Sweden: Islam is and will be a European religion

The birthrate among Muslim immigrants in Europe is three times higher than that of the non-Muslim European population. According to Sweden's consul general in İstanbul, Ingmar Karlsson, if this trend continues, the Muslim population will be doubled by 2015, while Europe's non-Muslim population will decrease by 3.5 percent. Some estimates indicate that in 30 years the number of Muslims in Europe could be as high as 65 million. The outspoken consul general, who is a doctor of divinity and the author of more than 10 books on the subjects of Europe's relationship with faith, terrorism, Islam and minorities, has said that the trend towards a multi-racial and multi-confessional Europe is unstoppable; therefore, Islam must be recognized and regarded as a "domestic" European religion. Karlsson, whose latest book will be available in Sweden today, titled "Europe and the Turk," said that Turkey's membership in the European Union would demonstrate the falsity of the argument that Islam and democracy cannot mix, also helping to bring about favorable changes in the Islamic world's attitude towards Europe. "There is nothing which intrinsically prevents a Muslim from being as good a Swede as a member of the Pentecostal Bretheren or an adherent of the Jewish faith, nor is there anything that prevents mosques from becoming as natural a feature of Swedish cities as churches have always been in İstanbul, Aleppo, Damascus, Mosul or Cairo ," Karlsson said. . For EU membership, religion is not among the criteria, therefore, refusing Turkey's admission on religious grounds would send a dangerous signal, especially after Sept.11, 2001, Karlsson noted, adding that Turkey's rejection by the EU would have a radicalizing effect both in the Muslim world and in Turkey itself. . Referring to the Muslim population of Europe, Karlsson said, "A 'no' to Turkey on religious and cultural grounds would be disastrous for Europe since it would send an immediate and strong message to the fastest growing segments of Europe's population that they will always be considered unwelcome and second-class citizens, even if they choose a secular way of life." . "Sending such a message could, before we know it, lead to the emergence of a ghetto Islam in Europe instead of a modern tolerant European Islam. Radical mullahs all over Europe are already doing their best to exploit Muslim immigrants' psychological, cultural and material problems for their own purposes, and this message would only make their work easier ," he said, adding, "A Turkish membership in the European Union will facilitate a necessary integration process and thus counteract a development fraught with momentous consequences for Europe." . According to Karlsson, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has emerged as a result of the transformation of Turkish Islamism; it came to power following free elections, and Turkey is now undergoing a historic reform process that is mainly motivated by the prospect of EU membership. . Why did you want a post in Turkey as a diplomat? . . I had been dealing a lot with Middle Eastern and European affairs during my career and Turkey was a combination of these. Before I came here I was ambassador in Prague and Bratislava. And as does my government, I feel the enlargement process of the European Union is very important. Then when I came here, the consulate general got a new task; a new special section was set up with the aim to promote Turkish and Swedish relations and the Turkish accession into the EU. We started working with Turkish universities, NGOs and different organizations. . What would you say about Turkish-Swedish relations? . . I think they are very good. Back then, I think there were some misunderstandings between Sweden and Turkey, and I even think there were some suspicions about our activities. We had been criticizing Turkey and the Turkish government on matters relating to the Copenhagen criteria, human rights and the rights of minorities, etc. And there was a feeling throughout Turkey that Sweden was criticizing Turkey because we wanted to keep it out; however, as you can see now Sweden is one of Turkey's best friends in the EU. I think people have realized more and more that Sweden was critical of Turkey not because it doesn't want Turkey to be in the EU but the opposite. . Is there a fear of Islam in Europe? If so, how does it affect Turkey since the population is predominantly Muslim? . . People don't know what Islam looks like in Turkey, its facets, etc. This is used by xenophobes in Europe. People are ignorant about the religion of Islam. People don't understand that Islam today is a European religion and if you say no to a country for being of this faith, then you are essentially saying to the 20 million Muslims living in Europe, 'Whatever you do here we will consider you to be second class citizens.' That is a very dangerous policy . . And the Muslim population is on the rise in Europe….. Yes, and that will continually rise. When I grew up in Sweden after World War II, there were three Muslims in the country, three! They were of Tatar origin. Now, Muslims make up 5 to 6 percent of Sweden's population. And as this number continues to rise, everyone will realize that Islam is and will be a European religion. The first time Sweden discussed entering the EU was in 1961. It was not looked at very positively since we are Protestants and the EU was then in the Swedish debate said to be a Catholic organization. Now, more than 45 years later, that is no longer an issue. Debates move on along with time. Current debates over Turkey will also change with the evolution of Europe, but Turkey must move full speed ahead with its reforms and not fall under the influence of super nationalist powers voicing themselves in Turkey. . How is the perception in Sweden about Turkey, as compared to other European countries? .. I think if you look at the Swedish parliament, we are unique in that all parties are in favor of Turkey entering the EU. I think the overall public opinion is a positive one. We have a large group of people of Turkish background in Sweden: Kurds, Assyrian/Syrianis and Turks are active in different parties and as members of parliament. The Swedish media has many Turkish people playing important roles. One of the most powerful organizations in the country is the Social Democratic Women's Association, whose chairperson is a lady by the name of Nalin Pekgül, who was born in Batman and came to Sweden at a very young age. İbrahim Baylan, the former minister of schools is also of Turkish background, who was born outside of Midyat. One of the program directors of Swedish is from İstanbul. Swedish citizens with a Turkish background can be found in all walks of life. This may have once been something that people were suspicious about but now it's a fact of life. . Religion is not among the criteria for entrance to the EU; however, religion has been a subject of discussion in Europe because Turkey is not a Christian country. Can you talk about how Turkey is perceived in Europe, considering the fact that it is a secular state? .. People are very confused, I mean, if you look at a guide book on Turkey you see that Turkey is 99 percent Muslim but people don't realize the diversity behind this figure. Much of the debate in the country centers around the headscarf issue! So I think this does cause a level of confusion, people cannot make the connection. Many people who argue against Turkey being in the EU also see that there is a ban on the headscarf, so this increases their confusion. People in Europe don't know about the secular nature of Turkey, how it works, how Diyanet [religious affairs ministry] works. . In one of your speeches you mentioned that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan is trying to transform the AK Party into a Muslim version of the Christian democratic parties in Europe….. If you look at the party program of the AK Party, what he's trying to do, you will see that it is in many ways a Muslim version of the Christian democratic parties of Europe. Of course, the AK Party can never be one per se. But it is strange that Christian democratic parties of Europe don't see the AK Party as such! . So why is there not much in the way of friendship between them? .. There is not enmity but it's generally a lack of knowledge and ignorance between the two. As I have stated in my many speeches and articles, public opinion of Europe is colored by some of the ghettos in Europe, comprised of immigrants that have made no attempt to assimilate. Especially in some of Europe's bigger towns like Berlin where people came there 40 years ago and they thought that they would stay for a short while and go back and they didn't want to integrate and they were also often not allowed to integrate. But as contacts have increased during the negotiations, this picture will slowly disappear. . When it comes to Turkey, some of the EU countries started talking about a different level of membership status….. We frequently hear about European values. And I think European values are based not on Christianity but Roman law. One basic principle of Roman law is "Pacta sunt servanda" meaning, agreements are to be kept. The EU made an agreement with Turkey that if it follows the Copenhagen criteria then the road to the EU will be open for Turkey. . But when there is a talk about different membership level, Turkey is offended. It has become an emotional issue after having tried for so many years for full membership….. I think that Sweden would have reacted in the same way. If, during the negotiation process we had been told by Brussels that we have to meet conditions not given to other countries… There is something that you bring up regularly in your statements, about the EU's absorption capacity and how some falsely argue that the EU won't be able to absorb a big country like Turkey. . Ask any Frenchman if France has been absorbed by EU and he will be very upset. I don't think that any country has been absorbed by the EU. It's a cooperation between different nations. So if you say that Turkey is just too large to incorporate into a United States of Europe, then how about the enlargement process with the decisive step of the acceptance of 10 new members which took place two years ago, when the EU went from 15 to 25 members? So, to go to 28 members from 27 is not all that much of a jump. . How about the security and geopolitical arguments that exist, for or against Turkey's membership? .. I think that most of these arguments are in favor of Turkey and not against. We can see how the soft power of the EU has helped to transform Turkey. At the same time, the hard power of the US has made Iraq collapse. So Turkey in the EU with a stable economy and better system could be a source of inspiration for surrounding countries. If Turkey was more politically and economically unstable, that could be problematic for Europe. To keep Turkey out, and as a sort of a firewall between Europe and the Middle East, is not the right way of thinking. . What could happen? Why is it so dangerous to keep Turkey on the edge? .. From the point of both democratic and economic developments, it will better for Turkey to be in the EU. If Turkey goes back to the crisis it once had, it would be problematic for both Turkey and the EU. . Are you saying that Turkey's internal conflicts have an automatic effect on Europe? .. Of course. . How so? Could you give an example? . . New disturbances in the Southeast would, for example, lead to migration to Europe and increase the tensions between Turks and Kurds living there. . The argument in Turkey and in Europe -- if Turkey is not welcomed by Europe, it should look to the Middle East and vice versa. What do you think about this? Does it have to be one way or the other? . . Even before Atatürk [the founder of the Republic of Turkey], Turkey's main direction was toward Europe. The Ottoman Empire was called the 'sick man of Europe,' not Asia. Turkey's connections with Europe and with NATO have been so strong, I don't see the other as an option for Turkey. With Turkish modernization continuing at the rate it has occurred in the past four, five years, there will be no way that the EU can say no to Turkey. . Yourself, what do you like most about Turkey or Turkish people? .. The country is beautiful and the people are hospitable and nice. . What do you dislike most here -- not a diplomatic question? . . No, that's okay. What I dislike is all these expressions that you see now as with other countries. Any kind of ultranationalist, chauvinist intolerance. . Do you have concerns about the rise of nationalism in Turkey? .. I don't think that Turkey is turning into a more nationalist country. It is turning Euro-skeptic if anything, more into a EU-critic following some of the policies of the EU member states. . There are radical groups committing crimes claiming to protect Turkish interests. They are not in the majority; however, they are painting a negative picture of Turkey in Europe. The police being photographed with the killer of Hrant Dink, for example. This is very unfortunate. There is nationalism in Turkey today but you can find that in most European countries. Just take Holland, for example, where a party claims an ethnically Turkish female member of government should be kicked out because she is, how do you say, not of Dutch blood. This rise of nationalism is a phenomenon in many European countries as well. You have to see it and take it seriously but not get hysterical and overreact. .
Source: Today's Zaman (English)

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