The French sociologist Alain Touraine recently chaired a Council of Europe session on Islamophobia. He was awarded the Prince of Asturias prize for his work in communication and humanities this year, Briton Zygmunt Bauman as well. Alain Touraine is the author of 40 books. He describes the evolution of the post-industrial era, shedding light on our world of today.
Cecilia Cacciotto, euronews: If we say Islam and Muslim today, it’s automatically taken to mean terrorism and terrorists.
Alain Touraine: Let’s not exaggerate, there is a tendency for that, simply because terrorism gets in the headlines. The slightest attack, even an individual suicide bomber, goes into print in the papers.
euronews: So it’s the media’s fault?
Alain Touraine: No, no. It’s just that extreme situations are always the most visible.
euronews: We can say that religion is perceived as a kind of alarm signal; I’m thinking of the Swiss referendum on minarets, and the debate over the burqa in France.
Alain Touraine: Well, I don’t agree, because the vast majority of Muslims living in France — five or six million, which is after all an enormous population — have nothing to do with that. It might gather momentum, the burqa, but at the moment it’s rather the niqab than the burqa: let’s say two or three thousand people. That’s already a lot because there didn’t used to be ANY. But between, say, two or three thousand and half the six million — three million — that’s an enormous difference. In Europe we live according to a separation of economics, politics and religion. When you say Islam, it presupposes that all that is lumped together, like Huntingdon in his Clash of Civilisations. No. There is not an ensemble which is Islam and one which is Christianity. Let’s set this direct aspect of religions aside.
euronews: Are we in a period of social catastrophe?
Alain Touraine: Listen, I’ll answer ‘no’ to that straight off, for two reasons. One: there is no worldwide catastrophe. The world is progressing and it is growing. Africa is growing a great deal.
euronews: I mean values…
Alain Touraine: That is rather vague. Let’s say that economically the world is improving — except in Europe. Even the Americans pulled themselves up after the financial crisis. Europe, however, in 2010, first of all with Greece, maybe other countries next, shows that it’s not capable of managing and getting on top of problems. So watch out: there is no worldwide catastrophe. If there is a catastrophe it would be European. That is more precise. And then, the European Union is, after all, a small power, almost non-existant, while the United States embodies power, and so do China and India. That, I’d say, is the first thing. Secondly, what shows that there isn’t a catastrophe is that in 2009 the European countries were able to use their reserves and give a lot of money to avoid weakening their standard of living. In 2009, for instance in France, and in most European countries, there was very weak growth — but not a catastrophe. It’s looking like 2010 is going to be worse.
euronews: Getting back to religion: The European Court of Human Rights is working on a decision about crucifixes in schools in Italy. What does the crucifix mean to you?
Alain Touraine: Well, lots of more or less moderate or conservative Italians say the cross is a national symbol… that’s completely grotesque. The crucifix is not a national symbol.
euronews: It’s part of our tradition — Italian tradition.
Alain Touraine: It’s part of French tradition, German tradition, English — if you put it that way. Italians don’t own Christianity. They’ve got the pope. Keep him — that’s all very well, we don’t, and so much the better. But if you’re asking what the crucifix is to me: I’m a true secular Frenchman, and I think that the separation of Church and state is fundamental to solving problems today. The crucifix, however, represents the grip that the Catholic Church holds over Italians’ public life.
euronews: Turkey joining the European Union: According to some analysts, what’s stopping Turkey joining is that Turkey is a country with a majority Muslim population. Is that your opinion?
Alain Touraine: As far as I know, the principle of Turkish entry into the EU passed a vote in Europe, so for the moment we’re just keeping Turkey waiting. It mustn’t be said that it has been rejected. Most of the countries are in favour. Those that are hostile to it are France and Germany, especially France, for reasons personal to the president of the Republic, his party, and so on. I personally, since you’re asking, am one of the strongest partisans FOR Turkey’s entry. Why? Because I believe that the big problem for European today is relations with the Muslim world. The Americans came into contact with the Muslim world through the Arab countries — countries which had been colonised by the Europeans and who were therefore hostile, and never had a strong statehood, so they harbour cultural and political hostility. Turkey has never been colonised. It colonised many others but was never colonised itself. And Turkey has always been strong as a country — even modern, what with Kemal Ataturk and all that. So I think that Europe would really exist at the world level if it could prove it was capable of building a bridge between a part of the West and a part of the Muslim world, whereas the Americans got themselves stuck in a shameful war.