Europe: Building Bridges between West European and Muslim Communities

The changing face and faces of Western Europe

Since September 11, 2001, Europe’s major cities have been experiencing growing violence as a result of the rising tensions between majority populations and Muslim citizens.  Increasing levels of alienation, recruitment into radical sects of Islam and the backdrop of international terrorism suggest that the 2004 assassination of the well-known and controversial Dutch film director, Theo van Gogh, and the 2005 riots in Sevran, France foreshadow ethnic tensions to come. To prevent future violence, Europe’s problems between its majority and minority groups must be addressed.

Assessing the problem, finding solutions

In light of this growing potential for violence in Europe, in December 2006, ICfC President Hillel Levine led a workshop with aldermen of some of the 15 boroughs and other municipal officials in Amsterdam to assess the situation and see what might be done.  The Mayor’s Advisor for Diversity worked with ICfC to develop training programs for elected and administrative officials from other large cities across Western Europe. The training programs seek to develop conflict resolution and conciliation skills useful in municipal communities divided by identity conflict, and to establish better communication, cooperation and implementation of diversity and integration across Europe.

An innovative, broad approach

A team of ICfC trainers traveled to Amsterdam in June 2007 to conduct two intensive workshops.

The first workshop focused specifically on problems in Amsterdam. Its participants were selected from the Amsterdam municipal government and boroughs. This workshop focused on practical skills necessary for long-term community dialogues, utilization of historical memory in the process of overcoming alienation and exclusion, work with young.immigrant populations of the second or third generation, and strategies to prevent radicalization and clashes between the groups of young Muslims and groups of extreme right youths.

The second workshop was held for the top experts from municipal governments from various large Western European cities, whose work is related to integration of immigrants and other minorities of non-European origin. These experts participated in collaborative sessions to identify the approaches and to practice the skills with the aims of strengthening social cohesion of communities and bridging cognitive gaps between diverse communities. Acknowledgment, empathy and understanding were emphasized as design strategies for the inclusion and encouragement of social, cultural and economic development within immigrant communities. This workshop fostered efficient cooperation between cities with similar programs and approaches to developing new initiatives, allowing each city to learn and utilize experiences from the others.

Following this training, the trainees are encouraged to participate in the framework we are establishing for effectively collaborating between the cities of Europe to address the causes of these identity-based conflicts.   In the next stages, ICfC will expand this framework, bringing in experts from Central and Eastern European cities, where immigration is becoming an increasingly urgent issue, following the inclusion of ten new member states into the European Union. Helping officials become all the more effective through deeper understanding of the interpersonal and intercultural dynamics will generate empathy on all sides of the conflict and create a better environment in which to resolve the abiding problems of disputed interests. It will contribute to the centripetal and harmonizing forces of European unification and prevent the ever present dangers of reactionary and xenophobic nationalism that often emerges when people feel threatened in their identities and their values.

Copyright 2014, International Center for Conciliation. (c) All Rights Reserved.