Semantics of Islamophobia in France

20.09.2013

In two separate newspaper articles on Libération and Le Monde, the papers discussed the polemics surrounding the word Islamophobia and the reluctance of certain politicians and organisations in using the term to describe anti-Muslim violence in France. The debate surrounding the roots of the term appears to be crucial to the question of who is comfortable in using the word and who refrains from doing so. For many politicians, including some leading politician in the current government, who reject to use the term, Islamophobia is a concept that misleads by being in allegiance with forces that attempt to undermine democracy and secularism.  Many consider the term to be of coinage by the Iranian government, who are accused of using the word in order to forward its radical agenda.

Marwan Mohammed and Abdellali Hajjat, two sociologists who have written a book on the genealogy of Islamophobia in France, have however revealed a completely different story of the term. According to them, French anthropologists used the term Islamophobia in 1910 to describe a way to administer French colonies in East Africa and reappeared in in the 1980s where in the UK where its politically coinage later took place.

Georgia Newspaper Column Calls On U.S. To Send Muslims ‘Back To Their Native Land’

A local newspaper in Georgia recently published a column ostensibly about U.S. Middle East policy but which took a hard right turn into birtherism and racism, highlighting the Islamophobia problem at the local-level.

In its June 19 edition, the Advance — local newspaper for Vidalia, GA — published a “Plain Talk” column from author Gerry Allen on the current atmosphere of turbulence in the Middle East. The full article, titled “An Arab Spring or an Arab Fall,” can be read in full here.

Allen opens the piece claiming that Rudyard Kipling — author of the poem “The White Man’s Burden” essentially justifying Western imperialism — is one of his favorite authors, quoting the British writer as once saying, “East is East and West is West and never the twain will meet.” Allen then immediately calls up some of the most repugnant stereotypes of Islam, saying that while denying women and girls educations, Muslims “really don’t favor educating anybody in anything but mayhem.”

From there, the column becomes a tour de force of racism and Islamophobia masquerading as a critique of U.S. foreign policy. On Iraq, Allen notes the folly of attempting to impose democracy on a “truly backward people who had been ruled by tyrants and the Koran for thousands of years.” He criticizes President Obama — whom he frequently refers to as “Obumer” — for wavering on Syria, claiming that the President lacks the “backbone” to impose a no-fly zone. The reason for this lack of decisiveness? “He is a Muslim himself or at least a Muslim sympathizer,” Allen claims of Obama, repeating claims that birthers have made for years.

The localized nature of Islamophobia in the United States lends itself to problems both on the policy front and in terms of hindering efforts to end discrimination. CAP expert Matt Duss recently co-authored a report in which the effect of laws seeking to ban “Sharia law” within states often have unintended legal consequences. “Although packaged as an effort to protect American values and democracy, the bans spring from a movement whose goal is the demonization of the Islamic faith,” Duss wrote, along with the Brennan Center’s Fazia Patel and Amos Toh. “Beyond that, however, many foreign law bans are so broadly phrased as to cast doubt on the validity of a whole host of personal and business arrangements.”

Attempts to correct the many misperceptions of Muslims at the state and local-level often finds itself in conflict with those who would prefer to continue to spread hatred. Just last month, protesters shouted down calls for tolerance at a Tennessee meeting, instead cheering references to an area mosque being set on fire during its construction.

 

On the Muslim Question by Anne Norton – review

Anne Norton rejects the ‘clash of civilisations’ view of Islam and the west, but offers little to replace it. Lawrence Rosen is the author of Varieties of Muslim Experience and The Culture of Islam offers the review of Anne Norton’s new publication On the Muslim Question.

 

Anne Norton thinks that the “Muslim question” is, if anything, a question about non-Muslims. She is straightforward in denying the claim that Islam and the west are involved in a “clash of civilisations”; castigating writers of various political persuasions who have, blatantly or inferentially, put forward this view. She thus criticises writers such as John Rawls (as well as those, such as Michael Walzer and Michael Ignatieff, who “have urged them on”) for saying that Muslims constantly seek empire and territory, for stereotyping Muslims’ political orientation as the antithesis of liberalism, and for promoting a false history that conceals liberalism’s own failings. In an effort to find more common ground, she underwrites Derrida’s assertion that Islam is “the other of democracy” because Muslim states could retain their distinctiveness while recognising Israel and promoting democratic values. And she surprisingly lauds Sayyid Qutb, the Islamic theorist executed by Nasser in Egypt, because “even this intolerant, fanatic man has something to teach us about human rights, human dignity, and equality”, given his support for private property and women in the workplace.

 

In a series of chapters on sexuality, freedom of speech and democracy, Norton recognises that valid differences of orientation exist. But she does not always help her own case by making assertions that are variously vague, trivial or wrong. For example, she says that terrorism is the precursor to democracy (as if the course of the Arab spring was inevitable), that randomness is “terrifying” (so much for evolutionists), that “Germany has no neo-Nazis” (when they number upwards of 5,000), that the publishers of the Danish cartoons “intended to provoke” (and not just insult) Muslims, that the veil is “profoundly erotic” (for elderly women?), or that calling your sports team the Redskins “honours an old enemy” (tell that to Native Americans).

 

But if the clash-of-civilisations approach is false, what options exist for addressing the differences presented by a Muslim minority in a western country? Having dismissed many of the arguments of western intellectuals about Islam, Norton indicates that neither outright assimilation nor distant toleration is to be preferred: rather she chooses the third option, moving “us” closer to “them”. Indeed, she seems to regard this as already having happened. True, some issues may be resolving themselves internally: many Muslim women have found common sartorial ground, older ones having given up the full veil, younger ones the miniskirt, both adopting a simple head scarf. And once we eliminate the clash-of-civilisations notion from our vocabulary, the mutual accommodations that already exist at the local level may only increase. But a common meeting ground is not always easily achieved.

 

Such a position may, however, come at the price of not really attending to the distinctiveness of the “other”. Norton knows little about Muslims: she gets her few references to Arabic wrong and never discusses the scholarship on Islam and Muslim cultures. In the absence of any understanding of Muslims in their own terms, moving closer to them risks being yet another exercise in self-congratulation: it yields few insights about us and none about them, and thus lacks both genuine understanding and real moral bite.

 

Muslims, like every minority, appreciate the need for camouflage in the face of muted suspicion, even if that need has diminished somewhat in the years since 9/11 and 7/7. But living as a chameleon may be harder now that we all notice each other noticing each other. Under such circumstances, anonymity, for many Muslims, may stifle their sense of valid difference and deprive non-Muslims of really seeing their neighbours. If that happens, we may avoid the “clash”, but it may come at the cost of an arrangement neither community should be eager to call “civilisation”.

 

Normalization of the extreme-right in France

Le Monde

06.02.2013

A new joint survey published by France Info, Le Monde and Canal Plus illustrates the normalisation of the Front national (FN) amongst the French. The study conducted by TNS Sofres exemplifies the change of perception about the French right-wing party over a period of 30 years in France.

The poll reveals that today 47% of respondents “don’t consider the party to pose a threat for democracy” anymore. In another poll conducted in 1990, 70% of respondents still perceived the right wing party to be of danger for French democracy.  The numbers strongly indicate to a normalisation of the FN amongst the French population. It further underlines the mainstreaming of right wing ideologies amongst conservative voters. Accordingly, 54% of UMP voters do not consider the FN to be a threat anymore. Whereas the number of adherence of FN ideals has stayed relatively equal (32%), 63% of participants however said to disagree with the overall policies of the extreme right.

The crucial role of the new leader of the Front national, Marie Le Pen, in the process of normalising and popularising right wing politics becomes evident in the following numbers: whilst in 2012 41% of respondents said that the leader of the party is the representative of “a patriotic right attached to traditional values” instead of a leader of the “an extreme nationalist and xenophobic right”, a year later, 44% participants support such views. According to Le Monde, this hasn’t been the case during the long reign of Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, over the party.

Moreover, 54% of UMP voters consider the current leader to be the representative of “a patriotic right attached to traditional values”. Left wing voters on the other hand reject to 83% the policies of the FN, amongst the Front de gauche supporters it’s even 86%.

Right wing ideas are accordingly most strongly supported by French with little or no education: 42% of workers, 34% of clerks, 41% of the rural population 36% of the rurban population and 38% of the suburban population identify with FN policies. Those who finished higher education and hold further degrees (79%) are the ones that reject right wing ideas the most including those who live in urban centres, specifically large metropolises, as well as academics (85%).

The poll illustrates how right wing politics have been normalised over several decades in France. The integration of right wing parties and policies into the spectrum of mainstream politics indicates the positive revaluation of the right wing ideology and its representatives, the FN, in French politics. No more is the right confined to a state of pariahhood, but has seemingly arrived in the centre of French politic as well as gained the status of socio-political acceptability in France.

Marine Le Pen

What Islam Says, and Doesn’t Say – Op Ed: Omid Safi

Modern nation states utilize political models that were unanticipated in any of our premodern scriptures. It is anachronistic to ask whether “Islam” endorses constitutionalism or democracy. Islam as such does not proscribe any one particular system of government. (Of course “Islam” doesn’t do anything, Muslims do. We human beings are the agents of our religious traditions.)

Rather, there are general ethical principles that have to be guaranteed under any system of government that Muslims adopt, like social justice; protection of life, property, and honor of humanity; accountability of rulers to law; distribution of wealth; and protection of minorities. All systems of government are imperfect, and it is not only good but also healthy to be perpetually vigilant against abuses of any form of government. However, it may also be the case that a genuine and robust democracy is the least imperfect of all imperfect political models today, as others before us have said.

 

By speaking of a robust democracy, we are not talking about simply copying the American model of democracy, which is in many ways broken — beholden to special interest groups, and perhaps better labeled as an oligarchy or plutocracy. The ideal model that I see for Muslims would be more akin to some of the European models that combine democracy with guaranteed social services like universal health care, widespread education, respect for human rights and minimized military spending.

French actor’s anti-Muslim tweet

News Agencies – September 5, 2012

Véronique Genest, star of the long-running French television police series Julie Lescaut, has come under attack over a series of Islamophobic comments on Twitter, in which she claimed that Islam is a threat to democracy and aims to impose sharia law on France, declared her admiration for the racist journalist Éric Zemmour and described it as a “historical fact” that Muslims are allies of the Nazis.

 

Swedish Defense League (SDL): “Majority of young Muslims in Europe do not want democracy”

August 1, 2012

 

On Saturday several Islamophobic organizations from all around the world gather on Norra Bantorget (a square in downtown Stockholm). English Defense League participate among other groups. They plan to gather in order to protest what they view as increased Islamization of Europe. These organizations choose to gather in Sweden primarily due to the failed terrorist attack in Stockholm in December 2010, this according to one of the organizers and the SDL’s spokesperson Isak Nygren.

 

“We want to show that we are not alone in our resistance to Islam. We want to show that we are many, and the more numerous we are the better it is (for our cause). We want to protect the democratic and open society, which Islam is against. There are no Muslim democracies,” says Isak Nygren.

 

‘Isn’t Kosovo democratic?’

 

Nygren answers, “I have never heard that they held any elections in Kosovo.” (NOTE: Kosovo has held four parliamentary elections since 1991, in the latest election, Social Democrats won – PDK).

 

‘What about the recent elections in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya?’

 

“The elections have been arranged by the West, soon they will abolish voting and elections, just what they did on the Gaza strip in 2006.”

 

‘Don’t you think that young people in the Arab world want democracy?’

 

”No, it is the same in Europe, majority of the young Muslims in Europe do not want democracy.”

 

‘What evidences support your claims that Muslims do not want democracy?’

”If you consider that the Islamist movement has grown since the 1980s, that is reflected in that many Muslim states has receded in development. The most obvious example is Afghanistan.”

 

‘Wasn’t it the desire for democracy that fueled the Arab Spring?’

 

“It had nothing to do with democracy. They (the people) were fed up with the secular state power. Majority of the Egyptians do not want democracy, (if so) they wouldn’t have voted for the (Muslim) Brotherhood.”

 

‘So, a regular Muslim does not want democracy?’

 

“Well they allow themselves to be ruled by certain groups which are against democracy. The silent majority allows the loud majority to rule.”

 

‘What are the signs that Sweden is being Islamized?’

 

“Couple years ago, a first Sharia court was formed in Malmö. And we are witnessing increase in building of Islamic centres. Also, there is gender apartheid in pool houses where they are closed for access to the public except for the Muslim women who also pull the drapes over the windows.”

 

‘But the so called Sharia court in Malmö has only counseling rights no judicial function.’

 

“Not according to the Swedish law, but it is how everything starts. First we have family jurisprudence than it develops.”

 

‘What is the problem (more specifically)?’

 

”These are small steps and in the long run these (steps) can lead to decreased rights of expression. If you criticize Islam you are automatically called an Islamophob and all other kinds of names.”

 

‘But isn’t the demonstration this Saturday a sign of freedom of expression?’

 

“There is still some freedom (allowed), but the media will lie about us.”

Interview with Mohammad Mojtahed ShabestariWhy Islam and Democracy Go Well Together

The Shiite scholar Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari is regarded as one of the Iran’s most influential Muslim reformist thinkers. In an interview with Jan Kuhlmann, he explains why there is no inconsistency between Islam and democracy.

You have stated that Islam is a religion and not a political programme. Many other Islamic scholars, however, say that it is not possible to separate religion and the state or, alternatively, religion and politics. Do you thing these spiritual leaders are mistaken?

Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari: You cannot expect politics to adhere to the sort of ethical principles found in religion. And conversely, you cannot expect religion to follow a political programme with the aim of achieving certain social objectives. As I understand it, religion is the relationship between man and God, in which man speaks to his God, his God listens, resulting in inner emancipation. This is why I hold the view that religion, and also Islam in particular, cannot be equated with a political programme.