P. Morey u.a. Hrsg.: Contesting Islamophobia.

P. Morey u. a. Hrsg.: Contesting Islamophobia. Anti-Muslim Prejudice in Media, Culture and Politics

Morey, Peter; Yaqin, Amina; Forte, Alaya
Library of Modern Religion
New York 2019: Bloomsbury
296 S.
€ 91,93
Reviewed for Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists by
Přemysl Rosůlek, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of West Bohemia in Pilsen

The major goal of the book Contesting Islamophobia. Anti-Muslim Prejudic in Media, Culture and Politics is “to cut through the current impasse not only by offering a snapshot of the forms, historical roots and geographical locations of Islamophobia, but also by suggesting ways in which it is being contested and alternative forms of Muslim self-fashioning growing” (p. 4). The first chapter is a good point of departure, tracking the emergence and dynamics of Islamophobia in the USA, which is discussed as originating around the 1979 Iranian Revolution, but with the authors going further back in time to raise some crucial points about the period following the Second World War. A major part of the chapter is devoted to reflections on developments after the revolution in Iran, emphasizing the post-9/11 era and the War on Terror as well as policies instigated by Donald Trump that focused on the construction of the we and them dichotomy.
In the second chapter, after a historical excursion into othering others in modern US history, which was aimed first at Catholics and later at Jews, the authors delve into the othering of Hispanics and Muslims. Recently, political elites – including former president Donald Trump – have been strongly contributing to the othering of Muslims, attaching labels of terrorism and violence and simultaneously questioning their capability to integrate into the American society. And perhaps most importantly, this raised fear of Muslims is “influencing or controlling US laws, courts and politics” (p. 62).
The third chapter offers an interesting discussion between three scholars on Muslim affairs. Certainly, Islam and Muslim problems cannot be perceived as being with Christian or Jewish problems (p. 71). Anti-Muslim racism became an easy-to-take attitude as various parts of Islamic life – hijab, halal, or niqab – became visible in society and were seen as contradicting national values. In fact, as reflected upon in this discussion, the “British values” – considered by many to be contrary to Islam and its particularities – result in Muslims being viewed as a problem in a liberal society.
Chapter 4 focuses literary fiction during times of the War on Terror. All Muslims are regarded as public enemy number one and, quoting Daniel Pipes, as “suspects” (p. 88). The projection of the major terrorist leader of 9/11 attacks Muhammad Atta, as imagined by Martin Amis in his book The Second Plane, September 11: 2001–2007, is discussed here in a wider context.
Chapter 5 combines facts from the field of societal reality (Islamophobia) together with theory (of Orientalism) and culture (literature, films, novels, and television). In this part of the book, there is a focus on the historical (p. 107), political (p. 106), and theoretical – Orientalism – dimensions (p. 106) of Islamophobia.
Chapter 6 focuses on Islamic feminism and thus represents a contradictory view to the traditional Orientalist view. Recently, Muslim women reflecting upon the veil and thinking about women’s rights and Islamic feminism in general have started to attract wider attention by the public and has contributed to the eroding of the traditional narrative captured by the dominant masculine view. A major goal of the text is confrontation of two novels based on two divergent concepts (“clash of perspectives”, p. 138): a liberal and a conservative one.
Chapter seven, aimed at countering Islamophobia in the classroom, asserts that “young people […] pick up prejudices and misinformation from a variety of sources: from friends and family, social media, newspaper headlines” (p. 149). Accordingly, the chapter offers pedagogical instructions on how to raise questions and concerns with pupils and students in the classroom to bridge the existing deficit in relation to misinformation and existing prejudices and stereotypes towards Islam and Muslims.
Chapter 8 discusses the securitization of Muslims in variety of places, such as at schools, including universities; in workplaces in the media, including internet; and “in their day-to-day lives” (p. 165). However, the highly securitized discourse of Muslim identity in the UK resulted in contra-activities launched by young Muslim men and women. Through their active involvement, young students disseminate their attitudes towards ISIS terrorism, publishing the hashtag “not in my name” or express distancing from Islamophobia in many other various ways.
In chapter 9, after a short introduction of the Habermasian public sphere in democratic societies, the text focuses on European Muslims’ counterpublics, giving particular attention to the German media sphere. Dominant public discourse – represented in mainstream media as well – is portraying Islam overwhelmingly as being “associated with danger, violence and otherness” and Muslims with terrorism (p. 187), with Muslims not usually being considered an “integral part of the wider society” (p. 187). On the contrary, young Muslims create and actively participate in counterpublics, for example in the blogosphere or muslime.tv online platform, in which, free from majoritarian supervision, they are willing to discuss racism, Islamophobia, and prejudices they face in their daily life in Germany.
Chapter 10 analyses contemporary visual art from Pakistan in the UK, concentrating on developments in post-9/11 Britain in contrast to prior periods. In the text, a major focus is devoted to stereotyping Muslims from South Asia, with a particular discussion of Pakistani art and whether it is “Islamic” or not.
In chapter 11, negative portrayals of Muslims in American comics are scrutinized. The author concludes, citing several cultural works, that the reduction of Muslims and Islam to the “contentious, dangerous and monolithic Other” is becoming more obvious in the contemporary period.
Finally, chapter 12 is an interview conducted by the editors of the volume in which the theatre play Homegrown – dealing with the theme of the radicalization of Young British Muslims – is the focus.
The title of the book, Contesting Islamophobia, is a basis for all the chapters, with the discussions focusing on anti-Muslim prejudice in society, including media, culture, and politics. The book offers valuable insights into a wide spectrum of issues related to Islamophobia in the Western world. There are a multitude of issues touched upon, appealing to readers from many fields of the social sciences, ranging from sociologists and sociologists of religion to political scientists to cultural and media studies scholars. The term Islamophobia, a key concept of the book, is interestingly and valuably conceptualized in many subfields of the social sciences, which may by useful for scholars and readers interesting in further evaluation of the terminology. However, the theoretical framework, if it is introduced at all in the selected chapters, is insufficiently argued, tested, or applied.
The book is certainly very compelling for scholars and students in the social sciences as well as other readers interested in understanding Islamophobia from various facets of culture. At most, part three, “Youth Contesting Islamophobia”, is not only coherent but also very engaging, offering not only quite interesting texts but also contributions to be used in practical life in how to counter Islamophobia in the classroom.
As for certain the disadvantages of the book, the collected works are topically too dispersed as the authors of the separate chapters are from various fields of the social sciences and humanities. I raise the following four arguments concerning the weak aspects of the book: First, as the subtitle of the book promises to focus on “anti-Muslim prejudice in media, culture and politics”, politics is explicitly mentioned only in the first section of the book together with history, and only two chapters of this section are strictly devoted to politics. As for media, there are no texts directly discussing it apart from chapter 9, which focuses on young Muslims in Germany. Conversely, unlike politics and media, culture is overrepresented in the volume as an entire part of the book is directly discussing cultural issues, with a number of other texts from other sections explicitly containing cultural issues. Second, another disparity is related to the attention paid to countries as it covers mainly Islamophobia in the US and partly in the UK. Only one chapter is related to Germany, while potential “hot spots”, such as France, are surprisingly not covered at all. Similarly, the Netherlands and Denmark are only briefly mentioned in texts related to other issues (p. 88). Third, there is a disproportion in the various social strata touched upon, with some chapters concerning youth, while other chapters do no systematically survey other segments of society, apart from Islamic feminism. Finally, there is a lack of more precise editorial work on the book in relation to references on the origin of Islamophobia in 1997, which is repeated in different chapters but in a similar context. Furthermore, there is topical connections between texts but there is a complete lack of mutual references/links, which could help to relate the separate chapters.
Nevertheless, in sum, I would like to underline that the positive aspects of the book outweigh the several weaker – or debatable – points, and that shall not be overlooked. I am convinced that readers would appreciate the volume because it offers interested insights into the concept of Islamophobia in various fields of study, ranging from politics (mainly in the USA and in the UK) to youth to cultural issues.

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