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The Post-September 11 Rise of Islamophobia: Identity and the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ in Europe and Latin America

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Islamophobia exploded across ‘the West,’ but particularly in Europe. While Muslims were suffering attacks across Europe, the experience of Muslims in Latin America was markedly different, with almost no perceptible rise in Islamophobia. In the roughly 10 year period between the attacks of September 11, and the start of the Syrian civil war, why did Islamophobia rise in ‘the West,’ but not in Latin America? This article attempts to answer this question through an analysis of the civilizational identities of both regions, in particular the countries of Denmark and Argentina. While the core of Denmark’s identity is being part of the ‘the West,’ which was ‘at war’ with the Muslim world during this period, Argentina defines its identity in opposition to Western countries like Britain and the U.S., leaving it outside ‘the West,’ and Islam not seen as a threat.

The Post-September 11 Rise of Islamophobia Identity and the Clash
Danish police interrupt the French-Algerian businessman, Rachid Nekkaz as he speaks in front of the Danish Parliament. Copenhagen, Denmark on September 11, 2018. OLE JENSEN / Getty Images
 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001, there was a substantial rise in Islamophobia throughout ‘the West’ (Europe, North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand),1 but especially in Europe.2 As Liz Fekete of the London-based Institute of Race Relations explains, “Muslims collectively are being blamed for the attacks on the World Trade Center, and there is a general punitive climate toward Muslims. This has manifested itself in a variety of ways. On the ground, there has been a rise in racial violence on Muslim targets across Europe.”3 In a region known for its commitment to the rule of law, respect for human rights, and shared values and principles of pluralist democracy;4 European Muslims –of which there were over 21 million– were now facing problems ranging from physical attacks and murder to discrimination in the job and housing markets to vandalism of Islamic centers and mosques.5 Anti-Muslim sentiment was institutionalized in Europe and, perhaps most worryingly, the increase in violence and discrimination was more and more based on issues of identity; these people were harassed because of their identity as Muslims.6

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