History of Coexistence

The theme of religion, religious identity and its entangled role with the immigration as perceived by far right and populist movements was center to the readings of this week. A few key aspects of the subject caught my attention.

First, Göle’s article rightly points out that Muslims have been a part of Europe’s mosaic of religions and ethnicities since the medieval period, from Spain through the Ottoman-occupied Balkans in the East. The Bosnian Muslims, as mentioned, as well as other ethnic groups such as Albanians, represent a continuous Islamic presence on Europe’s soil. Given these documented facts, I think that it would be wrong to assume or to advocate that Muslims migrants are challenging, or replacing, to use Camus’ words presented in Onishi’s article, the European’s whiteness and Christianity. If anything, this happened centuries ago, when the Ottoman conquered the Balkan territories, for example. And it certainly did not replace the population of Europe, it was just an added component. The tensions between Christians and Muslims, as outlined by Göle, were always present, but there were also periods of relatively peaceful coexistence between the religious groups. The Ottoman-era Balkans cities were, according to some sources (for example, this short documentary about the city of Thessaloniki in now Greece that presents the various ethnicities of the Balkans living together), an example of how different ethnic and religious groups could live alongside harmoniously.

This fact, in my opinion, contradicts Viktor Orbán’s claims, from Coman’s article, that Islam is a threat to Europe, even if he means Western Europe (and this calls attention to the definition of the imagined borders of Europe), since Muslims have been living on the territory, in Spain for example, for centuries. The antemurale myth he nourishes to portray himself as a protector of European values implies a very narrow definition and interpretation of European values. Whiteness and Christianity are traditionally associated with Western Europe, but as the appellation of Europe is opening up to encompass the whole continent, historical events should alter and add more values in order to represent the population in its entirety.

Second, I found interesting to read about the importance given to the religion in the context of a post-communist society, as depicted in Coman’s article. During the communist years, atheism was preferred, so the fall of the regimes provided an opportunity for people to express their faith freely, as well as for religious organizations to bear the cultural and traditional weight of society. I think this partly explains why Christianism now appears as an integral part of Eastern Europe and why migrants that brings in another religion might seem like a threat to it. I think that it is not the Islam religion per se that is threatening, but the fact that a part of the population does not adhere to something that was protected and that held the cultural spirit of the society during the communism years. Christianism in a way represents something that could not be crushed by the regime, and it is a symbol of victory over it. As such, it is normal that people feel entitled to protect it. It is the extent to which it is protected and the assumptions that non-Christians are a threat that are extreme, and even contradictory to the religion’s ways, as Pastor Gábor Iványi remarks.

2 Replies to “History of Coexistence”

  1. Hi Morgane! Your point regarding periods of peaceful coexistence and conflict was something I did not consider for this week’s readings. I appreciate your examples of periods of tension and peace between Christians and Muslims. This brings me to question whether Europe and the West are stuck in a cycle of conflict, born out of nationalism and a sense of need to protect the national identity against the threat of “Other.” Although, perhaps Islam, like Judaism, is being used as a scapegoat for current misfortunes by the far-right. Overall, it would be interesting to dive deeper into the historical relations between Christianity and Islam and compare these relations with Christianity and Judaism in Europe.

  2. I appreciate the callbacks to EURR4101 and EURR5100!
    The antemurale element definitely does help explain the defensiveness of Hungary: if the country sees existential threats all around, then it will try to emphasize differences to prevent being assimilated. As you mention, bolstering Christianity here breaks with Soviet atheism and with Muslim faith – and, in a sense, it also breaks with the multicultural ethos of much of Western Europe, allowing Hungary to argue that it truly is different from its neighbors.

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