Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Both Insiders and Outsiders: Identity and Interreligious Dialogue in the Discourse of Islamic Communities in Croatia and Serbia concerning European Integration

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Both Insiders and Outsiders: Identity and Interreligious Dialogue in the Discourse of Islamic Communities in Croatia and Serbia concerning European Integration

Article excerpt

Introduction

The European Union has been hit hard by the international financial crisis, which has contributed to weakening the already precarious economies of member states such as Greece, Spain, and Portugal. Concurrently, the Union has been experiencing an identity crisis, with lack of clarity and consensus about which shared values hold the diverse states of Europe together beyond the common economic and political interests. Both processes have led to increased Euroskepticism across the continent. (1) Parallel to these developments an alarming upsurge in religiously and racially intolerant rhetoric and even acts of violence have occurred. One need only to think of the horrific attacks in and around Paris in January, 2015, or on the hate speech promoted by the PEG1DA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) movement in Germany. At the same time, many Europeans are unsure about how to react to the unebbing flow of refugees and asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere in the world and raise the questions once again of who is a European and who are "we" as Europeans. In such a situation the need for dialogue in order to break down distrust of otherness is more pressing than ever.

This essay presents, within the complex European religious and demographic context, specific elements from the public discourse and self-representation of Muslim communities in southeastern Europe relating to European integration. Examples from the edge of the EU, Croatia and Serbia, and particularly aspects relating to identity and to interreligious dialogue are highlighted.

Islam is one of the growing and proliferating religious traditions across the European continent today. Muslim communities are springing up in virtually every European country, in large part through new immigration. Therefore, much of the rhetoric and argumentation in the public debates of European nations presents Muslims generally as immigrants, non-Europeans, and, therefore, outsiders. While this may be true in many countries, southeastern Europe has been home to Muslims for several centuries. Most Muslim communities in this region trace their origins back to the times of Ottoman Turkish rule. In contrast to the vast majority of Muslims in most other European countries, these communities are either made up of members of ethnic groups indigenous to the region or have existed for such a long time that they are considered part of the overall local or regional cultural heritage, thus making them insiders and outsiders at the same time.

The continuing eastward and southward expansion of the European Union, which now includes an increasing number of countries in southeastern Europe, lends a special aspect and timeliness to the question of Muslims and European integration. Public discussions about to what extent Europe can be considered a Christian continent continue unabated. One of the important questions is how--and whether at all--non-Christians, and particularly Muslims, fit into widely accepted cultural and religious understandings and geopolitical definitions of what Europe is. The prevailing identity constructions and their formulations among Muslim communities examined here are undoubtedly influenced by the fact that they live in Christian-majority societies, alongside Jews and representatives of other religions, so that the discussion of the interreligious aspect of their self-definition and of their stances regarding Europe is unavoidable.

Two questions in particular have guided the research: How do the selected Muslim communities in southeastern Europe describe themselves and relate to the idea of Europeanness"? How do they view themselves vis-a-vis their co-nationals of other religious traditions? These questions were addressed by applying an interdisciplinary approach. The source materials were studied through the lens of critical discourse analysis and politolinguistic analysis, and the texts were evaluated and analyzed within the broader interreligious, social, and political context in which they were created. …

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