Return of the Muslim other

Soumaya Ghannoushi2“In a few days time a cluster of far-right groups under the name the Stop the Islamisation of Europe alliance will hold rallies in London, Copenhagen and Marseilles to demand an end to what they call ‘the overt and covert expansion of Islam in Europe’. Although the events are likely to attract no more than a handful of protesters, their message resonates widely. On Saturday the rightwing People’s party, notorious for its virulent hostility to ethnic minorities and Muslims, emerged as the victor in the Swiss elections, taking 29% of the vote, the best electoral performance by a party in the country’s elections since 1919.

“The far right is on the ascendancy in many parts of Europe. Beyond its explicit party political expressions, this assumes a more worrying form. What had been traditionally confined to the margins of dominant political discourse is progressively penetrating its mainstream, with parties of the centre absorbing much of the far right’s populist rhetoric. This underlies the complaint by Jean-Marie le Pen, leader of the racist National Front, that Nicolas Sarkozy had ‘stolen his clothes’. Across the Channel, the Tory candidate for the London mayoralty, Boris Johnson, believes that ‘to any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia – fear of Islam – seems a natural reaction’….

“Beyond all the noise about Europe’s ‘Muslim problem’ lurks a growing unease about the changing texture of European society. Gone are the days of pure white, Christian Europe. Now Europe is multi-ethnic, multireligious and multicultural, a fact which many find hard to swallow. Muslims are part of this evolving reality, but the idea that the continent is being Islamised is a figment of the right’s imagination.”

Soumaya Ghannoushi in the Guardian, 24 October 2007