Muslims and the Negotiation of Difference in Postwar Europe

AHA Session 208
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Berkeley Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Jytte Klausen, Brandeis University
Joan Wallach Scott, Institute for Advanced Study

Session Abstract

Since 1945, millions of migrants have settled in Europe. Most of them came in search of work on the basis of their status as colonials, former colonials, or guest workers. In the last two decades, Europeans have become increasingly vocal about the specific challenges posed by migrants of Muslim origin and their descendants, worrying aloud about their fundamental incompatibility with European culture and society. This perspective, formulated most stridently as a “clash of civilizations,” has come to dominate public discussion and has even achieved a level of commonsense. Our panel aims to recast the so-called Muslim problem as a set of more complicated stories by broadening the historical frame and examining the responses of individual European states in comparative perspective. Todd Shepard examines aggressive French efforts to “integrate” so-called Muslims from Algeria into the Republic during the Algerian War (1954-62). He focuses, in particular, on two official initiatives: the efforts to establish a new state-sponsored institution for Islamic study and training in Paris; and French reforms that extended civil marriage to “Muslims” in Algeria and increased women's rights. These religiously-premised reforms have received less scholarly attention than the more-widely discussed policies that relied on racialized definitions of “Muslims.” But they speak directly to current claims that discussions of the Islamic religion in Europe are wholly distinct from racial questions or racism. Rita Chin investigates the West German New Left's engagements with “difference” as raised by the presence of large numbers of Turkish guest workers. She focuses here on the conditions that framed the ways “difference” was debated by young West German leftists in the late 1960s and 1970s: Allied prescriptions for democratization, the reframing of race through a black/white lens, the parameters of the guest worker program, and the Nazi legacy. These conditions, she argues, made it difficult for West German radicals to recognize the inequalities that structured the lives of Turkish guest workers as a product of racialized notions of difference, even though those same leftists simultaneously decried racism in the American South and apartheid in South Africa. Claudia Koonz compares reactions to the Muslim headscarf/ hijab in France (where two nation-wide controversies erupted) and in Germany and Britain (where no disputes occurred) during the “long decade” between 1989 and September 11, 2001. Using a sample of made-for-television documentaries and dramas as well as print news media, she examines the work of gender as the headscarf became a polysemic synecdoche for Muslim immigrants. In West European cultures, where transparency (or legibility) is a mark of civic progress, images of Muslim women with covered heads provoked a variety of responses. Proponents of multicultural understanding saw the hijab as feminine religious head wear, whereas champions of Western civilization and feminists perceived it as an abbreviated chador. Koonz explores the cultural contexts within which these two images disrupted longstanding political allegiances and erstwhile enemies found themselves in agreement.

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