The Securitisation of Islam in Europe

Jocelyne Cesari

European discourse on Islam is a microcosm of the debate on Islam’s compatibility with the West. Because Western countries generally associate Islam with the al-Qaeda movement, the Palestinian issue and Iran, their discussion of the religion involves an essentialised approach to a multifaceted faith. In his book Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, Mahmood Mamdani refers to this slant as ‘culture talk’, or viewing the religion as a single unified ideology spreading from Europe to Iraq and Afghanistan. According to this perspective, Islam is steeped in history and absolutely incapable of innovation, and Muslims are defined by an almost compulsive
conformity to their past and an inability to address the current challenges of political development and religious liberal thinking. Therefore, culture talk justifies the artificial divide between modern and pre-modern religions and between secularism and Islam.1 Culture talk has become prevalent in modern international relations discourse, in part because it refers to stereotypes that are familiar to the historical consciousness of Western politicians and intellectuals.
The use of these trite depictions of Islam in professional debates has established a paradoxical policy of European governments both fearing and fostering radicalisation in a process I call the ‘securitisation’ of Islam. The conditions that lead to this development have already occurred:
The European state views Muslim groups as a threat to its survival and takes measures to reassure citizens that it will not allow the incubation of terrorism. Sepandan, the politicisation of religion essentially impoverishes and threatens its survival,2 leading devout Muslims to feel resentful of the interference of non-religious actors. Thus, the measures intended to prevent radicalisation actually engender discontent and prompt a transformation of religious conservatism to fundamentalism. This is the process of securitisation. It involves actors who propose that Islam is an existential threat to European political and secular norms and thereby justifies extraordinary measures against it. Ole Weaver best explains repercussions of such actions: “When mobilised as politics, religion represses the transcendence of the divine. Fear and trembling is replaced by absolute certainty.”3 As an existential concept, faith is easily securitized, and it can incite a proclivity for violence in place of pious concepts.

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