2 years ago

20 years of European journalism & history

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Twenty years doesn't seem a lot. Certainly not in the light of European history. But while we were writing this magazine for the 20th anniversary of EUobserver, we were surprised just how much happened in the European Union in those two decades.

Sherin Khankan is a

Sherin Khankan is a 45-year old mother of four. She is also Denmark's first female Imam and runs the Mariam Mosque in Copenhagen. Mainstream and far-right politicians would then parlay those attacks as further justification to stigmatise Muslims and immigrant communities. "We are the first mosque in Scandinavia that conducts interfaith marriages," she told EUobserver. The daughter of a Syrian political refugee and a Finnish mother, Khankan says Muslim women must be allowed to marry whoever they choose, regardless of religious beliefs. Lawmakers also took the opportunity to pass sweeping surveillance laws, often blurring the distinction between fundamental rights and discrimination. For Muslims like Khankan in Europe, the collapse of the Twin Towers created an unjustified and intensified blowback against Islam. "We also give Muslim women the right to Islamic divorce and have made a fusion between Danish legislation and Islamic guidance - in the sense that we do not marry people in a mosque, unless they are married through Danish law," she explains. Khankan's idea for the female-led mosque came a month before two passenger planes slammed into the Twin Towers in New York City in September 2001. It would take her another 15 years to make it a reality. Twenty-six years old at the time of the attacks, Khankan had in August of 2001 set up the first Muslim organisation with a female Muslim leadership in Denmark. The organisation was called the Forum for Critical Muslims, and sought to draw a clear distinction between religion and politics in the hopes of creating a better and more progressive understanding of Islam in Europe. But the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 changed all that. The two jets that destroyed the lower Manhattan landmarks killed almost 3,000 people and injured over 20,000. And despite Saudi nationals being behind the terrorist attack, US president George W. Bush then launched a protracted war against Iraq in 2003 under the false pretence it was harbouring weapons of mass destruction. "It was quite massive, the anti-Islamic rhetoric and propaganda," she said. Khankan rues the fact that all the work started in August of 2001 for a more progressive understanding of Islam had come to a standstill. "We suddenly had to shift focus onto defending the right even to be a Muslim, so I could really sense a change with September 11th," she said. Nearly 20 years later, and that dynamic has since shifted, she said, noting the renewed interest in Islam also brought with it more understanding of the religion. "You can identify it in two ways, a growing anti-Islam rhetoric, and propaganda, and Islamophobia - but also a growing knowledge about Islam," she said. Among that "rhetoric and propaganda" was a wider debate on women in Europe who wear the Niqab and the Burka, garments that either cover the whole face or most of it. "In Denmark, I think less than 200 [women] wear the Niqab, and fewer still wear the Burka," she said. Similar debates led to a ban in France in 2010, then followed by Belgium. "I think it is discriminatory against these women, and actually we are not defending women's rights by discriminating [against] some women," she said. Saddam Hussein's brutal reign over the country would come to an end three years later, leaving in place a power vacuum that helped give rise to the Islamic State. The Islamic State would later claim responsibility for a spate of attacks in Europe, killing innocent people in numerous cities over the past decade or so. Defending universal human rights, says Khankan, also means fighting for a women's right not to have to wear a niqab or a burka. "But if it is an individual decision, I mean we absolutely have to defend it," she said. 06 — EUOBSERVER ANNIVERSARY 2020

Say hello to your new currency, the euro the year 2002 Together with the Schengen agreement of 1995 which abolished most border controls, the euro is the most important symbol of European unification. By Koert Debeuf In 2002, the first notes and coins of the new currency, the euro, started to circulate in 11 countries of the European Union, quickly replacing national currencies. had been since 1979, until it was found out that the écu was actually the name of gold coins of France during the reign of Louis XI. Together with the Schengen agreement of 1995 which abolished border controls within the European Schengen area, the euro is the most important symbol of European unification. As the word "euro" had no history in any European country, it was chosen as the name of the currency that would be introduced first in 1999 as a virtual currency, and then in 2002 as a hard currency. The introduction of the euro was decided in 1992, during the summit in Maastricht, but had a longer history than that. In 1997, the European Commission created the Growth and Stability Pact, imposing a common budgetary policy in order to stabilise the currency. Way back in 1929, Gustav Stresemann, foreign minister of the Weimar Republic, asked in the League of Nations for a European currency. You don't have to be a historian to know that the timing was not ideal. When US president Richard Nixon in 1971 removed the gold standard for the dollar, it resulted in major monetary fluctuations in Europe and the rest of the world. Then in 1998 the European Central Bank replaced the European Monetary Institute, to guard the monetary policy of the euro. Considering the likely teething problems of any new currency, the euro was considered a great European success - until the euro crisis of 2009-2012, when the financial and economic fallout almost caused the end of the eurozone. In 1979 the European Monetary System was created, a system that fixed exchange rates to a European Currency Unit (ECU), countering exchange rates and inflation. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, German reunification was inevitable, despite the opposition of France and the UK. The Lisbon Treaty in 2009 formalised the Eurogroup, a gathering finance ministers of the 19 euro-using member states. Even though some populist politicians claim they want to go back to their country's old currency, the popularity of the euro remains high with a large majority of the Europeans. In a gentlemen's deal, French president François Mitterrand agreed to the reunification of Germany - if German chancellor Helmut Kohl committed to monetary unity. The idea was to call the new currency the ECU, as it Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Sweden are still in the process of joining the eurozone, but no date has been fixed yet. Denmark has an opt-out under the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, and rejected joining the single currency in a referendum in 2000. 07 — EUOBSERVER ANNIVERSARY 2020

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