In Western Europe, after more than four centuries of absence, Muslims have returned. In Eastern Europe, where they had never left, they had experienced dictatorship followed by war and ethnic cleansing. Everywhere, the coexistence of Muslims and non-Muslims offers a contrasting pattern blending tragedy and hope. In Western Europe, Muslims are called to be citizens that no barrier separates from the mass of their non-Muslim fellow citizens. In the Balkans, by contrast, a communitarian mosaic of extraordinary complexity shaped by their history renders inhabitants’ status much more complicated. Bosnians, Kosovars, Tatars and others are both citizens of the country they live in and members of their ethnic group. The Communist regimes had imposed uniformity on this ethnic plurality; the overthrow of those regimes led to the explosion of competing ethnic nationalisms in the region. The wars in the former Yugoslavia, the last armed conflict on the European continent, were fierce. Their end, imposed by the international community, brought a solution only the problem of violence.
In Western Europe, attracted by the promise of a better life, large numbers of Muslims arrived in successive waves. The first came to work in the factories emptied by men leaving for the trenches of the First World War; others to help with reconstruction after World War II, while still others arrived under family reunification programmes. Finally, the conflicts in the Near East have added a fresh wave of refugees. If they often headed for the former metropolis – North Africans to France, Pakistanis to Great Britain and Indonesians to the Netherlands – this was not the case for the Turks in Germany or the Moroccans in Belgium. Language, economic opportunities, a community already established in the host country were all pull factors. How many Muslims are there in the European Union? No one knows exactly. A conservative estimate puts it at 20 million.
Their integration, often incomplete and difficult, is complicated by a lack of understanding if not hostility on the part of the local population, and by their own difficulty in appropriating the cultural codes of their adoptive countries.
Added to these challenges is the rise of a fundamentalist and violent reading of Islam in several parts of the Arab world. That all this does not tell the whole story goes without saying.
But the failures in integration often overshadows the undeniable successes within the Muslim community in all areas of human activity. History teaches us that multiculturalism can be a tremendous source of strength and innovation for a society.
It does however require a great deal of social tolerance, reflection and development.
“We invite you sincerely to contribute your part, on your own or visiting our exhibition. Educate yourself about Islam and Europe’s common history and present to help shape its future.“The exhibition calendar