Lecture (autumn semester). British and European responses to Islamic migration

Welcome, this week’s lecture will look at:

  • Islamic immigration & settlement in Europe & England & Wales
  • Numbers, Geography, Origins
  • Perceptions of host communities
  • Discrimination, Disadvantage & rights
  • Conflicts over Islam in England & France
  • Conceptualising discrimination

Demographics: England and Wales

  • 56 million residents in England and Wales
  • 86% were White; 8% were Asian/Asian British; 3% Black/African/Caribbean/Black British;T0.1% Arab
  • Top 10 countries of birth in Asia ranged from India (694,000 people) to Malaysia (65,000).
  • Of the residents of England and Wales in 2011, 59% were Christian; 25% had No religion; 5% were Muslim
  • Foreign-born population England & Wales; Christian (48%); Muslims (19%).
  • Muslim population growing faster than the overall population, with a higher proportion of children and a lower ratio of elderly people
  • In 2011, 2.71 million Muslims lived in England and Wales, compared with 1.55 million in 2001


People in the US similarly overestimate the proportion of Muslims in the population, thinking it is 15% when it is actually 1%. They believe 56% are Christian when the true figure identifying themselves as such is 78%.Britons also underestimate the proportion of Christians, believing it is 39% when the correct figure is 59%.

IPSO MORI cited in The Guardian, Today’s Key Fact: you are probably wrong about almost everything, 29 October, 2014


Origins of Muslim people in Europe

  • Seven out of ten British Muslims are South Asian with the others being mostly of African or Arab descent.
  • Most Muslims in France have roots in North Africa,
  • Approx. two thirds of German Muslims are of Turkish descent,
  • Dutch Muslim population is mostly those of Moroccan and Turkish origin as well as refugees from the Middle East and Africa,
  • Muslims in Scandinavia from displaced people from war zones such as Palestine, Somalia and Iraq.

Geographic distribution

English cities/towns

London 1,012,823 (12.4%); Birmingham 234,411 (21.8%);Bradford 129,041 (24.7%)

Leicester (19%); Manchester 79,496 (15.8%) ONS (2011)

European cities

Amsterdam (14%); Antwerp (17%); Brussels (15+%); Cologne (12%); Copenhagen (10%); Malmo (20%); Marseille (20%); Moscow (12%); Paris (10+%)


Discrimination, disadvantage and rights

Britain 1997

  • Exclusion (from government, employment, management and responsibility);
  • Violence (physical assaults, vandalism of property, verbal abuse);
  • Prejudice (in the media, in everyday conversation),
  • Discrimination (in employment practices, and in provision of services, notably health and education) (Runneymede Trust, 1997)

Britain 2016

  • Higher poverty rates, including child poverty + persistently low wages
  • Nearly half of the Muslim population live in the ten most deprived districts in England. (2016)
  • British Muslim women have the highest rates of unemployment, despite higher rates of university participation and qualifications
  • Hate crimes against Muslims have risen since 1997
  • Muslims are over 13 percent of the prison population but only 5% of population.(Runneymede Trust, 2016)

France 2016

  • Hate crime up

e.g. after the January 2015 Paris attack 26 mosques attacked (firebombs, gunfire, pig heads, and grenades) (Stone, 2016).

Muslims tend to be ghettoized, living in often run-down Muslim banlieues, isolated from mainstream society

  • Muslims suffer discrimination, unemployment + poverty.
  • Muslims = 7% of the population; 70 percent of prison population is Muslim,(Alexander, 2016).

French policy: racism, ethno-religious discrimination

Article 1. France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs. Constitution of France (1958)

EU regulations

  • EU Employment Directive (2003) outlaws religious discrimination at work
  • European Convention on Human Rights (2010), Article 9, Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
  • Article 10, Freedom of Expression
  • Article 14, Prohibition of Discrimination


  • under French law it is illegal to distinguish individuals on the grounds of their religion.
  • laïcité actively blocks religious interference in affairs of state. This dates back to the Revolution of 1789 ….
  • laïcité, it is argued, guarantees the moral unity of the French nation – the ‘République indivisible’.

… the proclaimed universalism of republican values, and in particular laïcité, can very quickly resemble the ‘civilizing mission’ of colonialism. … if Muslims want to be ‘French’, they must learn to be citizens of the Republic first and Muslims second; for many this is an impossible task. Hussey, 2014, 9.

Muslims viewed as Non-assimilating

Our former immigrants were Europeans; these are not.  Arab girls who insist on wearing chuddars (chador, veil or covering) in our schools are not French and don’t want to be…Europe’s past was white and Judaeo Christian.  The future is not.  I doubt that our very old institutions and structures will be able to stand the pressure (Dominique Moisi, in Judith Miller, 1991, p.86)

Banning Islamic Female Dress

  • French Foulard ‘headscarf’ affair’ (1989)
  • 1994 student demonstrations
  • France became the first country in Europe to ban the wearing of the headscarf in state schools (2004) .

‘Conspicuous’  religious items may not be worn in schools.  Forbidden items include: the Muslim headscarf, Sikh turbans, Jewish  skullcaps and large Christian crucifixes.

Burqa and Niqab banned in public 2011

April, France bans public wearing of the burqa, a full body covering that covers the lower face and has a meshed cloth over the eyes, and the niqab, which is identical except that a veil covers the lower face and the eyes are uncovered  (fines of 150 euros).

Burkini Bans 2016

30 French mayors ban the use of Burkini; municipal police can stop and fine any women in full-body swimsuits at the beach

More than 20 mayors have defied the state council ruling that the burkini bans are a “serious and manifestly illegal violation of fundamental freedoms”.

Laïcité and the bans; “protecting” the secular nature of the state.

  • ‘we must defend secularism – the next step may be separate train compartments for men and women, beaches reserved for one sex’ (Alain Juppe, former PM 2003)
  • the burkini is “the affirmation of political Islam in the public space”. (Prime minister, Manuel Valls, 2016)

French colonialism & the Hijab

  • Colonial “mission civilisatrice” saw a moral duty in colonisation: a self-elevating sense of responsibility to educate and liberate populations across North Africa.
  • The hijab represented as a symbol of Islamic oppression and a part of what made North African countries so inferior (in the French colonial discourse).
  • In Algeria the unveiling of women was a way of showing how France was liberating its female subjects from the “repressive tyrannies” of Islam, keeping the veil on, in some cases became a symbol of resisting colonial rule.
  • Some modern French politicians and feminists, see veiled Muslim women as, by definition, oppressed and in need of “saving”.

English policy: racism, ethno-religious discrimination

Race Relations Paradigm

  • Race Relations Act 1965,68,76 (protects against discrimination based on ‘race’ = biological race, nationality, ethnicity)
  • 1980s ‘race’ definition expanded to include mono-ethnic religious groups like Jews and Sikhs
  • Public Order Act (1986) incitement to racial hatred = criminal offence
  • Crime and Disorder Act (1998) and Race Relations (Amendment) Act (2000) both maintain the existing definition of ‘racial group’.
  • Anti-Terrorism, Crime & Security Bill (2001) did not make incitement to religious hatred an offence, identifies Muslim communities as the seat of internal threat (Husband & Alam, 2012, 100)

Recognising religious discrimination

  • EU Employment Directive (2003) outlaws religious discrimination at work
  • 1998 Human Rights Act makes religious freedom a right in the UK
  • Equality Act 2010: protects against discrimination on the basis of religious belief, belonging, connection, perception of membership
  • law prohibits “incitement to religious hatred” and defines “religious hatred” as hatred of a group that may be determined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief.

The Rushdie Affair

  • Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses (1989) regarded by many Muslims as blasphemous
  • Ayatollah Khomeini  issues fatwa

‘from the point of view of community relations, the fatwa was a disaster for the Muslims in Britain’ (Ruthven, 1991)

  • Book-burning in Bradford on 14th January 1989; perceived as echoing Nazi book-burnings in the 1930s

No one paused to inquire if book burning had the same meaning and significance in Islamic traditions, or whether the Bradford incident was largely symbolic, an expression of impatience rather than intolerance, and the result of misguided advice rather than hatred…all Muslims were implicated in the book burning (Parekh, 1990: 122).

  • many used the affair to highlight the incompatibility between Islam and the West: ‘The Western belief in human rights, which seems to lack limits, is alien to Islamic traditions’ (Taheri, 1990: 89)

‘The nature of the media coverage surrounding the ‘Rushdie Affair’ transformed the dominant view towards Muslims in Britain from Asians to Muslims.’ (Vertovec, 2002: 23)

Assimilationist and liberal British views

  • Assimilationist view of supporters of the fatwa

Disloyalty: greater respect for Khomeini than British law

Lack of patriotism; neglecting British reputation & feelings of fellow citizens

Fatwa support shows multiculturalism has failed

  • Liberal views:

Violation of liberal values; free speech, respect for law, tolerance, democracy, secularism (Parekh, 1999, 18)


Conceptualising discrimination against Islamic people in Europe

From Racism to Islamophobia

  • The “New Racism” (Barker, 1981) Cultural racism relating more to culture, ethnicity than biology
  • “Islamophobia” has: A religious and cultural dimension, but equally clearly, bares a phenotypical component. For while it is true that “Muslim” is not a (putative) biological category…neither was “Jew”. It took a long, non-linear history of racialisation to turn an ethno-religious group into a race. Naser Meer and Tariq Modood, 2012

Islamophobic views of Islam


Islam seen as a single monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to new realities.

  1. Separate

seen as separate and other – (a) not having any aims or values in common with other cultures (b) not affected by them (c) not influencing them.


Islam seen as inferior to the West – barbaric, irrational, primitive, sexist.

  1. Enemy

Islam seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, engaged in ‘a clash of civilisations’.

5. Manipulative

Islam seen as a political ideology, used for political or military advantage.

  1. Criticism of West rejected

Criticisms made by Islam of ‘the West’ rejected out of hand

Discrimination defended   Hostility towards Islam used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.

  1. Islamophobia seen as natural

Anti-Muslim hostility accepted as natural and ‘normal’.

“Anti-Muslimism” (Fred Halliday, 2006)

  • Strategic anti-Muslimism

Relating to: terrorism, nuclear weapons, Oil; Arising from Western views of foreign Muslim societies

  • Populist anti-Muslimism

Relating to: Immigration, Assimilation, Cultural practices (veiling); Arising from the presence of Muslims within Western society

Anti-Muslimist Imagined Communities (Benedict Anderson)

  • National communities imagined in relation to Islamic “others”:
  • Negative othering:

Europe/West defined as “civilised”, “modern”, “tolerant”, “equitable” (feminist), lawful & peaceful

 in relation to

Islam/East defined as “barbaric”, “backwards”, “intolerant”, “inequitable” (“sexist”), illegal & violent

Orientalism (Edward Said)

Colonial period: the dominant “orientalist discourse”

  • Homo Islamicus: unreason, fanaticism, despotism, unreason, belief, stagnation, medievalism
  • Western civilisation: reason, freedom and progress towards perfectibility,

Al-Azmeh, Aziz, (1996)


Leiken, R S (2005) ‘Europe’s Angry Muslims’ in Foreign Affairs 84 (4) 120-135


Husband, C. and Alam, Y. (2011) Social Cohesion and Counter Terrorism: A Policy Contradiction? Bristol, Policy Press, (Ch. 4)

Al-Azmeh, Aziz, (1996), Islams and Modernities (Verso)

Barker, M (1981) The New Racism, London, Junction Books

Cherribi, Sam (2010). In the House of War: Dutch Islam observed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fekete, Liz, 2009, A Suitable Enemy, Racism, Migration and Islamophobia in Europe (Pluto).

Field, D. (2007) ‘Islamophobia in contemporary Britain: the evidence of the pinion polls, 1988-2006’, Islam and Christian Relations, Vol. 18, No. 4, 447-77.

Halliday, F (1996) Islam and the Myth of Confrontation, London, I.B. Taurus.

Holloway, Lester, Islamophobia – 20 years on, still a challenge for us all, Runnymede Trust, online, 13 April, 2016

Huntingdon, S (1996) The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Hussey, Andrew (2014). The French Intifada. London, Granta Publications

Meer, Nasar, and Tariq Modood, 2012, “For ‘Jewish’ read ‘Muslim’? Islamophobia as a Form of Racialisation of Ethno-Religious Groups in Britain Today”, Islamophobia Studies, volume 1, issue 1 (spring).

Miller, Judith, (1991) “Strangers at the Gate: Europe’s Immigration Crisis,” New York Times Magazine, September 15

Tariq Modood, (ed.,) (2005), Muslim Britain: Communities under Pressure, London, Zed Books

Modood T, and Salt, J. (2011) (eds.), Global Migration, Ethnicity and Britishness, London & New York, Palgrave MacMillan

Nachmani, Amikam (2010). Europe and its Muslim minorities: aspects of conflict, attempts at accord. Brighton: Sussex Academic.

Kastoryano, Riva. “Religion and Incorporation: Islam in France and Germany”, International Migration Review, Vol. 38, No. 3, Conceptual and Methodological Developments in the Study of International Migration (2004), pp 1234-1255.

Kastoryano, R (2006) ‘French secularism and Islam: France’s headscarf affair’ in Modood, T. Trianafyllidou, A., and Zapata-Barrero, R. Multiculturalism, Muslims and Citizenship, London, Routledge, 57-69.

Kundnani, Arun, 2014, The Muslims Are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror, Verso.

Plenel, E (2016) For the Muslims: Islamophobia in France, Brooklyn NY. Verso.

Runnymede Trust, Islamophobia, A Challenge for Us All, 1997

Said, E, (2003) Orientalism, Penguin, London

Soysal, Y. N. (1997), ‘Changing Parameters of Citizenship and Claims-making: Organized Islam in European public spheres’, Theory and Society, 26, 509-527.

Author: shabbycheek

Lecturer and researcher in intersectional cultural studies, historical sociology, American and migration studies. Working in China on America, British, Australian and Chinese social justice issues using Feminist materialist, post-Marxist (Gramscian), Critical Race Studies and post-colonial perspectives.

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