What are the roots of Western Islamophobia

Islamophobia and Political Islam: What The Conflict Is About

There is discrimination, marginalization and racism that people face because they are Muslim. And as in every other world religion, there are also different political orientations in Islam.

Guest comments and contributions from external authors do not have to correspond to the opinion of the editors.

In the aftermath of the attack in Vienna, a long simmering conflict in the gray area of ​​politics, consultancy and science has surfaced. In the “press” he could most recently be traced back to the contributions by Mouhanad Khorchide and Farid Hafez. The focus is on two controversial terms: "Islamophobia" (or related terms such as "Islamophobia" or "anti-Muslim racism") on the one hand, and "political Islam" (or "Islamism") on the other. Khorchide, head of the scientific advisory board of the “Documentation Center for Political Islam” set up by the federal government, considers one term to be dangerous nonsense, the other as useful and necessary. Hafez, one of the most active researchers on Islamophobia in German-speaking countries, thinks the other way around. So are we simply dealing with two extremes driven by political or professional interests? It is not that easy.

Khorchide claims that Islamophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism are just fighting terms that are deliberately left undefined in order to remain usable as weapons against critics. In doing so, he denies a fact that has been researched for decades and has been adequately documented: that there is discrimination, exclusion and racism to which people are exposed because they are (or are believed to be) Muslims. This is at the core of any definition of Islamophobia, Islamophobia, or anti-Muslim racism. Which of the three terms (or a completely different one) is best suited to this phenomenon and exactly where its limits are is the subject of ongoing scientific debate. When Khorchide claims that there is no debate and that the terms are used “without reflection”, he is simply ignoring reality. When he complains that the recently appointed “Expert Group Against Muslim Hostility” of the German Interior Ministry has not submitted any definition work, then he forgets or suppresses the fact that precisely this definition work has been carried out in Germany since 2006, within the framework of the German Islam Conference.

It is in the nature of things that there is no definitive definition that is equally convincing for everyone involved: this is not how social sciences work. You will not find a single social science category whose definition would be undisputed among researchers. But that does not mean that the object so named did not exist.

Nor does that mean that you just have to provide any definition in order to proceed scientifically with integrity. Khorchide defends the concept of Political Islam by stating that it has been clearly defined by the documentation office he is advising. It is correct that there is a definition. But precisely this is a problem, for at least two reasons - one of content, one institutional-political nature. In terms of content, because it defines Political Islam on its hostility to democracy and human rights. This is the case for some Islamic political movements, but not for others. As in every other world religion, there are political orientations in Islam from left to right, democratic to authoritarian, liberal to conservative, pacifist to violence-oriented. According to the definition presented by Khorchide, however, every Islamic movement that gets involved in political issues is by definition hostile to democracy and human rights. Not only is this wrong from a research perspective, it is also dangerous. Because, and this is where the second problem begins: The Documentation Center for Political Islam is not just a scientific institute, but advises the state and authorities. As we saw in the raid on alleged members of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, their expertise serves as the basis for surveillance and police operations. The documentation center therefore has a special responsibility. The fact that the head of her advisory board is so one-sidedly involved in the public debate makes it appear doubtful whether she is up to this responsibility.

Dr. Benjamin Opratko is a political scientist at the University of Vienna. His main research interests are racism and debates on Islam.