Lord Patten Interview (2006): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Europe and the World: Conversation with The Right Honorable Lord Patten of Barnes, CH; Chancellor, Oxford University, former European Union Commissioner for External Affairs; January 30, 2006, by Harry Kreisler

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Europe and the Islamic World

Let's take a problem that the EU confronts that transcends both foreign policy and domestic policy. What I have in mind here is the West's relationship with the Muslim world, because on the one hand, it's a problem for Europe of dealing with states, of dealing with that whole region of instability, but on the other hand, it's a problem of dealing with Muslim immigrants to different states especially in Europe and having to defer to what are essentially the national policies for successfully, or unsuccessfully, integrating Muslims. Talk a little about that. These two processes are obviously separate, but is there a way that we can think about them as one and learn from the two experiences?

It's quite difficult to persuade Muslim communities within European countries that they are not an alien part of our societies but an integral part, if they feel that there is an inherent hostility towards the Islamic community outside the European Union. It's why I said earlier [that] the Turkish membership is such an important one in the future. We do need to remember in the European Union that linkage, just as we need to remember that when we talk about the Islamic world we're not just talking about the Middle East. Three-quarters of Muslims live in Asia and many reside in working, functioning democracies. So, we have to avoid type-casting Muslims, assuming that there is some inherent hostility between Islamic culture and democracy, and the rule of law, and human rights, for example.

There are different models, as you said, for dealing with minority communities in the European Union. The French take a very different approach to the one we take in Britain. The French view is that when you arrive in France, whatever your background, you're a French citizen and you have to behave like a French citizen. We take a rather more nuanced view and think that there is strength in diversity. One, of course, recognizes people's responsibilities as British citizens, but they're British citizens with their own sense of loyalty to their culture and their traditions.

Which is the right approach? I'll just say two things. First of all, I don't think that you can read very much from the riots in France, in November, which seemed to me to be as much about unemployment as about attitudes to culture. Secondly, what should be true of all of us in Europe is that we should insist that whatever people's religious views or cultural background, they recognize that it's tolerance that has managed to hold our communities together. The one thing we should be absolutely adamant about is not allowing some to argue that intolerance is an inherent part of their culture and tradition, and that they can practice it in our own communities. That is simply unacceptable.

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