måndag 1 november 2010

Naturally Islam is perceived as The Threat

This sentence could (slightly readjusted) mean totally different things: "Islam is perceived as The Threat, naturally", or "Islam is naturally perceived as The Threat" would mean entirely different things than what I want to address here. I've recently been presenting a paper at a conference on Muslims and Political Participations. Alongside with this, I'm studying Comparative European Politics. I'd like to share a few points that I see emerging from this.

Europe is struggeling. And not in a new way. It struggles, in the way it always has, with its identity. What is the European Identity? The EU largely emerges from a post-WWII context, where the primary objective was to stop a third world war from tearing Europe (and the rest of the world) to shreds. As such, the policies introduced were largely soaked in fears of any one "power"-factor overcoming all else. Some (i.e. Hallstein) have argued that Europe is not a (new) invention, but a rediscovery. According to Nugent however, this overstates the way Europe has ever collaborated, and exaggerates the peacefulness of European history (Nugent 2006:12). So the struggle of Europe should not be mistaken for a struggle for Europe, i.e. fighting back an enemy at the gates - but rather one of identity, constantly asking; how much of a European unity (and hence indentity) is there/can there really be?

So what does it mean that Islam is naturally percieved in a certain way. This is to do where Europe is right now. Arguably, Europe in itself is a highly heterogenous territory, where various regions are in conflict with each other, with the nation-state they're located within, or with the EU as a project. These conflicts have curious effects, such as Catalonia in Spain having a direct micro-diplomacy connection to Brussels, and are not only represented through the national voice of Spain (see Karlsson 2006). So within Europe there are plenty of examples of "cultures" that will never be recognized - and refuses to recognize themselves - as being just an aspect of the overall European Identity, but recognized as cultures in their own right. As these cultures are so clearly connected to a territory that has always been percieved to be inside of the European map, no concern is expressed about the worries of Catalan's or Basqian citizens, not being fully "European".

With Islam another thing is currently going on. The EU is expanding, as we all know. There is a question of what should be thought of as Europe. Never mind, that there is a long-standing presens of muslims within the European countries already (just think of Greece or Cuprys), or former Jugoslavia, but what really gets people to raise their eyebrows is what is on the edge of the EU's current territory. Here Turkey is a perfect example. And curious and multifaceted. Turkey has for a long time advocated a secular state, even though it counts in some historical sense as a "muslim country".

Today Turkey is having talks with the EU about membership. And there is a clear case of moving-the-goalposts here. Every time Turkey is just about to comply with the demands made by the EU, they add new criteria. The mechanism at work here is a case of being sensitive to anything that seems to be out of the norm.

The EU could/ought to be equally nervous about Catalonia, but since it is placed within Spain there's no need to get the EU's panties in a bundle over what is potentially disturbing the desired European unity. My argument here is simply that being overly sensitive to any nation's defining features just because they are currently the neighbor to the EU-project is ... seems little short of plain ridiculous.

To clarify this argument and put it differently: It is no coincidence that Islam is perceived as The Threat, (a) when we are unable to deal with any threats because they are considered domestic, and (b) when the imaginary map of Europe today is drawn right at the intersection between something that feels familiar (the EU) and something that is not as familiar.

It will always be natural for the EU (or any other territorially bound project) to have an outer perimeter. We should, however, not take the fact that the EU has not yet expanded to include all of the world as an inclination for the current border to be "natural" in any sense. As soon as we stop seing the border as natural, and shift to a perspective where we see the outer European border as something evolving and liquid, we need not find a threat-based logic that explains why the borders have not expanded further. YET.

Karlsson, Ingmar. (2006). Regionernas Europa. Stockholm: SNS.

Nugent, Neill. (2006). The Government and Politics of the European Union. 6th ed. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

1 kommentar:

  1. One further comment that supports my argument is that before we had (what Churchill called) an 'iron-curtain' that divided west from east in Europe. Then, the enemy was also whatever was on the verge, namely communism. Disregarded were the positions and wishes of specific states, and instead the ominous Soviet Union lurked as kind of a pupeteer pulling the strings of eastern european countries, as if they had no identity of their own - something obviously false, when we today see them as member states of the EU.