Sunday, February 6, 2011

Muslim Politics in Europe - Data yawn

While the study of Muslim communities in Europe is not exactly a new subject and was part and parcel of research into issues of immigration, integration, multiculturalist policy and racism within the social sciences (exacerbated by the upheavals of 1989 – the Rushdie affair and the foulard islamique), the academic scene has been dramatically transformed in a post-9/11 world, exacerbated by the events in Madrid and Amsterdam in 2004 and London and Denmark in 2005. The presence of Muslims in Britain therefore has become problematised both in terms of social as well as security policy. In response to policy requirements, focus has shifted not just to the study of ideology but also to the demographics. The Yearbook of Muslims in Europe Volume 1. Edited by Jørgen S. Nielsen, Samim Akgönül, Ahmet Alibašić, Brigitte Maréchal & Christian Moe (Leiden: Brill, 2009) is a useful example of collaborative work that covers basic surveys of communities in various European states (and significantly Europe is not defined in simple EU terms), some analyses of major controversial themes and assessments of some of the major interpretative approaches to the study of Muslims in Europe. However, the potential problem of a yearbook is that it can only provide a series of snapshots that are rendered obsolete almost as soon as they are published – especially in the case of a series published in such an expensive manner.

Part one comprises thirty-seven country reports from Albania to Malta for the year 2008. A short chapter discusses the very category of Muslim which is many ways is an objectification of modern politics in a post-1989 context. Following this, various categories of issues are developed for each country ranging from basic population figures, the relationships of religious communities and institutions with the state, an outline of those organisations, mosques and religious centres, education and access, festivals, food, dress, media, law, opinion, cultural events, and issues around life-cycle from birth to death. The breadth is informative since there is little academic research on some of these countries. Nadia Jeldtoft is her piece raises the question of defining ‘Muslim’ and the dangers of focusing too narrowly on practice and religiosity as well as a caution against assuming individuals affirm and understand their identity in similar terms. One cannot comment on all of the reports so it is probably best to say something about three different contrasting entries. First, the entry on the UK by Tahir Abbas is a useful and short survey covering the required sections. It would be worth commenting on the demographic shifts – after all the 1989 events and Muslim politics under New Labour primarily concerned communities of South Asia origin, while more recent immigration has brought new actors onto the scene from Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Somalia among others. It would also have been useful to indicate issues at the centre of the debate in 2008 such as the question of sharia accommodation under British legal jurisdiction. Second, the entry on Turkey by Ahmet Yildiz stands out because it concerns a country with a clear Muslim majority and so one would have thought it would require a separate discussion – majority-minority dynamics and their differing impact on state relations is significant and worth comment. Third, the entry on Poland is indicative of those surveys of countries with small numbers of Muslims. However, the relationship with Muslim communities is long standing going back to the medieval period. On the whole the raw data involved in these entries is indicative.

Part two on analysis comprises chapters on the relations between Turkey and the EU, youth issues, the veil, the media and religious freedoms – and there is no denying the importance of these issues. But there are further umbrella themes missing, most important among which is the question of ‘sharia in the West’ to cite the title of a recent important volume on political thought: how can secular, liberal states accommodate ‘theocratically’ minded communities? Another significant theme is immigration and the labour market and the response within Europe among the far right. Yet another relates to the training of religious leaders and the intersection of the role of Muslim seminaries and Islamic studies departments in universities, most controversially debated recently in Tubingen.

The final part includes nine reviews of major relevant publications. One can always quibble over this selection as well, given the absence of major works such as Jytte Klausen’s The Challenge of Islam and studies on the phenomenon of Islamophobia. Ultimately the issues that arise from the study of Muslims in Europe are not just demographic and sociological but also political and theological.

Given the size and information in the volume, it is unfortunate that there is no index. But overall the volume makes a useful contribution, at least, in terms of bringing together useful and often divergent and mutually exclusive lines of research into one place. As such, it can play a role in providing background for further serious research into the major theoretical challenges to understanding the role of Muslim communities in contemporary Europe.

1 comment:

Richard said...

Off-topic: How does one access the Reviews listed? There seem to be no links atached?

Thank yoo,