Thursday, April 14, 2011

Joan Scott on local context (focusing on France) and "the Muslim problem"

These reflections about processes of politics and the handling of differences are not confined to national contexts; they have wider application. The objectification of Muslims; the attribution of their differences to a single, inassimilable culture; the idea that a secular way of life is being threatened by "fundamentalists" - all this is evident in the reaction of Western European leaders to Muslim immigrants in their midst. Still, the specific ways in which these ideas are expressed and implemented as policy differ according to national political histories. These histories are critical for our understanding of the "Muslim problem" in Europe. For that reason I have confined my analyses to France, not only to gain the depth this issue requires, but also to highlight the local nature of the imagined general conflict between "Islam" and "the West." It is, of course, true that there is a global dimension to these conflicts, the more so as the Middle East becomes a central strategic concern of American foreign policy, the site for the enduring "war against terrorism," and as identification with a transnational Islam becomes the basis for rallying political opposition to the West in general and to the United States in particular. But, I argue, the situation of Muslim immigrants in Western European countries can be fully grasped only if the local context is taken into account. So, for example, a nation's policy for naturalizing immigrants plays a part in its reception of Muslims; the experience of Pakistanis in England differs from that of Algerians in France; that of Turks in Germany is different yet again, while Buglaria's Mulims are not immigrants at all. We don't learn much by lumping all of these cases together into one Muslim "problem." In fact, we exacerbate the problem we seek to address. I think that exactly this kind of heightening of difficulties was produced in France by the ways in which politicians, public intellectuals, and the media responded to the fact of a growing population of Muslim "immigrants" in their midst - immigrants whose diversities were reduced to a single difference that was then taken to be a threat to the very identity of the nation.
-Scott, Joan. The Politics of the Veil, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), p. 9-10.

Mother Jones: America's Muslim Cowboy Ambassador

via Beenish