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.