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This paper addresses the theme of multiculturalism in Europe, with the reference point being Islamophobia and the attitude towards ‘the Other’. Many argue that today’s negative attitudes towards Muslims living in Europe result from recent migration trends, the current ‘refugee crisis’ and a fear that is spread by right-wing, nationalist parties and amplified by the media. Matti Bunzl has analysed this new condition and compared it with the anti- Semitism of the 1920s and 30s and how this discourse is related to xenophobia and the exclusion of the non-European ‘Other’. I will examine his points by exploring the relationship between Islamophobia and the reconfiguration of contemporary Europeanness. Here, I will refer to Buchowski and Sayyid, who have described Islamophobia a means of reproducing the imagined European society based on xenophobic exclusions and visions of the future. This analysis takes-into-account not only the prejudices, media representations and psychological processes, but also the form of governmentality which defines the current condition. Islamophobia is a form of racism, in which the constitutive antagonism is directed towards manifestations of Muslimness. Correspondingly, it attempts to limit or deny Muslim agency and partaking in the European project. The global increase in Islamophobia is not merely a consequence of violent acts committed by individual Muslims, but rather it is a function of the way that the relational logic of racism is constructed.
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In ‘Between anti- Semitism and Islamophobia: Some thoughts on the new Europe’, Bunzl argues that the only similarity between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, is their exclusionary ideological character, based on the construction of an alien ‘Other’. Jews and Muslims, thus, have both been subjected to a ‘right-wing, Christian fundamentalism. Other than that, they are two different projects of exclusion as anti- Semitism was mobilized as part of the project for nation- building in the 19th and 20th century, whereas Islamophobia is a more current phenomenon associated with EU integration and geopolitics. Bunzl relates that to a shift towards thinking from the national state to the European state and towards a question of protecting ‘Europe’ and ‘Europeans’ rather than national purity. He claims that other than anti-Semitism, Islamophobia functions less I the interest of national purification than ‘as a means of fortifying Europe’. Moreover, Bunzl points out that none of Europe’s far right-wing movements nowadays deploy conventional forms of anti-Semitism. Rather, Jews have been accepted into European society and are now subject to violence by young, disenfranchised Muslims who fight against this new Europeanness. On today’s Europe, Islamophobia is constructed through public debates about immigration, the status of Islam as well as through the possibility of Turkey’s EU membership. Bunzl argues that these debates capture a widespread fear among not only the far-right, about the future of Europe.
By identifying conventional anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as two temporarily different entities, Bunzl ignores the historical colonial discourse, living memory and greater global contexts. Scholars such as Sayyid however, argue that Islamophobia is a product of the ‘processes and legacies of European colonial world-making’, and therefore has to be understood in context of wider structures of European domination. Moreover, Sayyid explains that the colonial enterprise was intrinsic to the formation of a European identity. The meaning of Europeanness in the 19th century was determined by ideas that were inscribed through the racial- colonial order and through white supremacy. He claims that this is not only mirrored in prejudices against the Islam today but also expresses itself ‘culturally and socially, as well as militarily and politically’. As De Genova claims, the European question entails a persistent conflation of migration, race and Muslim identity as floating signifiers for the ‘contradictory mediation of the contemporary, protracted postcolonial agony. Therefore, questions around Europe are increasingly fashioned against the postcolonial spectre of an invasion of ‘non-whites’ and ‘non- Europeans’.
Bunzl bases his argument around a construction of the European Union as a ‘state’ in the same way Anderson defined the state as an imagined community build on a shared ideal of what it means to be member of that community. European identity is arbitrary, imagined and contextual as it exists only in relation to other identities. It therefore comes most sharply and clearly into focus when contrasted against something that is ‘non-European’ – the ‘alien’, the ‘immigrant’ and the ‘Other’. Without minorities, the idea of a majority loses its significance. Islamophobia is a form of governmentality that supports the westernizing horizon, where this Western ideology is enhanced through contrasting it with the Islamic. Sayyid stresses that what informs the view about the Middle East is the contrast between it and Europe, rather than any ‘indigenous recognition of its continental coherence or geographical unity or social homogeneity’. Moreover, the discourse on Muslims in Europe is mostly dominated by the ‘immigrant imaginary’. Here, immigrants are accepted by the West neither as complete citizens nor as complete ‘foreigners’. Therefore, Muslims as immigrants can only express certain aspects of their complex identity and are denied the social and cultural capital to identify as complete European citizens. As DuBois explained, this ‘double consciousness’ describes the internal conflict experienced by subordinated groups in an oppressive society. The immigrant’s identity is divided into several parts, making it difficult to develop a unified identity.
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Bunzl describes how Islamophobia is based on and reproduces the common notion that Islam engenders a worldview that is ‘fundamentally incompatible with and inferior to Western culture’. The racially marked body of the Muslim is characterized as ‘misogynist, racist, violent’ and therefore antithetic to the west’s ‘liberal core values’. As Buchowski claims, these negative attitudes towards Muslims do not result from personal experiences but rather ‘represent an outcome of the power of symbols and associated fears’. These symbols are influenced by the monolithic position of the Christian Church as a representative of Europeanness, as well as by nationalist and racist ideas through right-wing political discourse and the media in the West. This ‘phantom thread’ that encompasses historical myths about ‘infidels’, influences people’s thoughts and actions, including those of politicians in the European Union. The homogeneity of Europe has developed into a value and ‘strangeness’ is perceived as ‘something out of place’.
In this context Europe is not just a geographical entity but a project. It is this ‘Europeanness’ that determines the character, extent and depth of what is considered to be Europe. Holmes coined this in the term ‘integralism’, a philosophy that seeks to recast European society as a moral order, a form of a social solidarity based on the idea of a ‘shared, integral and organic culture’. ‘Europeanness’ is often understood as a metaphor for modernization, whereas ‘Muslimness’ represents an ‘alien presence’, which interferes with this process. The term ‘Muslim’ here, is often a place-holder for many forms of ‘foreigness’ and includes those who are not Muslims but may appear to be so. Sayyid explains that this lack of precision arises from the ways in which ‘Muslimness’ and westernization are ‘floating signifiers without fixed and stable signifieds’. Therefore, Islamophobia becomes a means of reproducing the imagined European society based on xenophobic exclusions and visions and fears of the future. It is not about the identity of Muslims and the Islam, but more about the national anxieties about a loss of control and homogeneity. Ultimately, Islamophobia reflects an internal European crisis which is conflicted with defining itself in terms of openness and closeness to its existing Muslim population and immigrants knocking on the doors of Europe.
In Europe today, ‘criticism of Islam’ is on the brink of becoming a cultural code, on which the ever-widening circles of the upper and lower-middle classes agree. Buchowski points out that this division between ‘us’ and ‘them’ has ‘a crucial role in the cognitive organization of the world’ and a violation of this mental arrangement is seen as a ‘threat’. Moreover, the crisis of social cohesion in Europe has become connected to the existence of a Muslim minority that allegedly prevents western societies to embrace their liberal values. Here, ‘the failure of liberal values is externalized on to the surface of Muslim bodies’ in order to direct the responsibility away from the West. This externalization causes unsettlement on both sides, hindering ‘Muslims’ from being accepted into European society. As laws and suppression caused decades of segregation in many parts of Europe, Muslims were not encouraged to assimilate into the local communities in which they lived.
Even though Bunzl, Buchowski and Sayyid disagree on the origins of Islamophobia, they agree on the fact that it has become one of the biggest issues in correlation with European identity. Islamophobia is not only based on misrepresentation of Muslims, but it is actively created by European institutions to ‘preserve’ and capture Europeanness through the exclusion of others. In order for Europe to thrive in a post- western and post-capitalist era, it has to embrace its multiculturalism and focus on its internal flaws instead of excluding particular minorities. Reacting to xenophobia, religious discrimination and ‘all forms of cultural racism or cultural fundamentalism’ is our moral duty as anthropologists, especially now in a time where Islamophobia and hatred against others dominate public discourse.
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