Shada Islam: EU insider looking beyond

Shada Islam
Shada Islam works in Brussels as a diversity and migration policy advisor.

There will be few who have so consciously found their way to Europe. Born in Pakistan, Shada Islam moved to Belgium as “diplomatic baggage” at age 18 because her father was transferred to the embassy there. She is happy to be an “accidental but happy European”. She went to school in the USA and also lived in Great Britain, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Indonesia has become her second home, she has traveled extensively in China and is also very familiar with India, Japan, and Malaysia. However, she eventually found a home in Brussels. Although chance also played a role, it was here that she became a European by choice – out of conviction: “I think that the history of the EU, the coming together and reconciling of former adversaries, is still held in high esteem around the world today. And that Europeans are sometimes not fully aware of it.”

Her work as a journalist was fundamental to her knowledge of the world. For two decades, she was the EU correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review, a weekly newspaper renowned in the East and Southeast Asian region. The contacts she made with high-ranking officials helped her gain a foothold as a think-tanker in 2007. At the European Policy Center and Friends of Europe, she established and led the Asia, Integration and Migration work areas. As a sideline, she also held a visiting professorship in international relations with a focus on Europe, Asia, and Africa at the College of Europe in Warsaw’s Natolin district.

Diversity and geopolitics in the network

In 2020, she decided to start her own business and founded the New Horizons Project: “I see myself as a ‘one-woman think-tank’.” Since then, she has focused on diversity, which she sees as one of the pillars of the European idea. This interest, however, does not contradict her previous areas of interest but is a much-needed addition to understanding geopolitics in a contemporary way.

Thus, she never tires of denouncing the mismatch between values, words, and deeds in matters of European migration policy. If the EU continues to allow migration to be militarized by aggressors, if Islamophobia moves further and further into the political center and, as in France, is misused as an advertising tool in election campaigns, then Europe will have to accept a considerable loss of respect and trust on the world stage.

For when the EU abandons its principles of inclusion, diversity, and solidarity so lightly, it undermines any critical competence through its hypocrisy and its “eurocentric view“. Assessing people in need of help as a security threat is linked to “our perceptions of other nationalities, which are often colored by stereotypes”. This makes it all the more important that this view is updated by movements such as Black Lives Matter and Brussels So White.

It is the balance between sharp analysis and confident, forward-looking perspective that defines Shada Islam’s work. To achieve her goals, she learned from her father, one must “speak truth to power – but with a degree of elegance”. She embodies this motto to this day. Julius Schwarzwälder


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