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Islam in Europe: From National to a Transnational Perspective

Speakers
Prof Riva Kastoryano Research Director, CRNS, Professor, Sciences Po, Paris

 Date
18 Jan 2011

 Venue
CIT Auditorium, Level 2, Computer Centre, NUS, 2 Engineering Drive 4, Singapore 117584

 Time
3.30pm – 5.00pm

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Is ‘Islamophobia’ – the prejudice against Muslims – on the rise in Europe? The media’s portrayal of the rise of extreme right politics in Europe has certainly lent credence to that impression, as do the demonstrations of French republican fervour in the various burqa-banning episodes.

Prof Kastoryano started by tracing the origins of 20th century Muslim immigrants in Europe. The influx of migrants into Europe after World War II was a reaction to the demand for cheap labour. The understanding on the part of the host states was that the migrants were temporary residents. By the 1980s, Europeans realized that the migrants were there to stay and their children taking up European citizenship with the provisions of jus soli in France and, more recently, Germany. Thereafter the ‘politics of integration’ was initiated, with relation to education and housing.

From her research and observations, Kastoryano painted an image of the emerging transnational solidarity among Muslims in Europe. This solidarity dates back to the time of the signing of the Maastricht Treaty establishing the EU, an event in which she detected allusions to a ‘thirteenth nation’ that is the Islamic community (the EU had 12 member states then). The use of Islam as a unifying identity was inevitable, given that the Muslims in Europe hail from very diverse backgrounds from North Africa to South Asia.  Also given national constraints in political participation due to citizenship status, Muslim immigrants inevitably gear towards non-territorial forms of identification, as a common religion provides, to present a united voice for their concerns. Herein lies the paradox of the matter – Muslim Europeans are aiming to influence domestic politics from the outside (that is, through transnational means).  At the same time, various “European” experiments in mobilization by the Muslims have also shown up that the differences in ethnic background are not easily overcome, as the different Muslim communities in Europe have different concerns.

She framed these debates as one over the terms of citizenship, over rights and political participation. Members of the Muslim communities throughout Europe are faced with multiple belongings – to their country of residence, country of origin, and to their transnational faith community. Hence it is imperative on the state to negotiate the terms of citizenship with its citizens.

Another key question was thus laid out – is political participation through institutional representation sufficient for achieving equality for minorities, religious or ethnic, in EU member states? Kastoryano’s reply, if inconclusive, was that in the French case at least, minority representation could actually be accentuating the discrimination towards the very community it was intended to protect.  In contrast, migrants in Germany seem to be more integrated and participative in the economic arena despite the lack of formal institutional representation for them.

During the lively question-and-answer segment, Kastoryano expounded on some of the invigorating questions to generalize the application of her thesis. While Turkey does not tap on the kind of Islamic transnationalism she had been alluding to, it certainly tapped on very salient transnational factors and sentiments such as during the 2010 Gaza flotilla incident, when the Turkish prime minister came to be seen as the champion of the oppressed Muslims – in this case, the Palestinians – thus cementing Turkey’s emerging reputation as a leader of the Muslim world. Reacting to concerns about the precedence set by the banning of the burqa in France, Kastoryano emphasized that the particular legislation was ruled unconstitutional by the French constitutional court and the European Court of Justice.