Identity politics have been and will continue to be one of the major fault-lines in Europe

Frankly Speaking

Picture of Dharmendra Kanani
Dharmendra Kanani

Chief Operating Officer and Chief Spokesperson of Friends of Europe

Europe is the product of hundreds of years of migration and colonisation – it is dynamic and fluid, and is constantly being remade. Communities here have interpreted, combined and negotiated their cultural and religious identities within different frames of reference based on where they came from, and where they landed.

A multifaceted sense of identity is part of the journey and experience of migrants and refugees, and indeed of Europe. However, the primary narrative of Europe is often a portrait moored in times past, one depicting a distinct moral political philosophy that is mostly white, male and mono-religious.

Whilst secularism and the defence of freedom of expression are at the heart of the current debate following the recent tragic attacks in France, they point to a much deeper and wider discussion about identity politics in Europe.

Most Muslims in France and across the world will be horrified by these events, and will not relate to or accept the violent and deadly actions of individuals in the name of Islam.

We tend to forget this.

What does this really say about our underpinning values?

Decency and a belief in peace, humanity, justice and fairness are written into the DNA of communities across the world. These values are not limited to or a byproduct of the ‘West’.

Give a thought for a moment: what would be the reaction across Europe if lewd, degrading images of Jesus Christ were on the cover of a satirical journal, or being circulated and shown in schools and other arenas?

If this were then repeated often – in different moments and contexts, yet always in the name of freedom of expression – how close would this come to a sense of covert bullying and harassment of the Christian faith?  Or is this just so unimaginable because of the prevalence of a norm that is unquestioned and absorbed into our psyche?

What does this really say about our underpinning values?

Extremism, absolutism and fundamentalism are the drivers in any religious and political cause that create terror, wreak havoc and quickly manipulate a community’s feeling of injustice. This is easily done as we have witnessed in response to events in France across Islamic countries.

There’s no turning back the clock on what Europe is now made up of

Being cognisant of this fact and recognising the fragile tinderbox of religion should guide political rhetoric. This is not to suggest censorship by any means – it’s simply about being savvy with how to manage, desensitise and stabilise heated situations.

National leaders have a responsibility to exercise their function of public service with due care and to do so in the public interest of all communities. Unfortunately, certain individuals across Europe have redefined the highest public office as a basis for pettiness, turf wars and psychotic autonomy.

Too often, race and religion have become toxic vehicles for wider social inequalities, insecurities and hurts. Our history has shown it was ever thus.

There’s no turning back the clock on what Europe is now made up of. We must acknowledge this reality and focus on building ties amongst different communities. Communities live side by side and coexist mainly peacefully. Forging connections can create the common ground that is often missing.

Fortunately, there’s a generation growing up that is not held by the same moors as the majority of us in Europe and the world. Theirs is a different worldview formed by the Internet, consumption of Netflix and the various other networks, music and arts. They see the world differently and perhaps better – not blinded or bounded by colour, sexuality, religion, etc.

Identity politics is one of the biggest issues for us in Europe and the globe

Everyone yearns for a sense of belonging. How this is affected and enacted takes various forms depending on life chances, opportunities and a sense of self-worth.

In the last 5 minutes of an event I moderated last week on diversity management of cities across the Euro-Mediterranean, a young student spoke eloquently about her disappointment at the treatment of sub-Saharan Africans in Morocco, a country itself subjected to colonisation and Islamophobia. I asked her if she felt things were changing for her generation. She responded: “Americanisation and MacDonaldisation and the internet can be seen as bad but in terms of understanding each other, I think it has [improved] the way I see people. For example, how I see people from sub-Saharan Africa is not the same way [as] my parents. I think there’s been a lot of media inclusion for of African Americans through #BlackLivesMatter, and inclusion for Latinas, but for Arabs and Muslims we are still waiting for this media moment to stop seeing us as terrorists and become something more than that.” 

Identity politics is one of the biggest issues for us in Europe and the globe but we pay very little attention to it. It’s time to acknowledge its economic, social and political value in terms of creating stability across the world – the sooner we wake up to this the better.

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