Irfan Ahmad on Liberalism & Islamophobia & Domophilia

My colleague Irfan Ahmad is an anthropologist and Senior Research Fellow at the Max Plancke Institute for the Study of Religious & Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen, Germany. Among his work is Islamism and Democracy in India (Princeton University Press, 2009) and recently he published Religion As Critique: Islamic Critical Thinking from Mecca to the Marketplace (University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

In a recent TED talk Ahmad argues, as he explains in an article on BeyondHeadlines, “the contention that Islamophobia is integral to the New World Order should be seen to the notions of home-making and love for home.” In short, Ahmad argues that Islamophobia and the love for the (liberal-democratic) nation-state constitute each other.

His TED-talk builds on an article published a few years ago in the journal Politics, Religion & Ideology (14, 2: 234–252): In Defense of Ho(s)tels: Islamophobia, Domophilia, Liberalism:

I foreground the reconstituted notion of ‘nation-state-as-home’ as central to our understanding of the hostility to and fear of Muslims, Islamophobia, in the contemporary west and beyond. The reconfiguration of the quest from a ‘heavenly home’ into an ‘earthly home’ – a prime signature of secular modernity – led to the consolidation of the nation-state as sort of a ‘natural’ home generating a new kind of love: domophilia – domo + philia, love for home. This love for home, domo, stemming from the Indo-European linguistic root, dem – a zone of possession and imagined security – derives its sustenance from its constitutive obverse, foris/foras, outsider and stranger. What simultaneously connects and separates the two is hostility often manifest, inter alia, in war. Discussing the condition of Muslims in the west and in India, this article aims to demonstrate the complex intimacy between domophilia and Islamophobia. Public expression of Islamophobia, I argue, is not a deviation from but constitutive of liberalism. It is my contention that much of the talk about Muslims’ ‘integration’, verily a moderate word for assimilation, is less than adequate to meet the ever-growing challenge of Islamophobia. We need a significantly new way of imagining politics anchored in a ho(s)tel, not in the hegemonic established sense of a ‘home-as-nation-state’ which carries seeds of violence.

I think it is an important contribution in the debates about how to conceptualize Islamophobia as a form of racism and how the process of racialization of Muslims relates to liberal secularism and nationalism. You can find more work by Irfan Ahmad on his own website.

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