Europe’s core values are social fairness, societal peace and freedom, a secular diversion of government and religion, the believe in civil society and the aim for innovation as well as societal and individual development.
We are living in a highly polarized European society these days. It’s right-wing versus left-wing, it’s natives versus migrants, it’s elites versus ordinary people, and so on.
And all of these polarized groups somehow are contributing their argument in the context of culture and values. There are some who want to conserve and others who are eager to develop. Some who want a more open society and others who would like to close the borders and build a fortress Europe. The explanations of culture and values spread widely and it is not too easy to find common ground.
Nevertheless I am convinced that there is something like a common European culture and shared values that are typical for this region of the world. There are values which are shared among English and Cypriots or any other Europeans which are not developed to that extent in other parts of the world.
When you travel a lot – like I do – you will realize soon that the experience of society you have in Beijing or Lagos or New York is different to the one in Paris or Amsterdam or Bucharest. There is a connecting element that’s shared among Europe’s multi-national and multi-ethnical society. Instead of being afraid of losing „our“ culture to Islam, to our muslim citizens or to refugees we should figure out what makes our culture so attractive that all these people from all over the world are eager to come and live in Europe.
To follow tup on hat thought we should first figure out what means „European Culture“. What are its underlying values? And which are the pillars of this successful and (during the last decades almost) peaceful society? What makes Europe such a desirable place to live?
What means Culture?
In an agricultural context „culture“ develops by intervention of man. An example for the opposite is the Amazonas forrest where huge parts remained untouched by mankind. The plants are growing on nature’s conditions. In agricultures the crops are developing on the conditions man is choosing for the plant to grow. This includes the decision where and in which soil the crop is planted, how is nurtured and watered. And so on.
If we put this explanation of „culture“ into a societal context we’ll see that it’s pretty much the same. In an anarchy anybody is supposed to do whatever he likes. In a culture people can act within an accepted framework and ruleset. This makes an important difference! This framework is on the one hand given by the code of law. But on the other hand – not less important for a working society -it’s about the inherent and shared values of a society that define what is accepted and what is not. The defined rules of societal co-existence make what we call societal culture .
During the last couple of years this value-based definition has become more diffuse. Primarily driven by the unprecedented success of social media and its capability to give people a public voice without any journalistic filter. This has impact on the mass-media and its content. To catch up youtube, Facebook or other platforms many established media channels gave up their assignment to promote and prevent certain societal values and standards. Much more they strive to gain market share by providing the audience what it demands. Unfortunately what the audience demands is to a good portion very low quality content. Many features of today’s media landscape would have been unthinkable during my childhood due to lack of journalistic quality. And of course this has an impact what people acknowledge as cultural standard.
Another problem of present media is the ongoing segmentation of media by the target-group-driven providing of content. That means that media are serving those news to the people that show what its audience think anyway. This increases the level of agreement of the audience and means a proper survial-strategy for media companies in a highly fragmented media-landscape. If you don’t want you don’t have to watch an opposing option to your’s anymore on TV. You can choose a channel that totally reflects your views because there are so many of them. But unfortunately this accelerates a further devision of society and manifests polarization.
For our society it is becoming harder to define and to apply culture since diversion and polarization is accelerating and societal consensus is going down.
And societal consensus is one the of the most important pillars of any culture. In an agricultural environment it’s easy to create consensus since the farmer defines what „his“ culture shall look like and he will apply it accordingly. Also in an autocratic society we can imagine how culture might be applied. Horrific historic examples like Mao’s revolution in China or Nazi Germany or the Islamic revolution in Iran draw a clear picture how a certain kind of „culture“ can be enforced and executed.
But in a free and democratic society this becomes much more difficult and complex because people have to believe in their culture and – beside the written law – have to accept and apply the unwritten societal rules. That demands understanding, acceptance and execution on human’s free will and on a broad societal basis.
Understanding that, we can resume that „culture“ in a free society means the way people within an defined territory agree how they want to live together, what is important to them as a group and what is unacceptable. Culture means to agree how they want to treat the people and the environment within and neighboring its territory.
What makes Europe’s Culture special and complicated?
It was a long way for Europe – full of wars, disputes and struggles – to achieve a period of (more or less) peace and flourish during more than 60 years during the 20th century. The experience of World War II was so devastating that most of the Europeans turned to a peaceful mind out of the simple reason that they never wanted to go through this hell again in life.
The best example to illustrate this might be Germany itself. The country and its people transformed from world’s most dangerous, aggressive and worst society until 1945 to an major contributor of peace and high ethical standards and an important pillar of global society for the rest of the 20th century. The major impact of World War II and Germany’s defeat led to an enormous uplift of culture, values and ethics in Europe.
Beside the experience of World War II there and many other cornerstones of 4000 years of history that led to a democratic European society. Some of them should be mentioned: the Westfalian Peace that defined the co-existence of nations as we know it until know; Kant’s „Categoric Imperative“ which lined out the first time that we should treat people the way we want to be treated; the French revolution which teared down to barriers between nobles and ordinary people; Martin Luther and his protestant movement which helped to put the power of catholic church in place and laid the ground for a secular diversion of state and church; and of course the first applications of democracy invented and driven by the ancient Greeks and their philosophical superstar Platon.
All that and much much more contributed that Europe reached a peaceful, democratic and productive culture and society in Europe during good parts of the twentieth century.
But there was another major influencer on how Europe has developed which should be mentioned: The cold war.
Until 1990 Europe was divided into Eastern Europe that was dominated by the influence of socialist Soviet Union and in Western Europe protected and influenced by the United States and NATO. Between those two blocks was literally an iron fence which could not be surpassed. Many of those who tried where killed at the attempted. Primarily by Eastern European guards.
Until close to the collapse of the communistic system in Eastern Europe it wasn’t clear to the West that these socialist societies and the communistic ideology itself – are going to fail and this had an interesting effect on European politics:
While in USA (the other major part of the western hemisphere) capitalism has developed with very low limitations in terms of regulation, social security, etc. Europe has developed in a different way.
With the socialist threat but also its ideology right on its borders and being exposed to the according propaganda of their model of society and its culture, Europe’s capitalism developed in a softer, less aggressive way. All across western Europe social security and welfare programs were developed quickly after the war which provided its population with a security net on the on hand and certain public provided services on the other hand. It took until the end of the 20th century until important markets in Europe like telecommunication, television, mail services and other where opened to private entities and not managed as state-owned monopoly any more.
In this regards Europe had established a economic and societal culture that was capitalistic (of course), but not too much. We called this approach social capitalism. Driven mainly by European social democrats. But also promoted by their opponents the Christian conservatives and intellectually supported by multiple famous philosophers such as Jean Paul Sartre.
But this societal agreement in Europe changed significantly and irreversible the end of the 20th century.
Driven by markets, privatizations and deregulation in many fields Europe has developed a much more US-like capitalism then it used to have 20 years ago. The threats and the attractions of the former communist system were gone and there’s just one believe global societal believe left and this is capitalism. The dynamics of globalization – even the communist Chinese are rolling out major aspects of capitalism within their society and liberalize multiple industry sectors – forced Europe to adopt.
For many of Europe’s citizens who used to live in a „protected“ environment without too much of competition neither on the consumer nor on the labor market this meant to be thrown into a new, unknown and frightening world.
In 1999 I was working for Telekom Austria when it turned from a state owned monopoly into a privatized company in a free market. I still remember the tremendous insecurity among the staff about what might come next. Since I was in the beginning of my twenties back then I didn’t have the experience of growing up in a monopoly were people had to apply for the service. On the other hand many of my colleagues back then had never had to deal with the idea of a „client“. They were dealing with „applicants“. Few of them ever faced market competition before. Because there wasn’t much competition at all. But almost each of them was aware that at least 5.000 people of staff had to be laid off in the near future to stay competitive. You can imagine that this lead to significant insecurities among the staff and all those who were or felt affected.
Until today I consider this insecurity created by the significant change of the economic system within a short period time as a major aspect that defines today’s European consciousness and what makes us feel so afraid and insecure in so many aspects of our lives and in regards of our standing in the world.
We can also identify a correlation in terms of timing of the privatization of state-owned companies in Europe and the uplift of right- and left-wing populism. Only when people started worrying about their jobs, their social security and their future they started to vote for the extremes and re-shaped their mindset against others – primarily foreigners and minorities – who might challenge their needs, opportunities and chances of social uprise.
A good example is comparing the refugee situation in Austria during the Balkan wars in the 1990s when dozens of thousands of Croatian, Slovenian or Serbian refugees were welcomed and hosted peacefully and organized in the neighboring country.
During the last two years Austrians struggle to handle a lower number of people from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan and the needed help for refugees became a serious political matter and good parts of the population opposed helping and demanded closing European and Austrian borders.
The reason for that is not the lack of organizational capacity but the lack of social acceptance to help others in an environment which is considered as highly competitive and where solidarity is getting lost.
In the minds of many Europeans it’s them against others. The recognition is that refugees are coming for their jobs, their money, their welfare, their wives and their future. And since we’ve learned that fortune is not available for all of us, these strangers are going to take their share from our people. Through the leverage of competition in European societies we have learned being competitive on a societal level. And to avoid this competition with foreigners on our home turf we choose not letting them in …
Of course this is in severe disrespect to many international agreements such as the Geneva convention (written law, one pillar of culture) but even worse it’s in disrespect of the unwritten framework of how European people live together. It’s against our core values. Not accepting these refugees means leaving them in threat to die where they came from and no culture can possibly consider this approach as sophisticated and valuable one. Especially not Europe!
Europe and its population still struggle with its lost global status. While Europe once led the world and ruled the planet through its colonies we meanwhile have to acknowledge that we are no more the most important power by far.
The US is the only real super power in the world and is using this leverage strategically. China raised and opened up to unprecedented global influence and will be a dominant force of the future. China’s impact on Africa is no more deniable. India is going to surpass Europe as a market soon and brings millions of highly educated academics into the global labour market. The Arab world has meanwhile bought good parts of world economy with its oil-money and is preparing for the post-oil era. And Africa is developing an emancipated role and will learn to use its richness in commodities and resources in global competition soon.
Despite all that facts many European consider it as hard to treat the rest of the world on eye-level and with the according respect. Still our historically based arrogance and ignorance make us blindfolded what’s really going on in this world and lets Europe stay behind on too many occasions.
Arrogance and Ignorance – or call it Ego and Hybris – are major parts and major threats of European culture and it seems as these attitudes are inherited with our genes. It’s still common sense here that we have developed the highest level of global society which has to be protected from intruders. We consider ourselves as the heirs of Magellan, Columbus or Gaius Julius Caesar and want to protect this heritage and keep it for us Europeans.
But this creates a certain blind spot because we fail to see it was pretty much these intruders from outside who were shaping what we consider European culture today. Examples are the Ottoman influence in south-eastern Europe, the Mauritanian influence in Portugal and Spain or even earlier the Persian influence on ancient Greece.
On too many occasion we fail to see that what we call European culture is a mixture of global influences over centuries, even over millennials. What we – as Europeans – were good at is assembling all those influences and adopting the good into our society, preventing the negative aspects to have bad influence and identifying those which have no impact at all.
A good example for a misleading cultural discussion is the present issue of Burka and Hijab. What women wear (if it’s their free will) has no impact at all on our European society. Neither there is the chance that the Burka will become a major European trend among young women and we’ll see English, Italian, German or Polish girls starting to wear this garment in big numbers. Nevertheless this discussion made it mainstream and is considered by many as an important issue to preserve European culture. It is not! It’s just taking the focus from much more important matters.
On the other hand we continuously ignore much more virulent societal problems which will be lined out in the chapters ahead.
Resuming we can say what makes Europe’s culture so special is its ambivalence: On the one hand Europe developed the most sophisticated democracies in the world with unprecedented wealth and security.
On the other hand we identify an alarming backward trend towards an introverted and frightened society which is much more motivated to preserve than to develop.
What are the major Pillars of Europe’s Culture?
What shaped Europes culture most during the last decades was that it’s nations were capable of feeding its people and securing peace. There was a steady and profound uplift in terms of living and education standards and the chance of social gains was given.
Major contributors to this development were proper developed public health care and social welfare, good public education and high employment rates at growing wages.
The level of wealth, freedom and societal liberty grew continuously and huge numbers of working class children could achieve higher education and better jobs as their predecessors. This led to continuous societal uplift that included a good part of the European people.
An interesting factor in this period is that corporate profits and labor wages almost developed in parallel. The increase of productivity and profitability was shared fair among capital and labor forces.
Unfortunately this has changed dramatically since the 1980s and 1990s and we monitored a rapidly increasing gap between the share of capitalists and the one of workers. Of course this led to the trend that more and more capital was accumulated within the hands of a few.
When we have a look at other – less peaceful – areas of the world we see that many conflicts and (civil) wars were triggered by social inequality. When the gap between rich and poor grows to big and at latest when the poor people start to starve, social peace is gone by definition.
No matter how far you go back in history and wherever you might apply this thesis you’ll find that inequality is always a major driver in any conflict.
Equality is one of the great achievements of European society. We came over the differentiation of nobles and ordinary people. We have passed the idea of religious diversion and will never forget the horrific cruelty committed to Jews in Europe by Nazi-Germany. We came close to eliminate the discrimination based on gender or race. And we have built an economic system which prevented the rich getting too rich and the poor getting too poor. Being obscene rich is still less important in an European’s mind than in a Russian’s, an American’s or an Arab’s. You can feel this when rich European people still have their issues talking about money or showing their wealth too openly.
Equality was – beside fraternity and liberty – one of the key-drivers of French Revolution in 1789 and it still describes perfectly European people’s aim to be „pares“.
This aim became even more established through the development of mass media and its promise that everybody can become successful. The so called American-dream is primarily a mass-media-dream that works on the prediction that all of us will make our way, become happy and successful. Some of us even become rich and stars. Unfortunately this promise didn’t make it to reality and so – in regards to equality – many Europeans (who live a standard unknown to previous generations) feel left out. Many still haven’t figured out that nobody can buy all the things shows on television advertising and developed a deep sentiment of un-satisfaction.
On this sentiment – compared with the hard facts of the mentioned income development – many people in Europe got the impression the societal equality is evaporating and they feel left out. This leads to an ongoing polarization of society and a strengthening of the political extremes.
Equality is a paradox. To a certain extent it is mandatory to keep a society peaceful and working. On the other hand it’s against human nature. The failure of communistic systems all around the world is primarily based on the fact that humans don’t want to be equal. They want a bigger house than their neighbor, a higher salary than their colleague or a bigger car than their relative. They want better education for their children than their cousin and more wealth than their friends. People strive to be unequal and to surpass their surrounding. This fact is the reason why capitalism is working so perfectly.
But on the other hand if inequality becomes too much the concept of surpassing turns around and bites your back. Because people around are becoming jealous and you can’t enjoy your achievements because social conflicts arise.
In regards to European culture this means that we have to be careful how to balance equality in our society.
Of course we want to have competitive citizens who strive for the better and for their personal oncoming. I want to outline that I am a fan of selfishness (in a context Ayn Rand explained it) and I do not believe in any kind of collectivism at all! But we have to create an environment – call it framework or even culture – where the diversion of people is not becoming too big since this will lead to social friction and lack of peace.
Freedom and Societal Peace is another major pillar of Europe’s culture. Paid with the blood and tears of our ancients for individual freedom and societal peace. These are major societal pillars which represent the ideals of democracy and a free world to us and therefore they are at the very core of our European values.
Of course this two aspects are somehow diametrical since many would argue that freedom and peace is a trade off.
Take the discussion that found its beginning with 9/11 about more security to prevent terror and therefore accept to deny some personal freedom. Did the world really become a safer place through the installation of myriads of video-cameras around the world or the upscaling of airport-security? I don’t think so. But nevertheless we can understand that in public discussion freedom and societal peace are frequently presented as a trade-off.
Freedom and societal peace are the main motivation for people from other parts of the world (not just refugees) to move to Europe and settle here. In many parts of the world either one or both of these cultural aspects or either underdeveloped or not even existing. Europe is still one of the few places world wide where you can have both – freedom and societal peace – at a very high level.
But unfortunately this societal peace is under threat and an increasing number of public incidents – like the ones in Athens or Paris where huge groups of people felt left out and took their anger violently the streets – and a growing societal dissatisfaction among many so far moderate citizens is endangering our societal peace on the cost of freedom.
What does societal peace on cost of freedom mean? In a society where more societal frictions happen – such as terror-attacks, violent demonstrations, organized crime – the more the state is asked to keep societal peace by active measures. Most of these measures – such as more police and controls, less citizen rights to demonstrate, stop and frisk, wire tapping, etc – decrease the level of individual freedom because of the public intervention into private life.
Again we face a paradox that just can be solved with societal consensus. In an ideal world people would agree not to harm each other and therefore we would have no reason to protect our citizens. Unfortunately this is utopia and so we have to apply certain measures to ensure the safety of European population.
And just like it is when we discuss the balance of equality it is with the aspect of freedom and societal peace in Europe. It’s all about balance and preventing the inherent downsides from happening.
Many philosophers from Aristoteles to Bertrand Russel stressed and discussed the matter but unfortunately still too few politicians are capable to apply all the scientific knowledge to operate this properly. Especially during the last couple of years Europe’s population is trading a good part of the freedom they have gained over decades for a portion of presumed safety.
The fear of people who cheat tax-authorities made us share our data globally, the fear of terrorism let us accept being scanned naked and intensively touched and interrogated when entering an airplane, the fear of robbery and attacks has made our cities fully covered by cameras which follow any of our movements. Many other examples of this trade-off could be named but it’s hard to find the success of all these measures.
It’s like traveling to a country where you’ll find the police forces heavily armed. This usually doesn’t give me the impression that I am more safe at this place than in a country where police is just lightly armed. The opposite is the case because I predict there might be a good reason for all these heavy arms. The more security I see the more insecure I feel. Isn’t this the case with you as well?
As a democratic society we have to decide which path we want to take. From my perception history shows that societal peace comes with societal freedom. Statistics show that free democracies are far more likely to avoid war than autocratic regimes.
An aspect that is much more contributing to the stability of societal peace than security measures is that people within a society have the impression to live in an environment that treats them correct and fair. Equality and freedom are important pillars of this perception but in Europe also the idea of social fairness fulfills an important role.
Social Fairness is considered an important pillar of Europe’s culture. It is about the idea of solidarity that can be found all across Europe.
The most prominent example for this approach might be the development of European healthcare and welfare systems. It’s an integral part of our cultural values to take care of the elderly and sick. And we broadened that thinking and established systems that also take care of unemployed, birth giving mothers and other groups of people. By providing good public education to its people, European nations are taking care that all children – also of less privileged families have equal access to education and get fair opportunities in live. The influence of your family-origins shall be limited to a minimum and your personal success shall be solely built on your talent and your engagement. Of course this is an idealized picture but it visualizes the concept.
A major part of a fair society of course is provided by a proper jurisdiction. A country where you can rely on the sovereignty and independence of courts has made a first major step towards fairness.
Also the legislative institutions as well as the executive institutions have an important role to provide to the perception of fairness. A society where one group of people is controlled more by police without a proper reason than another group of people cannot be considered as fair. We can see this to an dramatic extent when it comes to the relations of police and migrants.
Another example is labor-income. There’s no basis that a certain group of people earns more for the same work as another group. We still see this inequality and lack of fairness when it comes to male and female wages in Europe. All these perceptions of societal lack of fairness contribute to a diverted society.
Beside the institutions primarily the unwritten aspects of society are defining what is to be considered fair and unfair. To name some of these unwritten aspects we could think of:
- Is academic education inherited or are young people from less privileged background encouraged to take their chance?
- What is the impact of your parents’ connections on your first job?
- How do we treat people after retirement. Do we keep them integrated in our societies?
- Does your gender, religion or skin-color have impact on your salary on your career opportunities?
When we think of social fairness many other questions like those above will come to our mind and we will recognize that the perception of individual chances and opportunities in life has a huge impact on the perception of social fairness. The worst what people can feel about a society is to be excluded and that they have no chances to gain satisfaction in this world.
The term NINJA-generation (no income, no job, no assets) illustrates this fear of exclusion very well. Also the growing number of European people who are unemployed and living on social welfare is a severe indicator of exclusion. If you ask people of this group if they consider our European society as fair the answer will primarily: No! Especially when unemployment is inherited because also their parents were already unemployed.
As seen during the demonstrations in front of the Greek parliament or during the riots in the suburbs of Paris or on many other occasions the perception of lack of social fairness is one of the most dangerous drivers of societal frictions and violence. I think there is no civil war in history where not a significant lack of social fairness was monitored before.
During the last decades the perception of social fairness in Europe could be established on a broad basis by granting access to education and labor, having a free and safe society, providing a steady increase of living standards to the Europeans and driving our productivity by steady innovation and increase of quality.
The aim for innovation and quality is the motor of European society and its culture. Since Europe itself has neither great territory (such as Russia or USA or China), nor great commodities (such as Saudi Arabia or Nigeria) nor great labor power (such as India or China) it has to strive for intellectual contributions to global society. Europe has a history of education, innovation and high end manufacturing and has made a global reputation on those values and competences.
Despite the fact that many of the innovations Europeans are most proud of happened more than 500 years ago in a short period called the Renaissance – when Gutenberg invented the book-printing, Columbus sailed to America, Kopernikus promoted the heliocentric model and Europe came over black death – with its geniuses Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci or Niccolo Machiavelli, Europe still is driven by its innovative, high-quality-minded brains. Good examples are the German automotive-industry or the unreached Swiss watch-industry or the unparalleled English and Italian shoe-manufacturing or any kind of French luxury goods. These European values for innovation and quality are not just recognized by its citizens but are also appreciated by loyal consumers all around the world.
But innovation and quality didn’t just establish Europe’s strong global brand values but it also helped the society by steadily creating new jobs to grant European people access to labor and wages. Innovation was the main driver of economical development in Europe after World War II and the main supplier of fresh work for a growing European population. Of course some kinds of jobs were diminished by innovation. Some industries disappeared from Europe to places where labor could be purchased cheaper. This is a trend that last for decades if not centuries but nevertheless a continuous improvement of European living standards took place.
Today we are in the situation that innovation and the strive for quality becomes even more important than ever before. At no time in history the challenges were that global and the competition among societies happened to that extent.
An example: While the Chinese were not capable of achieving European technology standards for long they have used the time wisely and have educated thousands and thousands of extremely well-trained engineers. In no regards these Chinese engineers are worse than European engineers and they are striving for success, improvement and recognition aggressively. When I visited Hongkong last year to discuss potentials of big data I was impressed to what extent Asian technicians and quants are meanwhile using artificial intelligence to analyze data. A scientific field that will have huge impact on economic and societal circumstances of the near future.
As Europeans we cannot deny that we find ourselves in a global race for resources and market share. The capacity of this planet is not infinite so our society’s capability to innovate and produce sustaining high-quality solutions defines the way humanity will live in the future.
During the last hundreds of years Europe became used to be at the top of the wealth-pyramid when it comes to its role in global society. But these times are over since long and today it’s much more the question about keeping pace with the other world economies and some of the developing countries which demonstrate significant growth rates over the last years and decades.
If we consider that just India is 2,5 times the population of Europe and that this country is improving economy year for year at an incredible pace we might imagine the global context of the near future in which Europe has to act.
In some of the following chapters I am going to elaborate ideas how innovation and the ongoing strive for high quality in Europe can be further developed and strengthened.
A major political innovation that took place in Europe a while ago was the clear secular separation of religion and state. In some European countries this happened earlier and in some later. But no matter where you look in Europe today you won’t find any government driven by any church’s demands.
A secular diversion of government and religion is an important pillar of any working society. Why? Because (and this may sound to many ridiculous) the rules of God cannot be applied one to one on society. The huge cultural frictions we are presently monitoring with those who still believe Sharia might be a proper approach to public law demonstrates this excellently.
The code of law is a permanently developed assembly of rules which shall fit the circumstances of its time. That’s why we have parliaments and law-makers to adopt the code of law to the changing circumstances. If you apply the ruleset that launched centuries ago by a religious group – let’s assume all of them got it initially from god – and this ruleset hasn’t hardly changed since then (because it’s not a law but a paradigm) it might not properly apply to the present.
The second aspect why a clear diversion of state and church is mandatory for a democracy is that most of religious „officials“ are not elected the way democracies demand to have an deciding role on the nations rules and laws.
A situation like in Iran where you have an elected president but also a not-publicly-elected religious leader who can defacto overrule the elected president is not European tradition since long.
The clear separation of state and church is also the only approach to treat all the existing religious groups within a society equally and fair. It will hardly happen that a catholic dominated government treats an Protestant minority at eye level. So the only transparent approach is to ban religion from government.
As I remember during my childhood in Austria it didn’t matter at all what religion somebody was. It just was not an issue back then. Religion raised back on public agenda with the terror attacks of 9/11. Since then the question what religion somebody has became more virulent again because radical Islam and its worst proponents made it into the minds of the western world.
During the last 16 years since 9/11 this impression was strengthened and each terror attack brought the matter of religion back into the center of European interest. The fear of radical Islam cumulated when Europe faced a million Syrian and Afghan refugees fleeing from war at its southern borders. European society became sharply divided about the question to let the (primarily muslim) refugees in or not. An extreme indication that the matter of religion came back to the western hemisphere is the recent ban of citizens of 7 primarily muslim countries to enter the US applied by executive order of President Donald Trump.
Justizia – the ancient greek god of justice – is blindfolded to ensure that in front of her everybody is treated equally. Not recognizing gender, race or religion is a major pillar to achieve that principle. A secular society means an approach to ensure this principle by not giving any religious group or institution influence on government and its decisions.
By applying rules against certain religious groups the US is eroding this secular principle through the back door. Immediate demonstrations by concerned citizens against this ridiculous executive order which took place on US airports and in front of government buildings and US embassies around the world showed how extremely problematic these orders was. The protests were carried out by thousands who demonstrated for the strict „No!“ of western societies of accepting any kind of religion-based governmental rules. As societies we have overcome that since long.
Nevertheless there is a good chance that the US-president has opened Pandora’s box with that action that clearly targeted a religious group and it’s likely to see more of that kind in the future. A certain percentage of western population (fortunately also in the US still not a majority) is supporting such measures and actions.
Another example of the erosion of secular administration we face on the eastern border of Europe, in Turkey.
The current president Erdogan has driven his nation steadily into a direction were the influence of religion and its proponents grew. This effected education, government and social welfare. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk implemented a strictly secular system in Turkey with a clear separation of state und religion and laid the ground for the peaceful transition of the former Ottoman empire to the the Turkey of the presence with all its difficulties.
One of the major difficulties of Turkey is the huge gap of development between the western and the eastern part of Turkey. While the western part with its megacity Istanbul flourished, the eastern part – Anatolia – with its borders to Iran, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan couldn’t keep pace and is still poorly industrially developed. Additionally the question of the Kurds in the region is still not solved and leads to frequent incidents and frictions.
Driven by these circumstances President Erdogan gained massive, democratically legitimized power through the catalyst of the support of millions of Anatolian people. A huge number of them strictly religious muslims who felt left behind in the development of their country and never felt comfortable with the accomplishments of Atatürk and his legacy. These people saw the accomplishments of Turkey in terms of living-standards and industrialization in the region of Istanbul just from far and were hardly benefitting from the economic uplift in any regards. In this climate a coup against President Erdogan carried by western oriented militaries, judges, police-officers and other secular oriented officials failed because of the massive resistance of the people and Erdogan’s broad support within the Turkish population. Especially among the religious muslims. The prime reason for the coup was – as we know it today – that the forces who drove the coup wanted to prevent further influence of Islam on Turkish politics. As laid out the coup failed within a day and President Erdogan could safe his power. The major effect of the coup was that more than 30.000 mostly secular oriented Turkish citizens – many of them used to be high ranking officials – have been arrested yet and the numbers are still growing more than one year after the coup-attempt happened. This massive erosion of manpower led to the effect that all the jobs which were vacant because so many was sent to prison had to be refilled. And naturally they were filled with people who’s ambition to drive a secular administration was significantly lower than their predecessor’s.
For Europe this means that on our western border (across the Atlantic) we face the United States which just has decided to pick religion and origin as an indicator if you are allowed to enter the country. On our eastern border we face Turkey which has left its secular tradition and is also questioning further democratic standards it has established during the 20th century.
Upon such developments also in Europe people are starting to ask if we shall focus again on our Christian origins and roots and apply closer relations of religion and government again. The answer to that is quite simple: Of course not!
There is no fair and equal society with different religious groups that is not secular organized. Only the clear separation of state and religion ensures that all citizens with different religious background are treated equally.
Europe and world made its very significant experience with Nazi-Germany and the genocide of European jews. We all should have learned what can happen if we match religious confession and its impact on the individual’s role and rights in society. The outcome solely can be catastrophic. There’s no example of history where it turned out to be good when religious impact on societies boiled up and became too influential.
A secular administration and a clear separation of state and religion is mandatory and therefore Europe must not make the mistake to mix this up. It’s understandable that in the current wave of radical islamic terror people tend to forget about that and make the Muslims responsible for the bad. But terrorists are criminals who are misusing the massage of religion to drive their own goals. It’s too easy to claim that we wouldn’t have these problems if Islam didn’t exist or had a different nature. Truth is the criminals would find another legitimization for their wrongdoing.
Out of this I consider it as non-sense when certain political parties across Europe claim for a revival of Europe’s Christian culture and prevent „islamization“. I want neither a christianization nor an islamization of Europe taking place. Religion is a private matter and shall not have implications on government at all. Except that government shall ensure that any citizen can live his religion without any restrictions or repressions as long it has no negative impact on others. That’s what I consider a secular society that I would like to live in.
What makes the European Culture adorable?
If we look at the accomplishments of Europe within the major societal questions – such as education, nutrition, healthcare and life expectancy, child mortality, employment, retirement welfare, public safety, public and private infrastructure and many other important achievements – we can say that in global competition for standards of living Europe has a leading position in the world. Hardly anywhere else mankind is living such an elaborated lifestyle as in Europe.
This might give an answer to the question why so many people from around the world strive to make it to Europe to start a better life. For many people in Africa but also in Asia and South America Europe is the ultimate go-to goal. Why? Because these people consider Europe as the place which gives them the best chances, the highest grade of respect and the broadest level of support to achieve their individual goals of success. These people – whom we Europeans call respect less economic-refugees – are striving for Europe because it is the symbol of an elaborated society for them.
We native Europeans we should follow and appreciate this thought of the migrants because they frequently have a much more realistic picture how European culture shall or could be than we have. When you want to learn about European ideals and values listen to those who are leaving their home to go for the chance to live in Europe. And it’s pretty much about what they are lacking in their home countries what they are searching in Europe for. It’s about equality, liberty, safety, social fairness and a clear separation of government and religion. It’s about opportunities to get education and economic success and its a about a judicial system that is neutral and treats people without recognition of gender, race or religion.
That’s what makes Europes culture and values so adorable to many people all around the world. And that’s the reason what also should make us proud and caring about this wonderful continent and its cultural contributions to the world.
As a psychologist working for a municipality in Athens Greece I find our views are very similar I would like your permission to translate your article to the Greek language and post it
I would appreciate. Thank you.