HLCS conference ‘Is Europe inclusive?’ – Talking back to the Muslim Question

Talking back to the Muslim Question – Raising a voice and claiming a presence
Friday 15 November, 15.30 at Radboud University Nijmegen
Convenor: Martijn de Koning (University of Amsterdam and Radboud University), Research group: Faculty of Philosophy, Theology, and Religion

The Muslim Question refers to a problematizing lens through which Muslimness and Muslim identities are constructed, positioned, essentialized and imposed upon people, often in opposition to so-called Western secular values or the European Judeo-Christian tradition. More concrete it refers to the problematization of the presence of Muslims in Europe in relation to the secular public sphere, integration and security; concepts that in of themselves are already sites of academic debates and contestations.

Recent work on racialization of Islam and Muslims and on Islamophobia has already proven to be of great significance in understanding the emergence and workings of the Muslim question. In this panel at the HLCS conference ‘Is Europe inclusive? Politics, discourses and practices’ we are inspired by the work that has been done on secularism and religion in relation to the public sphere and on Islamophobia but we also want to go beyond this problematizing lens by focusing on the responses of Muslims in the public debates. How do Muslims from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, Islamic traditions and national contexts see their lives influenced through the Muslim Question, how do they respond and claim a public voice and presence, if it all? How have they in the past and now responded to discourses and practices of inclusion and exclusion in Europe?

In doing so the panel contributes to the overall goal of this conference of bringing together critical perspectives on European practices and discourses of inclusion and exclusion, both past and present. We will in particular explore the conditions under which different kinds of practices and discourses of inclusion or exclusion develop vis a vis ‘Europe’ (Q1 of the CfP), and more specifically how Muslim minorities engage with and contribute to these dominant and/or minority practices and discourses.


Esra Özyürek (London School of Economics), ‘Claiming the Memory: Holocaust Memory Culture and Immigrant Integration in Germany’

A fundamental aspect of contemporary European, especially German, national identity is the necessity of coming to terms with the Holocaust and learning the ‘right’ lessons from it, above all the emotional and ethical lessons of empathy and tolerance. Following World War II, Muslim-background minorities arrived in large numbers in Western Europe to help rebuild the war-torn continent. Today these same immigrants, many of them second- and third-generation, are commonly accused of being unable to relate to Holocaust history, of remaining unsympathetic towards its Jewish victims, and of importing new forms of anti-Semitism. Accordingly, the German government, German NGOs, and Muslim-minority groups have together begun to organise an assortment of Holocaust education and anti-Semitism prevention programmes designed specifically for Muslim-background immigrants and refugees, so they too can learn the ‘right’ lessons from the Holocaust and thereby share in Germany’s most important post-War political values. Based on ethnographic research this presentation will each argue that recent debates about the responsibility of immigrants in shouldering Holocaust memory culture have the potential to draw those citizens without a European background towards post-Holocaust European values such as tolerance, democracy and empathy. However, I will also show how those debates can drive such citizens away, by reproaching them for not having gone through the same stages of democratisation that Germans have gone through since losing World War II.

Margreet van Es (Utrecht University and Radboud University), ‘The contextuality of ‘talking back’: Muslims and the pressure to denounce violent extremism in Norway and the Netherlands’

This paper explores how (young) Muslims in Norway and the Netherlands have responded to demands to denounce terrorism since the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Muslims in Europe are under continuous pressure to present themselves as peaceful and loyal citizens. Both in Norway and the Netherlands, many Muslims are looking for ways to raise a ‘multiple critique’ against terrorism, against stereotypical representations of Islam as a violent religion, and against the unequal power relations that cause Muslims to be held accountable for crimes they did not commit themselves. However, Muslims in Norway and the Netherlands seem to have chosen different strategies during the past two decades. This raises several questions, including: What does it mean to ‘talk back’ (bell hooks), and how does contextuality matter here?

Martijn de Koning (University of Amsterdam and Radboud University), ‘Stay safe’ – Practices of (non-) engagement among Dutch Muslims in public debates about Islam.

How do Muslims claim a presence and voice in the public debates about Islam in which they are categorized as a problem for security and integration? In this paper I will address the micro-tactics and deliberations of a variety of Muslim activists regarding their participation and presence in the public debates in the Netherlands. The racialization of Muslims and the construction of the Muslim question in policies and debates has resulted in an entanglement of different axes of Othering to such an extent that it includes almost every notion of the Self: kinship, birthplace, culture, and body. These all contribute to Muslims being labelled the unacceptable Others and potentially dangerous Others in policies and debates. Based upon ethnographic research among Salafi preachers, anti-Islamophobia networks and national umbrella organizations of Muslims, I will show how the different actors construct a regime of surveillance whereby and through which they answer different interpellations by using and combining three different tactics which pertain to speaking out, silence and affirmation. However, depending on personal circumstances and different positionalities within society, the meaning and manifestation of those tactics may differ.

Is Europe inclusive?
The panel is part of the conference ‘Is Europe inclusive?’, 14 – 15 November 2019, organized by the Institute for Historical, Literary and Cultural Studies and the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies, Radboud University, Nijmegen.

European identity is often closely associated with ideals of inclusion supposedly rooted in a long history of tolerance. In its concern with the well- being of all its citizens, Europe symbolises a beacon of enlightenment and a safe haven for minorities. This link is further reinforced by the fact that human rights principles and specifically social and gender inclusion are central to official EU policies. Yet identities are always predicated upon exclusion. Therefore, this conference wishes to challenge the idealized Eurocentric perspective that upholds the pre-eminence of Europe and seeks instead to bring together critical perspectives on European practices and discourses of inclusion and exclusion, both past and present.

The conference will address the following questions:

– How and under what conditions do different kinds of practices and discourses of inclusion or exclusion develop in ‘Europe’ (broadly defined)?
– How do European practices and discourses compare to and interact
with developments in other parts of the world?
– What is or has been the role of art in practices of inclusion or exclusion?
– What is or has been the role of knowledge production with respect to practices of inclusion or exclusion in of Europe?

More information and full program can be found HERE. Please register before 6 November.

One of our panelists prof. dr. Esra Özyurek will deliver a public lecture on Wednesday 13 November. You are welcome to attend:
‘Rethinking empathy: Emotions triggered by the Holocaust among the Muslim-minority in Germany’.

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