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Why the West Fears Islam

Switzerland Minaret Ban

The legitimacy of Islamic signs in public space: headscarves, mosques, and minarets are increasingly seen as a rejection of western democratic values, or even worse, as a direct threat to the West. Pictured: Walter Wobmann, president of the committee “Yes for a ban of Minarets”, in Egerkingen, Switzerland

All over Europe Islamophobia seems to be on the rise.

Simply dismissing people’s fears and concerns as bigotry is not going to solve the problem. Suppressing expression of these concerns only drives them deeper, and in some cases, fuels anger, hatred, and even violence. Muslims who are on the receiving end of growing resentment also have legitimate concerns.

Arguably, the only way to reconcile and resolve these issues is to bring them out in the full light of day and subject them to scrutiny and debate. This article provides a starting point.

Why the West Fears Islam

by Jocelyne Cesari,

The integration of Muslim immigrants has been on the political agenda of European democracies for several decades. However, only in the last ten years has it specifically evolved into a question of civic integration closely related to religious identity. In the 1960s and 1970s, the socio-economic integration of immigrants with a Muslim background was the primary focus of academic literature, but with the emergence of the second and third generations, the interest has shifted to political mobilization. Beginning with the Rushdie affair in the United Kingdom and the hijab affair in France from 1989 to present, the spotlight has moved to the legitimacy of Islamic signs in public space, such as dress code, minarets, and halal foods.

As a consequence, controversies surrounding the visibility of these signs have steadily grown. Controversy is not merely a disagreement about divergent points of view; but it is about fundamental differences (or at least perceived as such) about the principles and norms that regulate the common life of individuals sharing the same time period. Such fundamental divergences that lead to exclusive or binary positions cannot coexist in the same public space.

Islam and the perceived rejection of democracy

Consequently, headscarves, mosques, and minarets are increasingly seen as a rejection of western democratic values, or even worse, as a direct threat to the West.

During the 2006 campaign to ban minarets in Switzerland, posters from the Egerkinger Committee displayed a woman in a burqa standing next to minarets that were rising from a Swiss flag and pointing to the sky like missiles (see picture). Such a perception of Islam in the public sphere has reached the United States as well through the ongoing Shari’a debates, discourse on Islamic radicalization in jails, and the ground zero mosque controversy in the summer of 2010.

Islamic signs are not only ostracized in public discourse, but are also controlled and restricted through multiple legal and administrative procedures in an attempt to “civilize” or adjust the signs to fit western political cultures. In April 2011, the French government enforced the ban on wearing the niqab or burqa, which was overwhelmingly approved in 2010 by the French legislature. Other countries like Belgium and The Netherlands have followed the French path in 2011 and 2012.

The most recent addition to the long list of outcast Islamic signs is circumcision. In June 2012, a judge in Cologne, Germany, outlawed circumcision on the grounds that it causes “illegal bodily harm”. Although Germany’s Chancellor Merkel has promised the Muslim and Jewish communities that they can continue practicing circumcision, the legal implications of this ban have yet to be determined.

Cultural struggle within Islam

This cultural struggle is also fought on the Muslim side. Salafism, a specific interpretation of Islam in stark opposition to western values and cultures, advocates many practices such as gender segregation and rejection of political and civic engagement that are deemed as efforts to fight the impurity of the West. This particular brand of Islam is one of the most visible, widespread, and accessible interpretations, and thus gives the illusion to both Muslims and non-Muslims that Salafism is the true Islam.

In sum, an essentialized West and an essentialized Islam are fighting each other and in so doing reinforce one another. The “burqa versus the bikini” opposition often used by both Islamophobes and Muslim fundamentalists encapsulates this sense of profound incompatibility that relates to politics, lifestyles, and most interestingly, women’s bodies.

On one hand, for most westerners, the burqa symbolizes total denial of freedom and of gender equality. On the other hand, for fundamentalist religious voices, the burqa symbolizes woman’s dignity and her devotion to family values, opposed to the bikini seen as an objectification and degradation of the female body.

Such stark oppositions are of course extreme, but at the same time, reflect the “either or” approach, in which most of the discourse on Islam is currently trapped. The German President, Joachim Gauck involuntarily illustrated the milder version of this binary opposition, when he said that Muslims can live in Germany but that, unlike his predecessor (Christian Wulf), he does not think that Muslims can be part of Germany.

Polarized mindset

One major consequence of such a polarized mindset is to mask the sociological reality of Muslims. In fact, a striking gap exists between the image of Islam as it is constructed in binary public discourse and the multifaceted reality of Muslims across countries and localities.

For example, the dominant assumption is that visible Islamic identities in the West are inversely correlated to their civic and political loyalties, while there is empirical evidence that contradicts such an assumption.

My book – “Why the West Fears Islam – An Exploration of Muslims in Liberal Democracies” – presents first-hand data from focus groups I organized in Paris, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Boston between 2007 and 2010. In this regard, it is the first systematic and comparative review of the existing knowledge about Muslim political behaviours and religious practices in western Europe and in the United States.

The major conclusion is that although Muslims are challenged by their secular environment, they do not experience the incompatibility so intensely debated by western politicians and Salafi preachers alike. Then why is Islam depicted as an obstacle in political discourse and the media? Taking up this intriguing gap, I have attempted to make sense of this disjuncture between what Muslims do and the political construct of the “Muslim problem”.

During this exploration, liberalism and secularism have appeared as the two major idioms used to make sense of the Muslim presence…

….At the core of the European shift is the blind spot of the social legitimacy of religion that has been completely eliminated from most of national discourse and values.

In sum, the symbolic integration of Muslims within national communities would require a dramatic change in the current liberal and secularist narratives. It is a daunting task, but it can be done.

This article continues and is fairly long, but well worth reading in full. Read the rest here. 


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  • Jekyll

    i.e. Liberal.

  • Mehdi

    Well, Lady Ilisha is a pinko commie islamo fascist multi culturalist, just thought that giving her an extra german accent would add up some spice… Makes sense no?

  • Cengiz_K

    Argue with facts for a change..

  • rookie

    Do you guys know what amazes me on this site?
    Your patience to debate morons like thormoz.
    I don`t think that even DoctorM can help him…

  • Ameer

    Good to see you admit that, exagerrations do not reflect well on your reasoning; especially when you immediately contradict the position 1 day later.
    Judaism does proselytise, the ‘seven noahide laws’ according to orthodox views were meant to be upheld by non-Jews and death was the fate of anyone who broke any of the conditions. The 613 commandments of the Torah were reserved for the Jews but belief in One God was one of the noahide conditions non jews had to adhere to. “Anyone who sacrifices to other than God must be destroyed” – Exodus (paraphrasing).
    Slut shaming and homophobic attacks has been done by plenty of your own stock, so don’t put the onus on muslims to condemn every incident as not being in their name.
    What do you consider as primitive in Islam?

  • Chameleon_X

    “I like to argue on the internet. If you prefer to keep this site an echo chamber, just ban me or don’t publish my comments; I will go argue somewhere else. Never liked these hivemind groupthink places anyway.”

    The only one trying to turn it into an echo chamber is YOU. Who the hell are you arguing WITH? You are doing nothing but ranting like a howling idiot. You have yet to make a single argument in all of your posts in spite of being repeatedly engaged and challenged to do so. Contrary to your clear delusion, a conclusion does not an argument make. Every one of your conclusions is nothing but a vacuous, fact-free claim.

  • Chameleon_X

    “The female genital mutilation and honor killings by Islamics in Europe are the failed culture.”

    Both predated Islam and are not supported by Islam at all, moron, and both are far more correlated with regional variables across religious boundaries than any one religion or lack thereof. We have already covered this ground before here.

    Oh, and by the way dimwit, “Islamic” is an adjective, not a noun.

  • Ilisha

    If you prefer to keep this site an echo chamber

    What I prefer is a thoughtful discussion. There’s a difference between expressing an intelligent dissenting view and spewing hate-filled garbage.

  • thormoz

    I like to argue on the internet. If you prefer to keep this site an echo chamber, just ban me or don’t publish my comments; I will go argue somewhere else. Never liked these hivemind groupthink places anyway.

    And the “Baghdad toilet has more culture than all Europe” comment was worth my time. It’s quite brilliant really.

  • Ilisha

    Why are you here? Seriously.

    This is a site devoted to debunking the very propaganda you’re spewing. Everyone here knows what you’re saying is ignorant, hate-filled nonsense. The typical bile you’d pick up from a toilet like Jihad Watch.

    But even if you believe wholeheartedly, it’s not clear why you need to “share” on this venue. Do you just like to annoy people? Do you have nothing better to do?

  • thormoz

    “There’s more culture and history in a bombed out Baghdad toilet then all of Europe.”

    Hahaha, totally stealing that one.
    There is nothing more primitive than Arabic culture. Mutilating little girls, honor kills, slavery, oppressive religion, the warlord prophet with the nine year old wife… the whiny music (have you tried listening to Oum Kultoum?), the movies that look as if produced for retarded children, the blind hatred for Jews, the human organ-eating Syrian “rebels”. Did you hear the one about the dudes trying to impose Sharia law in London? LOL

    Baghdad toilets might have been good but it was long time ago. You can’t rest on the laurels of the Baghdad toilets, my friend, they are now clogged with filth and stink to high heavens.

  • Solid Snake

    Disqus needs an option to favorite comments. This was an excellent read. Thank you.

  • Tanveer Khan


  • Chameleon_X

    You are missing the point. MEMRI is an organization led and managed by some of the world’s foremost neocons and Zionists, and their Advisory Board proves it. And on top of that, MEMRI only translates a handpicked, agenda-driven, tiny fraction of news from Muslim-majority countries. Even if their translations were perfect, that would be like Al Qaeda setting up an organization called “AMRI” (“American Media Research Institute”) and perfectly translating handpicked, virulent hate propaganda against Islam and Muslims from the American Media.

    Given how much of it there is in the U.S., it would be an extremely trivial task to replicate the agenda-filtered, war-mongering hate propaganda of MEMRI by AMRI in the other direction. In fact, I would argue it would be dramatically easier given how much money there is in the U.S. manufacturing this hate and war propaganda against Islam and Muslims each year. And that is only the money we know about. The reality is likely far greater by orders of magnitude.

  • Chameleon_X

    “You claim that Islamic colonization where infidels can be murdered, made to pay extra taxes and women can be raped (woman’s testimony is lesser than a man’s) is better than Western colonization”

    Who the hell are you talking to? Are you deranged or just a liar? The only one making a “claim” about “Islamic colonization” and bizarre claims about what Islam teaches is YOU. Therefore, the onus to defend such claims is squarely on YOU. Now try to walk us through the facts and logic behind these claims so that we can all laugh at your sorry ass, bare naked claims and all.

  • Chameleon_X

    Yet another troll with no balls. You’re quite right to be afraid of being mugged, though. I have a truckload full of Islamophobia currency to burn after robbing other Islamophobes blind. I would be more than happy to clean you out as well. Just step right up, and let’s see if you can actually defend a claim instead of ranting like a howling idiot.

  • Just_Stopping_By

    “Islamic countries are either ****holes…”

    The use of expletives is typically a good sign of a poor basis for an argument. Let’s continue:

    “…full of uneducated fanatics (Egypt, Pakistan)…”


    “… or oil fiefdoms built on exploiting slave labor (UAE and such).”

    I won’t defend the working conditions in the Gulf states, but there is a difference between terrible working conditions and actual slavery. To not recognize the difference might suggest that one is an uneducated fanatic.

  • Christian-Friend

    I’m going to start calling you Loony-Bin-Jim

  • Christian-Friend

    you seriously think that every single muslim is out to get you? Are you really that dumb?

  • Christian-Friend

    so are you going to actually do something useful or are you just trolling about?

  • Christian-Friend

    Turkey is a shining light.

  • Ilisha

    I didn’t say I agreed with every word in the article. I found a couple of quick links. Do you really think I’m going to invest a bunch of time in responding to you?

    Frankly, I don’t care if you consider MEMRI reliable or not. It’s hard to express how little I care about your opinion, or the rest of your ilk from HP, who swarm here to troll us.

  • Colin

    You recommend a link [Guardian] to me that says that Memri’s translations are generally reliable and then criticise me for accepting that Guardian statement. Strange!

    I have enough prectical experience of moving between languages [but not Arabic} to be fully aware of the complexities and dangers of translation and interpretation.

    You have not established that Memri’s activities are demonizing Muslims. The Muslims in question demonize themselves by what they say – the only thing in question is not why the words in questions are translated but whether those words are accurately translated? If you can’t show that Memri is mistranslating – and you haven’t so far – then you are completely ducking the challenge.

  • 1DrM

    If “Islamic countries” aka secular western style banana republics are such terrible place why are you westerner primates so hell bent on invading them and setting up shop there I wonder. Oh that’s right, you’re there steal natural resources and set up puppet regimes while selling WMDs. Why is all the corrupt dictatorships in the world, including the Arab regimes owe their existence to the west, slave labor and all? Your entire wealth came from wholesale theft, global wars, mass murder and a fraudulent banking system. There’s more culture and history in a bombed out Baghdad toilet then all of Europe. Read your own history, nazi filth..if not for the Muslims you’d still be frying rat feces in the caves of Europe while debating whether chicken had teeth or not.

  • 1DrM

    Sounds like Gort just made up a new identity to troll with. You can’t debate Muslims because you’d get your mangy ass kicked back to the white nationalist sewer crawled out from. “A mugger who wants you wallet”? Sounds like your typical western foreign policy objective.

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