American Studies, Race & Society, Regional Studies

Global Histories and Practices of Islamophobia Workshop II

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On March 12 and 13, 2023, the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) organized a second research meeting under its research initiative, Global Histories and Practices of Islamophobia. The aim of the two-day meeting was to discuss and provide extensive feedback on written contributions from scholars and experts on the subject. The convened scholars presented papers on a variety of issues such as islamophobia and Orientalism, settler colonialism, global capitalism, Islamic identity, and Islamic and Western thought among others.

Anne Norton opened the discussion with her paper, “Reading the Palimpsest: The Erasure, Exile, and Elision of Islamic Thought in Western Philosophy.” Norton argued that the contributions of Muslim philosophers in Western political thought and philosophy are often erased. The foundational role played by figures such as al-Farabi, Ibn Rushd, and Ibn Sina in shaping Western philosophy is excluded from the Western canon. She stated that this erasure can be traced back to enmity, shame, and the European insistence on civilizational dominance. Her paper examines the palimpsest formed by these erasures and states that philosophic and political exclusions can be better understood through the recovery and reparation of Islamic thinkers and philosophers.

Salman Sayyid then presented his paper, “Islamophobia and Worldmaking.” He stated that islamophobia is a type of racism that specifically targets perceived “Muslimness.” It is a concept that has taken different forms and expressions over time and context and plays out at different horizons. With this paper, Sayyid challenges the dominant framing of islamophobia as primarily a result of the War on Terror and argues that it is a product of the colonial-racial venture of Europe/West, along with antisemitism and racism. The chapter details the history and definition of the term islamophobia, and the nature of the phenomenon itself as well as discusses the various global proposals and policies put forward for its reduction. 

In the next session, Hafsa Kanjwal discussed her piece, “Against Muslimness: Islamophobia in Indian-occupied Kashmir.” She narrated that in the case of Indian-occupied Kashmir both secular liberalism and Hindu nationalist ideology converged in producing islamophobia. The chapter proposes that islamophobia must be recognized as a denial and regulation of “Muslimness.” This, she argues includes not only practices of islamophobia in sites where public markers of Muslim difference are erased or violence and bigotry towards Muslims are normalized, but also in places where Muslim histories of indigeneity, demands for self-determination, or expressions of solidarity, are seen with suspicion or rejected altogether as being dangerous to the liberal, secular nation-state order.

Shifting the focus to “Islamophobia and the Sea,” Shereen Fernandez traced how the sea and bodies of water have become sites of abuse and torture for racialized Muslims and detailed how characterizations of Muslims as ‘fanatics’ and ‘violent’ is not a new phenomenon arising from the War on Terror but have a deeper and more global history. Using the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and the treatment of Indian Muslims specifically, alongside the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay at the height of the War on Terror, as case studies Fernandez aims to examine how Muslims were characterized and the impacts this has had on the continued abuse and labeling of these convicts as the “Other.” By focusing on seascapes through the forced transportation of Muslims across seas to penal colonies and prisoners, this chapter amplifies the argument that islamophobia is a practice rooted in racism and violence.   

Oli Charbonneau’s presentation on, “Learning and Loathing: The Long Shadow of US Colonialism,” traced how Islamophobic beliefs and practices emerged within deeper American colonial history. Using Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago as case studies, he explained how the Southern Philippines acted as a site for the continuous regeneration of ideas about the Muslim threat. His paper provides an analysis of how American islamophobia is the result of attempts to reform Muslim Filipinos, alongside acts of violence within a military state. The paper traces the lineage of these ideas, which Charbonneau argues persists not only in U.S. military activities in the Southern Philippines but also in a host of cultural products that renew fearful visions forged within the empire.

The next session looked at Firat Oruc’s paper, “Islam as Founding Fear: Turkish National Humanism and “the Muslim Orient.” He stated that the foundation of the new Turkish state as a westernized, secular, and modern nation-state was laid upon the expulsion of the old Ottoman-Islamic traditions. His paper examines how this was embedded into the narrative of ensuring national survival and territorial sovereignty, which was seen as integral to the emergence of modern Turkey. The fear of Islam as the return of repressed was envisioned as a threat to Turkey’s modern image and was regarded as the root neurotic cause of Turkey’s crisis of identity.

Valentin Duquet then presented his paper on “Islamophobia in Algerianist Settler-Colonial Literature of the Interwar Period: A Post-Orientalist Form of Symbolic Violence.” Analyzing three Algerianist novels of the interwar period, Pascualette l’Algérien by Louis Lecoq, Cassard le Berbère by Robert Randau, and Berberopolis by Victor Trenga, Duquet’s paper tracks a progression from covert to overt islamophobia, in ways that continually erase Muslim identities while highlighting stories of settler and Berber successes. These literary pieces, Duquet argues depict religious and racial animosity as systemic and are embedded in the political climate of the time. The paper aims to examine how post-orientalism is therefore not a rejection but a continuation of French imperialism with its brand of islamophobia.

Commenting on his paper, “Spanish Islam and Islamic Identity in Scholarship: The Case of the Moriscos,” Ali Alsmadi stated that the expulsion of the Moriscos was part of Spain’s violent past and the denial of the right to return to Spain to their descendants reinforces a double standard and contradicts Spain’s claims to multiculturalism, diversity, and tolerance. This stance is rooted in Spain’s past and is an example of islamophobia, which is not a recent phenomenon but has deep roots in Spanish history. The Moriscos were seen as the ‘Other,’ and their differences were conflated with religious deviance. Alsmadi’s study aims to draw parallels between the Moriscos’ case and the situation of Muslim minorities in contemporary Spain and other European countries, where islamophobia shapes debates about identity, secularity, and multiculturalism. The paper claims that disregarding Moriscos’ past tragedies leads to downplaying current Islamophobic practices, which are aimed towards safeguarding the future of the European identity.

Focusing on Islamophobia in China with his paper “Islamophobia in Late Imperial China: Rhetoric and Roots,” Haiyun Ma provided a historical account of Islamophobia in Confucian China. By examining the systematic Han Confucian accusations and attacks on Chinese-speaking Muslims in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, Ma outlines premodern Islamophobia, as seen in Confucian historiography and discourses, as well as traces the transition of the Confucian historiography to a nationalist ideology in the early twentieth century. The author notes that modern Islamophobia in China is different from the premodern version which has ties to the Middle East, the Arabs, Wahabi ideology, and global Islamophobia primarily imported from the West.

Andrew Hammond’s paper “Islamophobia and Modern Islamic Thought,” examined the role of modernizing intellectual currents, both from within the Islamic tradition and from Western philosophy, in providing the ideological basis for secular authoritarian regimes in the Middle East in the 20th century. Hammond stated that the materialist and positivist trends in Western philosophy influenced ruling elites in the Middle East, but modern Islamic thought’s internalization of European secularism provided an internal ideological cover for the authoritarian secular hue of post-colonial regimes. The paper also examines how Islamic political movements dealt with secularism after the Iranian Revolution and sought to reclaim lost ground for religion, which lead to an intensification of anti-Muslim animus during the 2000s.

In the next session, Carol Fadda presented her chapter “Producing “Terror:” Gendered State Surveillance and the US Racial State.” Addressing the experiences of Arab and Muslim women who have been targeted and attacked by the US security state for their political stances within the US, the chapter analyzed and identified the US security state as a racial state in its ongoing gendered criminalization of Arab and Muslim communities. Fadda highlighted the case of Palestinian-American activist Rasmea Odeh, who was arrested in 2013 for allegedly lying on her US citizenship application. Many activists claimed that Odeh’s arrest and deportation were politically motivated due to her pro-Palestinian activism and support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Fadda argued that Odeh’s case is an example of the US security state’s increasing racialized and gendered targeting of Arab and Muslim women, which builds on a longer history of the state’s criminalization of political critique, dissidence, and activism by Arabs and other racialized minorities in the US more broadly.

Zayneb Quadri presented her paper “A-rab Money”: Islamophobia and Global Capitalism,” which she co-authored with Thomas Simsarian Dolan. She maintained that while after 9/11, islamophobia became more racialized, the political shift was less an intensification of a pre-existing hatred and more of a reorientation within the geography of U.S. imperialism. Suggesting that it becomes difficult to frame islamophobia as a cogent racism, given the privileged status the US state has accorded to many Muslims, who are allowed to be “good” so long as they are proximal to natural resources and capital that serves a Euro-American global capitalist order. This contribution looks at the framing of “Muslimness” both as an ally and threat and examines Muslims’ racing and un-racing through the ideological and structural positions they occupy. The authors argue that the evolution of these modes of engagement with Muslims emphasizes articulating who qualifies as a tolerable Muslim and who becomes a threat to national security.

Farid Hafez addressed the issue of islamophobia in Germany with his chapter, “Colonial and Post-Colonial Governance of Islam in Germany.” Tracing the historical legacy of racialization in Germany Hafez highlighted the importance of colonialism in understanding the context of islamophobia in Germany. The paper discusses issues of the governance of Muslims, and the bureaucratization of Islam, first in colonial and then in postcolonial times to evaluate the legacy of the colonial, racial order, and aims to provide a nuanced picture of past and present islamophobia in Germany.

The final session looked at Sanober Umar’s paper “Good Orient/Bad Orient: ‘Yogawashing’ in Casteist-Islamophobic India.” Tracing the development of contemporary islamophobia in India under Hindu Nationalism, Umar discussed how British orientalist perceptions and literature produced and reproduced the figure of the Muslim as dangerous and barbaric, often in collusion with casteist and nativist Hindus, which still influences contemporary Hindu Nationalist ideologies. This Umar argues has resulted in the racialization of Muslims in dehumanizing tropes, with little condemnation from the Western quarters. The paper examines how both the neocolonial Western global apparatus and Hindu Nationalists have produced themselves as desirable civilizations through their ethnocultural narratives of history and self-representation, in relation to the global figure of the homogenized and otherized Muslim. Notably, the paper examines how romanticized and exotic conceptions of “eastern spirituality” including popular imaginations of contemporary India as a land of peaceful yoga practices has further served to invisibilize the complex histories and ongoing politics of Muslim persecution in the country with Western complacency.

The final revised drafts will be collected by CIRS with an aim of publishing an edited volume in the future.

Participants and Discussants: 

  • Abdullah Al-Arian Georgetown University Qatar
  • Ali Alsmadi Indiana University Bloomington
  • 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
  • Carol Fadda Syracuse University
  • Shereen Fernandez London School of Economics
  • Farid Hafez Georgetown University
  • Andrew Hammond Oxford University
  • Hafsa Kanjwalis Lafayette College
  • Aashish Karn Georgetown University Qatar
  • Haiyun Ma Frostburg State University
  • Suzi Mirgani, CIRS – Georgetown University in Qatar
  • Anne Norton University of Pennsylvania
  • Firat Oruc Georgetown University Qatar
  • Zaynab Quadri Ohio State University
  • Dalva Raposo Georgetown University Qatar
  • Salman Sayyid University of Leeds
  • Asma Shakeel Georgetown University Qatar
  • Sanober Umar York University
  • Elizabeth Wanucha, CIRS – Georgetown University Qatar
  • Karine Walther Georgetown University Qatar

Article by Misba Bhatti, Research Analyst at CIRS