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Bulgaria: A Debate on Islam

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Middle East & North Africa, Bulgaria, Digital Activism, Ethnicity & Race, Politics, Religion, Youth

On Feb. 26, some 40 people attended a debate titled “Islam as a threat – again in fashion?”, held at the Center for Culture and Debate “Red House” [1] in the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia. Speakers included Saleh Breh, a psychologist at the University of Damascus, Vladimir Chukov, a specialist in Islam, and Nidal Hlayf, a student in film directing.

Approximately 1 million Muslims live in Bulgaria [2] (whose total population is about 8 million people). Many people have an idea about Islam, because there has been a Muslim population in the country for centuries. But there are political parties that create problems between Christians and Muslims: in recent years nationalism has become stronger and more aggressive, and some people believe that Islam is dangerous. This is why a debate like the one that took place in Sofia [3] (BUL) is important for the society. Its purpose was to discuss whether Islam presents a danger for Europe. Among others, members of the nationalist Bulgarian National Movement party [4] attended the debate; according to BNM, Islam is dangerous and is an instrument of Turkish interests. (Here is a link to Vladimir Chukov's article on the “Bulgarian Ethnic Model.” [5]

A post on the debate appeared on Muslims and American Cinema (http://muslim-cinema.blogspot.com [6]), a Bulgarian-language blog on stereotypical portrayal of Muslims in the movies, administered by Hlayf Nidal, who has written a doctoral thesis in film directing in Sofia. Below are excerpts from this post [7] (BUL):

[…] The audience consisted mainly of Bulgarian citizens, some elderly, but there were also many young people […]

Professor Chukov outlined the two main types of immigration patterns – Anglo-Saxon, which is more liberal in its view, and French – more restrictive towards minorities. […] To our general surprise, it appeared that Denmark has already allowed the creation of a Muslim party [see this post at Islam in Europe blog [8]]. […]

[Ruslan Trad] presented a slide project with a list of blogs in the Arab and Islamic world, which contained information on the ban to cover events such as prosecution of political opponents in Egypt [see this GV post [9] for more], imprisoned bloggers [e.g., Free Kareem [10] and Free Bashir El Hazem [11] campaigns), […], blogs of women from the Middle East who are fighting for more rights [e.g., www.feministcollective.com [12]]. The aim was to show the public that […] the Islamic world is not some inert mass, but is concerned about what happens to it and to the world, especially with regard to the younger generation. […]

Nidal Hlayf talked about stereotypes in movies. […] [The practice] of juxtaposing the Islamic world against the West is so rooted that it is difficult to go beyond stereotypes […]. […] A debate on why the image of Arabs and Muslims is so stable […]. First, because of the still painful memories of the past clashes with Islam in the West, military or cultural; second, because the United States inherited the Orientalist imagination of the European settlers; third, since the end of the 19th century, American missionary activity in the Islamic world has increased.

Dr. Saleh Brik from the University of Damascus talked about the difficulty accepting the “Other” religion due to ignorance of it. [An example of the Swiss ban on construction of minarets [13]]: […] the minarets are not the most important part of religion to a Muslim and they are not the main problem with Muslim communities.

Maya Tsenova, an Arabist from Center for Eastern Languages and Cultures [14], added that “one is afraid of what one does not know” and that “the West had had encounters with Muslims before it met with Islam.” A man who is ignorant is the enemy of ourselves and others, as one Arab proverb says.

There are some comments to my blog post [15] (BUL) for this event. One reader wrote about Islamism and terrorism in other Balkan states:

Around us [Bulgaria], it is better not to forget Bosnia and Kosovo, which are copies of those ideas in the Balkans.

The situation in Kosovo is important for Bulgaria because many people fear that what happened there and in Bosnia could happen in Bulgaria, too.