The EU’s Foreign Policy Chief, Federica Mogherini, has defended the rights of religious actors to have their voices heard in political debates. Replying to a Written Question from a Member of the European Parliament, Ms Mogherini referred to Europe’s “dark years, when one could be deprived of one’s political rights because of faith.”
The Written Question by French MEP Jean-Luc Schaffhauser was in the context of public remarks made earlier this year by Mogherini, whose official title is High Representative for EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, at a conference on Political Islam in Europe where she claimed: “Islam holds a place in our Western societies. Islam belongs in Europe. It holds a place in Europe’s history, in our culture, in our food and – what matters most – in Europe’s present and future. Like it or not, this is the reality.”
Mogherini, who is also a Vice President of the European Commission was asked by the MEP if she stood by her comments following the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels carried out by Islamic State (ISIS). In reply, she stated: “Terrorism must not be an excuse for discrimination against European Muslims — or any other group.” and went on to say that “A European citizen of Muslim faith has exactly the same right as any other citizen to contribute to the public debate.”
While it is true that the vast majority of Muslims living in the EU are not terrorists, Ms Mogherini is somewhat naive in playing down the link between Islam and terrorism. It is clear that militant Islamists can find “justification” for their terrorist acts in the more violent Koranic texts which encourage discrimination towards “infidels”, and are openly interpreted that way by Islamic scholars, in ways that would be impossible for Christians or Jews based on Bible or Torah texts and teachings.
Leaving this aside, it could at least be welcomed that a Vice President of the European Commission has defended on the record the right of religious persons to engage in public debate based on their beliefs. This goes against the current trend in European countries to try to exclude religious expression from the public sphere on the spurious grounds of some common European ‘value’ of secularism, interpreted as an extremist separation of church and state or religion and politics.
Given that Ms Mogherini’s reply was “on behalf of the Commission”, it is to be hoped that this EU Institution will recall in future discussions her plea for “democrats with a religious background” to be listened to in the interest of promoting “inclusive societies, democracy and human rights.”