The Muslim population is an estimated 15 to 20 million in Europe and 3 to 6 million in the United States. Islam is a principle identity for these populations, but a focus of concern for their host countries. Are the sources of tension economic and social or cultural and rooted in a different set of values? Or are they both? What is the role of policy to surmount these tensions?
These and other questions will be addressed by a conference under the heading, “Muslim Youth and Women in the West: Source of Concern or Source of Hope?” to take place from 15-17 May 2007 in Salzburg, Austria, at the Salzburg Seminar facility, Schloss Leopoldskron.
New York University’s Dialogues: Islamic World-U.S.-The West has organized the conference, with the financial support of the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs. Additional funding has been provided by the Danish Ministry of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Qatar Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The Austrian newspaper Die Kronenzeitung is providing promotional support.
The conference will explore the challenges of and to Muslim communities in the West through the lens of youth and women, who have emerged from traditional roles and are forging new identities for themselves, and, in some instances, are becoming leading agents of change. The conference will be policy-oriented, bringing together up to 60 youth and women activists and community leaders, religious leaders, policy-makers, policy analysts, scholars, and government officials from Canada, the United States, and Europe.
The conference will open with a forum, which will examine the tensions produced by Islam in the West and how they can be overcome. Participants include: Ursula Plassnik, Austrian federal minister for European and international affairs; Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, secretary general, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); and Amre Moussa, secretary general, League of Arab States. The conference’s afternoon session will be divided into two panels. The first will offer a survey of the current economic, social, cultural, and political landscape of Muslim communities in the West. The second will reflect on a vision for the future and will ask whether successful integration is the key to enhanced security and how, and on what terms, Muslim youth and women can infuse new vitality into old Europe. Panelists will include: Zsolt Nyiri, regional research director for Europe, the Gallup Organization; Susan Scholefield, director general for equalities, United Kingdom Department of Communities and Local Government; and Tariq Ramadan, professor of Islamic studies, St. Antony’s College, Oxford and visiting professor, Erasmus University, Rotterdam.
On the second day of the conference, participants will divide into three working groups addressing, respectively, security, integration best practices, and the question of whether we are witnessing the emergence of a Western Islam. The working groups will aim at developing practical policy recommendations, and will be chaired by Randy Beardsworth, vice president, Human Capital & Corporate Communication Strategies, Analytic Services Inc., and former assistant secretary, policy, planning, and international affairs directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Haroon Siddiqui, editorial page editor emeritus, The Toronto Star; and Farhan Nizami, director, Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies.
In its background paper prepared for the conference, Dialogues acknowledges that these are not easy times to determine the right terms for the integration of Muslim communities in the West, and particularly in Europe. All involved-governments, ethnic associations, employers, educational institutions and religious voices-must exert a concerted effort to develop and define what might become a “citizenship pact,” which would spell out mutual obligations and rights in a clear way. “As citizens, reassured in the integrity of their private values but in full agreement with the encompassing legal system of their adopted countries and its political culture, Western Muslims could become an inspiration for the larger Muslim world as it struggles to strike a balance between faith, tradition and modernity,” stresses the paper. “The harmonious integration of Muslim communities in the West could also lead to a more peaceful and productive relationship between the West and the Muslim world.”
Dialogues: Islamic World-U.S.-The West is a program of New York University that emerged from the tragedy of September 11th, which highlighted the need for greater communication among and about the United States, Europe, and the Muslim world. Dialogues was founded as a forum for constructive debate between the various religious, intellectual, economic, and political sectors of American, European, and Islamic societies. The program is committed to a number of academic, policy, and outreach activities, including international conferences on a variety of topics of critical importance today-the clash of perceptions, elections, the nature of authority in the Islamic world and in the West, among others-which result in the development of policy recommendations.