"Islam is part of Europe, not something from outside"

Islam is part of European history and culture, and not something from outside, says the former Portuguese minister.

UMMATIMES - “The glorious history of Europe... I hope this is understandable, and that we can move in a direction that not only has good relations with Islam, but really understands that it is part of European history and culture... in the Balkans, Spain and other parts, and now in many European cities with large populations," Bruno Macaes, who served as European minister in the Portuguese government between 2013 and 2015, told Anadolu Agency on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum.

“So it's not a foreign religion, it's a part of ourselves, and can help restore some diversity, vibrancy to Europe. We need that."

Islam, considered the fastest growing religion in Europe, has been present on the continent since the 8th century. Muslims founded a famous civilization in Spain, and then expanded to the southeast of Europe.

Many areas witnessed mass killings, expulsions and forced expulsions of Muslims but elements of their civilization and culture such as architecture, food, music and language, remained.

Asked about French President Emmanuel Macron's controversial remarks on Islam, Macaes, who is currently a senior adviser at Flint Global, said: "It is not up to politicians to decide whether religion is in crisis or not, it is the fate of every religion."

Last year, Macron accused French Muslims of "separatism", and described Islam as a "religion in crisis". He also defended the blasphemous cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Of rising Islamophobia in Europe, Macaes said "yes, it's a big problem," and "very concerning" because it's not limited to France, pointing to racism and hatred of minorities in countries like Austria.

"In Austria, there is the idea of ​​having laws against political Islam and no one knows very well what political Islam means in practice," he said.

"What worries me is that these are not limited to isolated incidents, but sometimes come from the politicians themselves."

Transatlantic connection

When US President Joe Biden recently paid a visit to Europe, Macaes said US-EU relations are now "much better" than during former President Donald Trump's tenure.

"That's not surprising," he said, adding that they had "a very good understanding of each other."

He added that after George Bush Sr., Biden appears to be the one who "values ​​Europe and the EU more."

According to Macaes, former US presidents, including Barack Obama, "have doubts about Europe."

"There are problems that are difficult to deal with, but the mood is 'we have problems that are difficult to solve but we have good spirits'," he explained.

But, he argues, Europe wants to be more "autonomous to develop capacity."

“There are trade and technology issues to solve. There is a slightly different approach to China. So of course there are political problems, but the spirit is very good,” he said.

Turkey-US Relations

On the future of Turkey-US relations following the recent face-to-face meeting between Turkish Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Biden at the NATO summit on June 14 in Brussels, Macaes said: “It turned out better than expected.”

“I think the first sign is the Afghan peace process and how Turkey is getting involved… the US seems very happy with that. Now this meeting is also going well," he said.

“Perhaps, Biden understands that Turkey is important. The US is in deep confrontation with China and Russia, and it is important for Turkey to be on your side, or at least I think there is an idea in Washington that America should not push Turkey closer to Russia and China."

Commenting on the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, a gathering of political leaders, diplomats, opinion makers and academics, he said the forum's "geographical expansion", from Africa and Latin America to the Middle East and Central Asia, impressed him.

"Turkey is now very open to the world, and not just to Europe, a sign of the new Turkey," he said.