THE BLOG

Religion's Leaders Have a Unique Responsibility to Tackle Extremism

21/01/2015 17:43 GMT | Updated 23/03/2015 09:59 GMT

The 20th Century was the most secular century in recorded history, and it was the bloodiest. Two ideologies, National Socialism and Communism, swept Europe. As they eventually petered out, the West built a secular post-Christian society, where religion was not at the fore.

The 21st Century returned religion to the forefront of politics with 9/11 bringing it back to our consciousness. The wars, struggles and instability in the Middle East that followed this attack brought millions of Middle Eastern immigrants to the shores of Europe, altering the European religious and electoral landscape. As the secular European birth rate plummeted, immigration has reached unprecedented heights.

Further immigration has brought terrorism to our shores. The brutal attack we have witnessed in the last few days at Charlie Hebdo and the hostages scenarios that followed are the latest in a series of attacks on European soil.

As a result many Europeans have taken a strong disliking to Islam. A few weeks ago fifteen thousand Germans demonstrated in Dresden against the "Islamization of Europe". According to an Ipsos/Le Monde, poll, 74% find Islam "intolerant" and what is most important, 53% of Germans foresee a collision between Islam and Christianity.

They are wrong. It is not a battle between Islam and Christianity, but between Islam and a growing intolerant militant secular Europe. The situation today in Europe can be described as two trains racing with ever increasing speed towards each other on the same track.

On one hand, minorities are being attacked by extremists in many European Countries. A quarter of respondents in a survey of Jews from nine European countries said, they avoid visiting places and wearing symbols that identify them as Jews for fear of anti-semitism. This is one train.

On the other hand, old Europe is again manifesting relatively new forms of disguised and politically correct discrimination against minorities that had remained largely latent since the Holocaust.

I would like to stop these moving trains, before it is too late. As the representative of one of the oldest European minority faiths on this continent, I want to reach out to the diverse Christian communities, the diverse Muslim communities, secular groups, governments and politicians, to help us stop this growing trend of antagonism and conflict. I believe that we have the responsibility to recreate an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect between the secular modern state and religious movements, in order to make sure that the experiment, which we call Europe, is not going to fail.

Islam is practiced peacefully by millions of people who are calling Europe their new home. The ones to be targeted, if we want to live without fear of attacks such as who perpetrated the attacks in Paris, are extremists. The distance between radical Islam as practiced by Isis, Hamas and Al Qaida and mainstream Islam, is as far as the distance between moderate nationalism and National Socialism.

Instead of alienating the great majority of peaceful Muslims, who live peacefully in Europe, with broadside attacks against the soft target religious symbols of Islam such as halal, and the burka. Radical Islamic preachers, websites, movements and cells should be diagnosed, isolated and destroyed. The cheap point scoring of the extreme right against Muslim immigration not only fails to solve the problem, but pushes the moderate immigrant into the claws of the extremists.

We have to isolate and stop the extremist among us and we propose that the EU and the member countries work to create a core set of basic European values all faiths can subscribe to, similar to the program which has been released as the "Manifesto for Combating Religious Extremism" by the Conference of European Rabbis. Religious leaders must take the lead and they have a unique responsibility to preach an ideology of peace and tolerance.

There is no hope for humanity, if we do not tolerate each other, and if we do not respect each other's differences. Europe is not going to be saved by European countries adapting Middle Eastern practices of intolerance towards minorities, but by introducing new Europeans to the values of pluralism and mutual respect, expelling from our midst those voices which call to destroy our common home.

The voice, which calls the faithful in a mosque to bomb planes, and the voice, which calls on ending freedom of religion in Europe, are both equally dangerous to the future of Europe. Let us stop both trains and tell the people to step out engage in dialogue and respect each other.