American Studies, Regional Studies

Global Histories and Practices of Islamophobia Working Group I

Image of working group participants

On August 8 and 9, 2022, the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) organized the first research meeting under its initiative on Global Histories and Practices of Islamophobia. The meeting was held as a virtual event, with scholars participating from various geographical locations. The meeting aimed to discuss the submitted abstract proposals, which were solicited through a Call for Papers and submissions by invited scholars. The convened academics and experts from various multi-disciplinary backgrounds discussed issues related to global Islamophobia beyond the question of war on terror and fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims post 9/11.

The conversation was initiated by Anne Norton, who argued that despite Western political thought relying  upon Muslim philosophy, it was often figured only as an allusive erasure in portrayals of the canonical.  The palimpsest formed by this layering of influences and erasures conceals and reveals the place of Muslim thought, philosophical and religious, in Western religion and philosophy. The objective of the paper will work to articulate the constitutive effects of this palimpsest. Along with the sequestration of Muslim thought in politics and philosophy, the paper will show how the West bounded and confined aspects of its own intellectual inquiries.  Norton will diagnose the effects of an  Enlightenment settlement that foreclosed both a full engagement with thinking about the divine in the West.

Salman Sayyid shifted the discussion to the question of the emergence of the Islamophobic State. He argued that there was a need to broaden the geography and deepen the history to understand Islamophobia. The term is often understood as a problem that applies to Muslim minorities but not to Muslim majority states. The emergence of an Islamophobic state, which is a specific form of state, has a distinct ensemble of institutions and administrative processes and covers an astonishing range of political forms. The Islamophobic State not only targets expressions of Muslimness but in its efforts to discipline the Muslims, builds up an internationally sanctioned system of surveillance and restriction, which can be easily applied to other social actors. The paper will aim to explain this emergence of the Islamophobic State as a project to rewrite social contracts and transform relations between the ruled and the rulers. 

The question of self-determination in relation to Islamophobia in Indian-Occupied Kashmir was raised by Hafsa Kanjwal. She stated that the development of Islamophobia in India is a combined result of both secular-liberal and Hindutva ideologies. While secularism is used in India to forcibly depoliticize Muslim identity, Hindutva views Muslims as being subservient to the Hindu identity of the nation. Using the example of Occupied Kashmir, the paper will look at how the relevance of Islam is dismissed as a category for the modern state and how the state attempts to subvert Muslim agency and self-determination. The main argument made was that the essential character of Indian nationalism is Islamophobic, which not only erases Muslim markers in public sites and normalizes violence and bigotry toward Muslims, but also views the Muslim demand for sovereignty or self-determination with suspicion and as a rejection of the liberal secular nation-state order.

Shereen Fernandez then directed the conversion to examine the sea as a site for practices of Islamophobia. She argued that there is a gap in the literature that neglects to examine how the sea has been used as a space to practice Islamophobia. To fill this gap, her paper will look at the historical practices of transporting Muslim prisoners, by the British in the 1850s, to a penal colony in the Andaman Islands on a ship and study their experiences as colonial convicts. The latter part of the paper will link this history to the Islamophobia experienced by detainees at Guantánamo Bay (GTMO) during the War on Terror post 9/11. With this contribution, Fernandez aims to explore the centrality of the sea as a site which perpetuates the spatialization of Islamophobia as exemplified in the treatment of Muslim prisoners.

Oli Charbonneau’s discussion examined the role of Islam and manifestations of Islamophobia in the Colonial Philippines from 1899 to the 1920s. He argued that prejudicial thinking about Muslims in the region is the result of several discourses. These resulted in systematic control over the Muslim population via militarized violence and cultural-political overhaul. Charbonneau’s paper will aim to study the archival materials from U.S. foreign relations, Philippine Studies; and Islamic Southeast Asian Studies to illustrate the contemporary American ideas about and actions towards Islamic societies. Using Southern Philippines as a case study Charbonneau will also aim to present Islamophobia in Southeast Asia as a set of beliefs rather than a uniform practice.

Valentin Duquet led the discussion on Islamophobia in “Algerianist” settler colonial literature which came out in the first half of the 1900s. During this era, Algeria was a region of the French Republic. Analyzing three “pied-noir” novels of the Interwar period as historical archives, his paper will examine the representation of the Muslim native, which Duquet explains is key to understanding Islamophobia under French colonialism as well as its brutal unwinding a few decades later. In these novels, the Muslim figures are often relegated to the background, erased, or replaced with “Berber” characters which are often Christian, pagan, or vaguely Mediterranean. This erasure, he argues, is symptomatic of the symbolic violence of French assimilation which denied even the name “Algerian” from Maghrebi Muslims.

Ali Alsmadi discussed the role of Spanish Islam and highlighted the treatment of the Moriscos’ literature in the scholarship. Alsmadi argued that Islam is viewed by the orientalist scholars as an imported religion and not part of indigenous Spanish culture and heritage. In his paper, Alsmadi will shed light on the current political denial to recognize the Moriscos’ language and literature which is deeply rooted in past practices. His analysis will demonstrate how the 19th and 20th-century scholarship and its understanding of the Moriscos were biased and show literary and cultural linkages between Morisco literature and contemporary Spanish authors that reflect cross-religious influences that are unique to the Iberian Peninsula.

First Oruc then shifted the focus of the discussion to Islamophobia in Turkey and the fear of Islam in the Turkish Republican era. Oruc narrated that after the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the Kemalist founding elites and the Turkish intelligentsia claimed Islam to be a “spiritual malaise” from which the Turkish nation had to recover. Their concept of modern Turkey envisioned the adoption of Westernizing state nationalism. The Ottoman era was viewed as the repression of the Turk and Turkish cultural values, with Islam seen as the main threat to Turkey’s emergence as a modern republic state. Through examining Turkish cultural and literary texts Oruc aims to explore the historical manifestation of fear of Islam and its aftermaths in Turkey and also examine how some of the similar paradigms of Islamophobia may reoccur in other Muslim majority societies.

Thomas Simsarian Dolan addressed the question of “Arab Money” and Global capitalism. Dolan argued that in the selective economic discourse, Muslims are seen as non-normative economic actors. This form of Islamophobia, Dolan stated, builds on Orientalist theory that deepened during the Cold War, and labels Muslims as a security threat to the Western financial system in need of economic and political discipline. Adding to the existing work of scholars such as Deepa Kumar, Moustafa Bayoumi, and Mahmood Mamdani, Dolan and his co-author Zaynab Quadri aim to explore this strand of Islamophobia by tracing the transnational political economies in which both the flow of global capital and people are simultaneously curtailed.

Muneeza Rizvi highlighted contestations over the Palestinian struggle being characterized as an “Islamic issue.” She focused on voices that, on one hand, are critical of the orientalist accounts that portray the creation of Israel as a feud between Muslims and Jews, and on the other, suggest that the designation “Islamic” necessarily excludes other analytical framings of the issue, such as settler colonialism. Rizvi argued that secular assumptions about politics and religion structure these colloquial debates, as well as parallel academic trajectories within Middle East Studies.

Farid Hafez directed the discussion toward the geopolitics of Islamophobia and stated that the notion of political Islam has been used by centrist governments in Europe to exclude Muslims from the public sphere, silence critical voices, and crack down on Muslim communities. This discourse is an extension of the narrative on countering extremism and the global war on terror. Hafez aims to study how attempts to silence Muslims transcends beyond the West. Using a geopolitical lens, he will look into UAE’s attempts to shape the discourse on domesticating Muslims in Europe and US and into pro-Israeli interest in cracking down on Muslim political agency in the West. He will try to draw linkages and differences between these practices and Islamophobia in Europe.

Abdullah Arian shared Sanober Umar’s thoughts on race-making and religion in colonial and post-colonial India. The participants were encouraged to deliberate over issues such as; prevailing colonial attitudes towards Islam in India, the use of religion to differentiate between Hindus and Muslims as separate “races” and the viewing of Muslims as being dangerous and barbaric compared to Hindus who could be co-opted into the British colonial system.

The participants will take the constructive feedback their abstracts received and begin writing draft papers, which will be circulated among the group before the second working group meeting. At the subsequent meeting, scholars will critique each other’s papers and provide in-depth commentary.

Participants and Discussants: 

  • Abdullah Al-Arian, Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Ali Alsmadi, Indiana University Bloomington, US
  • Zahra Babar, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Misba Bhatti, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Oli Charbonneau, University of Glasgow
  • Thomas Simsarian Dolan, American University in Cairo
  • Valentin Duquetis, University of Texas at Austin
  • Shereen Fernandez, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Farid Hafez, Georgetown University
  • Hafsa Kanjwalis, Lafayette College
  • Suzi Mirgani, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Anne Norton, University of Pennsylvania
  • Firat Oruc, Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Zaynab Quadri, Ohio State University
  • Muneeza Rizvi, University of California, Berkeley
  • Salman Sayyid, University of Leeds
  • Sanober Umar, York University
  • Elizabeth Wanucha, CIRS – Georgetown University Qatar
  • Karine Walther, Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Clyde Wilcox, Georgetown University in Qatar

Article by Misba Bhatti, Research Analyst at CIRS