Vienna Forum : "Europe must assume its historic status as a melting pot and turn the Muslim presence into an opportunity for dialogue" (Bakary Sambe) Spécial

On October 24, the 2023 edition of the Vienna Forum opened on the theme of "Countering Segregation and Extremism in the Context of Integration", with the participation of officials and experts from all over Europe. This year's event saw the participation of such prominent figures as Davor Božinović, Croatia's Minister of the Interior, Kaare Dybvad Bek, Denmark's Minister of Immigration and Integration, and Ana Catarina Mendes, Portugal's Minister of Parliamentary Affairs. Opening the proceedings, Susanne Raab, Austria's Minister for Women, Family, Integration and the Media, stressed the need for synergy between the various players. In the presence of Bart Somers, Vice-Minister-President of the Flemish Government in Belgium, Sofia Voultepsi, Vice-Minister for Migration and Asylum in Greece, and Etienne Apaire, Secretary General of France's Comité interministériel de prévention de la délinquance et de la radicalisation (Interministerial Committee for the Prevention of Delinquency and Radicalization), discussions revolved around the experiences of different countries in managing religious issues, as well as policies put in place to integrate religious minorities, particularly Muslims.

This edition welcomed the eminent Senegalese academic and expert, founder of the Observatoire des Radicalismes et conflits religieux en Afrique and Director of the Timbuktu Institute - African Center for Peace Studies, Dr. Bakary Sambe. He was invited by the Austrian government to take part in this annual event at the suggestion of Her Excellency Ursula Fahringer, Austrian Ambassador to Senegal, as part of the promotion of exchanges between her country and Senegal.

In his weekly column on Medi1TV devoted to the event this week, he answers journalist Pape Cheikh Diouf's questions on the stakes of his participation as an African expert, and the lessons to be learned from the Vienna Forum.

Dr. Bakary Sambe, you have just taken part in the Vienna Forum organized by the Federal Chancellery of the Austrian government on the theme of "Segregation and violent extremism in a context of integration". What was the significance of such a theme in the current European context?

The focus was on the challenges of conflict prevention, especially in the wake of recent riots and terrorist attacks in many European countries, where the main perpetrators were more often minors of immigrant origin born in Europe. It was also necessary to reflect on possible strategies to meet the challenge of managing personal freedom of religion and expression, and scientific and academic freedom, in the face of the emergence of extremist ideologies. Numerous ministers from Croatia, Denmark and Portugal took part. Opening the proceedings, Susanne Raab, Austrian Minister for Women, Family, Integration and the Media, stressed the need for synergy between the various players. It had to be clearly emphasized that Islam in its teachings is not the source of radicalization and extremism, but rather "the manipulation of religious symbols for political, ideological or other motives".

As an African expert, founder of the Observatoire des radicalismes et conflits religieux en Afrique since 2012. What contribution could you make to such a meeting taking place in Europe, especially in terms of cross-analysis with European experts?

I was able to exchange views with many European leaders, such as Lisa Fellhofer, Director of the Austrian Documentation Centre on Political Islam, Kenneth Schmidt-Hansen, Director of the Danish Centre for Documentation and Counter-Extremism, and Paul Doran, the UK's FCDO counter-terrorism advisor. But it was important for me to draw attention to certain forms of religiously-motivated extremism that have not yet been the subject of in-depth, dispassionate research to support the fight against the discrimination and racism that generate frustration and radicalization in certain European countries and beyond. As you know, politicians in Europe very often deal with this issue through the prism of migration. Through the crucial question of migration and the progressive transnationality of religious actors taking advantage of increased mobility, we were able to examine, in the framework of a contradictory debate, the trends of radicalization in Africa and the way in which it should be analyzed in a global manner and above all by taking into account the new stakes in relations between Europe and the African continent.

Dr. Bakary Sambe, this Forum was held in a rather unhealthy climate in Europe, with current events in the Middle East and the perception that Islam is essentially radical. Didn't this weigh too heavily on the discussions, and what was your position as an African Muslim as well as an international expert who had been invited by the Austrian authorities?

The climate was difficult, but we had to remind our European interlocutors that on the question of the Middle East, Africa could help to dispassionate the current crisis. Africa has not had the same relationship with Israel, and some African countries are strongly committed to a just and lasting solution, such as Morocco, with the call for a "global alliance" launched by King Mohammed VI, who chairs the Al-Quds Committee, and Senegal, which has headed the UN Committee for the Defense of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People since 1975. It's time to give a chance to the dialogue camp, stifled in recent decades by extremists on both sides. As far as the perception of Islam in Europe is concerned, I feel very strongly about this, and I said so in Vienna: Europe should increasingly take on board the fact that Islam is now part of its landscape, and that Muslim minorities in various countries are European citizens in their own right. And I believe that it would be more profitable for European countries to consider these communities as an opportunity for dialogue in an old continent that needs to assume its historic status as a melting pot of civilizations, far from the essentialist vision that will only suit extremists on all sides.