Race, Secularism and Islam in Europe

Date: 23 November 2017
Time: 13.30 – 15.00
Venue: Radboud University Nijmegen

Religion and race are important themes in the disputes about Europe’s identity. References to Europe as a modern secular society, a Judaeo-Christian civilization, or a white continent are often expressed but also challenged. Within these debates issues concerning Islam, the visibility of religion and the racialisation of danger play an important role in constituting and challenging notions of Europeanness.

Studies that focus on Islamophobia or anti-Muslim racism often ignore the specific positions relegated to religion in societies that are dominated by secular self-definitions. At the same time, studies on secularism although mentioning different modes of racism against Muslims, do not often explore these modes in systematic ways. For example, by analysing as to how the ‘Muslim other’ is constructed by referring to behaviours, beliefs, practices and phenotypes such as skin tone and how these have come to signify threat, terrorism, misogyny, fundamentalism, and sexism.

By focusing on the concept of racialisation in relation to Islam and secularism the workshop specific addresses the question of how and under which conditions different kind of loyalties, communities and categories of people emerge, transform and disappear and the role these processes play for a contested Europe. Related questions that will be asked are how do ideas about secularism contribute to the (de-)racialization of Muslims in Europe? What are the different modes of racialization of different Muslim communities in Europe? How do they relate to specific understandings of European countries as secular and what is the role of ideas about critiquing religion in those understandings? We answer these questions by bringing together the scholarship on race and Islamophobia on the one hand and on secularism on the other hand. In doing so we aim to contribute to understanding the complicated relationship between contestations about Europe’s identity, race, religion and the secular.

Contributions
Anya Topolski (RU) will discuss her work on ‘Judeo-Christian’ Europe’s Practice of Divide et Impera: Masking the Race-Religion Constellation.

How does the myth of Europe’s ‘Judeo-Christian’ Identity (or heritage, tradition, etc.), most recently resurrected in political discourse (and not only by right-wing populists), operate to incite division between two of Europe’s ‘others’: Jews and Muslims? In my contribution, I will trace the genealogy of Europe’s ‘Judeo-Christian’ myth in order to show how it serves to exclude the non-Christian (or non-secular) and how this exclusion is connected to the race-religion constellation instituted in the Westphalian political community embodied in its current nation-states, both at the national and trans-national (European) level.

Martijn de Koning focuses on the complexities of “talking back”. How Dutch Muslims claim a public voice in the face of the racialization of Islam.

From the 1970s onwards Islam has been connected to danger, hindering integration and not belonging to the Dutch moral community by politicians, opinion leaders and policy makers. In this paper I explore some of the historical and current responses of Muslim organizations to this racialization of danger and focus in particular upon the recent reactions of three different platforms that centre around the idea of security: the CMO (a cooperation between major mosque umbrella organizations), Call Islamophobia (an anti-Islamophobia organization) and Behind Bars (a former militant network). I will analyse their responses from an Althusserian perspective on interpellation and show how, in different ways, the different platforms resist, accommodate and attempt to ignore the ongoing racialization.

Schirin Amir-Moazami (FU Berlin) discusses the Secular Power and the Predicaments of Knowledge Production on Muslims in Europe.

In recent years, public discourse on Muslims and Islam in Europe has gained unprecedented salience. Triggered by the growing visibility of Islamic forms of social life and religious practices in European public spaces, by the alleged or factual increase of forms of radicalization of Muslim youth, and by the global spread of Islamic terrorism, questions related to Muslims and Islam have witnessed a veritable “discursive explosion”. Scholarship has started to critically investigate the techniques of power involved in the “incitement to discourse” on Muslims in Europe. Firstly, it is important to understand the genealogies of epistemologies operative in knowledge production on Muslims in Europe. Second and relatedly, this implies politicizing and marking the different stocks of knowledge relevant in this field. These angles may lead us to the question as to how current forms of knowledge production on Muslims in Europe are rooted in a modern notion of religion as a denotable and manageable object of investigation, enabled and sustained by secular nation-state institutions.

The panel is part of the Nijmegen HLCS conference Europe Contested. Central to all panels is the question of internal and external contestedness. This conference wants to contribute to a better understanding of the changing place of Europe in the world, and the changing world of which Europe forms a part.

More information can be found at the conference’s website: HERE.