Tracing the Origins of Islamophobia

Recent polls conducted by a number of polling institutes indicate that, in the minds of Germans and Europeans, Islam – more than any other religion – is associated with negative feelings. The phenomenon of resentment towards Islam, which is widespread in society, has been ignored for a long time and has recently begun to attract some attention; in particular, there have been efforts to investigate, and publicly debate, its origins, heterogeneity, and repercussions, by a number of prominent representatives from various academic disciplines. One such effort has resulted in the present volume, edited by Thorsten G. Schneiders, under the title “Islamfeindlichkeit – Wenn die Grenzen der Kritik verschwimmen” (roughly, “Islamophobia: When the Limits of Criticism become Blurred”), which draws a line from the slander of the Prophet Muhammad in medieval Europe all the way to contemporary internet-based incitement against Islam.
Recent polls conducted by a number of polling institutes indicate that, in the minds of Germans and Europeans, Islam – more than any other religion – is associated with negative feelings. The phenomenon of resentment towards Islam, which is widespread in society, has been ignored for a long time and has recently begun to attract some attention; in particular, there have been efforts to investigate, and publicly debate, its origins, heterogeneity, and repercussions, by a number of prominent representatives from various academic disciplines. One such effort has resulted in the present volume, edited by Thorsten G. Schneider, under the title “Islamfeindlichkeit – Wenn die Grenzen der Kritik verschwimmen” (roughly, “Islamophobia: When the Limits of Criticism become Blurred”), which draws a line from the slander of the Prophet Muhammad in medieval Europe all the way to contemporary internet-based incitement against Islam.
As the first chapter of the book, about the historical evolution of the European perception of Islam, makes clear, large parts of the European population have tended to stigmatise the dominant religion of ‘the Orient’ – in spite of the, at times, significant anticipation of cultural achievements in the Near East. From the mid-20th century onwards, due to the increase in encounters with Muslim immigrants and ‘guest-workers’ (as well as, more recently, the acceleration of globalisation), these sentiments have again surfaced more prominently.
However, as the first of the contributions by the theologian Thomas Naumann shows, by reflecting on the supposedly ‘darkest chapter’ in European-Islamic history – the age of the Crusades – the direct encounter with Islamic culture sometimes also made it to possible to overcome feelings of resentment. When viewed from this angle, the present volume can also be understood as a manifesto for cultural dialogue with Muslims, with the goal of finding a consensus on values.
Since negative reports tend to have a stronger emotional impact on a non-expert audience than positive reports, some pundits with an, at best, reserved attitude towards Islam, have succeeded, time and again, in reviving historical legends about Islam, even in the context of what are essentially modern contemporary problems – thereby bringing outdated historical ressentiments back into public consciousness.
This might also explain the observation, well-documented by Werner Ruf, an emeritus political scientist, in his contribution based on an analysis of official NATO documents, that both the scenario of an ‘imminent threat’ from the Muslim world (a familiar trope in medieval and early modern Europe) and a feeling of cultural superiority (which has its roots in 19th-century imperialism) are enjoying renewed popularity in some political quarters and certain mass media.
The second chapter in the volume analyses the deep repercussions of the resentment that persists in European civil society towards the Muslim faith and its adherents. In particular, it creates barriers for the – politically desirable – integration of Muslim immigrants into German society, and for the recognition of legitimate religious demands, as far as the educational system, professional life and legal system are concerned.
The contribution by Navid Kermani, the Iranian-German scholar of Islamic studies, emphasises that the prejudice-laden image of Islam in parts of German society is, to a large extent, fuelled, and perpetuated, by the use of selective quotations from the Quran, which are taken out of context and then related to specific social problems or developments. As a result, any negative occurrences may then be blamed on Islam itself, whereas other attendant circumstances, such as political conditions, educational backgrounds, or the immigrant status of those involved are often ignored.
The role of the media in perpetuating and cultivating negative connotations of all things Muslim, is analysed in detail in chapters 3 and 4 of the book. What is especially problematic is that some, originally left-leaning, liberal intellectuals, have adopted a tone of wholesale criticism of Islam and ‘the Muslims’. The contribution by the editor, Thorsten G. Schneider, a political scientist and scholar of Islamic studies, unmasks the unsavoury methods by which some of those intellectuals (many of whom have never pursued degrees in Islamic studies or Orientalistik) pass off their warnings against an undifferentiated Islamic threat as an exercise in ‘casting light on the nature of Islam’.
In addition to these mildly depressing findings about the attitudes and behaviour among German civil society towards Muslims – who, after all, by now have become an integral part of it – the papers in the volume also present some reason for hoping that Islam might one day be recognised as on an equal footing with Christianity and Judaism. Several contributors point to the painful, but eventually successful, path towards equal treatment that, historically, was part of the Jewish experience in Christian societies and which might now serve as an inspiration for Muslims.
Even though the number of papers included in the volume – the total of which runs to 28 – might seem a little daunting to the layperson and casual reader, the diversity of disciplines and approaches represented by the contributors shows clearly the relevance of the phenomenon of “Islamophobia”, and its consequences, across society as a whole.

Mohammed Khallouk

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Über mohammedkhallouk

Herzlich Willkommen auf dem Blog von Mohammed Khallouk. Auf den folgenden Seiten erhalten Sie einen Überblick über meine publizistischen und akademischen Aktivitäten: Ich bin Politologe, Arabist und Islamwissenschaftler. Schwerpunktmäßig beschäftige ich mich mit dem Verhältnis von Religion und Politik sowie zwischen Westen und Islamischer Welt. Ich habilitiere über die jüdische Minderheit in Marokko an der Universität der Bundeswehr München. Außerdem bin ich Beauftragter für wissenschaftliche Expertise des Zentralrats der Muslime in Deutschland (ZMD). wissenschaftliches Profil: • 1993-1997 Studium der Arabistik und Islamwissenschaft an der Mohammed V. – Universität Rabat/Marokko • 1999-2003 Studium der Politikwissenschaft mit den Nebenfächern Französisch und Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft an der Philipps-Universität Marburg • 2004-2007 Promotion in Politikwissenschaft an der Philipps-Universität Marburg • Seit 2009 Habilitation im Bereich Internationale Beziehungen an der Universität der Bundeswehr München • 2008-2011 Lehrbeauftragter im Bereich Politische Theorien und Ideengeschichte an der Philipps-Universität Marburg • 2010-2011 Lehrbeauftragter im Bereich Staat, Religion und Geschichte an der Universität der Bundeswehr München Forschungsschwerpunkte: • Das Verhältnis von Islam und Moderne • Kulturdialog zwischen Westen und Islamischer Welt • Lösungsstrategien zu Konflikten der MENA-Region • Das arabische Judentum in Historie und Gegenwart • Integration der muslimischen Minorität in Deutschland • Der deutsche Mediendiskurs über Islam ausgewählte Beiträge und Publikationen: • Der Nahe Osten am Scheideweg – Haben Israelis und Palästinenser noch eine Chance zu friedlichem Zusammenleben; LIT-Verlag, Münster 2003 • Islamischer Fundamentalismus vor den Toren Europas – Marokko zwischen Rückfall ins Mittelalter und westlicher Modernität, VS Verlag, Wiesbaden 2008 • Die Orientierung am Wort Gottes als Fundament unendlicher menschlicher Kreativität, lamed, Zeitschrift Stiftung Zürcher Lehrhaus, 5 6, Februar 2010 • Franz Rosenzweigs jüdischer Existentialismus als Vorbild für den interreligiösen Dialog, Information Philosophie 2/2010, Mai 2010 • 1001 Fremder im Paradies, Mediterranes 2/2010 • Die deutsche Orientalistik der Gegenwart – Vermittler gesellschaftlicher Erkenntnis oder Instrument wissenschaftlicher Bestätigung islamfeindlicher Ressentiments? Ein Dialog mit Udo Steinbach, Aufklärung & Kritik, Heft 39, Juli 2011 Informationen über meine Lehrveranstaltungen finden Sie auf der Website der Philipps-Universität Marburg http://www.uni-marburg.de/studium und auf der Website der Universität der Bundeswehr München http://www.unibw.de/startseite/ Kontakt: mohammed.khallouk@yahoo.de Die Links in diesem Blog geben nicht die Meinung des Betreibers wieder. Sie werden zu wissenschaftlichen und Informationszwecken publiziert.
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