Book review: The end of a journey | Pakistan Today

Book review: The end of a journey

Book review: Journey into Europe, Islam, immigration and identity: Akbar Ahmad ,  third edition,OUP, 2019,Pp 497, Rs 1295)

 This is the fourth book of a quartet of studies authored  by Akbar Ahmad  in the aftermath of 9/11 examining relations  between the  West and World of Islam

The book has acquired special relevance  in an era marked by the advent of Islamophobia in Europe,  widespread misinformation about Islam,  and unparalleled hostility towards  Muslim immigrants.  Media, especially social media, has been widely used to spread hatred against Islam. Caricatures of religious personalities highly respected  by the Muslim community have been disseminated and films put on net  that attribute horrible acts to the prophet and his associates. Meanwhile Muslims are being extensively profiled as  terrorists. An environment  of hostility is being created against the Muslims community all over Europe. This has generated the perception among many  that  another  Holocaust  might be in the making. The fear is shared by some of the European scholars also.  As the  author put it,  “Jocelyne Cesari, the French scholar of Islam, replying to my request to estimate on a scale from zero to ten the chances that Muslims would face a Holocaust like situation answered, ‘six’”

While Britain also has a number of nationalist  groups, the issue is less pronounced there . Unlike continental Europe the British isles have hundreds of mosques, Muslim deputiess have been elected to both the houses of British Parliament, there have been Muslim cabinet ministers and London presently  has an elected Muslim Mayor.  Unlike Britain, however, the entire Europe is under the grip of  Islamophobia  with a  number of extreme right political parties—some represented in the ruling coalitions, others in the opposition—showing   hostility to the induction of Muslim  immigrants.

The book under review is   based on the one side on direct field work conducted with the help of a group of scholars while on the academic side the author has kept  himself updated on the latest studies of related  issues. To give just one example he  is aware of the different perspectives on colonialism and the debate about the relationship between the Western civilisation and ones they colonised  in  books   by Shashi Tharoor, Lawrence James and Dierk Walter  published as late as 2017.

The book  analyses the European past history to define the European identity. This according to the writer comprises three facets .

The European identity’ s primordial shape recognizes its own unique traditions and culture but is tolerant of other traditions and cultures. The predatory identity is chracterised by  chauvinistic, aggressive and militaristic  form, its most blatant expression being the Nazi  racism  and some of present day  white racist networks.   The third facet  of European identity is  pluralistic represented by  the much debated  Andalusian  model based on convivencia, or culture of tolerance  in a pluralist society. Convivencia is anchored in  acceptance of others and in a joint  pursuit of knowledge, art and literature.  In Cordoba Muslims, Christians and Jews lived, worked and created in harmony for long periods of times.

The Andalusian model encouraged  Muslims, Christians and Jews  to live together in peaceful environment. Cordoba became  the most important center of learning in Europe. The Arabs translated Greek philosophers during  the period of  European history known as Dark Ages thus becoming the precursors of the European renaissance.  Ibn Khaldun, philosopher of history and Ibn Rushd, known to the West as Averroes were among the towering  European intellectuals of the era

According to the author, the Andalusian model persisted for centuries even after the fall of Cordoba in different forms  and ways on the Iberian peninsula and under Christian kings elsewhere in Europe and in Balkans under the Ottoman empire.

 The earliest encounters of the Muslims  with Europe left an indelible impact on European literature, art and architecture. The book  makes an in depth study of the  influences.

Critical questions have been raised about the Andalusian model. Attempts have also been made to demonise the Andalusian state and challenge its tolerance for Christians and Jews.   For the author this makes the Andalusian model in its original form unworkable. What is needed today is   to aim for Europe to be genuinely pluralist thus living up to its greatest ideals, while recognizing and respecting indigenous culture and identity in the form of a New Andalusia. But how  the miracle can be performed is not revealed  by the author

The study of the European identity and the emphasis on Muslim contribution to  European pluralism are important issues. But the real question before  thousands of Muslim migrants is that of hostility shown to them . The vast majority comes from countries that enjoyed stability and  were either prosperous or were on way to prosperity. Iraq, Syria and Libya were invaded by US forces assisted by European countries and by the US sponsored terrorist networks.  Afghanistan was a poor country that was destabilized by induction of bands of religious  fanatics  collected from all over the world and called “jihadis.” The Muslim immigrants were made homeless by the US supported by Europe for no fault of their own.

There is little hope of Europe turning into an inclusive society welcoming the victims of their government’s policies anytime in  foreseeable future. That the Pope washed the feet of the immigrants or Angela Merkel opened her arms to welcome  a million refugees has in no way  stemmed the wave of hatred that is leading to victory of  extreme right parties coming to power or gaining  in number of votes cast in  one country after another.