“The idea of a clash between Islam and ‘the West’ – a word in which everything is put together and confused – has misled our policies and our narratives. Islam holds a place in our Western societies. Islam belongs in Europe. It holds a place in Europe’s history, in our culture, in our food and – what matters most – in Europe’s present and future.”

Federica Mogherini

That was Federica Mogherini, the woman with the longest EU-title, in 2015. Fast forward almost four years and the same Mogherini that claimed that Islamic State was “putting forward an unprecedented attempt to pervert Islam” and that “political Islam should be part of the picture” in Europe’s future, is again debating political Islam.

Only this time, she really doesn’t want to know. What does it say about Mogherini, that when the European Parliament explicitly mentions the Islamic background of the new penal code introducing the death penalty by stoning for homosexuality in Brunei, she leaves the ‘Sharia’ part out? Because there is really no excuse for it. Even in answering EP criticism, Brunei is adamant about the religious reasons for implementing the new code. Why is it that the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy leaves that bit out?

Let’s take a step back. On 18 April, the EP adopted a resolution against Brunei’s Sharia Penal Code. Its implementation is ‘strongly condemned’, according to even the press release, as it

“introduces the death penalty by stoning for consensual same-sex acts, extramarital sex and abortion, as well as amputation for stealing, for both adults and children. [MEPs] express concern that while many countries are decriminalising consensual same sex acts, Brunei has become the seventh country to punish them.

MEPs further call on Brunei to “comply with international law and standards” and urge the EEAS to “consider adopting measures at EU level to punish human right violations.” That is where Mogherini comes in.

She suggests a plethora of actions akin to the proverbial ‘strongly worded letter’ or rubber boat ban, and then, in closing, says something so symbolic of her misunderstanding of the case, it deserves unpacking:

“The ban on degrading punishments is not simply about European values. I want to underline this point that many of you [Members of the European Parliament] have raised. These are universal values, cherished by people of all backgrounds and of all faiths, all around the world. These are rights that are not at the disposal of any authority or any country. They belong to all people and no State can take them away. This is about the dignity of each and every human being, and we will continue, as the European Union, to work for this dignity to be respected everywhere in the world, starting from Europe.”

Federica Mogherini

On 15 April, so before the Plenary Session in Strasbourg, the Mission of Brunei Darussalam wrote an aide memoir to present its point of view. It starts by stressing that Islam is Brunei’s official religion and that “strong religious values with rich heritage of tradition and culture, form the very foundation of the unique Bruneian identity (…) which are important to be preserved.” The document continues by Brunei asserting its sovereignty and the right to enforce laws “reflecting our own cultural and religious values.”

“Accordingly, the realisation of international human rights must be considered in the national context bearing in mind the diversity and different political, economic, legal, social, cultural, historical and religious background of the world we share.”

from the aide memoire, accessed through EU Observer

This is an interesting juxtaposition. According to Mogherini, European values aren’t European at all. There is no rich European heritage of tradition and culture that form a foundation of European values. Mogherini surely won’t claim them as God-given. Instead, they are universal, “cherished by people of all backgrounds and of all faiths, all around the world.” Though that may be true, that doesn’t explain where they came from. It also doesn’t explain why, if they are truly ‘cherished by all’, the European Union needs to work for their ‘dignity to be respected’.

The Mission of Brunei has a point and Mogherini is wrong in thinking that European values are universal. They are not. Human rights aren’t even universal. One could claim they ought to be, but they are not. Not even the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is universal. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), of which Brunei is a member, has its own set of human rights, as formulated in the Cairo Declaration.

This set of human right makes itself subservient to Islam. In its preamble, it states that the Declaration will serve as a “general guidance“. It is difficult to see how this set of human rights can be universal, as it pitches Muslims, gathered in the Islamic Ummah, against the rest of humanity:

“Reaffirming the civilizing and historical role of the Islamic Ummah which Allah made as the best community and which gave humanity a universal and well-balanced civilization, in which harmony is established between hereunder and the hereafter, knowledge is combined with faith, and to fulfill the expectations from this community to guide all humanity which is confused because of different and conflicting beliefs and ideologies and to provide solutions for all chronic problems of this materialistic civilization.”

So much for inclusivity. To this basis of ‘Islam first’ is added the belief that all human rights are subservient to Shariah law. This is best illustrated by Articles 24 and 25:

ARTICLE 24: All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari’ah.

ARTICLE 25:The Islamic Shari’ah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration.

Sure, the United Nations have “voiced deep concern“. Mogherini herself says that she has been trying to get Brunei to do things differently for years. But what isn’t realised, or at least not voiced, is that they have very little leverage over oil-wealthy Brunei. The only thing they could hope to offer, are convincing arguments.

But MEPs don’t even debate in the EP, let alone elsewhere. Mogherini can’t even conceive of the possibility that Sharia and Islam play a role in Brunei’s Sharia Penal Code after she’s been told. She wants some sort of non-existent Islam that prescribes what she wants. She is so unprepared to face the fact that Islam and Europe do not share a common cultural foundation, she simply does not want to acknowledge it. But closing your eyes for the truth never helped anybody.