European democracy is deep-rooted in history. As Europeans have monopolized modern historiography, European history, along with the history of European democracy has been regarded as the only story of humankind's democratic journey. History lessons in schools all over the globe are, in fact, constituted mainly of the history of European democracy. The most advanced forms of democracy had found their field of application in continental Europe after the end of World War II. Encountering with their "others," first in the occupied territories of the colonial era, Europeans began to get used to seeing "outsiders" in their own cities with the rise of the slave trade. Before proceeding toward the relationship between Western countries and non-Christian religions, it is necessary to take a glance at Western cities' capacities of inclusion and exclusion of outsiders.
It is natural to separate cities into Western and Eastern types. Western cities are demographically Christian, monistic and exclusionist. Christians take Judaism, which is classified by Islam as a divine religion, as the religion of those murdering Jesus Christ, while they treat Islam as a sort of paganism. If a Christian adopts Islam as a divine religion, then his or her own religion becomes null and void. Therefore, throughout history, Western cities solely accepted Jewish people in their cities, but then only to cage them in ghettos.
Regarding Islamic cities, they were inclusive even in medieval times. Just as Muslims did, Christians and Jews lived peacefully and contentedly in Islamic cities, simply because Islam accepts and reveres both Christianity and Judaism as divine religions. Thus, in the crowded and prosperous Islamic cities, Christian and Jewish populations have almost been equivalent to the Muslim population. Baghdad, Jerusalem, Cordoba, Istanbul, Aleppo, İzmir and Sarajevo are only some of the cities where the members of all three religions coexisted in peace.
In a book, called "Salonika Alas," a Jew who had to abandon Thessaloniki during World War I, wrote: "When the sounds of the adhan were muted and Jews and Muslims had to emigrate from the city, the most colorful Salonika turned into a Christian city with only one religion and one religious sect."
The anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust perpetrated by it cannot solely be explained as the dreadful reflection of a lunatic leader's paranoia, but demonstrate the historical roots of such hatred in the faith-base of European Christians. In medieval Christian cities, Jewish people had been caged in ghettos as the main source of "disease and malice." In this respect, enacting a law of anti-Semitism in Europe can by no means be an irrelevant coincidence.
After the end of World War II, it is true that European states enhanced and internalized democracy and liberties, which were once taken as mere utopias, to the degree of becoming role models for the rest of the world. Toward the constitution of Western values, which have reached an advanced level in many social fields including human, women, labor and even animal rights, the contribution of the 1968 generation and the leftist political culture was significant. In this very context, Western states and cities have come up against the members of other cultures such as African and Asian Muslim industrial workers.
The above-mentioned Western values prepared the ground for the coexistence of different cultures while European prosperity supported such multiculturalism, as European Muslims coming from Asia and Africa did not threaten, but on the contrary, strengthen the existent European welfare.
The end of the Cold War, terrorist attacks of 9/11, fall of the U.N.'s capacity to dispense justice, arbitrary acts of the U.N. Security Council, economic stagnation in the West and the rise of unemployment all contributed to the rise of racism in Europe. Thus, the question is now clear: Has Europe reached its limits of values and liberties?
About the author
İhsan Aktaş is Chairman of the Board of GENAR Research Company. He is an academic at the Department of Communication at Istanbul Medipol University.