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Engineering a European Islam: An Analysis of Attempts to Domesticate European Muslims in Austria, France, and Germany

Today, a number of European states’ policies on religion aim at creating a nationalized Islam. In many Western European countries, the Ministries of the Interior have institutionalized ‘dialogue platforms’ to discuss issues of Islam, society, inclusion and extremism with Muslim actors. This reveals the implicit assumptions of these governments when talking to Muslims. The underlying message is that Muslims pose a security threat to the state and society, a perception that is manifested in many countries, and that Muslims are seen simultaneously as a threat and an ally. This article analyzes the Ministry of Interior’s attempts to institutionalize Islam in the cases of Austria, Germany, and France and it compares these states in order to investigate different modes of operation, similarities and differences.

Engineering a European Islam An Analysis of Attempts to Domesticate
Sebastian Kurz (R), Austrian Foreign Minister and leader of ÖVP greets supporters on October 15, 2017 in Vienna. While in 2010, Kurz had argued that he was against a headscarf ban, and condemned such a demand as populism; he has now become the champion o

Introduction

Richard Traunmüller shows in his quantitative empirical study that there was an increasing tendency in the EU 27-member states3 from 1990 to 2011 to regulate religions.4 Although Traunmüller’s study speaks of a general trend and does not deal with differences in the states’ policies in regard to different religious communities, this trend is especially true for Islam. As Jonathan Laurence shows in his study, from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, “gone were the ad hoc responses […] and in came corporatist-style institution building and the establishment of ‘state-mosque’ relations.”5 Especially in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, European countries became more and more interested in gradually taking “‘ownership’ of their Muslim populations because it grants them unique influence over organizations and leadership.”6

By influencing how Islam should look, national governments aim at creating “the institutional conditions for the emergence of a French or German Islam, e.g., rather than just tolerating Islam ‘in’ France or Germany.”7 This reflects two aims of these states: i) to free Muslims and disconnect them from an allegedly foreign policy agenda, especially from the influence of the embassies of their origin countries, and ii) to ‘moderate’ those Muslim organizations that have a transnational link to Islamist movements.8 Many authors share the observation that states want a domesticized, “democratic European Islam” in the context of debates about Islam as constituting a threat to “security,”9 “integration,” and “European values,”10 while others also problematize the racial dimension that structures these attempts.11

 

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