“[I]t kind of makes you think people hate you because of the way you dress” an excerpt from an interview recorded in the article by Chris Allen titled, “‘People hate you because of the way you dress’: Understanding the invisible experience of veiled British Muslim women victims of Islamophobia.”
Thomas Hammarberg, the Former Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, defines Islamophobia as a symptom of the “disintegration of human values”; human values such as non-discrimination, tolerance, freedom of thought, justice, solidarity, and equality. These values are supposed to be inherent in European societies. They are values upon which the European Union and the Council of Europe were built. Gendered Islamophobia refers to the belief that Islam has a patriarchal character that must be condemned. Some think that the major targets of violence and discrimination are men in society; however, this is not the case within the Muslim community. There, women and girls are extremely vulnerable to violence motivated by their status as Muslims. In part, this is because those who are covered with scarves or veils are easily identifiable. Violent hate crimes and hate speech due to gendered Islamophobia in Europe is on the rise. It has been fuelled by tensions in the aftermath of 9/11 and 7/7, the rise of populist nationalist politicians, and high-profile terrorist attacks carried out by Muslim extremist groups. It is has been exacerbated by new legislation, policing, and counter-terrorism measures, which have lead to visible discrimination of Muslim women throughout Europe.
Examining speeches by populist nationalist politicians, for example Former President of the US George Bush and Former Prime Minister of the UK Tony Blair after 9/11 and 7/7, leaders speak about “tolerating” minorities, suggesting that the minority has traits that are difficult to accept and need to be tolerated by the majority. Shayna E. Solomon in her thesis ‘Shifting Discourses of Tolerance: The Framing of Muslim Minorities in the US and the UK Before and After National Traumas’ states that, “speech which demeans Muslims translates into negative results for Muslims and can ‘inflame hostilities’ between Muslim minorities and the non-Muslim majority…” This is because the “intolerable” parts of the community should be excluded from society, but it is not obvious who they are. They often share the same characteristics (such as skin tone, religious ideas, and patterns of dress) as the tolerable group and this leads to mass hate crimes and discrimination against the Muslim community in Europe, especially targeting women. In a case study, it was found through community-based third-party reporting mechanisms such as TellMAMA, Muslim women constituted 58% of reports. The case study also discovered that while racist violence typically targets men, Muslim women are more vulnerable to religiously motivated hate crime.
The new legislation, policing, and counter-terrorist measures are casting both native and immigrant Muslims as the ‘enemy within.’ Islam is seen as a threat to Europe, to which it is responding not only with draconian attacks on civil rights but also with moves to roll back multiculturalism and promote monocultural homogeneity through assimilation. Thus as Liz Fekete states in her research paper ‘Anti-Muslim racism and the European security state‘ “ ‘integration’ measures – like France’s banning of the hijab become an adjunct to anti-terrorist law. This is not just ‘Islamophobia’ but structured anti-Muslim racism.” What appears to have happened post- 9/11 though, is that the parameters of that institutionalized xeno-racism and anti-foreignness have been expanded to include minority ethnic communities that have been settled in Europe for decades simply because they are Muslim.
There is a new push across Europe towards assimilation under the false garb of secularization. Assimilation is being forced by the adoption of a number of measures, which includes the recasting of citizenship laws according to security considerations; the introduction of compulsory language and civics tests for citizenship applicants; codes of conduct for the trustees of mosques; and a cultural code of conduct for Muslim girls and women who, in some areas of Europe, are forbidden to wear the hijab in state schools and other state institutions. The bans on different forms of veiling in public spaces in the West are among the most visible forms of gendered Islamophobia. These veiling and dressing practices make Muslim women more identifiable and visible and therefore more vulnerable to discrimination and surveillance in everyday life. Chris Allen in his work ‘Exploring the Impact of Islamophobia on Visible Muslim Women Victims: A British Case Study’ interviews Kapur a Muslim woman. For her, the growing interest is a consequence of the fact that the ‘visibility’ of Muslim women in contemporary Western spaces is increasingly noticeable. As she notes, the mere presence and subsequent recognition of Muslim woman in these settings is such that it disrupts the order of normality. In today’s Western societies, Britain included, the identity of Muslim women is both seen and understood to be problematic. Such identities are far from homogenous or fixed.
Integration is a two-way road. Some European Muslims acknowledge that they have to try to interact with wider society. Meanwhile Europe’s political leaders must push for intercultural dialogue and tackle racism and discrimination a lot more effectively. The key challenge is to strengthen cohesion in European societies. This means respecting diversity, upholding fundamental rights, and guaranteeing equal opportunities for all. Practical initiatives recorded by the EUMC to combat Islamophobia and to foster cohesion include initiatives like one in Luxembourg, where the Ministry of Education decided to provide final year pupils with a course which focuses on interfaith dialogue and explains the human values of non-Christian religions. In Germany, ‘Islam Forums’ have been established with the express objective of reducing prejudices and fears towards the Muslim community. In the UK, leaders from the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths have now established the Three Faiths Forum which organizes conferences, seminars, and meetings with national and local politicians.
Muslim women are extremely vulnerable to hate crimes and discrimination in their day to day life and their identities have been reduced and subsequently essentialized to the mere recognition of outward manifestations including the hijab, niqab or other recognizable form of Islamic attire (abaya, jilbab or burqa for example). The new policies and measures are extremely discriminatory in nature and fall under a false pretense of secularism forcing this minority group to look like the majority and adopt practices which aren’t theirs. These can only be combated through intercultural dialogue and a more open minded approaches from both parties.
Maria Jovita is a fourth-year law student at Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat.
Suggested citation: Maria Jovita, The Role of Gender in European Islamophobic Structures, JURIST – Student Commentary, February 8, 2023, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2023/02/Maria-Jovita-Europe-Islamophobia-sexism/.
This article was prepared for publication by Rebekah Yeager-Malkin, Co-Managing Commentary Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to she/her/hers at firstname.lastname@example.org