Explanation to our Muslim neighbours – the A,B,C’s of Native-Muslim relations
Perhaps to our long-term Muslim residents in Europe we owe an explanation. I know in Holland several of them which come from our long time colonial heritage.They truly and fuly belong to two worlds, East and West. My youth recollections include the Sunday afternoon gamelan emissions on Radio Nederland directly coming then from Batavia (now Jakarta). It was for me always a fascinating accompaniment of our Sunday lunches at home. My father, a musician, and all of us were sensitive to the solemn Javanese music.When at the end of a musical phrase the deep gong sounded it was to us like a message: This is it. This is how the world is …. I though then also of uncle Henri Vlamings who was a tin mine owner in Banka and Billiton off the coats of Sumatra.I know, the Javanese gamelan is not tightly linked with the Islam. In fact there is in Java a complex and somewhat un-orthodox co-existence of magical elements, “agama Jawa” , with the stricter Islam. The Javanese principalities have always been cautious in maintaining their freedom in religious and political matters.They are wise. The long nights of wayang kulit performance are their school of statecraft. They have been masters, not slaves to the teachers from Mecca nor to the merchants from Amsterdam or The Hague. The Isloam in a country like Indonesia moreover left ample space to the Christians strongly present among the Chinese but also in the native population of Middle Java. Until the present moment they feel comfortable . How long? We hope forever. I myself sometimes contributed to “Moesson”, a delightful periodical in Holland, dear to all who treasure the strong links between Holland and the “Green emerald chain” of islands, as Indonesia has been called. France has similar abiding heart-relationships with North Africa, and the UK in other places of Muslim traditions. So, there is an old good neigbourhood between Europe and the Islam. I might also add that, not less than President Barack Obama I have fond memories of the prayer wake-up call one hears all over Indonesia as in other Eastern countries. It is a mighty sound which I love dearly. It does strongly wake up also this particularly Christian. If challenged, I might even do a credible rendering of that prayer call myself, but I shall never do that in Muslim company since my version would be less than perfect and the attempt would appear inappropriate. With all of that do I disappoint you when I say that I shall strongly oppose the intrusion of that Islamic prayer-call in my home country and elsewhere in Europe? We are both you and we, two different families. Both of us have our house rules, linked to our traditions. And our house rules are house rules, not world rules. Globalization need not apply.
Can this little “bouquet” of random occasional personal recollections, quickly bound together, serve as a valid introduction when I now have to present my “explanation”? I do hope so. At least, thinking of you, my Muslim neighbours, I wrote these lines with half a smile, and I think some of you may have the reaction of a smile as well. Therefore: an explanation, also as well as a plea for understanding. What needs to be explained? It is the need we, the nativesof Europe, feel to combine work at two levels, two different but complementary paths. In order to be clear, even to the point of exaggeration, I shall call them A) and B)
= = = A = = =
WE IN EUROPE WOULD LIKE TO GO AHEAD WITH THE PATH OF DIALOGUE. This is the noble path of getting to know each other, getting to understand each other. It is the path which is greatly fostered by Pope Benedict XVI who since his famous (and initially misunderstood) professorial lecture in Regensburg has always fostered the need for more understanding. Not in a simple sentimental way of feeling-good, being super-friendly, but injecting as he did in Regensburg also bits of history like episodes at the Byzantine Imperial Court. Understanding on the basis of truth, like recently he proposed also charity not basement on sentiment, but on truth. (“Caritas in Veritate”) That call for dialogue has now been taken up at every level of the Church. The Cardinals, the local bishops, the think tanks, the cultural institutes. And of course elsewhere in society similar initiatives came up Two years ago I still tried to keep a list of dialogue initiatives as I saw them coming along. But I had to stop. Now it is not anymore possible, so numerous are the initiatives. This is good. The effort is not easy, though. Valid dialogue needs expertise and study and therefore participation on the intellectual level is limited. Even at the higher levels of theological dialogue participants leave their meetings probably uncoinbviunced of the other’s arguments, and more than ever convinced of their good reasons to keep to their own convictions. Luckily there is also the other field of “dialogue” or should we say social and cultural inter-action. Even without the high spiritual moments of high theological discussion, this form of social contact can lead to useful work that both parties find worthwhile also for the personal contacts it provides hospitals, schools, social work of other nature). And now a cooler look at the other path
= = = B = = =
THE PATH OF PRUDENCE AND DISTANCE.
Our good Muslim neighbours cannot be ignorant of what happens in the world:
- The fact that the whole near and middle east once the field of Christian majorities have lost those Christians in the course of a long period but at increasing speed
- We know also what happened with the Christian Armenians
- The Greeks too, once omnipresent in Istanbul Smyrna and other places (even Onassis was there, saving his father from Kemal) were made to leave even recently and the flight goes on
- Similar situations in Jordania, Irak , Iran, Egypt
- On Egypt the incredible persecutions of the Christian Copts who are the original inhabitants of Egypt. They have been overwhelmed by a flood of Arabs to the extent that now they are a small minority, and persecuted even now.
- Turkey is very much also in the same situation. It is (and that applies to most of the countries mentioned) not always a conscient policy initiated and executed by central government. Rather central government is incapable and uninterested in giving sufficient protection to the vulnerable Christian groups against extortion by the local peasant population. I know well what I say now, since I had to fulfil a few special missions for the Netherlands government among the Syrian Christian monasteries in the south of Turkey
- Etc (more examples)
- The 9-11 happenings in New York and elsewhere (the “elsewhere” will be explained in a moment below )
- The attacks to the twin towers carrying an explicit Muslim message against part or perhaps the totality of the Western world
- But also the manifestations of great joy in many Muslim communities for that attack. May I ask you where you were on that day, and what you did? What you felt? And if you felt badly, did you speak out? If not personally did you seek leaders to speak out for you?
- The statements of people like Erdogan who express themselves in terms of future takeover of Europe, pushing for that purpose their accession into the European Union
- Similar expressions from Colonel Khadafy of Libya, who sees Europe as a Muslim conquest
- The claims of comunities in Europe to have sharia law applied to their region
- The attacks in Iraq on the Syriac Cathedral in Bagdad; in the same country a group demanding the release of socalled “moslim convertes” who left the christian coptic community, and holding hostages against the outcome.
- Let us not forget continnue action of Al Qaeda
- A knee jerk reaction of other heads of state (for instance on the Pope’s Regensburg lecture) showing both a shallowness in their cultural luggage and an inclination to make immediate reactions of a sentimental nature, not taking enough distance to their own emotional populations a (I shall not mention those state leaders; in hindsight they may not feel very proud)
- (more examples)
For all these incidents and tragedies, with which you, our neighbours, have nothing to do (but also have not any ability to act against it) we have ample justification for feeling in danger and under attack Therefore in Europe, but to some extent also in the USA, we have to think of measures to keep our house in order and safe, protect against further dangers and prevent undue interruption of social peace. That means that even if we have a deep wish to continue the “Dialogue” we shall have to think of responsible measures to ensure safety. That safety and those measures will irrevocably include creating some temporary distance between you and us. What do those measures of safety and distance mean? They may include: More stringent limitation of mass immigration. In the last forty years in the west we have been too lenient and too neglectful. It was not really tolerance but rather negligence. We did not foresee what would be coming when our employers forced our government to seek and later to admit untold millions of guest workers. They took employers and government a very wrong decision, leading to grave damage in the longer future, for a temporary solution which was already outdated a few years later. That immigration offers practically no economic value to the host country has been amply demonstrated (Michele Tribalat for France, Jan van de Beek for the Netherlands, the House of Lords for the United Kingdom). It is abundantly clear that in terms of loss of social coherence, social capital, mass immigration is costly in other ways.. The long period of last century’s negligence does in no way carry any blame for you. You also suffer, and also are partial victims. For people to blame we have to look rather to our own employers and government leaders and political parties and NGO’s and the slavish media to account for their improvidence and negligence. Business and government leaders were supposed to be men of great foresight. In fact they proved to be blind. (note ) Moreover, linked with mass immigration but also for other reasons we must resist the pressures of Turkey to get into the European Union. The Turkish government is lobbying everywhere on the doorsteps of the European Union, in the private offices of our Euro Parliamentarians (if not in their kitchens) for admittance as a full member. Turkish leaders have claimed to have a “vocation” to join Europe. Its “vocation” was never a proven one, but rather an imagination. Neither did we in Europe have and express a corrresponding vocation to accept the Turkish claim. For Turkey’s own benefit getting into Europe might have been a valid argument when Kemal Ataturk’s was still alive, but since that time many non European nations have shown that they can modernize without westernization and Europeanization. The old equation “modernization equals westernization equals Europeanization” is not valid anymore. Look at Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and many other nations making a turn toward modernity and democracy while keeping their own traditions. Since a mutual love-bond was not present. Turkish leaders then threw the “Copenhagen Criteria” on the table. But the Criteria of Copenhagen are in no way binding on Europe. First of all they never received the approval of our European populations. But more important is the fact that though in themselves they may be very good, even necessary as minimal requirements, they are by no means sufficient. The French have a nice Cartesian expression for such cases “necessaire mais pas suffisant”. This is a situation to use that expression. Does the foregoing explanation so far make you uncomfortable? I think the explanation may still be acceptable. I would even suggest more than that. Beyond A) and the B), the two different paths we have discussed so far, I dare to introduce an important C) element namely an element which clearly links A) and B) together. I explain.
Conclusion and Comfort
The A) and the B) illustrated here above, are not two policy lines which are extraneous to each other, antithetical, or perhaps even, contradictory. There is a strong linkage which I will ask you to ponder, and perhaps at some some to agree with. The linkage is this: In order to go forward on the noble path of DIALOGUE, which we all like the best of all, the second path of PRUDENCE, and the path of some DISTANCE is equally necessary. And not necessary as an extraneous, a foreign element, but as an element which is required to precisely make the DIALOGUE feasible in the first place.
A // B
C= without B:no A
Without a degree of distance, of freedom in setting up and keeping the relationship between our two groups, there is no possibility to have a true and productive dialogue. If people have to live together by force of circumstances and not by their own free choice, mutual curiosity and personal interest will falter and disappear. Think of two families having to use one single kitchen. The presence of our two populations, the natives, and the Muslims in one single house becomes then a burden, a load. That does not mean that we could not survive in such constrained circumstances. We can… With some sacrifice we can survive, and the Catholic Church, even the Pope is very eloquent in making such pleas. But the Dialogue will not be anymore the lively, curious, friendly, open, dialogue of before. We will make “sacrifices” and “suffering “the other”, but real curiosity will falter. On the other hand keeping sufficient distance, meaning limitation on further immigration, and a clear position on the unwelcome Turkish courtship, we shall be happy to continue and expand our dialogue meetings, and be eager to travel to Java or to Turkey and hear with emotion and admiration the wake-up prayer call, and we shall respect and enjoy your national traditions and customs. But if we find them in our own neighbourhood that curiosity, respect and joy will wilt and disappear. The Dialogue becomes then not a dialogue of the heart but a dialogue for a minimum of civil intercourse and social peace. That is not good enough. That is not what you and we want.
Distance, Prudence are therefore the second path indeed,needed to make the Dialogue possible. For the sake of our noble Dialogue.
Let then everybody do what he is best placed to do. Some people are gregarious and outreaching by temperament. They will be happy and successful in the dialogue part. I know a few archbishops who have great hopes in that line of action. In fact this is the nicest of the two paths we have to follow, the work is full of the milk of human love and brotherhood. But we cannot let these fine people do the complete job alone. They would not be able and would not wish to do the more practical things which would guarantee that they could do their work. We need people and methods to support them. For that work others will be called. They may be like prudent housefathers who feel responsible to think of the poor natives suffering in our suburbs and the projections of dangers in the future. These prudent men and women are the people apt to do the hard prudential part on path “B”. So be it. Each of the two groups should concentrate on what they can do best with their abilities. A division of tasks is fine. It increases our joint productivity, as long as we maintain unity of overall purpose. As long as on the two paths we can keep sight of each other and do not diverge. Anton Smitsendonk – Paris – Peking =================================== = notes: