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Spreading a culture of freedom in the Middle East and Central Asia to tackle three European challenges: terrorism, refugee streams and integration

The rise of right-wing populism and anti-political sentiment has become one of the major challenges of the EU. The Brexit vote is partly connected to this development. This sentiment is not disconnected from reality. While it is partially inspired by blatant racism, we need to face the fact that this anti-political mood is also based on a number of very real problems that have a direct impact on the wellbeing of our societies. These challenges are terrorism, integration and refugee streams, which are closely connected in various ways. For example, refugees are fleeing from terrorism, while a lack of integration and extremism are inspiring young Muslims to join ISIS. Many more connections can be pointed out, such as connections between the countries of origin and non-European communities in Europe.

These challenges are not always connected, but often are. Where they are connected, they find their common source in Muslim-majority countries and cultures. That fact has been exploited by the far right and right-wing populists. On the left, however this connection is denied or pushed aside for various ideological reasons. Neither approach is helpful. The major centrist parties have so far offered only partial solutions that do not address either the whole or the roots of these challenges.

We need to go beyond these approaches. We need a holistic approach and a mature understanding of the causes of these challenges. We need an approach that recognises that these challenges are cultural and that aims to unlock the potential of the people concerned at the same time.

Our meta-analysis is that these challenges find their common root in a culture of unfreedom that is present in society from the macro to the micro level. To overcome this challenge, Europe needs to promote a culture of freedom both inside and outside Europe. Some crucial benchmarks for a culture of freedom are:

  • Women‘s rights (fundamental freedoms, equality and equal dignity and value of women)
  • Freedom of religion at a personal and collective level (freedom to choose another or no faith)
  • Personal choice (freedom of women and young people to develop and choose their lifestyle)
  • Learning to live in democratic structures and with a plurality of peoples and opinions
  • Freedom for and of (organised) diversity within the community
  • Cooperation of ethnicities with equal footing and value


We need to realise that people of all religions and backgrounds need fundamental freedoms to flourish.

Our experience with the Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava has offered a unique perspective on the connections between the referenced challenges and how they can be solved together with the communities involved. We have seen freedom rising thanks to the heroic efforts of the peoples of Northern Syria: Syriac Christians, Kurds and Arabs, Muslims and Christians who together sacrificed and are still sacrificing so much to win their freedom.

If Europe wants a long-term, sustainable solution to the challenges coming from the MENA/Central Asian region, it needs to come to a clear strategic conclusion. The strategic conclusion that follows from the above is that it is paramount for the EU and its member states to promote a culture of freedom across MENA and Central Asia, which will support integration in Europe as well. Obviously the EU Member States will have to apply these principles as well in integration efforts towards the related communities which will inn return have a positive influence at the MENA/Central Asian region.  This comprehensive approach is fundamental for the long-term security and political stability of the EU.