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Islam’s Impact on the West’s Identity

What role, if any, did Islam play in shaping Europe’s identity, both in the past and present?

Ahmed Akbar, chair of Islamic Studies at American University and author of the new book Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity, claims that Islam had a largely positive impact on Europe’s identity (including by invoking the Myth of the Andalusian Paradise). Thus, any European suspicion or rejection of Muslim migrants is wholly unwarranted. As Akbar elaborates in a recent article:

To understand what is happening in European politics and society today, it is necessary to understand European identity, which can be interpreted in three distinct categories — primordial identity, predator identity, and pluralist identity.

Primordial identity emphasizes one’s unique culture and traditions, and predator identity indicates the aggressive, even militaristic lengths that people will resort to in order to protect their identity. Predator identity can be triggered due to perceived threats including globalization, unemployment, economic instability, and the greed and failure of elites. Add the presence of immigrants, and a society can move in extreme and bloody directions which challenge the very notion of a modern democracy.

Note that for Akbar, Europe’s “predator identity” is only “triggered due to perceived threats” — as if Islam never posed any real threat.

As is often the case whenever the sophists apologize for Islam and blame Europe, reality is the exact opposite. Both past and present, Islam’s own well documented “predator identity” — which manifested itself in centuries of jihad and atrocities — was and is responsible for the “militaristic lengths that [non-Muslim] people will resort to in order to protect their identity.”

Hence the irony: yes, Europe’s identity is largely a byproduct of Islam — but hardly in the way the apologists claim.

“If we … ask ourselves how and when the modern notion of Europe and the European identity was born,” writes historian Franco Cardini, “we realize the extent to which Islam was a factor (albeit a negative one) in its creation. Repeated Muslim aggression against Europe between the Seventh to Eighth Centuries, then between the Fourteenth and the Eighteenth Centuries … was a ‘violent midwife’ to Europe.”

By way of examples, Cardini cites “Turkish Sultan Mohammed II and Suleiman the Magnificent” — who alone were responsible for the slaughter and enslavement of hundreds of thousands of Europeans, always in the name of jihad. They “forc[ed] the continent to defend itself and to find ways and means of concerted action, encouraged it towards a stronger sense of self — and strong sense of ‘the Other.’”

Similarly, after summarizing centuries of Islamic invasions, Bernard Lewis writes; “Thus, at both its eastern and southwestern extremities, the limits and in a sense even the identity of Europe were established through first the advance, and then the retreat, of Islam.”