Overview/Comparison of Dominant Anti-Muslim Narratives

Overview/Comparison of Dominant Anti-Muslim Narratives

Elsa Mescoli

Islamophobic narratives against Muslims in each studied national context emerge in discursive environments which are not neutral and which impact the ways in which anti-Muslim attacks take place/occur. The data collected in each country is synthesized to provide a holistic reasoning behind the prevailing narratives of Islamophobia in Europe on the basis of situated examples and of their meta-analysis. Such reasoning draws on the results obtained from a multi-method strategy applied throughout each context, and it involves narratives as interlocked discourses as well as narratives as standing alone messages.

The countries studied are “territories where Muslims are represented mainly as immigrants” (Sayyid, 2014: 64-65). The history and the quantitative terms of this representation differ among states. However, in all of them, though some official documents or past events permit us to account for the first relatively important numbers of people coming from mainly Muslim countries, we encounter similar difficulties in establishing precise estimations about the contemporary situation. The political scope as well as the methodological bias associated to such counting affect the production of figures. We suggest to approach the studied countries as theatres where figures about Muslims’ presence produced at the level of the hegemonic discourse amounts to maximum 5% of the overall population (Hungary with less than 0.5%, Czech Republic and Portugal with less than 1%, United Kingdom with among 4 and 5%) and theatres where these estimations exceed this percent (France with around 6%, Germany with less than 6%, Greece with 5.3%, Belgium with around 6%). Muslims are generally associated with ethnic minority groups distinct from the majority population – and this entails differential and incomplete forms of citizenship – which makes the Islamophobic narratives  articulated in relation to discourses and policies developed on the one hand about migrants in more general terms, and on the other hand about other specific communities. The formation, shapes and deployment of Islamophobic narratives occur also in relation with the history of migration of people with a supposedly Muslim background in each analysed country. The historical course of Muslims’ people migration and of their presence in the considered state together with the state general approach to religious issues also determine the definition of the official place of Islam in the society.

Within the framework of these described theatres, Islamophobia is conceptualized – where this occurs – in different forms and at different levels of the society, which influences whether systematic accounts for this form of discrimination exist or not. Discourses on (im)migration intersect some narratives of islamophobia and often shape the overall scenario in which they develop, and this happens through time.

The comparison of Islamophobic narratives identified in each state results in emerging convergences. First, the theoretical landscape where they all develop – informed by literature and media, and political statements from a variety of actors – is that of a sometimes latent, some other times overt and in any case still present form of Orientalism. In continuity with the theorization by Said (1978), Orientalism appears in contemporary times as a discursive process of othering that targets Muslims and Islam in migration contexts as incorporating the ultimate essentialized cultural difference that would not fit ethnocentric and evolutionist views of culture, and would not follow the route to civilizational progress traced by Europe. The inclusive discursive formations emerging in this theoretical scenario include, first of all, the conception – conceptualization and argumentation through concrete facts – of the question musulmane (Fadil, 2016; Norton, 2013; Haijjat and Mohammed, 2013; Fernando, 2014), the Muslim question, or of Muslims as problems for Western societies. Then, morality appear as crucial trope mobilized either to highlight the incompatibility of Muslims and Islam with European norms and values, either as analytical tool (through the notion of “moral panic”, Fadil et al., 2014) of the discourses diffused in the mainstream society to describe Muslims and Islam as a threat to fear. Discourses on Muslims and Islam as being a threat are connected with the concrete reiteration of the role of the state and its organs as bearers of people’s sovereignty exerted through governmental and biopolitical techniques of power.

Interlocking with these inclusive discursive formations, specific narratives of Islamophobia are accounted for by each state report. The comparison between the eight lists of the most relevant narratives of Islamophobia identified in each considered state and ranked in qualitative terms by estimating and considering their relative strength, recurrence and impact, has been organized to produce a list of umbrella narratives ordered in descending rank:

  1. Threat to security

Radicalization of Muslims (BE), Muslims as problems: anti-radicalization and anti-terrorism policies (BE), Muslims use public funding to promote Islamic fundamentalism (PT), Muslims will provide the manpower for and organize terrorist attacks in Greece (GR), Muslims and extremism (UK), Muslims as a security threat (UK), Muslims as terrorists (CR), Muslims and terrorism (HU), Muslims as a security threat (FR), Link between Islam and Islamic fundamentalism (FR), Muslims as terrorist sympathizers (FR), Muslim suburban youths resorting to radical forms of Islamism or to violence (FR), Islamic terrorism (DE).

  1. Unassimilable

Non-integrated character or unwilling to integrate (DE), Muslims are unassimilable [ASSIMILATION] (PT), Muslims will severe, as a non-assimilable community, the social and cultural cohesion in Greece (GR), Muslims will severe, as a non-assimilable community, the social and cultural cohesion of Europe (GR), Disloyalty and the Threat to Internal Democracy (UK), Muslims as the vanguards of multiculturalism (UK), Failed multiculturalism narrative (CR), Muslims unwilling or unable to integrate into French society (FR), Muslim suburban youths as social and economic outcasts (FR)

  1. Demographic threat and proselytisation

Invasion of Muslims and ‘Islamisation’ of the country (DE), Brussels is turning into a Muslim city (BE), Islam is a proselyte religion, which aims to ‘invade our territory’ and take over ‘our way of life’ (PT), Muslims serve as the blind instruments of Turkish expansionist views on Greece by settling on the Aegean Islands (GR), Muslims will deliberately try to de-Christianize Greece and turn it into an Islamic country (GR), Immigration and the demographic threat (UK), The narrative of organized invasion (CR), Conspiracy theory: Migration leading to Islamization of Europe (HU), Migration leading to the ‘Islamization’ of Europe (HU)

  1. Theocracy

Islamic parallel societies (DE), Islam does not rely on democracy and the rule of law, but on the rule of God and is prone to autocracy (PT), Muslims incompatibility rests on the rejection of the secular state (GR), Islamic practices need to be secularized to be accepted in Western societies (BE), Veiling is incompatible with Western values and local rules (BE), Muslim in need of integration (assimilation) (UK), The anachronistic religion narrative (CR), Religious symbols as an underhanded attempt on secularism (FR)

  1. Threat to identity

Islam threatens local traditions (BE), Muslim presence will inevitably (and not as a part of a pre-constructed plan) lead to the loss or corruption of Greek national identity (GR), Muslims serve as the instruments of leftist attacks to Greek cultural and national foundations (GR), Islamisation as destruction of our culture (HU), slam is a threat to our European Christian civilization (HU), Islam is a threat to our national and Christian identity (HU), Islam as a threat to French national identity (FR)

  1. Gender inequality

Gender inequality in Muslim communities (DE), Islamic religion legitimates extreme forms of women oppression (BE), Islam and Muslims are sexist in larger amounts than what one can see in the West (PT), Muslim misogyny and perversion and the oppressed Muslim woman (UK), Muslims as segregationists (UK), The women oppression narrative (CR), Deviant sexuality (DE), The sexual predators narrative (CR), Women as oppressed victims (FR)

  1. Ontological diversity

Ontological distinct from non-Muslim nationals/population (DE),  Islam does not allow freedom of speech (PT), Islam does not allow modern science with it, as Western civilization does (hence, Muslims are not led by rational decision-making) (PT), Muslims will help diffuse a culture of disrespect towards human rights (GR), Islam as a counter to ‘Britishness’/‘Fundamental British Values’ (UK), Muslims as subhuman and unable to socialize to ‘human’ norms (UK), The barbarian narrative (Muslims as a natural hazard, as parasites) (CR), Muslims as Gypsies (CR), Islam is an alien religion, culture for Hungarians (HU)

  1. Innate violence

Innate sense of violence (DE), Islam advocates violence, Muslims are prone to violence (PT), Islam as an expansive violent religion (CR)

  1. Incomplete citizenship

Mosques do not have their place in the local context (BE), Muslims should not come to and become visible in Hungary (HU), Muslims illegitimate and not fully French (FR), Islamic belonging is a prior identity marker (BE)

  1. Homophobia

Muslim homophobia (DE)

Islam is bigoted and thus intolerant towards homosexuals (PT)

This is a set of prevailing Islamophobic messages to be addressed by counter-narratives aimed at questioning and combatting them. The first ten umbrella narratives gathered throughout the reports takes different forms in the considered countries.

Works cited

Fadil, N., El Asri, F. and Bracke, S. 2014. Chapter 5 Belgium. In: Cesari, J. ed. The Oxford Handbook of European Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 222-262.

Fadil, N. 2016. La construction du “problème musulman” et la souveraineté étatique: le cas de la Belgique. [Online]. 28 April, University of Liege, Liege. [Accessed 20 April 2017]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMGwID_LG0I&t=6s

Fernando, M. L. 2014. The republic unsettled: Muslim French and the contradictions of secularism. Durham: Duke University Press.

Hajjat, A. and Mohammed, M. 2013. Islamophobie. Comment les élites françaises construisent le «problème musulman». Paris: La Découverte.

Norton, A. 2013. On the Muslim question. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Sayyid, S. 2014. A measure of Islamophobia. Islamophobia Studies Journal2(1), pp. 10-25.

Said, E. 1978. Orientalism. London; Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul