Next Steps for U.S.-South Korea Civil Nuclear Cooperation


east-west-center-asia-pacific-bulletinNumber 316 | July 1, 2015

July 2, 2015

ANALYSIS

Next Steps for U.S.-South Korea Civil Nuclear Cooperation

by James E. Platte

On June 15, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se signed a new agreement on civil nuclear cooperation (a so-called “123 Agreement”) between the two countries, and U.S. President Barack Obama submitted the proposed 123 Agreement to the U.S. Congress the next day. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee will have 30 days to review the agreement, and then the whole Congress will have 60 days for review. The proposed 123 Agreement will enter into force unless Congress enacts a joint resolution opposing the agreement, and the South Korean Ministry of Government Legislation also will review the proposed agreement.

The new 123 Agreement comes after several years of difficult negotiations and represents a step forward for bilateral nuclear cooperation, but this does not mark the end of negotiations and debates between Washington and Seoul in the civil nuclear energy field. South Korea and the United States have a long, robust history of civil nuclear cooperation, going back to the Atoms for Peace program and the initial 123 Agreement in 1956. Since then, the United States has played an integral role in the development of South Korea’s civil nuclear industry, which now comprises 24 operational reactors that generate about 30 percent of South Korea’s electricity.

South Korea has become virtually self-sufficient in nuclear reactor design, construction, and operation but still relies on U.S. firms for some nuclear fuel and engineering services. In addition, South Korea and the United States cooperate on numerous bilateral and multilateral nuclear research and development projects. All of this cooperation is facilitated by the 123 Agreement. The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 requires that a 123 Agreement be in place for the United States to cooperate with international partners on peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Given the importance of nuclear power to the South Korean economy, maintaining civil nuclear cooperation with the United States is vital for Seoul. Yet, negotiations on the new agreement were difficult and lasted nearly five years.

In 2013, the two sides even approved a two-year extension of the previous 123 Agreement, which was set to expire in 2014, in order to give them more time to work out a deal. The major sticking point in the negotiations was over uranium enrichment and reprocessing technologies, which have the ability to produce fissile materials either for civilian nuclear fuel or for nuclear weapons.

The previous 123 Agreement was signed in 1974 and prohibited South Korea from enriching or reprocessing. Two other developments around that same time entrenched U.S. nuclear cooperation policy toward South Korea. First, the Indian nuclear test in 1974 changed U.S. nonproliferation policy in general, shifting from promoting reprocessing abroad to staunchly opposing the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technologies. Second, Washington found out about then-South Korean President Park Chung-hee’s clandestine nuclear weapons program in the mid-1970s and applied significant diplomatic pressure to stop that program. The U.S. government has consistently opposed granting South Korea consent to enrich or reprocess ever since.

Seoul pushed hard to gain that consent from Washington in the new 123 Agreement for several reasons. First, South Korea wants reprocessing technology in order to manage the country’s growing stocks of spent nuclear fuel. All spent fuel currently is kept on-site at reactors in temporary storage facilities, but some of these facilities may soon reach capacity, as early as 2016 according to one estimate, which would cause reactors to shut down. An interim solution is needed to alleviate this situation, but South Korea sees a type of reprocessing called pyroprocessing as a long-term solution to spent fuel management.

Siting radioactive waste storage facilities has been difficult in densely populated South Korea, but Seoul believes that pyroprocessing could significantly reduce the volume of waste and necessary storage time. Second, Seoul wants enrichment technology to support its nuclear reactor export business. South Korea won a $20 billion contract in 2009 to build four reactors in the United Arab Emirates and is looking to secure contracts in other countries, too. Because South Korea has no enrichment capability, the UAE contracted with North American and European companies to source natural uranium and supply enriched uranium for Korean companies to fabricate into fuel. Third, Seoul desires to be viewed on an equal footing as the other major nuclear technology suppliers, especially Japan, to which the United States granted consent for enrichment and reprocessing in 1987.

Despite a strong diplomatic push by Seoul, the new 123 Agreement does not give South Korea advanced consent for enrichment or reprocessing, at least not yet. The new 123 Agreement facilitates the continuation of a ten-year Joint Fuel Cycle Study (JFCS) between South Korea and the United States that was launched in 2011. The stated purpose of the JFCS is to assess the “…technical and economic feasibility and nonproliferation acceptability…” of technologies related to reprocessing and spent fuel management. A separate Nuclear Technology Transfer Agreement governs the transfer of technologies during the course of the JFCS, and the new 123 Agreement establishes a High-Level Bilateral Commission (HLBC) to enhance cooperation and address issues related to spent fuel management, fuel supply, and nuclear security.

Taken together, these agreements and mechanisms formed since 2011 significantly upgrade U.S.-South Korea civil nuclear cooperation, and they provide South Korea with formal channels to conduct research on reprocessing technologies and request consent for using these technologies in their civilian nuclear industry. They also set up times in the future that likely will see U.S. and South Korean negotiators once again discussing enrichment and reprocessing.

In 2018, the U.S.-Japan 123 Agreement, with advanced consent for Japan’s reprocessing program, is set to automatically renew unless either party calls for renegotiation, which appears unlikely, and this could be a time when Seoul asks, through the HLBC, why they also do not have advanced consent.

Three years later at the scheduled conclusion of the JFCS in 2021, Seoul may request permission to use the reprocessing technologies developed during the course of the study. The next foreseeable milestone is in 2032, when the new 123 Agreement requires the two parties to consult on whether to pursue an extension. Other developments, such as particularly acute spent fuel storage problems or more reactor export deals for South Korea, may also spur new talks over enrichment and reprocessing. Thus, the new 123 Agreement is a step forward for U.S.-South Korea civil nuclear cooperation, but the bigger steps regarding enrichment and reprocessing for South Korea remain yet to be taken.

About the Author: James E. Platte, PhD is an Asia Studies Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington, DC and a non-resident Sasakawa Peace Foundation Fellow with Pacific Forum CSIS. He holds a doctorate in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He can be reached at jeplatte@gmail.com.

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Janus-Faced Political Islam


June 28, 2015

Janus-Faced Political Islam

by Charles Hirschkind

http://www.merip.org/mer/mer205/what-political-islam

Janus Faced Political IslamOver the last few decades, Islam has become a central point of reference for a wide range of political activities, arguments and opposition movements. The term “political Islam” has been adopted by many scholars in order to identify this seemingly unprecedented irruption of Islamic religion into the secular domain of politics and thus to distinguish these practices from the forms of personal piety, belief and ritual conventionally subsumed in Western scholarship under the unmarked category “Islam.”

In the brief comments that follow, I suggest why we might need to rethink this basic framework.The claim that contemporary Muslim activities are putting Islam to use for political purposes seems, at least in some instances, to be warranted. Political parties such as Hizb al-‘Amal in Egypt or the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in Algeria that base their appeal on their Islamic credentials appear to exemplify this instrumental relation to religion.

Yet a problem remains, even in such seemingly obvious examples: In what way does the distinction between the political and nonpolitical domains of social life hold today? Many scholars have argued that “political Islam” involves an illegitimate extension of the Islamic tradition outside of the properly religious domain it has historically occupied. Few, however, have explored this trend in relation to the contemporaneous expansion of state power and concern into vast domains of social life previously outside its purview — including that of religion.

As we know, through this ongoing process central to modern nation building, such institutions as education, worship, social welfare and family have been incorporated to varying degrees within the regulatory apparatuses of the modernizing state. Whether in entering into business contracts, selling wares on the street, disciplining children, adding a room to a house, in all births, marriages, deaths — at each juncture the state is present as overseer or guarantor, defining limits, procedures and necessary preconditions.

As a consequence, modern politics and the forms of power it deploys have become a condition for the practice of many personal activities. As for religion, to the extent that the institutions enabling the cultivation of religious virtue become subsumed within (and transformed by) legal and administrative structures linked to the state, the (traditional) project of preserving those virtues will necessarily be “political” if it is to succeed. Within both public and private school in Egypt, for example, the curriculum is mandated by the state: those wishing to promote or maintain Islamic pedagogical practices necessarily have to engage political power.

This does not mean that all forms of contemporary Islamic activism involve trying to “capture the state.” The vast majority of these movements involve preaching and other da‘wa (missionary) activities, alms giving, providing medical care, mosque building, publishing and generally promoting what is considered in the society to be public virtue through community action. Nonetheless, these activities engage the domain we call the political both in the sense that they are subject to restrictions imposed by the state (such as licensing), and in so much as they must often compete with state or state-supported institutions (pedagogic, confessional, medical) promoting Western models of family, worship, leisure and social responsibility. The success of even a conservative project to preserve a traditional form of personal piety will depend on its ability to engage with the legal, bureaucratic, disciplinary and technological resources of modern power that shape contemporary societies.

This argument diverges from the common one that Islam fuses religion and politics, din wa dawla, in a way incompatible with Western analytical categories. It is worth noting, however, that this frequently heard claim does not deny the fact that Muslim thinkers draw distinctions between din and dawla, only that the specific domains designated by these terms, and the structure of their interrelations do not mirror the situation in Europe in regard to European states and the Church. Moreover, this leaves aside the fact that the division between religious and political domains even in Western societies has always been far more porous than was previously assumed, as much recent work has made clear. [1]

Indeed, as Tocqueville long ago observed, Protestant Christianity plays an extremely important role in US politics in setting the moral boundaries and concerns within which political discussion unfolds, and hence can be considered the premiere political institution in some sense. I do not refer here to the lobbying efforts of church groups and other religious advocacy associations, but rather to the way a pervasive Christianity has been to varying degrees a constitutive element of Western political institutions.

What is clear, in any case, is that greater recognition must be given to the way Western concepts (religion, political, secular, temporal) reflect specific historical developments, and cannot be applied as a set of universal categories or natural domains.

Lastly, although discussions of political motivation or class interest should continue to be important parts of accounts of contemporary Islam, they are not necessarily germane to a description of every problem the analyst poses. Statements like the following have too long been de rigueur in accounts of the Islamic sahwa (awakening): “Marginalized male elites experience socioeconomic disparities as cultural loss, and they are drawn to participate in fundamentalist cadres in order to militate against nationalist structures that they deplore as un-Islamic because they are, above all, ineffective.” [2]

Such analyses reduce the movements to an expression of the socioeconomic conditions which gave rise to them. The “marginalized male elites” speak nothing new to us, as their arguments and projects, once properly translated into the language of political economy, seem entirely familiar. Lost, in other words, is any sense of the specificity of the claims and reasoning of the actors. This is brushed aside as we reiterate what we already know about the universal operation of socioeconomic disparities.

Grasping such complexity will require a much more subtle approach than one grounded in a simple distinction between (modern) political goals and (traditional) religious ones. Terms such as “political Islam” are inadequate here as they frame our inquiries around a posited distortion or corruption of properly religious practice.

In this way, the disruptive intrusions or outright destruction enacted upon society by the modernizing state never even figure in the analysis. In contrast, the various attempts of religious people to respond to that disruption are rendered suspect, with almost no attempt to distinguish those instances where such a critical stance is warranted from those where it is not. It is not surprising, in this light, that militant violence and public intolerance have become the central issues of so many studies of al-sahwa al-islamiyya (Islamic awakening), while the extensive coercion and torture practiced by governments get relegated to a footnote.

Author’s Note: I wish to thank Talal Asad, Saba Mahmood, Hussein Agrama, Steve Niva and Lisa Hajjar for their comments and suggestions on this brief article. Its shortcomings are my responsibility alone.

Endnotes

[1] See William Connolly, The Ethos of Pluralization (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1995).
[2] Bruce Lawrence, The Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1995), p. 226.

The Economist: Politics and the Puritanical


June 28, 2015

http://www.economist.com/node/21656189/print

Salafism

Politics and the Puritanical

Islam’s most conservative adherents are finding that politics is hard. But it beats the alternative

Nader-BakkarWERE it not for his bushy beard and trim moustache, Nader Bakkar (above) could be mistaken for one of Egypt’s secular liberal politicians. The young spokesman for the Nour party is tolerant, reasonable and smart—he is about to begin a fellowship at Harvard. “We are reformers, not revolutionaries,” Mr Bakkar says of his party. “Compromise is not a bad word.” But his facial hair conveys a different message. Mr Bakkar and his party adhere to the ultra-conservative brand of Sunni Islam known as Salafism.

In the West that brand is most associated with extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS), whose members are sometimes called Salafist-jihadists; or the intolerance of Saudi Arabia, where adherents are called Wahhabis. The Saudis have used their oil wealth to spread the influence of Salafism across the Muslim world, funding Wahhabi-inspired mosques and madrassas—and, at times, extremist groups. As a result, some think Salafism is the fastest-growing Islamic movement.

It is also growing more diverse. All Salafists take a fundamentalist approach to Islam, emulating the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers—al-salaf al-salih, the “pious forefathers”—right down to their facial hair. They reject religious innovation, or bida, and support the implementation of sharia (Islamic law). Salafist scholars, though, are far from homogeneous, expressing different views on everything from apostasy to activism. Most notably, many Salafists now engage in politics despite a tradition of quiescence. But with little to show for their efforts, they must decide whether to push on, withdraw or pursue politics by other means, such as war or terrorism.

Prior to the Arab spring some Salafists had been members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the region’s main Islamist movement, with a long tradition of political activism. But most Salafists shunned politics. The movement is often broken down into three categories. The most infamous are the jihadists, who are but a tiny minority. The most numerous are the purists (or quietists), who believe that politics undercuts the sovereignty of God and is therefore best avoided. Like the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, most bend a knee to Muslim heads of state, no matter how awful, in order to avoid creating fitna, or chaos.

Rise and fall of the activists

Activist Salafists, those involved in politics, make up the third group. Their number swelled in the aftermath of the Arab spring, when the boundaries between politics and religion blurred, writes Jacob Olidort of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think-tank. “Giving definition and structure to the changing events became a question of necessity rather than choice, especially as Salafists faced pressure from media and other Islamist groups to comment on these events.”

Relatively few Salafists participated in the protests, but some saw opportunity in the opening they created, arguing that sharia could now be enacted via politics. Encouraged by their brethren in Kuwait, where political Salafism was already well-established, Egypt’s Salafists took advantage. The Nour party, which grew out of the Salafist Call, the country’s main Salafist organisation based in Alexandria, won over 20% of the seats in parliament in the country’s first free election. It then ensured that the country’s new constitution (now abandoned) had an Islamist tint.

At the same time, the stature of the purists fell owing to their support for the old guard and their opposition to the protests. Saudi Arabia’s top clerics issued a decree stating that “reform should not be by demonstrations and other means and methods that give rise to unrest and divide the community.” In a lecture in 2011 Ali al-Halabi, a prominent Jordanian cleric, said the protests were “far from the law of God” and motivated by materialism. But at the time, the purists were often ignored. They now feel vindicated. “The countries of the Arab spring did not gain anything but destruction, corruption and the loss of security,” says Mr Halabi.

In Egypt the Salafists’ conservative influence contributed to the fall of Muhammad Morsi, the president and a Muslim Brother. The Nour party’s decision to support his removal and the coup of Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi alienated many of its former supporters. But it also made it unlikely that the Salafists would suffer a fate like that of the Brotherhood, which Mr Sisi has crushed. “The party has reinforced the idea among quietists that you have to sell out or make deals with the devil in order to be in politics,” says Will McCants of the Brookings Institution in Washington.

The purists can also find support for their rejection of political engagement in Tunisia, the only democracy to emerge from the Arab spring. Many activist Salafists invested their hopes in the Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Nahda party, which came first in Tunisia’s elections in 2011. Nahda’s leader, Rached Ghannouchi, even claims to be a Salafist himself. But while the party has embraced conservative Muslims, it has also taken steps to curb their influence. Its decision to renounce sharia as the main source of legislation in its draft constitution left Salafists outraged, as did its promise not to impose the veil on women or ban alcohol and interest payments. Unhappy with the secular direction of the country, and with little voice in politics, many Salafists have turned to protests and violence, at home and abroad.

The perceived failure of political engagement by Salafists risks benefiting the jihadists. Tunisia is now the largest source of foreign fighters for IS. The group has also attracted large numbers from other countries where Salafists have little political sway, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco—but not so many from Kuwait, where they still have a strong voice. Governments nervous that the militants may turn on them have enlisted the help of Salafist leaders. Some see the purists as a counter to jihadism, due to their inward-looking focus. Morocco has tried to bring more Salafists into the political fold. Abdelkarim Chadli, a prominent Salafist convicted of terrorism in 2003, recently joined the Democratic and Social Movement, a regime-friendly political party, and vowed to bring other Salafists with him.

Salafists, though, may no longer see the point of political engagement. “Many people say we betrayed the revolution, that we approve of the regime and authority,” admits Mr Bakkar. He sees his party’s survival as its main accomplishment. But activist Salafists have made little progress towards their goal of creating an Islamic state. The appeal of IS across much of the Middle East is that it has done just that.

Cambodia under Samdech Hun Sen: Significant Progress with some challenges ahead


June 26, 2015

Cambodia under Samdech Hun Sen: Significant Progress with some Challenges ahead

by Vannarith Chheang@www.asiasentinel.com

http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/after-30-years-hun-sen-where-is-cambodia/

Hun Sen has steered Cambodia towards peace and development, helping overcome the most difficult period in the country’s history, which included both the civil war and subsequent factional power struggles. In the late 1990s, he managed to dissolve the remaining Khmer Rouge forces and reintegrate them into the Cambodian Royal Armed Forces, marking the end of the civil war

…Hun Sen’s governance strategy revolves around three factors: political stability, development and promoting cultural identity. His ambition is to transform Cambodia into a middle-income country by 2030, and a high-income country by 2050… In the 30 years Hun Sen has been in power, Cambodia has made significant progress but key challenges remain.

Phnom Penh2015 marks 30 years in power for Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who became Prime Minister in January 1985 at only 33 years old. He has consolidated his power base through charismatic leadership, paternalism, coercion and a system of patronage.

There are mixed views on Hun Sen’s leadership. It is essential to understand the national context to conduct a well-balanced assessment of his achievements and shortcomings. Cambodia is a fragile country after nearly three decades of war and conflict. Social and political distrust, a potential source of political instability, remain deeply embedded in Cambodian political culture and society.

For Hun Sen, peace and security and socio-economic development occupy center stage in Cambodia’s domestic politics, with democracy and human rights coming in second.

The Premier is one of the main architects of peace-building in Cambodia. His political career started with the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation which, with the support of Vietnam, toppled the Khmer Rouge regime in January 1979.

At the end of the 1980s, as similar economic reforms were being pursued in Vietnam and Laos, Hun Sen chose to follow the free-market economic model. But Cambodia took a different political reform path from that of Laos and Vietnam after the 1991 Paris Peace Accords. Cambodia adopted a liberal, multi-party political system, incorporating the principles of democracy and human rights in its 1993 constitution.

Hun Sen with Sam RainsyHun Sen has steered Cambodia towards peace and development, helping overcome the most difficult period in the country’s history, which included both the civil war and subsequent factional power struggles. In the late 1990s, he managed to dissolve the remaining Khmer Rouge forces and reintegrate them into the Cambodian Royal Armed Forces, marking the end of the civil war.

In the last two decades, Cambodia has enjoyed an average of 7.7 percent GDP growth. Cambodia is classified as a ‘high growth country’ by the World Bank. The poverty rate fell from 47.8 percent in 2007 to 18.9 per cent in 2012. But the development gap between urban and rural areas remains wide. In 2011, 91 percent of poor households were living in rural areas. Cambodia’s poor households are vulnerable to an array of shocks including natural disasters and water, food and energy security crises.

Hun Sen’s governance strategy revolves around three factors: political stability, development and promoting cultural identity. His ambition is to transform Cambodia into a middle-income country by 2030, and a high-income country by 2050.

Still, the Prime Minister’s leadership and legitimacy were critically challenged in the July 2013 general election when his Cambodian People Party (CPP) suffered a remarkable drop in popular support, losing 22 seats to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

One of the reasons for falling support for the CPP is the chronic and rampant corruption within the government and the party. Corruption is the root cause of social injustice, human rights violations, the culture of impunity, the mismanagement of natural and state resources, widening income inequality, and the downgrading of social ethics and values.

Acknowledging these problems, Hun Sen set a comprehensive reform agenda after the 2013 elections. But concrete outcomes have yet to be seen. To fulfil the agenda and build his own legacy, Hun Sen must make major institutional changes. He must be innovative and consistent in fighting corruption and nepotism otherwise his reform policy will fail, further challenging his legitimacy and legacy.

Transformative and adaptive political leadership, effective and efficient bureaucracy, and popular support and participation are necessary if political and economic reforms are to succeed. Hun Sen’s government must further deepen the reform agenda by focusing on these three elements.

Hun Sen has, some say, adapted his leadership style too slowly to cope with Cambodia’s fast-changing social transformation. His authoritarian leadership is not popular, especially among young people. The majority of Cambodian youth aspire to change. At the party congress in February, CPP leaders added youth leaders to the Central Committee, resulting in 70 out of 545 members being under the age of 50, in a bid to gain support from Cambodia’s youth.

Hun Sen also takes a pragmatic approach towards foreign affairs. His core foreign policy objectives are to maintain national peace and security, further economic development, reduce poverty, and raise Cambodia’s image and prestige.

Hun Ssn with Chinese President XiWhile he is pushing to diversify Cambodia’s strategic and economic partners, but there is currently still a tilt towards China. Economic and cultural ties define Cambodia–China relations. China is now Cambodia’s largest source of both foreign direct investment and development assistance.

Cambodia has also engaged in promoting global peace and stability, sending more than 1,700 peacekeepers to different parts of the world under the UN framework and is actively involved in the global campaign to end landmines. It is taking a leading role in promoting the ‘responsibility to protect’ in Southeast Asia, and intends to build stronger partnerships with ASEAN and the UN to build the state’s capacity to protect its population from genocide and crimes against humanity, and from their incitement.

In the 30 years Hun Sen has been in power, Cambodia has made significant progress but key challenges remain.

Vannarith Chheang is lecturer of Asia Pacific Studies at the University of Leeds. This articles originally appeared n the East Asia Forum, a platform for analysis and research at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University

Human Rights for Foxes and Hedgehogs


June 25, 2015

Human Rights for Foxes and Hedgehogs

by Professor Dr.Antoine Buyse

http://sim.rebo.uu.nl/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Inaugural-Lecture-Antoine-Buyse-Human-rights-for-foxes-and-hedgehogs.pdf

AntoineBuyseOratie150There are two kinds of thinkers, according to the liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin: hedgehogs and foxes.

2. Hedgehogs are those people who try to incorporate everything in the world into one single vision or over-arching truth. By contrast, foxes are people who draw on a wide range of observations, ideas and perspectives. Their thoughts are manifold and they do not try and squeeze reality into one straightjacket. Put in scientific terms: foxes easily jump from one paradigm to another without asserting that any of them represents the final truth. Berlin developed this metaphor by building on a line from the ancient Greek poet Archilochus which runs as follows: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

3. Dante Alighieri, Plato, and Proust are, in Berlin’s view hedgehogs. Aristotle, Montaigne and James Joyce are foxes. Berlin, in his essay The Hedgehog and the Fox, specifically applied the metaphor to the famous Russian novelist Lev Tolstoy, author of the great 19th century novel War and Peace. Tolstoy was, to Berlin, the prime example of a fox who desperately tried to be a hedgehog.

So, you may wonder by now, what does this have to do with human rights? Let me assure you that you have not stepped into a lecture on Greek or Russian literature. Neither will this be a talk about animal rights. Rather, what I propose to do today is to use this metaphor of the fox and the hedgehog to look at the current state of human rights in the world and more specifically, to look at those who study human rights: that strange little tribe called academics.

I will do so by addressing how a number of academic fields have engaged with human rights and their biggest academic support group: the human rights lawyers. I will argue that studying human rights from non-legal perspectives, from different disciplines, is key to acquiring new insights in the legal academic study of human rights. Secondly, but no less importantly, this may lead to progress in the implementation of human rights on the ground, by a better understanding of factors that contribute to or, by contrast, hinder the ways in which people can use their rights to improve their lives.

It is easy to be pessimistic about the state of human rights in the world today. Close to home in the Netherlands, cities are struggling with the legal and practical issues of giving shelter and care to irregular migrants and the decentralization of social services. Discrimination in the police forces, lack of interest for the right to a safe living environment in the earthquake prone North of the country, and an absence of basic human rights knowledge among youngsters are all challenges we face. In Europe, the coming together of the human rights systems of the European Union and the Council of Europe has endured a setback veiled in the shape of an Advisory Opinion.

4. And on a much more worrying global scale, the conflicts that rage across Syria, Iraq and Yemen have caused thousands of deaths. In 2014 war crimes were committed in at least 18 countries. The Mediterranean is turning into a blue graveyard. Freedom of expression and of the press are under pressure in Hungary, Eritrea, Venezuela, Russia and many other places. It is estimated that arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression occurred in over 75% of the world’s states last year. It led Amnesty International to conclude that 2014 was a “devastating year” and an “ultimate low point”.

5 Should we then abandon all hope, as if entering Dante’s Inferno? Well, arguably, in the longer run, the picture does not seem that bleak. The various forms of extreme violence that catch our attention in today’s news reports are not entirely representative. The psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature has argued that history shows a somewhat irregular, yet overall steady decline of violence between human beings.

6 He ascribes this decline to various civilizing and pacification processes of which one is of particular interest for us today. These are the so-called rights revolutions, as Pinker dubs them. Movements for citizens’ rights started in the eighteenth century and gained particular momentum in the second half of the twentieth century. They expanded to rights movements for women, racial and ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, disabled people, and children, and yes, even to animals. One of the key factors enabling this development is a leap of imagination and empathy: the fact that we can imagine how other humans suffer from injustice and that they are in many ways similar to ourselves. This empathy for the other, stretching far beyond people’s own circle of family and friends was nurtured, according to historian Lynn Hunt, by the novel.

7 The eighteenth century saw this new literary genre rise and spread. Novels like Pamela by Richardson and Julie by Rousseau enabled readers on a much wider scale than ever before to empathize with people who were oppressed. It is no coincidence in Hunt’s view that the first declarations of human rights, with the American and French ones as the most famous examples, were created in those very same decades that these novels were read. Although human rights were not, as the title of her book claims, invented in the eighteenth century – the idea is of course much older and the relevance in national and international politics much more recent – Hunt does bring home an important point about human rights. They are imagined. Indeed, just like the country of the Netherlands (which was imagined in this very grand hall a few centuries ago in the Union of Utrecht), but also money, or Mickey Mouse, human rights are figments of our very fertile imaginations, as another historian, Yuval Harari, has put it.

8 This very capacity to imagine things is in his view what distinguishes humans from other animals. Like humans, animals may laugh or even fool each other, but imagining non-existent things is not something a single fox or hedgehog is capable of (at least as far as we humans are aware). This skill of imagination enables us to cooperate, for good or bad, in larger groups. And these products of our imagination have very real consequences in reality – people may kill in the name of their country, buy goods across the globe with their money or build entire theme parks for their favourite cartoon character.

The leap of imagination towards human rights did not happen in one go, however, and faced several setbacks after it flourished in the Enlightenment. The nineteenth century saw a turn towards nationalism which, far into the twentieth century, remained stronger in the West than universalist ideologies, whether they were about civil and political rights or the rights of workers. No wonder then that the first large-scale international rights agreements, in the period between the two World Wars, concerned the protection of national minorities: in many ways these minorities were perceived as a country’s own nationals who had ended up in the wrong state. It was only after the Second World War that the universalist movement came back in full force, even if only for a short time, in the years of the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And even then, nationalist prejudice still lingered. The most conspicuous example is that one of the people considered to become a member of the Human Rights Commission, Hersch Lauterpacht, was rejected as an option by the legal advisor of the Foreign Office of the United Kingdom. He stated, and I quote:

“Professor Lauterpacht, although a distinguished and industrious international lawyer, is, when all is said and done, a Jew fairly recently come from Vienna. Emphatically, I think that the representative of His Majesty’s Government on human rights must be a very English Englishman imbued throughout his life and hereditary to the real meaning of human rights as we understand them in this country.” End of quote

9.The drafting of the Universal Declaration itself is a telling example of both cooperation and differences of views between different disciplines. For not only politicians and lawyers were involved, as one may expect. Both philosophers and anthropologists took an interest in the genesis of this key human rights document. This involvement was closely connected with one key question: how to produce a document that truly reflected global values, that could truly be called universal? As the drafters struggled with what to put in the text and what not, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO came to the rescue. It established a Committee on the Theoretical Bases of Human Rights, consisting of mostly philosophers. This group sent out questionnaires across the globe and across cultures asking whether the norms present in human rights could also be found in their own traditions. People ranging from Mohandas Gandhi to Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, responded. To the philosophers’ delight they were able to find a range of common principles across cultures similar to many of the rights the drafters of the Universal Declaration were construing, sufficient at least to justify that a global document could be called universal. Of course, this agreement was only a common denominator and it was agreement mainly on what the norms were, not on their justification. As one philosopher on the UNESCO Committee liked to say: “Yes, we agree about the rights but on condition no one asks us why.”

10 This justification problem, although it did not prevent the creation of the Universal Declaration, has continued to haunt the international human rights movement ever since. The interest of philosophers in human rights has continued to this day, amongst others here in Utrecht by the vibrant research group of our dear colleagues of the Ethics Institute.

Another discipline also took an interest in the Universal Declaration: anthropology. In a statement sent to the Human Rights Commission in 1947, the American Anthropological Association warned that the Declaration should not become a mere reflection of the values of Western Europe and America. Since each human being was not only an island in itself, but a social being functioning in a group and in her or his own culture, a truly universal document should reflect the common elements among these cultures and not, implicitly or explicitly postulate the supremacy of one culture over another. One should, the anthropologists argued, avoid to make human rights part of “the white man’s burden” and thereby blemish it with all the problems of colonialism and imperialism. The anthropologists’ statement has later often been misread as cultural relativism, as opposed to the universality of human rights. But the anthropologists were not claiming that creating a universally valid text was impossible. Rather, they added to the concerns of the philosophers about the ‘why’ of human rights, concerns of the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. Not all of the norms and values about right and wrong that one may identify are shared across the globe. As the anthropologists put it, “The saint of one epoch would at a later time be confined as a man not fitted to cope with reality.”

11. And the practice or expression of common ideas widely differs across cultures. The anthropological interest in human rights did not limit itself to its cradle, the Universal Declaration. Indeed, in the past decades a large amount of research has been done into how human rights are perceived, talked about, practised and yes, even imagined.

12 Where a stubborn universalist might be a hedgehog trying to fit it all into one system, many anthropologists better resemble the foxes, being very aware of the enormous variety in human rights practice. Thus even an experience I once had in the train is an example of that practice and imagination of human rights: the old couple sitting next to me complained that they were forced to take public transport as their human right to park their car in their city of destination was not guaranteed. In more academic terms, as the anthropologist Mark Goodale put it a few years ago, the meanings of human rights “are constituted most importantly by a range of social actors (…) within the disarticulated practices of everyday life.”

13 And, one may add, anthropologists have also found their way to courtrooms of human rights litigation, and not as suspects or prosecutors, but to study the proceedings and their interaction with the social context in which these cases occur.

The rise of human rights later also spawned interest in other fields of research, from international relations to political science. The work of Risse and Sikkink on norms cascades and of Beth Simmons on how human rights are mobilized are just two of the many examples of theorizing on how both international and national rights can become a force to be reckoned with inside states.

14. As this practice grew in both democracies and countries in transition, research on human rights also increased. A search in Google Scholar shows that in 2014 alone over 45,000 books and articles mentioning the words “human rights” were uploaded.

These are staggering amounts, even for the most optimistic and voracious reader trying to stay up-to-date with the state-of-the-art on the topic.

The developments in different disciplines briefly mentioned here show that many researchers from other fields than law have shown interest in human rights. So, what about the lawyers? The rise of international human rights after World War II meant that apart from constitutional lawyers, legal researchers in the fields of international and European law started to study the issue. Later on, researchers in criminal law and private law joined them. Critical legal studies, feminist, utilitarian, marxist, and other critiques on human rights have all helped to point out and gradually decrease the blind spots of Lady Justice. These critiques have shown, for example, that the initial human rights treaties were too focused on the public rather than the private, and on, for example, torture rather than domestic violence.

Thus, human rights have increased in numbers, pervaded more fields of law, and gained traction in a large number of countries. Their understanding has increased from a negative approach to one in which positive obligations for states are prominently represented, ranging from protection against threats to life to fostering equality, as legal scholar Sandra Fredman has convincingly shown in her work.

15. This broadening of human rights has come at a price, however. The very extension of the number of rights, which we can call human rights proliferation, may have extended protection or at least attention to new groups, but it has also led to criticism that the wide scope of rights is rather a sign of inflation, detracting from a supposed traditional core group of rights which would be more important. Eric Posner, for example, in his recent book with the ominous title The Twilight of Human Rights, argues that the very multiplication of rights will lead to their demise. He contends that attaching a rights label to an increasing number of societal claims is counterproductive. According to Posner, [and I quote]

“the idea of a rigid legal framework will gradually dissolve into a soup of competing and unresolvable claims about which interests deserve human rights protection, which interests do not and how much weight should be placed on each of them.” [end of quote]

16. He contends, moreover, that many of the international human rights protection systems have remained ineffective. Along similar lines, Stephen Hopgood traces the, in his view, fatal problems facing human rights, in his The End times of Human Rights.

17. Human rights are part of the Western liberal tradition and power. The demise of that power, especially of the United States, weakens human rights. Nationalism and religion reflect a resurgence of different values and it is not just rogue states like Syria or North Korea who challenge the human rights system, but also large, emerging powers. If one would follow Posner or Hopgood, one would not even need to consult Nostradamus to believe the end is near.

Indeed power balances in the world are shifting. Indeed the United Nations human rights system is not the most effective legal system the world has ever seen. And indeed the proliferation of rights causes new dilemmas of dealing with competing claims taking the shape of human rights. International human rights are not an iron shield but rather a frail safety net that can break if stretched too far by those trying to attack it. But Posner and Hopgood miss out on a number of crucial points.

18. Even if in international relations the balance of power changes, human rights continue to make inroads in many countries, also less-liberal ones, by way of active courts and justifiability of rights, and human rights education. Even if the global human rights system is not the strongest, several regional ones are relatively effective, including the Strasbourg-Luxembourg twins here in Europe – even if they do not always acknowledge they are close family. As for the increasing number of competing claims, lawyers have long devised and are still devising new and practical ways of dealing with them. And even on those points where these critical authors are partly right about the weaknesses of human rights practice – Posner mentions the lack of empirically-informed approaches – matters should be improved not left to fade into a twilight zone. Put differently, if human rights protection systems are like an ambulance stuck on the road, we should repair the engine, not discard it. Fighting illegal and arbitrary action by states and non-state actors alike is simply too important.

19. What can academic researchers do to engage in these issues and to help and improve matters on the ground without turning into activists themselves? Mixing activism and research where one weakens the other, is indeed a perennial risk for human rights researchers. You may not be surprised that legal research infused by insights from other disciplines is what in my view is necessary. Lawyer-hedgehogs need hedgehogs from other disciplines, and a few foxes amongst themselves, to connect the lot of them. For indeed, the metaphor of the foxes and the hedgehogs of Isaiah Berlin, with which I started this lecture, cannot just be applied to literature and writers, but also to academia.

20. There are researchers who try to incorporate everything they find into one all-encompassing system. And others who apply a variety of methods to critique various models and systems, not particularly bothered by a striving for unity or coherence. This is not simply a contrast between deductive science and inductive, empirical research. Nor is fox science automatically better than hedgehog research or the other way around. Great thinkers can be found among both groups of academic animals. Rather, it has a lot to do with each researcher’s personal preferences.

The metaphor can be applied to legal thinkers too. The famous book A Theory of Justice of John Rawls is an attempt at a coherent whole and could be compared to the work of a hedgehog.

21 Michael Walzer’s Spheres of Justice was partly a reaction to the ideas of Rawls.  Walzer constantly engaged with and criticized the catch-all theories of others and argued that there are no ready-made solutions for just societies. This makes his work more that of a fox. His thinking can be read as a plea for a more complex and layered egalitarianism. Finally, Ronald Dworkin explicitly identified with one animal in his book, Justice for Hedgehogs.

22.In his work, he tried, not always successfully, to argue for a coherent notion of what human dignity would entail. What is important for law, in my view, is to supplement the almost inherent quest for coherence and system-building that lawyers display – a hedgehog endeavor – by an openness to other perspectives, insights and disciplines – to become a bit like foxes when necessary.

23.So what should happen in academia, in research? I am not arguing that other disciplines should start to show some interest for human rights. They have. Nor am I saying that lawyers should finally start going beyond black letter law. Many do, including a great number of colleagues present here today. We need both those who deepen the knowledge deep in the trenches of their specialization and those who build bridges across those very trenches. What I would say, rather, is that we should all become a bit more aware of each other’s work, the lawyers and the non-lawyers. To connect the legal study of human rights more firmly with insights and research on those same rights by other disciplines. By establishing a chair on human rights in a multidisciplinary perspective, Utrecht University shows commitment to this aim of connecting the dots. None of us should lock ourselves up in our own field like pedantic, know-it-all hedgehogs. But most of us researchers also do not have the time and means to become foxes who can easily jump from one disciplinary perspective to another – few are, in other words, like Roald Dahl’s fantastic Mr Fox. Even combining just two disciplines takes years of study. That is why we have to join forces to solve problems that cannot be tackled by one discipline alone. And we can do so through cooperation.

24. Let me give you one example from my own research on how to bring insights from other disciplines to bear on law. This concerns the issue of freedom of expression in relation to violent conflict escalation. Put differently, the question of when do words kill? Freedom of expression is, like most human rights norms, an open norm. But some norms are more open than others. What is seen as acceptable speech widely differs from one society to another and what shocks, offends, or disturbs is different for each individual. Explicit commercials, the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo, or the comments of politicians may all stay within, or cross, the limits of freedom of expression, depending on whom one asks. However, there is one almost universally accepted limitation to free speech and that is speech that incites to or otherwise causes violence. This rarely concerns instances in which someone literally gives orders to shoot, as a commanding officer would shout to a soldier. Most situations do not lead to an easy ‘I know it when I see it’. After all, the links between a specific speech on television, a cartoon in a newspaper, or a radio broadcast on the one hand and the escalation of violence between groups on the other are not always as self-evident as during the Rwandan genocide.

25. Yet, freedom of expression cases in relation to violence do reach courts and are subject to legislation and policy-making. Moreover, most judges may believe that they need to call in an expert when they are dealing with a medical case, but they often see freedom of expression cases as falling within their own area of expertise. A consequence of this has been a somewhat misguided emphasis on utterances of hatred as somehow leading up to violence. It is no coincidence that the legal notion of hate speech has become used so much in the past decades. But is that truly the key to correctly assessing such matters? And if we accept that context somehow matters, which context should judges and policymakers consider?

26. It is here that the open norm of freedom of expression needs some fleshing out, aided by insights from a field in which the escalation of violence has been a core theme of research: conflict studies. As I have argued in my research over the last few years, these insights may contribute to better legal and political decision-making in three different ways.

27. First, conflict researchers have shown that in many violent conflicts between groups, instilling fear, especially a fear of being lethally attacked, has been found to be an important factor in the process leading to violence. Such fear may lead to the acceptance of the use of violence as a legitimate means to solve a perceived inter-group problem.

28. Thus what I have dubbed “fear speech,” expressions aimed at instilling (existential) fear of another group, rather than “hate speech” may be more relevant when assessing violent conflict escalation. Hatred is not irrelevant, but it is not as such the triggering factor. The emphasis of lawyers, including human rights lawyers, on hate speech may thus be an example of looking for a solution to a legal problem in the wrong direction. Secondly, context matters. This is not something lawyers would deny, but they would have to concede that it is not always easy to identify which factors are relevant. In a human rights test of free expression, contextual factors mostly appear in the third leg of the three-pronged test of limitations, as for example in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights: the test of necessity in a democratic society. It may be clear to anyone that if someone outside on the Dom Square calls for the extinction of all blue-eyed people in Utrecht, it may have little effect. A similar call to violence against religious minorities may, by contrast, be very effective in the midst of a town square in Syria or Iraq today. Again, insights from conflict studies may help to see which factors – the position of the speaker, the medium used, or the exact wording chosen – are truly relevant. Again, a judge may or may not look at the relevant factors. Thirdly, we know that a very good indication for the outbreak of violence is recent earlier violence. While this fact in itself is not very helpful, it does become a tool for analysis if we use framing theory to look at this earlier violence.

29. For indeed, the way in which an earlier incident of violence is framed in the media or through gossip – as an instance of thug violence or as an attack of one ethnic group on another – may pave the way respectively for law enforcement or violent conflict. The chosen wording or imagery in an expression is thus important, as it may explain, justify or motivate violence. Framing theory insights provide useful tools of analysis here.

What this single example of freedom of expression and violence shows is that legal scholarship and practice may be usefully assisted by insights from other bodies of knowledge, if translated and handled with care.

In conclusion, what I propose to do in my own research in the coming years is to try and build and extend the bridges to other disciplines. The example of fear speech is an illustration of this. In this way, I will try to be a fox, bringing in different perspectives whenever that can enrich and further our legal understanding of human rights. On the other hand, part of my work will also remain very much that of the hedgehog looking for consistency of the system, in the more positivist, legal study of the European Convention on Human Rights and other human rights treaties. Never the twain shall meet? Well, maybe hedgehogs and foxes at times can. Just like Tolstoy was a fox desperately trying to be a hedgehog.

And finally, each of you may now start to wonder whether you are yourself more of a fox or a hedgehog.

Islam and Social Democrats: Integrating Europe’s Muslim Minorities


June 23, 2015

Islam and Social Democrats: Integrating Europe’s Muslim Minorities

European Muslims were once embraced by the left as a natural ally, but the relationship has become increasingly fraught. If the parties of the left don’t want to lose voters to new religious formations, they must create the conditions for people of faith to feel more comfortable in national institutions. There is room for more complex answers than those offered so far.

The first serious divergences between Muslims and the left in Europe began with the fatwa issued by Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini against Salman Rushdie in 1989 and religious demands to censor his novel, The Satanic Verses. The split widened later that year, when France began to restrict the wearing of girls’ headscarves in schools.

Until then, parties on the left had embraced the mostly working-class minority as a natural ally. Migrants from Muslim majority countries first began settling permanently in Western Europe in the 1970s and ’80s. The unexpected transformation of receiving countries into “immigration societies” provoked nationalist and racist reactions on the right, while parties on the left appeared the likely beneficiary of the influx of future voters. German trade unions were already enrolling Gastarbeiter (guest workers) in the 1960s, decades before the German state considered granting Turks easy access to citizenship. When the Socialist leader François Mitterrand was elected French president in 1981, he authorized foreigners to create cultural and political associations—mostly benefiting Algerians, Moroccans, and Tunisians—that party leaders hoped would federate under the Socialist banner.

Parties of the left began supporting civic integration efforts at the same moment that center-right parties began battling an ascendant extreme right. While Christian Democrats repeated the mantra that “Germany is not a country of immigration,” for example, German Greens and Social Democrats lobbied for dual nationality for Turks. Conservative coalitions at the time portrayed the immigrant population as a drain on resources and a threat to security and the national way of life. The Social Democratic defense of the second generation’s “right to be different” and to participate in politics allowed center-left parties to defend their ideals while making inroads into a budding electorate of millions.

Mitterrand followed a similar path in creating SOS Racisme, a pioneering anti-discrimination organization that offered proof of pervasive everyday racism in French society, from the front doors of nightclubs to human resources offices and housing agencies. Through media work and effective use of the slogan “Touche pas à mon pote” (“Get your hands off my buddy”), the group contributed to a revolutionary shift in the public imagination of North Africans from immigrants to fellow citizens. Naturally, it was hoped that the association would act as a feeder for activists from the banlieues into the party.

A Cultural Cold War

The emergence of cultural and religious confrontation in the European public sphere since the end of the Cold War has drastically changed the dynamic between Muslims and left parties. It is the domestic political counterpart to nearly twenty five years of punctuated military clashes between the Muslim majority world and many of the same Western countries that are now home to large Muslim minorities. The politicization of Islam and the varying degrees of repression of religious extremists in North Africa and Turkey during the 1990s also contributed to more intense religious identity within the Muslim diaspora.

At the same time, the European federations that were linked to Muslim Brotherhood movements abroad became increasingly assertive of their rights as citizens and believers across Western Europe. In many countries where it had been a point of pride to be inclusive and supportive of Muslim identity politics, the left got burned. Many of the most controversial demands made by Islamic organizations—for example, demands for religious censorship and for women’s right to cover their hair or faces for religious reasons—came into direct conflict with the left’s progressive values of gender equality and the freedom to criticize religion.

The reactions to al Qaeda terrorist attacks committed by several dozen European Muslims, first in the United States and then Spain and the United Kingdom, helped lay a particular religious template over these diverse immigrant-origin populations. Later, the global row over the Danish “prophet cartoons” sealed an adversarial relationship between religious Muslims and the left. This was not exactly what the Socialist Party had in mind for this group of new voters. It was unprepared for the religious turn in minority politics, from “Touche pas à mon pote” to “Touche pas à mon prophète.”

Downplaying Religion

The response of center-left parties has been to downplay the religious attributes of minorities in national politics. Most of the left in Europe, unlike in the United States, views affirmative action as tokenism and a distraction from real, structural solutions. It took decades before any French Socialist members of parliament or party leadership emerged from SOS Racisme, while the right-wing French presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy nominated five cabinet ministers with a Muslim background within weeks of taking office.

According to Johannes Kandel, a long time Islam analyst with Germany’s Social Democrats, his party “emphasized the aspects that play to its strengths: economic and socio-political measures.” For years, Social Democrats have proposed laudable methods to improve integration outcomes, from increasing educational equality and labor market participation to funding more recreation rooms and soccer fields in underprivileged areas. An SPD position paper from 2011 states flatly that the “main causes for real integration deficits are not cultural, religious, or ethnic differences between majority society and migrants but rather the absence of equal opportunity.” Socialist and Social Democratic parties prefer to see integration problems exclusively as socioeconomic ones.

The right is thus able to dominate the symbolic politics of recognition with Muslim groups, even while it has spearheaded vocal criticism of Islam’s perceived excesses and taken the lead in laying down the law of the land. It is uncontested on both the “populist” front and the “engagement” front, while the left appears both opposed to Muslims’ collective identity and unwilling to defend against affronts to their religious freedom. When center-right parties push the dangers of headscarves and halal, they often look more in touch with women’s issues and animal rights than their progressive opponents.

Socialist and Social Democratic parties prefer to see integration problems exclusively as socioeconomic ones. The right is thus able to dominate the symbolic politics of recognition with Muslim groups

During a brief window from 2002–2006, for example, center-right parties became interested in helping fit Islam into state-church relations, establishing the Conseil Français du Culte Musulman and the Deutsche Islam Konferenz, among others. Some on the left accused governments of trying to create a Muslim lobby and stoking communitarianism, playing into the conservative narrative of religious membership at the expense of shared citizenship. More fundamentally, these debates stir mixed feelings in those leftist political parties with anticlerical roots. After all, these are parties whose signature achievements of the postwar period include ballot parity for women politicians and standing up to paternalist mores regarding divorce and abortion. The counterproductive result is that center-left parties are unwittingly conspiring to deny institutional equality to the Islamic religion. This is a missed opportunity to address basic religious compatibility issues and to extract compromise positions, in the way that the Catholic Church was tamed for democratic society, or that Jews were emancipated in majority Christian nation-states.


When parties of the left have been more supportive of Muslims’ religious rights, they have done so in a way that attracts accusations of being the useful idiots of reactionary Islamists. In this narrative, leftist indifference allows paternalist cultures to thrive, producing intolerant outcomes and integration failures. Such was the case in the United Kingdom, where the Labour Party made major pushes to help organize British Islam in 1997 and 2005 while its Muslim partners refused to attend Holocaust commemorations, and in Germany, where in 2002 the state television network broadcast “Naïve Tolerance,” a report that exposed the prevalence of anti-Semitism in the publications of one of the partner organizations invited by the mayor of Bremen to participate in the city’s “Islam Week.” Elsewhere, aggressive lobbying and lawsuits by Muslim groups against the publication of the “blasphemous” Danish cartoons embarrassed leftist parties.

These trends have continued this year. In April the lone Muslim board member of Sweden’s Social Democrats was pressured to resign because of his association with reactionary preachers and statements about attacking Israel with fighter jets. And in the 2013 race for German chancellor, the Social Democratic candidate told a Muslim constituent that he supported separate swimming facilities for men and women and drew howling protests from the Christian Democratic government of Angela Merkel. He beat a quick retreat.

There are a handful of positive examples of left-led engagement at the local level, especially in France, Germany, and Sweden, but in national politics across Europe, the left is virtually indistinguishable from the right when it comes to policy on Muslim minorities—except that the center right has been more likely to move toward engagement. Despite its anti-immigration stances and emphasis on security, the right has taken fairly conciliatory stances on practical aspects of Islamic religion in Europe. Center-right parties seized the opportunity after September 11, 2001 to promote simple religious equality, increasing the number and oversight of mosques, chaplains, imams, and so on. Shortly after Sarkozy was named French interior minister in 2002, he told an interviewer,

We are not going to resolve the problem of young people in the banlieues just by giving them soccer fields and youth centers….The banlieues, like any other cities, need inspirational places where people gather and respect one another, where the values of life and hope are defended. A synagogue, a temple, a church, or a mosque can fulfill this function.

Across Europe, intensive negotiations over the composition of Islam councils to oversee the religion’s adaptation to local situations required wheeling and dealing with religious community leaders. In country after country, the left teed up an agreement but didn’t follow through. They all got stuck on the same question, which accompanied any serious attempt to grant Islam institutional status in state-church relations: who was willing to sign a deal with self-described “moderate” Islamists? In France, Socialist governments in the early and late 1990s led to tentative consultations, but it was the center-right government that elicited a deal to constitute the French Council for the Muslim Faith. In Italy, the center-left government tasked the interior ministry with creating an Islamic council in 1998, but it was the Christian Democratic interior minister who clinched the deal for the Consulta Islamica in 2004. Similarly, the German Greens had been readying the country for the concept of “German Muslims” for years and helped pass a new citizenship law in 1999. But it was the Christian Democratic interior minister who established the Deutsche Islam Konferenz in 2006.

Some of this has to do with timing: the center right was in power during the critical years following 9/11. But this was also likely done in hopes of bringing out the conservative contours in these minorities’ identities.

Center-right parties are feeling the extreme right breathing down their necks, however, and any good will they have built up is quickly dissipating. Elected officials within the French Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), German CDU, and Italian Lega Nord all engage in Islam-bashing to varying degrees, targeting almost all outward expressions of Muslims’ piety. The UMP deputy mayor of Nice stated blankly in July that Islam and democracy were “absolutely incompatible.” In the face of such insults, parties of the left become the default option for all but the most assimilationist Muslim voters. But when Merkel, Sarkozy, and David Cameron declared that multiculturalism was dead, there was no one there to state an alternative vision.

Overlooking Disagreements

The good news for left-wing parties is that migrant minorities don’t seem to care. Even after the Social Democrat grandee Thilo Sarrazin published an incendiary pamphlet, Germany Does Away with Itself, that argued migration was dumbing down the German population, and the party voted to uphold his membership, Turkish Germans told pollsters they would vote 64 percent in favor of Social Democrats, well above the 27 percent the party was polling nationally. Meanwhile, the German government and the United Nations are considering how to prosecute Sarrazin for hate speech.

In matters of foreign policy, center-left and center-right positions toward the Muslim world are both fairly similar. For example, European parties of both left and right unanimously supported the protesters in Taksim Square this June. But the Turkish diaspora in Europe, it should be noted, leans away from the protesters and toward the Turkish government. The small scale Euro-Turkish solidarity protests with Taksim in 2013 paled in comparison to the crowds that thronged the National Assembly in 2011 to protest President Sarkozy’s law criminalizing the denial of Armenian genocide—a law that was passed with the full support of the French Socialist party. On Israel, meanwhile, it is often presumed that the left will be friendlier to the Palestinian cause, but again center-right parties show little difference in substance. The conservative French president Jacques Chirac angrily threatened to leave Israel while visiting East Jerusalem in 1996, scolding Israeli security guards who prevented him from greeting Palestinian passersby and walking freely. Four years later his Socialist rival Lionel Jospin was pelted by rocks and forced to flee under the protection of his bodyguards after a tense debate with Palestinian students at Birzeit University in the West Bank (two days earlier he had declared that Hezbollah was a terrorist movement). At the next opportunity, however, Muslim voters overwhelmingly chose the French Socialist Party.

It would be presumptuous to treat recent immigrants’ current preference for progressive politics as evidence of a coming permanent left majority among the next generations of natural-born citizens.

For the time being, European Muslims have shown themselves willing to overlook their differences with the European left. Whereas Muslims’ interests as religious people lie to the right of center, their interests as socioeconomic actors still tend to be best protected by socialist and social democratic parties. In surveys, self-identified Muslims say foreign policy and religious freedom issues are important, but for most of them they do not appear to be decisive electoral factors. At a moment when identity and cultural issues are becoming more important to the working classes, which are moving away from mainstream social democratic parties to the left and right, it is noteworthy that bread-and-butter concerns like housing, medical services, and education, as well as the fight against racism and discrimination and for immigrant rights, remain more significant to Muslim voters.

The Left and Islam after the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring has further muddied the waters. In the winter of 2011, the UMP French defense minister offered Tunisian president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali help putting down the incipient uprising, while the French prime minister (also UMP) accepted a vacation junket from Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. But ministers from the Socialist Party had a similar record of hearty praise for Ben Ali and good relations with Mubarak. In Italy, the Berlusconi-led government clung to Ben Ali well into the revolution, but the Italian left was no less cozy with him. It was a nominally Socialist Italian government that helped Ben Ali seize office to begin with, seeing in him the embodiment of secular, modern North Africa.

Leftist parties express a desire to right these past wrongs, but like everyone else they are unsure of how to do so. There is a good reason for the schizophrenia: Islamism’s dual position as a language of the oppressed against authoritarianism and as the language of the repressive politico-cultural forces against which the left has defined itself for much of the last century. The unraveling of the Muslim Brotherhood governing experiment in 2013 in Egypt has deepened the confusion.

But as Khaled Chaouki, an Italian-Moroccan dual citizen recently elected to the Italian parliament, put it, the left’s “feelings of guilt outweigh its misgivings.” A major conference of European socialists and North African Islamists was held at the European Parliament in May. The Italian Democratic Party even harbored dreams of federating a “Muslim international” of parties under the Ikhwan (Brotherhood) umbrella, a project that foundered because of internal divisions.

The image of European social democrats encouraging pan-Islamist regional integration is a strange one. The Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP) has had observer status in the European Parliament’s conservative caucus since 2005, and Tunisia’s Ennahda party, which models itself after AKP, would also seem to be a natural ally of Europe’s center-right mass parties historically aligned with Christian democracy.

How can the left support the party of headscarves abroad and combat their allies at home? And how much longer can a minority population that votes for Islamist parties in Muslim-majority countries prefer social democratic parties in Europe? In 2012 86 percent of Muslim voters in France supported Socialist candidate François Hollande—in no small part because they were repelled by Sarkozy. The diaspora of Turks and Tunisians in Europe, however, is more conservative than the domestic electorates in Turkey and Tunisia. The AKP received 49.5 percent of the vote in Turkey but was the choice of 60 percent of Turks who voted at foreign polling stations in 2011. Half of the Tunisian diaspora’s representatives in Europe in 2011 came from the Ennahda party, compared to 41 percent in Tunisia proper. It would be presumptuous to treat recent immigrants’ current preference for progressive politics as evidence of a coming permanent left majority among the next generations of natural-born citizens.

Averting Further Fragmentation

As right-wing rhetoric about Islam becomes increasingly toxic, there is political space on the left for a more robust and liberal defense of Muslims’ religious rights. With demographic projections showing continued growth of the Muslim population in Western Europe before leveling off at 25 to 30 million people (or 7–8 percent of the population) in 2030, political parties have no choice but to look upon Muslim voters as Benjamin Disraeli was said to view the nineteenth century working classes: like angels imprisoned in a block of marble. If Muslims’ religious identity isn’t welcome on the left, then Muslims for whom practicing Islam is an important part of their lives will try to carve out a tolerant space elsewhere—whether by retreating from broader European societies or forming new identity-based parties.

If left-wing parties want to appeal to this electorate over the long term, it is crucial they discover the meaning of state neutrality in the complex institutional settings of European nation-states. The Princeton philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah recently wrote that countering extremism requires “an alliance of those of all faiths and none who can live with and tolerate cultural difference against those, wherever they live and whatever their religion, who cannot.” This basic plaidoyer to get on the right side of that battle for toleration is still necessary, and still too uncommon. Paradoxically, in order to keep religion out of politics and to overcome the boundaries of Muslim community, the left needs to take an active, engaged role in shaping the contours of this minority’s religious interactions with state and society.

Timothy Garton Ash’s “liberal pentagram” (inclusion, clarity, consistency, firmness, and liberality) provides the kind of ambitious but critical policy framework needed to encourage different faith communities to arrive at the same indispensable conclusion: the law of the land is the law. This cannot happen unless the institutions that deal with religion engage with Muslim religious organizations and leadership—including the least progressive groups—to create analogous ties to those the state already maintains with all other major faith communities.

This will require acknowledging that long-term progressive goals may supersede short-term progressive values: a headscarf ban in public school classrooms might seem like great political theory to some, but what if the parents of girls most in need of “integration” simply send them to segregated schools as a result? And if gender-segregated swimming hours at the local municipal pool are generally granted to women who want to swim alone, what business is it of the state whether they do that for “feminist” or “Islamist” reasons?


Rather than defending liberal order, left parties have become so worried about losing votes that they feel compelled to cater to populist temptations about Islam and immigration more generally. Even British Labour leader Ed Miliband recently returned to the old saw that “migrant workers” are an inherent threat: “It’s not prejudiced when people worry about immigration. It’s understandable. And we were wrong in the past when we dismissed people’s concerns.” However concerned politicians may be about losing the Muslim vote, they are more worried about the potential wrath of anti-Muslim voters in their own ranks. This may be the reason parties on the left have tried hard to emphasize non-religious collective identities. But when the left “bets against God,” as the Italian intellectual Giancarlo Bosetti has put it, it simplifies everything as a battle for power between the secular state and religious authorities—and forgoes potential alliances with faith communities that share common moral, economic, and social ground.

Without the basic integration of Muslim religious communities into existing state-religion structures, the religion issue will remain a grievance that unites this minority in feeling Muslim—regardless of how religious they are otherwise—in response to the hysteria over halal, hijabs, minarets, and niqabs. If the parties of the left don’t want to lose voters to new religious formations, they must create the conditions for people of faith to feel more comfortable in national institutions. There is room for more complex answers than those offered so far.


Jonathan Laurence is associate professor of political science at Boston College and non-resident senior fellow at the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution. He is the author ofThe Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims (Princeton 2012).