Malta’s Ambassador in Tunisia, Vicki Ann Cremona, implicitly expressed agreement with September’s French decision to ban the burka, the Muslim veil which covers women’s faces fully, when she addressed an international forum on ‘Islam, Modernity and Europe’.
The forum was organised by the Tunisian news weekly Réalités, with Dr Cremona taking part in a round-table discussion on the subject ‘Is a European Islam possible?’
She told the discussion, according to the Department of Information, that “participation in European society (also) means accepting not only the laws, but the habits and customs of the country in which one has chosen to live. Perceptions of Islam in Europe are not always very clear and are at times the result of wrong or hurried judgements.”
Other panellists included, among others, Souheib Bencheikh, former Grand Mufti of Marseilles and researcher in religious sciences; Hele Beji, university professor and writer; Mgr Maroun Lahham, Bishop of Tunis; Férid Memmiche, Tunisian intellectual; Isabelle Schaffer, lecturer at Humboldt University, Berlin; Antoine Thomas, Ambassador of Belgium to Tunisia; and Najib Zerouali Ouarith, Ambassador of Morocco to Tunisia.
Dr Cremona argued that when speaking about the possibility of a European Islam, it is important to take into consideration the current European context. She stated that the European Union is based on a number of core documents, which emanate directly from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and which have to be respected by all European citizens. No belief or tradition can ignore these texts which provide certain ethic and moral values based on the respect of others, and on the idea of a full, and not selective, participation in European society.
The thoughts she expressed which reflected unmistakably her agreement with the French ban of the burka were that “one of the fundamental aspects of participation (in European society) is the ability to put into discussion oneself, the social structures one is familiar with, and one’s own beliefs, by distinguishing in the latter what is essential from what is secondary. Participation in European society also means accepting not only the laws, but the habits and customs of the country in which one has chosen to live. Perceptions of Islam in Europe are not always very clear and are at times the result of wrong or hurried judgements.”
Ambassador Cremona outlined various perceptions, such as the lack of debate about the way Islam functions, or exterior signs of Islam, often related to women, which are not easy to define vis-à-vis the idea of social adhesion in Europe. In reiterating her belief in the younger generations, Ambassador Cremona stated that the key question in this debate is the way Islam may be practised in Europe. This could lead to a new look at the whole concept of religious practice which could be carried out in parallel with the concept that is being currently re-elaborated – that of being European, and belonging within Europe.
Ambassador Cremona spoke of initiatives taken by Malta to ensure integration of children of different nations and creeds. During the course of the discussion the Ambassador stressed the difference between legal and illegal migration, as well as explaining the rights refugees are granted in Malta.