The Pathologisation of Muslims As Everything That is Wrong With Europe

By Farish A. Noor 

The recent ban on the construction of minarets for mosques in Switzerland – passed by a majority of Swiss citizens mind you – is symptomatic of something that is far more disturbing in Western Europe today. 

The first decade of this century has witnessed the rise of a new wave of extreme right-wing politicians and political parties across Western Europe, some with scant regard for ideological consistency and coherence, with the sole purpose of mobilising the masses against the perceived ‘threat’ of foreigners in general and Muslims in particular.

But historians will note that these developments are neither new nor unique. After all, Europe has continually been through such prolonged instances of moral panic and mass hysteria when it had to face the fact that it was and is part of a bigger world where other cultural and religious possibilities exist, and where alterity can one day arrive at your doorstep. Looking back to the 19th century we recall the bad old days when Western Europeans were panicking at the thought of the dreaded ‘yellow peril’, and where fear of the massive and sudden migration of Asians – notably Chinese – led to a backlash that expressed itself through the stereotypes and cliches of Asians as devious and perfidious Orientals who would stop at nothing to eat up your property and sell opium to your children. Then came the recurrent fear of Indian, Africans and of course Arabs.

The present climate of fear over and about Islam and Muslims is therefore something that comes in the train of a long history of Othering the Other, and casting the other as alien, strange, exotic and sometimes potentially malevolent and dangerous. Except in this case we are talking about a Western Europe where Muslims have become part of the social fabric and where Muslim settlement dates back to the post-war decades of the 1950s, with the migration of Indians, Africans, West Indians and North Africans to the continent.