Muslims in European Citizenry: Distinguished Lecture by Prof. Sindre Bangstad

The Centre for Studies of Plural Societies (CSPS) organised a ‘Distinguished Lecture’ titled ‘Muslims in European Citizenry’ on 10th October 2022 at 7.00 PM (IST). The lecture was delivered by Prof. Sindre Bangstad and chaired by Prof. Bhaswati Sarkar.

About the Speaker

Prof. Sindre Bangstad is an anthropologist and the incoming Stanley Kelley Jr. Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Teaching of Anthropology at Princeton University, New Jersey, US. Prof. Bangstad has undertaken ethnographic fieldwork among Muslims in Cape Town, South Africa and among Muslim youth in Oslo, Norway. He is the author of nine books and edited volumes in English and Norwegian, including the 2014 monograph Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia (Zed Books/Bloomsbury). Prof. Bangstad was awarded the 2019 Anthropology in the Media Award (AIME) from the American Anthropological Association (AAA) in recognition of his work disseminating anthropological knowledge and insight through the public media. Prof. Bangstad has been a Research Professor at KIFO (Institute For Church, Religion and Worldview Research) in Oslo, Norway, since 2019 and an Associate Researcher at Plattform/Arkivet in Kristiansand, Norway, since 2021. His research interests include Islam and Muslims, secularism, hate speech, free speech, racism and the far-right.

About the Chair

Prof. Bhaswati Sarkar is a Professor at the Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. Her research interests are ethnicity, nation, nationalism, democracy, democratic transition and consolidation, citizenship, immigration, integration, multiculturalism, minority rights, secularism and persistence of religion, European integration and European identity. She looks at Europe, focusing mainly on Central and Eastern Europe and the Nordics. Prof. Sarkar has authored a book on Balancing the Nation-State in Eastern Europe: The Hungarian Experience. Her edited books include Amidst Turbulence and Hope: Transition in Russia and Eastern Europe, The Hungarian Minorities in Eastern Europe: Issues and Concerns.

Commencement of the Session 

Dr. Omair Anas, Director (Research) at the Centre for Studies of Plural Societies, initiated the discussion by highlighting the multicultural aspect of cities worldwide, the tensions, anxieties and fears resulting from such diversity, and the plurality of populations. He outlined the challenges faced by the immigrants as new forms of Islamophobia, xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments have surfaced and dominated the discourse. Moreover, Dr. Anas raised fundamental questions for the audience to think about the best possible approach to study the tensions emerging in these societies. He capped his talk by emphasising the irreversible nature of the changes that almost all societies are grappling with and how the switch over citizenry is not a one-day phenomenon.

Following this, Prof. Bhaswati Sarkar formally commenced the session and introduced the prevailing conditions in the European Union (EU) vis-a-vis the increasing Islamophobia. She raised pertinent questions about how does Europe stay together with this diversity, how does Europe accommodate new citizens, especially Muslim immigrants and how one lives in such a different terrain? She then went on to analyse the idea of ‘Euro Islam’ in terms of its feasibility and the constant struggle and tussle associated with intergenerational issues and conflicts present not just within the Muslim community but vis-a-vis the larger context of Europe. Prof. Sarkar rightly pointed out how scenarios like post 9/11, the publication of the ‘Satanic Verses’ and the Danish cartoon controversy complicated the whole discourse on Islamophobia, negatively impacted the visibility of the Muslim population in Europe, and further paved the way for the suspect community concept. Prof. Sarkar then welcomed the speaker and requested him to begin the lecture.

Prof. Sindre Bangstad began his exposition by citing the first instance of racism that took place during the Spanish re-conquest [La Reconquista] of the Iberian Peninsula in the 14th and 15th centuries, through which Iberian Jewish and Muslim converts to Catholicism [‘conversos‘ and ‘moriscos‘, respectively] were both rendered inherently suspect second-class citizens based on their paternal ancestors’ faith. According to the historians of modern racism ranging from George M. Fredrickson to Francisco Bethencourt, this first modern articulation of racism originated in the Catholic church and the Catholic Inquisition’s notions of ‘purity of blood’ [limpieza de Sangre].

Prof. Bangstad shed light on this case of racism and discrimination against the moriscos and the conversos to demonstrate that racism is historically antecedent to the concept of race. He enlightened the audience about the relationship between racism and the biological concept of race, which challenged our existing stereotypes and illustrated how the concept of race became tethered to ideas about human biology during the European Enlightenment and the European colonial exploration and exploitation that followed from the 16th century onwards. He asserted this by quoting the great African American author and public intellectual Ta-Nehisi Coates, But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming ‘the people has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. The difference in hue and hair is old. However, belief in the pre-eminence of hue and hair, the belief that these factors can correctly organise society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible–this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, to believe that they are white.”

Prof. Bangstad elaborated on the discourse of colonialism in academia and how scholars generally overlook settler colonialism and slavery and the transatlantic slave trade that accompanied colonialism. He then shared his findings and research on the rise of Islamophobia in Norway. He read excerpts from his monograph “Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia”, where he outlined the racist and conspiratorial nonsense ideology of the murderer Anders Breivik – the ‘Eurabia Conspiracy Theory’ also called the ‘Great Replacements.’ It is the longstanding European idea, so central to European racism and white supremacism for centuries, that Europe is existentially threatened by having religious and or racial minorities in its midst. This theory has inspired white supremacists and right-wing extremist terrorist attacks in Christchurch, El Paso, and Bærum in 2019.

Prof. Bangstad was mainly concerned with how different structural, political, and institutional facets of the times and contexts we find ourselves in can be generative of Islamophobia. He highlighted how this process of racialisation is rooted in the dichotomy of ‘Us’ vs them ‘Other’ by which anything that threatens European ideals is otherised. As understood by Prof. Bangstad, human history is essentially the history of human migrations, mixing and coexistence. He emphasised the need to bridge differences and celebrate diversity. He ended the lecture with hope as anti-racist counter-mobilisations against Islamophobia and racism are gaining momentum in contemporary Norway and Europe.

An enriching Q&A session followed the lecture. Prof. Sarkar raised an essential question about the role of the EU amid its moral and political posturing and the rise of Islamophobia within its member states. Responding to the question, Prof. Bangstad said that a democratic challenge stares the EU right in the eye, which was meant to uphold the essential concept of liberal democracy, viz., minority rights must be protected – but is now mainstreaming Islamophobia. Prof. Bangstad further touched upon the use of conspiracy theories to foment hatred by the mainstream media. Acknowledging the role of the Israeli far right in legitimising Islamophobia and racism in Europe, he then briefly touched upon the feminist movement in Norway, which has primarily been marked by classism and anti-religious rhetoric and the way Muslim women with their religious practices figure in such environment. The discourse surrounding the idea of ‘integration’, in the words of Prof. Bangstad, is ‘one-sided’.

The report is prepared by Khushbu, a Research Intern at CSPS