A clash of civilisations or an expression of hatred?

Fr Cezary Chwilczynski talks to Jas Gawronski, Italian Member of the European Parliament.

Fr Cezary Chwilczynski: - Mr Gawronski, there was a wave of protests against the publications of the Muhammad's caricatures in the European press. Is that what we observed a clash of civilisations and viewpoints or an expression of hatred for the West in Arab countries?

Jas Gawronski: - I think that if there is hatred for the West, for the Western civilisation, it is only evident in certain Muslim groups, but surely, not in the majority of Muslim environments. There are many people who used certain Muslims' frustrations for political and strategic purposes in order to intensify the tension. This is politics with a definite aim. It seems that this is not a confrontation between two religions but a political clash, which refers to all that happens between the West and the world of Islam. Surely, the issue of world terrorism plays the key role here. I think that the publications of those drawings were unnecessary because they provided further arguments to the people who generate certain moods. Recently, the Iranian press has published drawings that ridiculed Christianity. It was provocative; maybe they expected the same fanatic protests for our part. But we can see clearly the difference between civilisations. For us religion is a way of life, an ideal, and for Muslims it is a political system, which touches their daily lives.

- Let us recall the situations that occurred in Damascus, Beirut, Teheran or the event of 5 February 2006 when in Turkey a Catholic priest was murdered by a Muslim fanatic. Why does Europe react so weakly to such provocations?

- I think that these are not bad reactions. I would not like people to react too strongly because we would get closer to the way fanatics react. Our reactions should be critical but cannot be fanatic. We should use political means in such institutions as the European Parliament. We should unite all forces and show the world that we are united in one way of action.

- Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council 'Iustitia et Pax', called to work out a geopolitical strategy concerning the world of Islam. Do you think that the European institutions need to work out such a strategy towards Islam, which is more and more present on the European continent?

- It seems that nowadays the right strategy is to wait till the tensions in the Arab countries are over. In the last weeks the people who wanted to arouse controversies won over public opinion. I think that these emotions will be slowly suppressed and many leaders will realise that this is not the right way. Naturally, Europe should work out a common strategy of actions aiming at preventing similar situations.

- You are a Member of the European Parliament, representing the Republic of Italy, and it was Italy that faced the event: one of the Muslim representatives appealed against the decision of placing crosses in schools. In his action at law he literally claimed that a dead body on a cross frightened his children. Today crosses are removed from schools in Europe and it is likely that there will be demands to remove crosses from church spires. Does this political correctness in Europe, most visibly implemented in France, not cause the loss of identity of our continent, which has been built on the system of Christian values?

- I have no doubts that this is exactly what happens here. These are very sad phenomena. Christianity is the basis for life, development, tradition and history. We observed these expressions of Europe's crisis for example in the attempts to indicate Christian roots in the European constitution. Unfortunately, those who did not want that mention won. It does not mean that we are aiming at atheism but it seems that people think more and more that we should forget about our traditions and history and live for present moment. Furthermore, today religion seems to be not as important as it used to be, and nowadays Christianity is not changing the world and is not a factor that is influencing our continent. Many people want to manifest this, for example by removing crosses from public buildings.

- This means a great crisis of our continent since if Europe is not built on Christian values, if people are not reminded of Christian values, as some liberal and anti-Christian politicians want, what system should Europe be built on? Europe is facing such a problem in the context of increasing influences of Islam.

- Yes, this is a fundamental question. In the European Parliament there are members who argue that Christian values remain but we should not call them Christian. Today we can see what this leads to: relationships of people of the same sex, children's adoptions by homosexual couples, euthanasia. Today we can see something that radically changes the concepts of fundamental values, which includes family. These are far-reaching changes.

- The last question concerns the elections in the Palestine National Authority, which were won by Hamas, radical group, even having terrorist background. How should Europe react towards such a party? Russian President invites the leaders of this party for a meeting in Moscow, the French Foreign Affairs Ministry agrees with this, and how should the European Union and the European Commission react towards the new situation in the Near East?

- These are the wrong aspects of democracy, which is not an ideal system. When free elections were won by such a political power as Hamas, i.e. party that is very close to terrorism, we should take this result into consideration and we should not neglect it. However, we should hope that revolutionary, terrorist movements, which assume democratic authority, could change with time and become more institutional. Therefore, we should work on their legitimatization and institutionalization. They must understand that if one assumes authority one should follow different forms of actions than being in the underground.

- Thank you very much for the conversation.

"Niedziela" 11/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl