Synthesising Counter-Narratives to Islamophobia across Europe

Synthesising Counter-Narratives to Islamophobia across Europe

Prof. Ian Law, April 2018


The latest report from our CIK project has carried out a meta-analysis of counter-narratives to Islamophobia in eight EU member states (Law, Easat-Daas and Sayyid 2018).  The project identified the ten dominant counter-narratives to Islamophobia which in descending order of prevalence challenged constructions of Muslim ‘threat’, challenged exclusionary national projects, emphasised cultural compatibility and conviviality, elaborated Muslim plurality, challenged narratives of sexism, sought to build inclusive futures and deracialise the state, argue for Muslim normalisation and humanity, the creation of Muslim space(s) and challenge distorted representations of Muslims.


This report documents the strength, vitality and innovative nature of the many diverse ways in which Islamophobia is currently being challenged across Europe, in the face of a highly constraining set of racialised conditions which are producing and reproducing narratives of hate. These findings are based on new data sets of fieldwork with 278 respondents and textual data collated from political, policy, media and NGO discourse, and digital data from social media platforms.


The most important message of this report is the conceptual specification of ten counter-narratives to Islamophobia, which have been identified here and which are currently active and operating across Europe. Each brings together a cluster of arguments and chains of meaning to refute the multi-dimensional forms of Islamophobic discourse identified by the CIK project in Workstream 1 (Mescoli 2017a). They also collectively avoid being trapped in a cycle of reaction to the demonisation of Islam and Muslims by envisioning and narrating paths to the building of inclusive societies. This emerging set of creative resistances provide a sound basis for building, reiterating and pressing home the forensic refutation of Islamophobia and for turning the tide of a deteriorating European climate of Islamophobia. But, without declaratory and effective state action this will be impossible, with it there is some significant chance of success. In Hungary, for example, ‘Islamophobia is generated by the populist, self-declared illiberal national conservative government’ and in the UK ‘little or no progress’ over twenty years is noted in the response of state and associated institutions in tackling this issue. The production of counter-narratives occurs primarily in civil society contexts, and their absence and lack in state contexts requires an honest appraisal of the relationship between state rhetoric, policies and practices and an ‘obsession with Muslimness’ (Merali 2017, p.83).


There is a complex and intricate relationship between these counter-narratives with the potential for misrecognition and contradiction, for example emphasising plurality may be seen to undermine calls for recognition of common humanity, or calling for creation of Muslim space(s) may be seen to undermine a challenge to narrative separation of groups, or challenging distorted representation may lead to emphasising simplistic narratives of Muslim singularity. These counter-narratives may all be subject to subversion and rejection in many ways. They are however an integrated package of key arguments which are inter-dependant and inter-linked. For example, challenging discrimination and institutional narratives, together with building a plural vision of an inclusive state and an inclusive future are complimentary and intertwined and cannot be disconnected. The effectiveness of counter-narratives has not been measured in this project, what we have been able to identify is what counter-narratives are most widely in use across Europe, how they work and how they are deployed. The collective experience of actors and agencies across these member states is drawn together here and these counter-narratives, in our view, effectively counter, address and engage with current formations of Islamophobia and provide a pathway towards a declining environment of hate.


In the widely differing eight national contexts examined in this case study there is convergence in the elucidation of counter-narratives, and their discursive power is intimately interconnected, as counter-narratives in one country relate closely to and rely on counter-narratives elsewhere. This relational character of counter-narratives confirms the importance of robust consolidation, iteration and reiteration of these arguments which is the purpose of this project. This report on Key Workstream 2 Messages together with the eighteen reports produced by the project so far on the role of law, sixteen country case studies and the report on Key Messages from Workstream 1 will inform the next stage of the project, Workstream 3 which will develop an EU Counter-Narrative toolkit which will document and specify tools, arguments, positions and accounts which will be able to directly engage and challenge Islamophobia and provide guidance on best practice in their utilisation.



Law, Ian, Easat-Daas, Amina and Sayyid, S. 2018. Dominant Counter-Narratives to Islamophobia – Comparative Report. Leeds: CIK Working Paper, University of Leeds.

Merali, Arzu. 2017. Categorising and Evaluating Counter-Narratives to Muslim Hatred/Islamophobia, Country report – UK. Leeds: CIK Working Paper, University of Leeds.

Mescoli, Elsa. 2017a. Dominant Islamophobic Narratives – Comparative Report. Leeds: CIK Working Paper 3, University of Leeds. Available at