By Rabbi Avi Tawil
For the past 2 weeks I have attended several meetings in Brussels with representatives of religious communities and philosophy groups to discuss the problem of religious radicalization in European youth. Notwithstanding the opinions and ideas expressed, I felt an atmosphere of solidarity, all united against extremism.
But on the streets of Europe a very different reality exists. The look of the people changed.
There is a noticeable decrease in the number of people in public places. Many say they are afraid or think twice before going outside, and if they leave home they are alert at all times.
These last few days I have had the opportunity to discuss this problem myself with people of different religions and belief and I hear their very different concerns.
The secularists says that today more than ever we must remove any activity or religious signs from public service and public spaces to strengthen the separation of church and state. Religion should be a private matter not to be shared outside.
Others point out that the European integration model is obsolete and inefficient, suggesting a shift toward the North American model where wearing different religious attire is allowed even for government officials, that itself highlights the commitment to neutrality in state affairs beyond cultural differences.
Some representatives of the Muslim community marked the lack of social inclusion and poverty as key elements that encourage young Muslims who feel marginalized to hear the voices of Islamic extremists, who are experts in recruitment.
Other voices in the Muslim community say the problem is in “religious ideas”, accusing the Salafist and jihadist branch of Islam as the main cause. The evidence of that, they claim, is that many of the young Belgians who joined the ranks of terrorist movements were successful university students with many outstanding degrees, these people were not marginalized.
They call for a change or reform inside their community and fight this ideology.
Personally during these days, I have allowed myself to take time to look, listen and analyze.
What I see is a society with a high risk of falling into even bigger fragmentation.
In times of conventional war, people of a country united against a common threat. Of course, there was a visible enemy. So much so that politicians took advantage of these opportunities to promote patriotic acts of national unity.
But against terrorism with a European passport, born in the heart of this ancient continent, it causes division within our society, and the blame game begins.
By confronting and accusing each other, all that we will accomplish is to grant success to the acts of barbarism. What terrorism wants to achieve is fear and disorder in society, Terror. Reacting to that fear and creating more segregation between us will result in a gift on a golden platter to these enemies of humanity.
Today more than ever we must celebrate our hard-earned values of freedom and respect for life.
Religion or other spiritual and moral convictions, can help people to achieve a balance in their lives, to feel at peace with their own history and with those who are different. If our worldviews or perceptions of spirituality are not identical, it does not have to be problematic. A world of different opinions can be a wonderful thing if you know how to listen and to share.
One of the first concepts that the Torah teaches us is that even if our face or skin, religion or thought is different from the other, we were all made in the same image, the image of life is divine. All human beings belong to the same family.
As Lord Rabbi Sacks says instead of standing face to face to argue, we should stand side by side and peruse our common goals together. Today we can and must stand together to protect our values and to support each other. That is the best defeat the ideas of hatred and barbarism.
What we are now seeing in the world is a war of ideas, and is not taking place only in Europe or Syria. Our voices, the voices of unity, education and respect, tolerance and freedom with responsibility, have to be voiced loudly so they reach the farthest corners of our human conscience. Only in this way darkness will vanish, by facing light.
This is the battle that will determine what kind of world we will leave to our children, and we are all responsible and stakeholders, this is not only the job of governments. The world is in our hands today and here and we have the right to shape it the way we wish. So one day our children and grandchildren shall be proud of the legacy we have left them.
Director, European Jewish Community Centre