolerant European Islam. Radical mullahs all over Europe are alreadydoing their best to exploit Muslim immigrants' psychological, cultural andmaterial problems for their own purposes, and this message would only maketheir work easier," he said, adding, "A Turkish membership in theEuropean Union will facilitate a necessary integration process and thuscounteract a development fraught with momentous consequences for Europe.".

According to Karlsson, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) hasemerged as a result of the transformation of Turkish Islamism; it came to powerfollowing free elections, and Turkeyis now undergoing a historic reform process that is mainly motivated by theprospect of EU membership. .

Why did you want a post in Turkey as a diplomat? . .

I had been dealing a lot with Middle Eastern and European affairs during mycareer and Turkeywas a combination of these. Before I came here I was ambassador in Prague and Bratislava.And as does my government, I feel the enlargement process of the European Unionis very important. Then when I came here, the consulate general got a new task;a new special section was set up with the aim to promote Turkish and Swedishrelations and the Turkish accession into the EU. We started working withTurkish universities, NGOs and different organizations. .

.What would you say about Turkish-Swedish relations? . .

I think they are very good. Back then, I think there were somemisunderstandings between Swedenand Turkey,and I even think there were some suspicions about our activities. We had beencriticizing Turkey and theTurkish government on matters relating to the Copenhagen criteria, human rights and therights of minorities, etc. And there was a feeling throughout Turkey that Swedenwas criticizing Turkeybecause we wanted to keep it out; however, as you can see now Sweden is one of Turkey's best friends in the EU. Ithink people have realized more and more that Swedenwas critical of Turkey notbecause it doesn't want Turkeyto be in the EU but the opposite. .

Is there a fear of Islam in Europe? If so,how does it affect Turkeysince the population is predominantly Muslim? . .

People don't know what Islam looks like in Turkey, its facets, etc. This isused by xenophobes in Europe. People areignorant about the religion of Islam. People don't understand that Islam todayis a European religion and if you say no to a country for being of this faith,then you are essentially saying to the 20 million Muslims living in Europe,'Whatever you do here we will consider you to be second class citizens.' Thatis a very dangerous policy. .

And the Muslim population is on the rise in Europe…..

Yes, and that will continually rise. When I grew up in Sweden afterWorld War II, there were three Muslims in the country, three! They were ofTatar origin. Now, Muslims make up 5 to 6 percent of Sweden's population. And as thisnumber continues to rise, everyone will realize that Islam is and will be aEuropean religion. The first time Sweden discussed entering the EUwas in 1961. It was not looked at very positively since we are Protestants andthe EU was then in the Swedish debate said to be a Catholic organization. Now,more than 45 years later, that is no longer an issue. Debates move on alongwith time. Current debates over Turkeywill also change with the evolution of Europe, but Turkeymust move full speed ahead with its reforms and not fall under the influence ofsuper nationalist powers voicing themselves in Turkey. .

How is the perception in Swedenabout Turkey,as compared to other European countries? ..

I think if you look at the Swedish parliament, we are unique in that allparties are in favor of Turkeyentering the EU. I think the overall public opinion is a positive one. We havea large group of people of Turkish background in Sweden: Kurds, Assyrian/Syrianisand Turks are active in different parties and as members of parliament. TheSwedish media has many Turkish people playing important roles. One of the mostpowerful organizations in the country is the Social Democratic Women'sAssociation, whose chairperson is a lady by the name of Nalin Pekgül, who wasborn in Batman and came to Swedenat a very young age. Ýbrahim Baylan, the former minister of schools is also ofTurkish background, who was born outside of Midyat. One of the programdirectors of Swedish is from Ýstanbul. Swedish citizens with a Turkishbackground can be found in all walks of life. This may have once been somethingthat people were suspicious about but now it's a fact of life. .

Religion is not among the criteria for entrance to the EU; however, religionhas been a subject of discussion in Europe because Turkey is not aChristian country. Can you talk about how Turkeyis perceived in Europe, considering the factthat it is a secular state? ..

People are very confused, I mean, if you look at a guide book on Turkey you see that Turkey is 99 percent Muslim butpeople don't realize the diversity behind this figure. Much of the debate inthe country centers around the headscarf issue! So I think this does cause alevel of confusion, people cannot make the connection. Many people who argueagainst Turkeybeing in the EU also see that there is a ban on the headscarf, so thisincreases their confusion. People in Europe don't know about the secular natureof Turkey,how it works, how Diyanet [religious affairs ministry] works. .

In one of your speeches you mentioned that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoðanis trying to transform the AK Party into a Muslim version of the Christiandemocratic parties in Europe…..

If you look at the party program of the AK Party, what he's trying to do,you will see that it is in many ways a Muslim version of the Christiandemocratic parties of Europe. Of course, theAK Party can never be one per se. But it is strange that Christian democraticparties of Europe don't see the AK Party assuch! .

So why is there not much in the way of friendship between them? ..

There is not enmity but it's generally a lack of knowledge and ignorancebetween the two. As I have stated in my many speeches and articles, publicopinion of Europe is colored by some of the ghettos in Europe,comprised of immigrants that have made no attempt to assimilate. Especially insome of Europe's bigger towns like Berlinwhere people came there 40 years ago and they thought that they would stay fora short while and go back and they didn't want to integrate and they were alsooften not allowed to integrate. But as contacts have increased during thenegotiations, this picture will slowly disappear. .

When it comes to Turkey,some of the EU countries started talking about a different level of membershipstatus…..

We frequently hear about European values. And I think European values arebased not on Christianity but Roman law. One basic principle of Roman law is"Pacta sunt servanda" meaning, agreements are to be kept. The EU madean agreement with Turkeythat if it follows the Copenhagen criteria thenthe road to the EU will be open for Turkey. .

But when there is a talk about different membership level, Turkeyis offended. It has become an emotional issue after having tried for so manyyears for full membership…..

I think that Swedenwould have reacted in the same way. If, during the negotiation process we hadbeen told by Brusselsthat we have to meet conditions not given to other countries… There issomething that you bring up regularly in your statements, about the EU'sabsorption capacity and how some falsely argue that the EU won't be able toabsorb a big country like Turkey..

Ask any Frenchman if Francehas been absorbed by EU and he will be very upset. I don't think that anycountry has been absorbed by the EU. It's a cooperation between differentnations. So if you say that Turkeyis just too large to incorporate into a United States of Europe, then how aboutthe enlargement process with the decisive step of the acceptance of 10 newmembers which took place two years ago, when the EU went from 15 to 25 members?So, to go to 28 members from 27 is not all that much of a jump. .

How about the security and geopolitical arguments that exist, for oragainst Turkey'smembership? ..

I think that most of these arguments are in favor of Turkey and notagainst. We can see how the soft power of the EU has helped to transform Turkey. At thesame time, the hard power of the UShas made Iraqcollapse. So Turkeyin the EU with a stable economy and better system could be a source ofinspiration for surrounding countries. If Turkeywas more politically and economically unstable, that could be problematic for Europe. To keep Turkeyout, and as a sort of a firewall between Europe and the Middle East, is not the right way of thinking. .

What could happen? Why is it so dangerous to keep Turkey on theedge? ..

From the point of both democratic and economic developments, it will betterfor Turkeyto be in the EU. If Turkeygoes back to the crisis it once had, it would be problematic for both Turkey and theEU. .

Are you saying that Turkey'sinternal conflicts have an automatic effect on Europe?..

Of course. .

How so? Could you give an example? . .

New disturbances in the Southeast would, for example, lead to migration to Europe and increase the tensions between Turks and Kurdsliving there. .

The argument in Turkeyand in Europe -- if Turkeyis not welcomed by Europe, it should look to the Middle Eastand vice versa. What do you think about this? Does it have to be one way or theother? . .

Even before Atatürk [the founder of the Republicof Turkey], Turkey'smain direction was toward Europe. The OttomanEmpire was called the 'sick man of Europe,' not Asia.Turkey's connections withEurope and with NATO have been so strong, I don't see the other as an optionfor Turkey.With Turkish modernization continuing at the rate it has occurred in the pastfour, five years, there will be no way that the EU can say no to Turkey. .

Yourself, what do you like most about Turkey or Turkish people? ..

The country is beautiful and the people are hospitable and nice. .

What do you dislike most here -- not a diplomatic question? . .

No, that's okay. What I dislike is all these expressions that you see now aswith other countries. Any kind of ultranationalist, chauvinist intolerance. .

Do you have concerns about the rise of nationalism in Turkey? ..

I don't think that Turkeyis turning into a more nationalist country. It is turning Euro-skeptic ifanything, more into a EU-critic following some of the policies of the EU memberstates. . There are radical groups committing crimes claiming to protectTurkish interests. They are not in the majority; however, they are painting anegative picture of Turkeyin Europe. The police being photographed withthe killer of Hrant Dink, for example. This is very unfortunate. There isnationalism in Turkeytoday but you can find that in most European countries. Just take Holland, for example,where a party claims an ethnically Turkish female member of government shouldbe kicked out because she is, how do you say, not of Dutch blood. This rise ofnationalism is a phenomenon in many European countries as well. You have to seeit and take it seriously but not get hysterical and overreact. .


Ingmar Karlsson.

Ingmar Karlsson has been the consul general of Sweden in Ýstanbul since Sept.2001. Previously, he served as ambassador in Pragueand Bratislava..

He is a Doctor of Divinity honoris causa at LundUniversity and a Doctor of Philosophyat the University of Växjö. He also studiedbusiness administration, political science and the history of ideas andlearning at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. .

He has authored more than 10 books, the latest is titled "Europe andthe Turk," and will be out in Sweden today. .

Some of his books, including Islam and Europe- confrontation or coexistence? (1994), The Stepchildren of Europe - minoritieswithout a mother-nation (2003), Faith, terror and tolerance - essays onreligion and politics (2004), and A Europe of the regions (2006), have beentranslated into Turkish among other languages. .

Today's Zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16