“We” and “the Others”. Islam in Europe and the Authoritarian Character

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2016
18 Pages


Table of CONTENT

1 Introduction

2 Islam in the West

3 Case of Germany

4 Discussion

5 Conclusion

6 References

1 Introduction

‘In recent years the increased presence of Muslim immigrants in Europe and a growing awareness that the idea of “Europe” was a part of the same tradition which created “orientalism” - that is, an image of the “orient” as Europe’s “other” which Europe ruled culturally and economically.’

(Bringa 1995: 6)

The Islam is often opposed to Europe rather than to the analogues religious term Christianity. In the medial, political and in less reflected sciences a dualism is constructed, opposing the European secularism towards the Islamic orientalism. Islam is seen as an anti-modern, anti- educational fundamentalism and become the ideological and cultural antithesis of the West (Schulze 1991).

The new bipolarity of the world and the dichotomist character of the orient and the occident bonds these two in several critical perspectives. According to Edward Said it is useful to speak of the processing of orientalism. The anthropologist Gerd Bauman illustrates in his Grammars of Identity/Alterity this type of identity constructing the Orientalizing (2006: 19ff.). That means a binary classification to reverse mirror-imaging. The conception is not limited to simple good/bad distinctions. It is about “what is good in us is [still] bad in them, but what got twisted in us still remains straight in them.” (ibid. 20) In this Classification the Occident is classified as rational, enlightened, technological (positive valued) whereas the other side is calculated, sober and materialist (negative valued). In this grammar the Orient seems irrational, susperstitious, backward (negative valued) and spontaneous, luxuriant and mystical, what is positively understood in the European context (ibid). This process of mirror-imaging, which is a co-product of the colonial history and identity of the relation between west and the east is deeply manifested in the societies of the West. As power relation in a hegemonic discourse over a whole geopolitical unit - the MENA region and their religions (excluding the Christianity and the Jews). It is obvious to observe the consequences of this images in the present Europe.

The recent, so called, refugee crisis had become a political unit and politicize the masses. Right wing politicians and organizations exploit the origin of their electors as well as the otherness of the refugees to get power. Topics concerning values and norms of ours (the western) societies are keywords in the mainstream discussion within media, the political sphere of discussion and always issued at the Stammtisch (regular table talks). I like to illustrate the development of the discussion of the others within the context of the recent decades and I would like to focus on the development of these hegemonic discourses like the construction of the Muslims. I would like to illustrate that the Islam cannot be accepted by the majority of the middle European populations for several reasons. One important factor is the authoritarian history of Germany and the follow-ups for the society. Another reason are principals of xenophobic characteristics, which relate to specific discourses in the media, are connected to the intensity of the relation towards Muslims, the knowledge about the Islam in general and politicians which instrumentalize islamistic terrorism to marginalize Muslims at all. For this discussion it is necessary to discuss the concepts of Islam in the western world like the idea of the Euro-Islam (2). As an example I will focus on the Case of Germany (3). Necessary for this discussion are the disregard or misapprehend of the European-Muslim historical relation and east-European native Muslims. I would like to connect the important points with the recent hegemonic discussion about western values and the incongruity of Muslims in the west (4). A conclusion will sum up the main points of the discussion and will offer some questions referring the problematic of processing otherness (5).

2 Islam in the West

“Muslims in the west or western Muslims?” is a question raised by the scholar Ramadan (2004: 215). Many especially western socialized scholars speak about the Muslim Diaspora in Europe (Galtung et al. 2012; Leweling 2005; Schumann 2007; Tibi 2009). There are two main conflict issues in the discussions; first, the understanding individual rights (Joppke 2013). Especially the issues with a high potential as conflict triggers like the issue of Freedom of speech in the western societies (e. g. Salmon Rushdie Affair and the Danish Mohammad Cartoons, Charlie Hebdo in Paris) is seen as a defamation of the Islam. This understanding will be not shared and is unexpected by all Western States in the UNO. They argue that just living persons can be defamed. This is one potential conflict issue - the religious relation of a Muslim to the Prophet (ibid.). The differences in the believe systems of Christian religions is different to Islamic religions. The Protestant Religion can be seen as a system of pro-positional beliefs. The most Islamic confessions draw no differences between the religious symbol and the non-transcended reality.

The second important difference are ideological differences in the equality of the sexes. There are feminist movements in the Islamic world, and Islamic movements in the west who claim equal rights for both sexes, but the mainstream Islamic feminism provide the thesis, that under god everybody is the same and this is the important sphere for the individual - the relation to god. Women are in the first place: Daughters, Sisters, Mothers and Wives (ibid.). This are two major theological differences, which have an implicit impact on the otherness discussion.

It will be not reflected by the majority of islamophobic1 and islamophilic groups in the west.

The results of the ignorance2 about the people and their collective social and cultural properties are stereotyping processes.

There are several spheres of representation, which produce and reproduce stereotypes (positive and negative attributes like the system of mirror-imaging (Baumann 2005) and the most important opinion maker is the media. The representation of Muslims are in the most cases negative and distorted. They speak unreflected of issues like Parallel Societies, of different values and education practices, issues of terrorism as well as fundamentalism, violence and the threat of a silent or radical Islamization are linked to the discourse of Islam.

Werner Schiffauer conceives Islam as a discursive field, (see also Halm 2013) an arena in which numerous agents decide what Islam is (ibid. 2004). In theory prejudices are simplified, generalized feature ascription to specific groups and their members (Tajfel/Allport). In Theory there are three systematic spheres of Stereotyping (Uslucan 2014):

(1) Categorisation (Reduction of complexity)
(2) Generalisation
(3) Overestimation within one category and between categories

These Stereotyping process have effects on the identity of the marginalized group. They have to find a balance between the own and the other. If the identity is changed too much the result could be a resign of the self, what means chaos for the person. If there is too little change the persons identity building process is to rigidity (ibid.). Because of the fear of losing the self the individuals build a Collective Identity.

The problematic ambivalence for migrants are on the one hand the demands of majority acculturation and integration as well as on the other that the adoption of certain elements of this images created by the majority. The migrants consume the mainstream media, which represents their culture and identifies themselves with this distorted representation. The follow-ups are diverse identity problems for the first, second and also third generation of migrants. Dramatic developments lead to a re-orientation of the second and third generation to the imagined roots of their ancestors (see Benedict Anderson long distance nationalism) and to a long distance religiousness, according to the beliefs of their ancestors of their regions of origin. Especially the Turkish migrants were separated from the majority of the Germans (because of several socio-structural reasons). Because of the constructed and lived otherness they self-construct themselves as others.

The Islam3 with the diasporic character, outside of Muslim-dominated countries, build the base for transnational togetherness feelings (corresponds to an Ummah conscious). This emic construction of dar al-Islam and dar al-harb, the exile-Islam communities of the first generation of Turkish labor migrants - changed to a diasporic Islam in the second generation (Schiffauer 2004). This process is understandable as a search and struggle for recognition. According to this process of the identity building of the Muslim minority is on the other side a majority construction of „We“, a European identity, which based on differences to the contrasted other the Islam. The difference to the historical European consciousness is that the Islam is a lived entity next to other pluralistic ideologies in a multi-cultural society4 in times of globalization (Yildiz 2010). In that understanding several German politicians like the former and the current German president Christian Wulff and Joachim Gauck underline that the Islam is part of Germany, other conservative politicians negate this message like the current saxonian chairman Stanislaw Tillich. Wulff, Gauck and even Angela Merkel emphasize that the Islam is part of Germany and include almost 4 million believers5 (Abou-Taam 2011. 117; Brassel- Ochmann 2016: 51, ), but they do not reflect the constituent role of the Islam as Europe’s other. The Muslim cultures influenced Europe to constitute itself and can be seen as an identity maker for Europe on the one hand, but the Religion and societal aspects are through the ottoman legacy also a part of southeast Europe’s societies on the other (compare Schneiders 2015: 5; Bringa 1995).

Intellectuals discuss the conciliative opportunity of a European Islam (Discussion: Bassam Tibi 2009; Talal Asad 2003). The reformative Interpretation of the Islam, which connect Europe with the Islam based on values like secularism, democracy, human rights, religious and cultural pluralism and civil society (Abou-Taam 2011: 124). The term and the idea is formed by Bassam Tibi. He claimed that Muslims should accept democratic values and the structures of the society. They - the Muslims - should accept the Leitkultur. The abused term should be understood as the general accepted norms and values of the society. This acceptance is linked to the requirement for the societal stability. The Euro-Islam is not possible without a cultural adjustment by the Muslims (Bassam Tibi 2009; ZDF 2009). This approach was understand by other scholars as demand to assimilate into a system, a light-Islam, a resign of the own religious identity (ibid.). Tariq Ramadan has his own Euro-Islam interpretation. He argues to combine cultural and ethnic aspects of both worlds in a way more to participate and less assimilate and expressed himself against tradionalistic Quran interpretations (ibid.). The problems with his interpretation are that his approach is anti-laizistic and the definition of the woman is based on Islamic scales, not European.

The next chapter will illustrate the othering problematic on the example of Germany. Several actors underline certain differences like the hierarchies between men and women (gender conflict, and the hierarchical conflict of the generations elders over the youngsters (Abou-Taam 2011: 117)).

3 Case of Germany

“In a very short space of time ‘Muslim’ has become a key political minority identity acknow- ledged by right-wing and left-wing bigots and the open minded media and government.”

(Tariq Modood 2002: 121, In: Spielhaus 2013: 189)

To understand the political decisions of the nowadays Germany it is important to realize, like Navid Kermani argue, that Germany’s politics are influenced by the national-socialistic past. Several maxims, values and principles dominate the decision making in the context of handling minorities and emboss the public discourse: (1) all humans are equal, (2) the freedom is as a boundless good of all humans to protect, (3) the cultural diversity is an enrichment, (4) every cultural is coequal, (5) minorities are considered as protectable (Brassel-Ochmann 2016: 53). Concerning this political principles, the living together should be manageable (ibid. 54).

For this discourse the relevant history of Muslim People in Germany starts in the 1960s with first so called Guestworker Contracts, also with countries like Morocco and Turkey. In this societal, medial and political discourses the notion of these people changed dramatically (see Spielhaus 2013) in that way that they become Muslims by othering. After more than 50 years of public conscious of Islam, there are more Muslims in Germany than the just former working migrants (GastarbeiterInnen or Guestworker), from countries with a Muslim majority like Turkey and Morocco. It is useful to differ between these three spheres:


1 The term is in two ways problematic: (1) the description relegates on a phenomenon what based on fears and ignorance, but in the most cases the anti-Muslimism attitude is an ideology or a religious belief. (2) A kind of victim-reversion - that true critic will be defamed as islamophobia (Schneiders 2015: 3).

2 One of the first German orientalists Carl Heinrich Becker, cofounder of the hamburgian colonial institute in Hamburg indicated that generalizing the Islam (with conceptual equalization to European Religions are dangerous (Kallscheuer 2007: 9).

3 It is important to underline the pluralistic character of the concept of Islam with several Shia confessions, and forms of religious orthodoxy and spiritual bonds to the Islam on the individual and collective level (BrasselOchmann 2016: 52).

4 Cultural diversity is not just propagated within the German Society, it worked it several business conceptions, different organizations, institutions etc. An example is the Charta of diversity (Charta der Vielfalt) of the year 2006 (Brassel-Ochmann 2016: 52f.).

5 The share to the whole population is around 4.6 to 5.2 %. Almost the half of all Muslims are holders of the German citizenship (ibid.).

Excerpt out of 18 pages


“We” and “the Others”. Islam in Europe and the Authoritarian Character
University of Vienna  (Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie)
Balkanism, Orientalism, Occidentalism
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
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Islam, Euroislam, Integration, Adorno, Deutschland, Rassismus
Quote paper
Andreas Schulz (Author), 2016, “We” and “the Others”. Islam in Europe and the Authoritarian Character, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/319987


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