Category Archives: Videos

A Leading Danish Politician on the Muslims in Denmark

During fieldwork for the Journey into Europe project, Ambassador Ahmed and his team learned about the various challenges posed for the Muslim community by the rise of right wing parties across Europe, including in Denmark with the Danish People’s Party.

In order to further explore this position becoming more widespread across Europe, Ambassador Ahmed requested Harrison Akins to sit down with Mr. Soren Espersen, a member of the Danish Parliament and the Deputy Chairman of the Danish People’s Party. A former journalist and a member of parliament for 10 years, Mr. Espersen is the Deputy Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as his party’s spokesman on foreign affairs, and former Deputy Speaker in the Danish Parliament.

The Danish People’s Party, founded in 1995 and described by Mr. Espersen as a “national conservative party”, won nearly 27% of the vote in the recent European elections, the largest share of the vote in Denmark. The third largest political party in Denmark, it currently holds 22 seats out of 179 in the Danish Parliament.

During the interview, Mr. Espersen discussed the history and positions of the Danish People’s Party, the challenges Denmark faces with its Muslim population, and the issues surrounding increased immigration to Europe from the Muslim world.

The Antique Bookshop in Palermo

In Palermo, Sicily, Dr. Amineh Hoti of the Journey into Europe team visited the bookshop Libreria del Corso where she met its owner, Antonio Daniel Costantino who also authored a book on Roger II’s Palatine Chapel which displays a blend of Arab and Norman cultures. During Dr. Hoti’s visit, they discussed the legacy of Arab culture in Sicilian language, architecture, and food as well as the history of “La Convivencia” in the region. In the shop, there was a treasure trove of books on this period of Sicilian history which have not yet been translated from the Arabic and Italian languages into English.

Ambassador Ahmed at the Great Cathedral of Palermo

In Palermo, Sicily, Ambassador Ahmed visited the great cathedral of Palermo where he discusses the Islamic heritage of Sicily and the issues surrounding Muslim immigration to Italy today.

The Palermo Cathedral was originally constructed in the 12th century on the site of the main mosque of Palermo during the period of Muslim rule beginning in the 9th century. It is today the largest cathedral in Sicily. The cathedral is the final resting place for two of the great leaders in Sicilian history: Roger II and Frederick II. Both leaders were committed to the spirit of La Convivencia and promoted a distinct culture which brought together the different peoples inhabiting Sicily.

Keeping Convivencia Alive in Sicily

In Palermo, Sicily, Ambassador Ahmed and the Journey into Europe team visited Mayor Leoluca Orlando at his office in Villa Niscemi, a palace originally constructed in the 17th century by an aristocratic Italian family.

Mayor Orlando was first elected Mayor of Palermo in 1985 when he began his successful campaign to break the hold of the Sicilian Mafia over the city, a period known as the Palermo Spring. He has previously served as a member of the Sicilian Regional Parliament, Italian Parliament, and the European Parliament. He is currently the president of the association representing the 394 mayors of Sicily. A trained lawyer, Mayor Orlando has written a dozen books and legal treatises. His many awards and distinctions include the European Parliament’s European Civic Prize, awarded in 2000 for “his struggle against organized crime and his engagement in favor of the civic renewal of his city.”

During the meeting, the entire team was impressed by Mayor Orlando’s spirit of interfaith harmony and “la convivencia” between different communities which he said was fundamental to Sicilian identity. He spoke with passion for the rights of all humanity, including the many immigrants coming to the shores of Sicily, and gave advice for how to improve relations between Muslims and non-Muslims today.

Sisters of Love in the Cathedral of Unity

In Monreale, Sicily, Ambassador Ahmed and the Journey into Europe team visited the famous Monreale Cathedral, one of the great cathedrals of Europe. The cathedral, built by the Norman-Sicilian King William II in the 12th century, is notable for the extensive Islamic influence in its art and architecture. This union of different influences reflects the Norman-Sicilian vision of a multicultural and multi-religious society with Catholic and Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Jews living together. This spirit can still be seen today, with the Italians saving 1300 immigrants from the sea just before the Monreale Cathedral visit and Monreale artisans expressing how unhappy they were with the violence in the Middle East which they said was destroying the rich artistic legacy of that region.

In the cathedral, the team was fortunate to meet Sister Francisca from Argentina and Sister Maria Jose from Chile, both of the Order of Our Lady of Loreto, who shared their deep knowledge of the cathedral, its history, and the different artistic and cultural traditions reflected in it. In their gentleness, kindness, and commitment to interfaith relations, they reflected the best of Christianity. Two of the team members, Dr. Amineh Hoti and Zeenat Ahmed, were especially delighted to meet the sisters as they were educated by Catholic nuns at the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Pakistan, famous for producing prominent figures such as former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. As 2014 ends, let us learn of love and compassion from these two South American sisters.

A Visit to the Site of the Proposed First Mosque of Marseille

In Marseille, France, Ambassador Ahmed, Harrison Akins, and Frankie Martin met with Mr. Salah Bariki, Charge de Mission in the Cabinet of the Mayor of Marseille. Of Algerian descent, Mr. Bariki is the first and only Muslim to serve in the Mayor’s cabinet. Mr. Bariki is in charge of relations between the Mayor’s office and the minority communities, especially the Muslim community, in Marseille and heads the Mayor’s interfaith initiatives. In Mr. Bariki’s office, Ambassador Ahmed also met the president of the Jewish Association of PACA (Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur), Mr. Clement Yana, to discuss Jewish-Muslim relations in Marseille.

Mr. Bariki also oversees the proposed mosque project for the Marseille government. In his office, Mr. Bariki showed Ambassador Ahmed the plans for mosque. The mosque project is an important project for Marseille and its Muslim community because there are 300,000 Muslims in the city, largely from former French colonies in North Africa, yet with no official mosque. This mosque would be the first purpose-built mosque in Marseille and would be constructed on land allotted by the government. Following the meeting in his office, Mr. Bariki invited members of Ambassador Ahmed’s team to visit the mosque site.

A Christmas Message from Palermo, Sicily

The Journey into Europe team recently arrived in Palermo, Sicily in time for Christmas, where they celebrated Christmas Mass at the historic Palermo Cathedral. Originally constructed in the 12th century on the site of a former mosque, it is the largest church in Sicily. The team has a busy schedule in Palermo with several important interviews already confirmed which include the Mayor and Chief of Police in Palermo, They are also scheduled to meet the president of the Muslim Association in Sicily, based in Catania on the eastern coast of Sicily.

Ambassador Ahmed on the Muslims of Marseille

In Marseille, Ambassador Ahmed visited the Monument to the Heroes of the Army of the Orient and Distant Lands standing on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The Monument was erected in 1927 to the memories of soldiers from the French colonies, especially Muslims from North Africa, who fought for France during World War I. At the Monument, Ambassador Ahmed discusses the Muslim community of Marseille and the colonial legacy of France.

A Dynamic Young Woman on Being Muslim in Marseille

The Journey into Europe team recently arrived in Marseille, France where Dr. Amineh Hoti sat down with Messaouda Akacha, a social activist in the Muslim community who interacts with the media in order to improve relations between communities. Having just finished her master’s degree, she is interested in further studies and continuing her work in interfaith dialogue. Messaouda discussed her Algerian background, the Muslim community in Marseille, and the challenges Muslims face in France.

Marseille, the second city of France, is the major port in southern France lying on the Mediterranean Sea. It has a storied role in French history, with volunteers from Marseille in the French Revolution coining the French national anthem, Le Marseillasse. This ancient city has had a long history of immigration to its shores, especially from former French colonies. Currently, there are roughly 300,000 Muslims living in Marseille, largely from North Africa, which makes them over 30% of the population of the city.

Leading Danish-Pakistani Businesswoman on Danish Identity

Dr. Amineh Hoti of the Journey into Europe team was privileged to sit down with Ms. Sanila Rana, a Big Data Sales Executive at IBM Denmark and founder of the organization Multikulturelle Erhverskvinder. She is one of the senior-most executives at IBM with an immigrant background. Born in Denmark to immigrant parents from Pakistan, Ms. Rana founded the organization Multikulturelle Erhverskvinder in order tostrengthen the career opportunities for multicultural women in the Danish business community and to establish a relationship between Danish companies and multicultural businesswomen.

During the interview, Ms. Rana discussed her perspective on Danish identity, her own experiences growing up with a Pakistani background in Denmark, and how to improve relations between different communities.