The Headscarf Controversy: Secularism and Freedom of Religion

By Hilal Elver | Go to book overview

5
Anti-Islamic Discourses in Europe

As the headscarf controversy continued to unfold in domestic politics in Turkey, fundamentalist Islamic movements were becoming a serious international security concern for non-Muslim countries. The preoccupation with Islam reached its height as a result of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, and the atmosphere of fear in the West led to the open expression of antiIslamic sentiments, which had lain dormant for a long time. Geographically, the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. were remote from Europe, yet the impact on the continent was significant. Following additional terrorist attacks, in March 2004 and in London in July 2005, and the November 2004 assassination of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam, fear of Islam rose to the level of hysteria all over Europe. Parallel to these developments, the headscarf became a symbol of the presence of Islam in the West. Because of its colonial past, Europe has strong historic connections with the Muslim world. In recent years, economic globalization engendered significant immigration from predominantly Muslim countries in Asia and Africa to the continent. As a result, in many European countries, soul-searching began concerning Islam; a new and threatening religious presence in a continent of Christianity.

Significant differences exist among Muslims in Europe due to the various reasons that brought them to Europe in the first place. Some Muslims came to European countries from former colonies; others had been invited to Europe in the 1960s as “guest workers”; and some Muslims are native to Europe, such as a number of citizens of Albania and the former Yugoslavia. Despite the enormous cultural and theological differences among Muslims and their Islamic practices, Islam is presented to the European public as a monolithic block. In this discourse, Islam is viewed as incompatible with Europe’s fundamental values, such as democracy and individual freedom. As Islam was increasingly regarded as a threat to the achievements of the European age of

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