Europe's "Judeo-Christian heritage" – The Fiction That It Always Was
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Monday August 13 2012
|Stefan Schreiner, Professor of Religious Studies and Jewish Studies at Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen, Germany, contributes an article to Qantara unearthing the Islamic influence on Europe, and the fiction peddled by far right social movements on the ‘Judeo-Christian’ roots of European civilization.
“Whenever discussions centre on how Europe perceives itself and in particular on the continent’s values, it is still commonplace – today apparently even more so than in the past – to speak of a “Christian” Europe, or at least to make reference to its Christian roots and to emphasise the Christian character that these roots have produced. But political correctness forbids the exclusive interpretation of the word “Christian” in this context, and particularly well-meaning commentators are quick to define it instead as a Judeo-Christian tradition or Europe’s Judeo-Christian heritage, which does little to improve matters.
“On the contrary – upon closer inspection, this reference to Europe’s Judeo-Christian tradition or its Judeo-Christian heritage is revealed all too smartly as a transparent manoeuvre. After all, those who most vociferously reclaim a Judeo-Christian tradition for Europe generally do this with the sole aim of saying that Islam does not per definitionem belong to the continent.
“A perusal of the history books reveals that a Judeo-Christian Europe is, historically speaking, a fiction. It is simply not plausible to speak of a European Judeo-Christian tradition: since the seventh century, church councils have repeatedly declared Jews living in “Christian Europe” to be persona non grata and therefore (no longer) tolerated. Jews have as a result been expelled from many, mostly western European countries since the Middle Ages.
“Christian Europe defined itself against the Jews right from the outset. In so doing, it continued to pursue a strategy of segregating and excluding followers of Judaism, a concept that was theologically outlined in the New Testament and early Christian manuscripts and was then translated into applicable law in the form of the Codex Theodosianus (from the year 438) and the Codex Justinianus (from the year 529). These enactments, which form the basis of all laws affecting Jews throughout European legal history, in turn gave shape to the historical events experienced by Jews in Europe.
“The fact remains, however, that Europe, and contemporary Europe in particular, does not have Christian heritage alone to thank for its character. Alongside the ancient Greek-Roman legacy – one largely conveyed by Jews, Arabs and Muslims – it has been just as clearly and enduringly influenced and shaped by Islamic civilisation both in the past and to this day. Moreover, in several European nations (in addition to Russia, primarily Lithuania and Poland and the south-western Balkans), Muslims (as well as Jews) have not only been present for centuries, they are also part of the history of these countries and are stakeholders in these nations’ societies.
“Muslims in Lithuania celebrated their 600th birthday in 1997, or in other words the 600th anniversary of the granting of a charter of privileges by the Grand Duke Vytautas-Witołd, which not only guaranteed them the right to live and work in Lithuania, but also gave them official permission usque ad infinitum to live as Muslims there alongside other religious communities. To this day they have remained Sunni Muslims (of the Hanafi school).
“In similar fashion, the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina celebrated their 600th birthday on 28 July 2007, thereby underlining that fact that not only have they been present in Europe for centuries, but that they are also part of Bosnian society and participants in the history of this nation.
“This should be emphasised not only to those who continue to peddle the fiction of a “Christian” or at least “Judeo-Christian” Europe, in order to exclude Muslims from it per definitionem, but also to those who regard Islam by its very nature as fundamentally incompatible with the notion and the values of Europe and instead cling to the old perception of Islam as the bogeyman, an image that has of course taken on a new guise in recent times.
“Just as Europe has essentially been shaped and deeply etched in its past by the reciprocal influence and productive contention between the three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions – even the displacement of Jews and Muslims did not spell the end of this Jewish and Islamic influence – so the shaping of Europe’s future is to no less an extent dependent on the coexistence of the three Abrahamic religions.”