Islam in Global Politics. Conflict and cross-civilizational bridging

by Bassam Tibi, London und New York 2012.

This book was published in Great Britain. However, its content undoubtedly concerns all European countries in which Muslim immigration plays a role. And in these countries, the friends of ancient languages are addressed in particular, along with educational policy makers. More than 50 pages of the book deal with the positive possibilities of humanism with regard to integration. The author, Bassam Tibi, places great hope in humanism: for him, humanism is „the foremost avenue to prevent a ‘clash of civilizations’” (p. 102).
Bassam Tibi was professor of International Relations at the University of Göttingen from 1973 until his retirement in 2009. He wrote numerous books in German and English, for example „The challenge of Fundamentalism” (1998), „Europa ohne Identität?” (3.ed. 2002) and „Euro-Islam“ (2009).
For Tibi, Europe is, as he said together with Max Horkheimer, „an island of freedom in an ocean of despotism” (p. 133). He personally experienced the difference between freedom and despotism. After having made a critical remark about an Arab politician, he had to live for years with the knowledge that he was on the death list of Islamic terrorists. 
For assessing the conflict potential and mediation possibilities between European and Islamic civilisations, Tibi brings along excellent prerequisites: born in Damascus in 1944 and raised within a highly-respected Muslim family, he came to Germany aged 18, studied social sciences, philosophy and history in Frankfurt am Main and came to appreciate the European enlightenment. He became a German citizen and surrendered his Syrian passport. But he retained his Muslim faith. Soon afterwards, he became an internationally sought-after scientist. Since the 1980s in particular, he has spent weeks and months outside of Europe: in the USA (particularly Harvard), in Asia (Indonesia, Turkey, inter alia) and Africa (Sudan, Cameroon, inter alia). Thus, due to his everyday experience, he is very familiar with the difference between Western and Islamic-shaped world views. In his new book, he writes of this feeling of being at home in both worlds, not without self-irony: „To live in the West as a Muslim immigrant creates a specific pattern of conditio humana“ (p. 100). Elsewhere, he calls it a life „between rival civilizations“ (p. 171).
Having thorough knowledge of both sides, he is worried about the future destiny of Europe. He fears that the Islamization of Europe cannot be prevented, if particular tendencies that are visible today remain effective: if Islamic parallel societies continue to expand and solidify, if in numerous mosques and on the Internet the agitation against the „unbelievers” and against the Western world will not be stopped and if European media and political parties continue to create a taboo surrounding free speech regarding integration problems; he counts the term „Islamophobia“ among the key words used in this process.
For Europe, Tibi is convinced, an Islamization would mean the end of freedom. He strongly opposes this. Although he avoids any emotionalizing rhetoric and evades throughout the vocabulary of bloody violence, he formulates the alternative with the utmost severity: „Europeanization of Islam, or Islamization of Europe“ (p. 131; 95 and more).
It has been Tibi’s concern since the 1980s to provide a contribution to the identification of religious Muslims with European values such as freedom, enlightened thinking, democracy and the separation of state and church. In 1992 he introduced the term ‚Euro-Islam’. His goal is challenging: he is not satisfied with a mere external compliance with European laws. His goal is „European citizen of the heart“ (p. 100; 193 note 43). Here, he is aware of the danger of „wishful thinking“; he explicitly describes the path to this goal as „thorny” (p. 128).
With which means can Europe achieve this goal? His answer is, in brief: humanism. The explanation for this answer begins with the question of the origin of the European values mentioned.
He traces these back to the European humanism of the early Modern Era and this, in turn, back to Greek antiquity. The fact that he does not address the Roman or Christian antiquity should merely be noted here. However, it is certainly true that the Greek antiquity had and still has an extremely large influence on European values. His conclusion is insofar cogent: in order to promote this value orientation, a return to humanism and to Greek antiquity is needed. For Tibi, one of the most important elements of humanism is the reason-based dialogue as developed by Socrates and Plato.
A second approach of his argumentation is the question of how Muslims can most easily identify with these European values. For this purpose, a remarkable historical fact comes to his aid: The „Islamic rationalism“ of the early Middle Ages owes very much to the Greeks: Aristotle was of utmost importance for the philosophy of Hochislam; Aristotle was honoured as the „First Teacher“ by the Muslims at that time. With regard to this era of Islamic history, Tibi uses the term „Hellenization of Islam“ (p. 79). He quite rightly reminds us that Europe in the Middle Ages had received strong spiritual impulses from Hellenized Islam, especially from Averroës and Avicenna.
European humanism as well as Hellenized Islam are characterized by a „reason-based worldview“ (p. 94). Europeans and Muslim thus have, in some cases, common traditions which could prove to be a valuable chance of mental bridging between Islam and Europe – not least because the Muslim side still today often makes reference to the intellectual achievements made by Islam at the time, namely in Spain. 
Tibi speaks of different „grammars“ of European and Islamic (!) humanism: „European and Islamic grammars of humanism might differ, but they share in substance the same humanism and the same reason-based worldview“ (p. 94). 
On the other hand, he does not conceal that, in today’s political Islam, the humanist tradition is missing (p. 100) and that „an education in humanist democracy is hampered by the power of political Islam” (p. 102). 
However, he warns of remaining passive in view of such difficulties. „The time is running out for Europe“ (p. 129). The geo-politics of Islam, as a new factor of world politics, is a source of conflict. It is important to keep the conflict on „peaceful“ tracks. A renewal of the tradition of Islamic humanism may help to establish „a reason-based dialogue“ in the pursuit of conflict resolution (p. 100). Humanism is „the best cross-cultural tradition in the history of humanity“ (p. 85). If „this venture“ is not possible, then – and he again avoids expressions of armed conflict – „no real bridging could ever be feasible. Period“ (p. 89).
It should finally be mentioned that Tibi considers the survival of European values as endangered not only by Islamic fundamentalism, but also by European cultural relativism (p. 95). He complains that European cultural relativists appear to underestimate European values. Instead of resolutely standing by European values and instead of convincingly defending them, such Europeans curry favour with the partisans of non-European values. They fail to find the proper balance between European arrogance and European self-denial. When, for example, the former German Federal President Wulff says that Islam is a part of Germany, he obviously doesn’t know what he is talking about (p. 136). In this way, the conflict remains not only unresolved, but also intensifies. „As a Muslim living in Europe, Tibi writes, I acknowledge that Europe has its own non-Islamic identity, and this fact needs to be respected by Muslim immigrants” (p. 136).  
This book is very informative and very disturbing, despite its emotionally-restrained language. It deals with what is at stake for Europe’s coming generations. It deals with the necessity for meeting the conflicts before they become unsolvable. It also deals, at least implicitly, with the tasks assigned to education, especially humanist education, in the age of migration.

Helmut Meißner