by Meir Hatina
The development of Islamic Studies during the twentieth century and beyond has found little favour with Islam as a religious phenomenon. The body of knowledge on Islam has expanded, and new genres based on new sources have gained momentum, such as social history, urban studies, public space, holy landscape, religious practices, gender, and the documentation and empowerment of subaltern voices (women, minorities, and slaves). But it seems that this wealth of scholarship has touched on Islam as a culture and civilisation, much less on Islam as religious thought, especially in terms of theology and jurisprudence, religion and state, jihad and martyrdom, war and the treatment of captives and non-combatants, international relations—issues that continue to provoke debates and polemics in the modern era as well.
The twentieth century witnessed a religious resurgence in all three monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, depicted by sociologist Jose Casanova as the “de-privatisation” of religion and its return as a contentious issue to the public sphere. The Enlightenment project, which raised the banner of secularisation, confining religion to the private sphere, was contested, whereas manifestations of blasphemy remained on the sidelines. Thus, while modernity indeed constituted a significant challenge to the established faiths, it was also a fertile breeding ground for religious redefinition, innovation, and rejuvenation. In essence, modernisation had spawned new religious ideas, communities and movements. Some of these movements, like neo-evangelical Christianity, messianic Zionism, Israeli ultra-orthodoxy, or Islamists, questioned and often defied the prevailing “secular” order. In the Islamic milieu such defiance was accompanied by assertiveness, protest and violence, affecting intellectual and scholarly discourse, which also became dominated by rigid paradigms of tensions and antagonism among the Abrahamic creeds.
These paradigms lacked a comparative historical perspective and an awareness of the diversity of Islam and the complexity of interfaith encounters. One such paradigm, nurtured by post-colonial climate, was that of Edward Said’s book Orientalism (1978), which accused Western discourse of harbouring demonic perceptions of Islam and the East as archaic and intolerant entities, in contrast to a rational and progressive West. The contribution of Orientalism to the craft of history and to Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies has been extensive. It has significantly altered the way we think, write and present the history of the peoples of Islam and the East by displaying sensitivity and empathy towards them. Orientalism heightened our awareness that non-Western societies can develop their own modernity without necessarily breaking away from indigenous identities and cultures—what Shmuel Eisenstadt called “multiple modernities.” Yet, in spite of its merits, Said’s concept precisely because of its sweeping assertions sharpened the dissonance between East and West and gave further impetus to the politics of identities. Orientalism portrayed a Western plot to uproot indigenous cultures, and it permeated not only Islamic protest movements, but also academic institutions in the Arab-Muslim world.
The rise of the “culture of criticism” (al-thaqafa al-naqdiyya), carried out by socialists and liberal circles, which challenged and even dismantled Islamic traditions and norms, has been largely marginalised in the Western scholarship. Rather, many researchers were preoccupied with political Islam or Islamism and its call for the restoration of past legacies.
Another paradigm that drew the attention of scholarly discourse in the early 1990s was Samuel Huntington’s book Clash of Civilizations (1996). It delineated a built-in tendency in Islam to violent conflict and to “bloody borders” between Muslims and non-Muslims, and demonised Islam as a religion of tyranny, intolerance and violence. The emergence of global jihad—especially in the wake of the September 11 attacks—played into Huntington’s thesis, creating a climate of cosmic war, of a permanent state of dissonance and confrontation.
The militancy image of Islam was reinforced by the rise of ISIS at the threshold of the twenty-first century and its chain of victories in Iraq and Syria. The question, posed by early Islamists in mid-twentieth century, as to whether there would be a revival of the religion of Muhammad has now been replaced by the question posed by global jihadists whether someone would be able to stand against the religion of Muhammad. Kasr al-hudud, namely the dismantling of geographical and political boundaries was ISIS’s driven force. This self-confidence mood was also reflected in ISIS’s English-language online magazine Dabiq, which opened one of its issues with the title “Break the Cross” and closed it with “By the Sword.” The cross had become a code phrase for the “new crusade,” which harboured humanity’s deviation from the path of God—such as democracy, liberalism, feminism, and atheism. It served as a trigger for violence as a purifying force.
Yet, even analysts who were not convinced of such paradigms as Orientalism and the Clash of Civilizations continued to focus on the political aspects of modern religious revival, while downplaying historical legacies and ignoring other, more ecumenical voices, in favour of such labels as “fundamentalism,” “puritanism,” “scripturalism” and “strong religion.” Accordingly, fundamentalism in world religions was explained in the five-volume Chicago Fundamentalist Project (1991–1995) as a product of pressures of modernity and reactions to these pressures: thus secularisation led to religious revivalism; the consolidation of feminist ideologies caused a backlash favouring modesty and family-based ideologies; and technology and free access to knowledge have led to religious confinement and censorship.
Neither Said’s Orientalism, nor Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, and nor the Chicago “Fundamentalism” project reflect the complex nature of interfaith encounters. Viewed from a historical perspective, civilisations were never fixed polities, but rather heterogeneous and diverse, with changing boundaries and intellectual orientations. Moreover, they were exposed to inner frictions, which at times overshadowed external conflicts with other cultures. This is true with regard to the religious wars in European history, as well as to clashes within Islamic societies, as the global jihad of al-Qaʿida and ISIS represented only one small radical fraction in a multifaceted Islamic spectrum.
On the Jewish-Christian axis recent years have witnessed an abundance of research reflecting a revived Christian interest in Jewish tradition, for example in Kabbalah. The revised scholarship has changed the long-standing stereotype of a monolithic divide between Judaism and Christianity in pre-modern times that was fed by sustained polemic traditions and modern anti-Semitism. It demonstrated the diverse nature of the study of Jewish esoteric lore among Christians, and, simultaneously, presented the Jews as agents of cultural transmission functioning within the framework of a wider society. The existence of a more diffused reality applies all the more to the multiethnic and culturally diverse Muslim world, where Jewish and Christian communities were influenced by Muslim values, norms and practices, and vice-versa, revealing deeply acculturated processes.
Approaching prevailing paradigms in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies as relative concepts that should be examined cautiously will highlight cross-cultural features and introduce a more constructive analysis of modern Islamic resurgence. Such an approach will also eschew a binary picture in favor of a diffuse reality of intertwined worlds: on the one hand, religions striving for the sole possession of revelation and holy places; and on the other, mutual recognition by religions of a shared background of myths, founding figures, injunctions, values, cosmology, social behaviour, and interactions across time and space.
Moving away from artificial precepts to examine more concrete communal realities, using sociological insights and fieldwork, is more productive and insightful. Thus, for example, many speak of religiosity and its manifestations in the public sphere. However, in the context of Islam in Israel, for instance, an increase in the number of mosques and welfare associations is clearly not a sufficient indication of the strength of the Islamic Movement and the degree of Islamisation of the Arab public domain. Public polls conducted in recent years among Muslims in Israel show that only 20% of the respondents indicated that religion should play an active role in the public sphere; the rest saw it as a moral and cultural code, and adopted a pluralistic approach to religion. Moreover, field studies conducted in mixed localities in which Muslims and Christians live, such as Haifa, Nazareth, and Kafr Qana, show cordial interethnic relations based on interpersonal and family acquaintances, joint activities in local institutions, and common interests related to their positions as minority groups vis-à-vis state authorities.
A similar picture of Islamisation as a relative process can be traced in the Middle Eastern environment. For example, with regard to the veil or head covering which stem from a social, not only a religious, trigger that allows women to move freely in public. In addition, opinion polls and interviews conducted in various Arab countries from the 2000s onward showed that a significant percentage of respondents, mainly young people, expressed a desire for the shielding of personal freedoms and the establishment of a democratic regime. Some of them even displayed indifference and skepticism to religion. These indicators, together with the different approaches regarding the place of Islam in the polity, are clear signs of religious diversity.
Perhaps it is, after all, not surprising that the Arab revolutions of 2011 (dubbed the “Arab Spring”), did not erupt on religious demands for the implementation of the shariʿa (Islamic law), but against the background of mundane issues, such as individual and civil rights, social justice, and democratisation. It is also plausible that the failure of the elected Muslim Brethren to promote these secular issues eventually brought on their downfall in 2013 only a year after they had gained power. The 2011 uprisings overturned entrenched research paradigms about the endurance of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and the inherent submissiveness of the people. The Arab public space changed both its face and its historic role. It was no longer a background against which rulers projected their authority in public processions and official festivals, while the masses played a submissive role, cheering and granting them legitimacy. The demonstrators, led by educated and embittered youths, stormed the symbols of sovereignty of the Arab state, creating new modes of collective action. The dramatic events attested to a Middle East that was an integral part of the global village in terms of its exposure to modern technology, communication networks, and Western ideas.
The post-2011 scholarship was seemingly reorganising its patterns of thought, but this was not the case. Two years after the Arab revolutions, and in the shadow of civil wars in Syria, Libya and Yemen, and against the backdrop of the rise of ISIS, another paradigm emerged—the failed state. The failed state model refers to the breaking of the state’s authority, which is reinforced by the renewed vitality of ethnic, religious, tribal, and regional identities. Hence, ethnic-religious sectarianism became a central component of the Middle Eastern landscape and provided a platform for bloody confrontations. This conclusion seems too sweeping, and completely eliminates 100 years of state-building project in the Arab world, which witnessed the consolidation of geographical borders and the construction of national identity, even if feeble one.
Critical review of prevailing paradigms in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies does not aim to draw firm conclusions, but only to highlight the importance of having a historical and sociological perspective. Historical monitoring will keep us from falling into essentialist concepts, such as “Islam is the religion of the sword” or “the army of shrouds,” referring to suicide bombers. Of course, one cannot ignore society’s formative ethos and judicial rulings anchored in classical texts, but one must closely examine their historical evolution and the new interpretations that have permeated them. After all, social agents and movements play a crucial role in remoulding of the “truth” of scriptures, in accordance with the circumstances and aspirations of their time.
 José Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), mainly chapters 1, 8.
 Said, Orientalism (new ed., London: Penguin, 2003).
 S N. Eisenstadt, "Multiple Modernities," Daedalus 129/1 (2000): 1–29.
 Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), mainly 254–265.
 Dabiq, 1437 Shawwal, no. 15. In: http://clarionproject.org/wp-content/uploads/islamic-state-magazine-dabiq-fifteen-breaking-the-cross.pdf
 Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby (eds.), The Fundamentalist Project (University of Chicago Press, 1991-1995).
 Muhammad al-Atawneh and Nohad Ali, Islam in Israel: Muslim Communities in Non-Muslim States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 73-101; Muhammad al-Atawneh and Meir Hatina, "The Study of Islam and Muslims in Israel," Israeli Studies 24/3 (Fall 2019), 101-125.
 Brian Whitaker, Arabs without God: Atheism and Freedom of Belief in the Middle East (California: Createspace, 2014).
 Kobi Michael and Yoel Guzansky, "The Nation State vs. the Failed State and the Arab Upheaval in the Middle East,” in Vladimir Sazonov et al (eds.), Cultural Crossroads in the Middle East (Tartu: University of Tartu Press, 2019), 220-235.
 Meir Hatina, Martyrdom in Modern Islam: Piety, Power and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).
by Katrine Fangen
Over the past two decades, negative images of Muslims and Islam have become widespread throughout Europe and North America. Many of the images represent Islam (and particularly male Muslims) as a threat, as can be seen in the portrayal of Muslims as potential terrorists, as rapefugees (rapist refugees), or as patriarchal and misogynistic. In addition, worries are expressed about Muslims becoming ‘too many’ in number, leading to the gradual decline of the national population (defined as non-Muslim). Although some of these images have a long history in Europe, and can be traced back to colonialism and Orientalism, research has identified a sharp increase in representations of Islam as a threat after 9/11, when ‘virtually all parties and formations on the radical right made the confrontation with Islam a central political issue’. Within more mainstream political parties, too, there have been calls for the acculturation of Muslims to ‘our way of life’. The ‘war on terror’ itself has been said to have contributed to the derogatory portrayal of Muslims. Other critical events during the past two decades have also contributed to the threat-image of Islam, including Turkey’s EU application, which led to a ‘Europe versus Islam’ discourse, and the civil war in Syria, which triggered discussion on the securitisation of borders both in the aftermath of the war and during the preceding ‘refugee crisis’.
Terms like ‘Islamisation’ and ‘Eurabia’ point to concerns that Islam is slowly but significantly taking hold in European societies and replacing the Christian-Occidental values on which those societies were built. Related fears include demographic visions of a white population slowly dying out and the idea that Muslims with large families will take over through what those concerned see as a form of demographic warfare. Belief in such a scenario, which was popularised by the author Bat Ye’or, is shared by many different anti-Islamic actors.
Defining the concept
There is little agreement on what might be the best term for capturing generalising and negative attitudes towards Muslims and Islam. Many academics prefer the notion of ‘Islamophobia’. First used by two Muslim authors at the end of World War I, this term was introduced into the social sciences by Edward Said in 1985, and grew significantly in popularity after it was used in a 1997 report from the Runnymede Trust. According to that report, what characterises Islamophobia are its closed views on Islam as static and monolithic, as an inferior ‘other’ and separate from the West, and as a manipulative enemy. Erik Bleich’s definition of Islamophobia as ‘indiscriminate negative attitudes or emotions directed at Islam or Muslims’ is also very useful, as it captures the importance of strong negative emotions in anti-Islamic discourse. The term ‘anti-Islamic’, however, also highlights the role of strong negative emotions, and furthermore avoids any association with a psychological diagnosis that might be involved in use of the suffix ‘-phobia’. In this term, the prefix ‘anti-’ points to a sort of antagonism, or even aversion, which is important, since what is being designated here is more than mere criticism of religion. For the purpose of this article, then, I will use the term ‘anti-Islamic’, which is defined here as referring to groups or actors who advocate policies to restrict Islamic immigration or the practice of the Muslim faith, and to ‘the framing of Islam as a homogeneous, totalitarian ideology that threatens Western civilisation’.
What characterises anti-Islamic actors?
Anti-Islamic actors are opposed to Islam in itself and often hold that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim, as they think so-called moderate Muslims are only hiding their true intentions. They have in common the adoption of a strong stance against Muslim immigration and all forms of Islamic influence. What they identify as unwanted Islamic influence includes everything from the building of mosques to the use of Islamic clothing such as hijabs and, last but not least, all forms of special treatment. Anti-Islamic groups argue that Muslims do not fit into Western society, and stress that Islam as a religion preaches a fundamental hatred towards Western values and ways of life. Further, some of them hold that Muslim men are inherently dangerous and cannot ‘be taught how to behave’. The dislike of Islam and Muslims is so strong that it encompasses a whole range of negative emotions such as anger, fear, and aversion.
In political terms, strong anti-Muslim attitudes are often located on the far-right end of the political spectrum, although there are certainly instances of anti-Islam attitudes at the left or centre of politics too. One of the most prominent features of the far right is nativism, or the view that states should be inhabited exclusively by members of the relevant native group and that non-native persons and ideas are fundamentally threatening to the nation-state’s homogeneity. Members of the far right see fighting against those who ‘threaten’ a change in the beliefs and values of the nation as one of their main tasks. Typical for anti-Islamic actors is that it is first and foremost Muslims who are not defined as members of the native group (even when they are born in the country).
Different actors in the anti-Islamic movement
The many anti-Islamic groups that have arisen in different countries throughout Europe and North America since 2000 can be seen as constituting an anti-Islamic movement because of their shared anti-Islamic identity and rhetoric. There are many different types of actors in this movement—ranging from politicians or political parties, social movement organisations, and social media groups to individual actors (e.g. individuals writing in the comments sections of newspaper articles). There are connections between some of these actors, and even influence and collaboration across national borders, but there are also many actors who operate more or less on their own. Influence occurs, for example, through the reading of news on alternative media sites, some of which (e.g. Breitbart) are widely read across national borders, and such alternative news is spread widely on social media. An important feature of these alternative news sites is that they build a community of like-minded individuals, although these individuals are not members of a defined group. Further, anti-Islamic ideas and negative sentiments are also spread by the posting of internet memes in social media. Such memes contribute to a nasty form of humour and often dehumanisation of Muslims.
Influence is further seen in the fact that similar social movement organisations have emerged in many different countries, such as Stop Islamisation of America, Stop Islamisation of Europe, Stop Islamisation of Denmark, and Stop Islamisation of Norway. Similarly, the organisation Pegida, originally established in Germany, subsequently emerged in many other European countries. Even though many of the groups operate mostly in a national context, they obviously get inspiration from similar groups in other countries. This also holds for right-wing populist parties that have a strong anti-Islamic platform, whose intensive collaboration in recent years has led to the coining of the term ‘nationalist international’ to refer to them.
In addition, different actors espouse different degrees of extremeness, and the degree of extremeness may vary over time depending on the particular context in which it is expressed: In interviews with anti-Islamic actors, many reveal that they are far more extreme when writing posts on social media or in the comments sections of news outlets than they would be when speaking face-to-face with another person. It is from the internet sphere that far-right terrorists have gained inspiration and support for acts of terror they subsequently carried out. Therefore, the spread of anti-Islamic ideas through social media groups or more extreme internet platforms is far from just a possibly harmless online phenomenon. In Norway, a country that had previously seen very little terrorism, the last decade has witnessed both the worst violent attack on Norwegian soil since World War II and a later unsuccessful act of terror. On 22 July 2011, concern about the Islamisation of Europe motivated Anders Behring Breivik to detonate a bomb at the Norwegian government’s headquarters in Oslo, killing eight people, and to thereafter engage in a shooting rampage directed against adolescents attending a Labour Party youth camp, in which 69 people were killed. Philip Manshaus, who attempted to shoot Muslims at the Al-Noor Islamic Centre on 10 August 2019, was similarly inspired by anti-Islamist ideas. In other parts of the world, too, terror attacks have been motivated by anti-Muslim ideas (e.g. the Christchurch terror attack that Manshaus cited as a direct inspiration for his own failed terror attack). It is therefore vital that we keep track of the worldviews and mobilising potential of anti-Islamic groups, online and offline.
Leaders of anti-Islamic organisations
One important way of accessing what goes on in the mind of anti-Islamists is to interview them. Interviews with leaders of various anti-Islamic movement organisations have revealed that one of their main goals is to ‘reverse the Islamisation of society’. Social movements emerge as a reaction to something in society that certain actors think is intrinsically wrong and therefore needs to be changed. Even though the leaders of anti-Islamic groups share a nativist conception of what needs to be changed—that is, they believe that there are too many Muslims within their societies and that these Muslims threaten ‘national culture’ or ‘national values’—they differ in the degrees of extremism they espouse in relation to what needs to be done to address that issue.
The position of individuals and groups along the spectrum of extremism, however, can shift over time, and we have seen several examples of proponents of more moderate forms of anti-Islamism later moving on to more extreme standpoints—for example, Geert Wilders, who in the late 1990s was warning against the threat of Islamic terrorism and had a more national-liberal standpoint, but from 2005 onwards viewed Islam as the cause of ‘all sorts of problems’, demanded the full assimilation of Muslims and advocated a much more national-conservative form of anti-Islamism.
In addition to portraying Muslims as criminal and dangerous, those that suggest that Muslims are the cause of all sorts of problems often argue that Muslims do not contribute to society and instead represent a significant economic cost for the nation-state. According to this view, most Muslim immigrants are not refugees, but rather welfare tourists. Such attitudes form part of a broader discourse about immigrants as a burden on the welfare system, which, in Kymlicka’s terms, can be labelled ‘welfare chauvinism’.
The ‘solution’ put forward for the ‘problems’ identified above is often greater integration, or even assimilation, of Muslims. Another proposed ‘solution’ is a concern about national values, as well as human rights in general, along with an argument in favour of the voluntary return of Muslim immigrants. However, a more extreme variant is the view that Muslims should be forced to distance themselves from Islam or be deported, which implies a clear break with the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights (which specifies the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion). The most extreme variant is the call for extermination, as exemplified in the terror attack on the Christ Church mosque in New Zealand, when 51 people were killed.
Tracking anti-Islamic discussions on the Internet
Another way of studying anti-Islamic actors is to scrutinise the discussions taking place on various online platforms, which range from the more extreme sites in which actual violence has been planned and celebrated, such as 4chan, 8chan, and Telegram, to more moderate anti-Islamic social media groups. Even on mainstream social media such as Facebook, however, the discussion threads tend to be rather extreme—combining the use of anger, fear, and vomit emoticons with dehumanising words and metaphors, and even calls for violence.
The study of social media groups provides access to the ideas of individuals who have not necessarily taken the step of joining a defined anti-Islamist group. The memberships of anti-Islamist groups on social media may be much larger than those of social movement organisations. In Norway, for example, the number of anti-Islamists that meet up at demonstrations organised by groups such as Stop Islamisation of Norway (SIAN) is much smaller than the number of people taking part in social media groups supporting the same organisation. Indeed, it is a general trend that participation on the internet is stronger than actual participation in demonstrations: It is a much bigger step to actually attend a demonstration that might be met with a counter-demonstration than it is to participate in online groups. The Monday demonstrations in Dresden organised by the anti-Islamist organisation Pegida represent something of an atypical case in this context. At the height of their support, they succeeded in drawing large numbers of people, with 25,000 in January 2015 being the highest recorded attendance. Support for the organisation has since declined, however, and an interesting finding has been that although Pegida triggered more reactions in the form of likes and comments online the more radicalised content they published, public support for the group (in the form of people present at demonstrations) declined as the organisation became more radicalised. Accordingly, it seems that people are more willing to engage in extreme content in online settings than in public.
In my analysis of two anti-Islamic Facebook groups, it became evident that references to Muslims often involved the use of dehumanising, derogatory, and sexist words, expressions, images, and statements. In general, it was striking how central gendered arguments were in these anti-Islamic groups. In descriptions of the particular traits and characteristics of Muslim women, the terms used focused not just on their suppression, but also on their alleged stupidity (e.g. ‘ghost’, ‘Halloween costume’, etc.). In other words, these women were seen as passively accepting oppression and thus divested of agency. Similar de-agentification has been seen historically towards, among others, the uneducated working class. However, in contrast to a de-agentification found in the latter example through the use of passive language which obscure’s people’s agency, Muslim women in these Facebook groups were also dehumanised through the use of derogatory words. Alongside the images of oppressed Muslim women, however, there was also an image of Muslim women holding positions of power in politics, who were therefore targeted for hatred because they were thought to represent proof of ‘Islamisation by stealth’. We see here opposition both to the top and to the bottom—in other words, what Brubaker describes as vertical and horizontal opposition—both to the elite and to outside groups. Typically, outside groups are construed at the bottom by representing them as parasites or dangerous, and in any case unworthy of respect.
Muslim men, on the other hand, were characterised through the use of words that focused on how dangerous and discriminating they are to women. They were in general described as violent savages and as unable to learn how to behave. Such dehumanising forms of discourse can have very serious consequences for those concerned, since, in the words of Bandura, ‘once dehumanised, they are no longer viewed as persons with feelings, hopes, and concerns but as sub-human objects’. Group members used arguments about the dangers that Muslim men represented for women to justify the total exclusion of Muslims from access to Norway.
The way in which Muslim men and women are described in these Facebook groups is racist in the sense that Muslims are scorned both when they are seen as backwards because of their religious clothing or practice and when they are more secular and integrated and hold positions of power in society. In other words, no matter how Muslims behave, they will be scorned. Secular Muslims in positions of power are viewed only as evidence of Islamisation by stealth—that is, the gradual Islamisation of society. We can therefore say that discussants either implicitly or explicitly rely on the so-called Eurabia discourse, where even moderate Muslims are considered suspicious, as they are seen to be trying to incorporate Islam into Norwegian society in a disguised way.
The discussion threads analysed in my article on anti-Islamic Facebook groups are in line with the now-familiar and dominating narrative of Islam as the ‘other’, in which the main reason for being opposed to Islam is that it is associated with the oppression of women. Nevertheless, I found a paradoxical twist in that this representation of Islam as detrimental to gender equality was accompanied by highly sexist language, a feature not usually associated with being in favour of gender equality. Interestingly, the women in the two Facebook groups studied were as sexist in their vocabulary as the men. Such sexist rhetoric has obviously become jargon within these types of groups, where the intention is both to offend Muslims and to demarcate the gender-equal Norwegian in-group. As Brubaker has pointed out, provocative statements of such a nature represent a conscious opposition to political correctness. The approach is similar to what Gabriella Coleman has described as Trump’s style of ‘conspicuous rudeness, crude sexual references, and a general “bad boy” demeanour’ aimed at projecting ‘an image of authenticity’.
The seemingly humorous jargon used in the degrading of Muslims takes the form of what Sara Ahmed calls ‘the social production of disgust’ and reveals the centrality of emotions such as fear, anger, and contempt in anti-Islamic discourse. In the group members’ discussions, we see how humour is ‘used’ as a means of transgression, and how through such transgression the members create an online community culture in which they support and applaud each other’s anti-Islamic sentiments. Further research is needed into the importance of emotions, jargon, and humour in such anti-Islamic social media platforms, as this will provide an important window into the collective atmosphere of hatred and disdain that is created in such groups.
Anti-Islam in political parties
Within the political sphere, it is first and foremost right-wing populist parties that have propagated anti-Islamic sentiments. A characteristic shared by many right-wing populist parties in Europe is that they make use of cultural arguments against Muslim immigration, saying that Islam is alien to a given national culture or identity. The various right-wing populist parties differ, however, in terms of how extreme their standpoints are regarding their views on Muslims. Norway’s Progress Party is one of the more moderate of these parties, although some of its members have been associated with more discriminatory comments. In general, the Progress Party used culturalist arguments far more openly while in opposition than during the period in which it was part of the country’s coalition government. The same holds true for Siv Jensen, the leader of the party, who in 2009, some years before the party joined a government coalition, initially introduced the term ‘Islamisation by stealth’. At that point in time, she sounded a warning against what was perceived as the threat of Muslims becoming ‘too numerous’ and gaining too much power within Norway. The term ‘Islamisation by stealth’ refers to the idea that, unbeknownst to the population, society is slowly but surely becoming ‘Islamised’, while the Muslims involved in this process are hiding their true intentions. This line of thought is very much a replication of the main thesis of the Eurabia theory. It seems noteworthy that such a line of thought is shared both by members of the far right and by some (though not all) politicians of the right-wing populist Progress Party, which, as noted above, formed part of a coalition government in Norway just a few years ago. In its party programme, however, the Progress Party does not argue against Muslim immigration as such, but it does argue strongly in favour of providing help to refugees in the countries close to where they fled from, and that Norway should only accept quota refugees, not refugees in general.
There are some interesting differences between right-wing populist parties in Germany and Norway in terms of the types of argumentation against Islam they use. The German national-populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) argues that Islam itself is in conflict with the free democratic order. An analysis of the anti-Islamic argumentation in German radical right parties and organisations revealed the importance of gendered arguments against Muslim migration, as members of these groups see women’s rights as being threatened by the influx of Islam. These organisations legitimise their political aim of restricting immigration by referring to security measures held to be necessary because of the alleged threat emanating from male Muslims. Inherent in this argumentation is an ethno-nationalist view: German culture is presented as superior when it comes to women’s rights, while Islam and non-Western cultures are portrayed as primitive, misogynistic, patriarchal, and inferior. Here we see an important difference between liberal anti-Islamists and their more national-conservative counterparts: while the former may feel the need to maintain at least the appearance of neutrality on questions regarding ethnic identity, this is not the case for the latter.
References to Christianity here form part of a civilisationist argument about the backwardness of Islam, where the underlying argument is that Christian-Occidental culture is threatened by Islamisation. Evidently, what is at stake here is not belonging to Christianity in itself; rather, as Brubaker aptly puts it, the Christian identity is used as ‘a way of defining “us” in relation to “them”.... Crudely put, if they are Muslim, then we must in some sense be Christian.’ As argued by Brubaker, the rhetorical use these parties make of Christianity is cultural rather than religious; likewise, their support for women’s rights could similarly be seen as a cultural understanding rather than a feminist one. By presenting Muslims from non-Western cultures as a threat to non-Muslim women and values, anti-Islamic groups aim to prevent them from settling.
This blog is based on a summary of some of the findings from earlier articles in which I and various colleagues have looked at different kinds of anti-Islamic actors, ranging from social media groups and social movement organisations to political parties and individual politicians. Of course, there is a difference between political parties and anti-Islamic movement organisations, yet some ideas—such as the notion of ‘Islamisation’—have seen considerable diffusion among both types of groups. Indeed, as many researchers have pointed out, anti-Islamic ideas in general have spread quite widely since the turn of the millennium. One important distinction between anti-Islamic ideas and more moderate views that should be borne in mind is that, in the latter, distinct practices are for example criticised because they are considered patriarchal, whereas in the anti-Islamic viewpoint, no matter what they do, Muslims represent a dangerous Islamisation of society. In addition, distinctions can be made between various anti-Islamic actors in terms of what measures they regard as legitimate and what kinds of rhetoric and activism they promote. In general, we might say that what anti-Islamic ideas have in common is that that they do not take into account the huge variations in the ways in which Muslims live their lives and practise their faith. As a result, Muslims are targeted even when moderate.
The mainstreaming of anti-Islamic ideas takes place first and foremost on the internet, where scornful comments against Muslims and Islam have become so common that moderators have a hard time dealing with the problem. But this mainstreaming of anti-Islamist discourse is a problem not just because Muslims face hate speech on the internet: even though many anti-Islamist groups do not advocate or condone violence, their rhetoric potentially functions as a mobilising force for more extreme and violent actors.
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 Arun Kundnani (2007) Integrationism: The politics of anti-Muslim racism. Race & Class 48(4): 24–44.
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 Thomas Diez (2004) Europe’s others and the return of geopolitics. Cambridge Review of International Affairs 17(2): 319–335. doi: 10.1080/0955757042000245924.
 Stephen Zunes (2017) Europe’s refugee crisis, terrorism, and Islamophobia. Peace Review 29(1): 1–6. doi: 10.1080/10402659.2017.1272275.
 Bat Ye’or (2005) Eurabia: The Euro–Arab Axis. Cranbury, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.
 See AbdoolKarim Vakil (2009) Is the Islam in Islamophobia the same as the Islam in anti-Islam: Or, when is it Islamophobia time? e-cadernos CES 03. doi: 10.4000/eces.178.
 According to its website, Runnymede is the UK’s leading independent race-equality think-tank; see https://www.runnymedetrust.org/about.html.
 Chris Allen (2008) KISS Islamophobia (keeping it simple and stupid). In: Salman Sayyid and Abdool Karim Vakil (eds) Thinking Through Islamophobia: Global Perspectives. Symposium paper for the Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies, University of Leeds, pp. 30–33.
 Erik Bleich (2011) What is Islamophobia and how much is there? Theorizing and measuring an emerging comparative concept. American Behavioral Scientist 55(12): 1581–1600.
 Charles Miller (2017) Australia’s anti-Islam right in their own words: Text as data analysis of social media content. Australian Journal of Political Science 52(3): 383–401. doi: 10.1080/10361146.2017.1324561.
 Lars Erik Berntzen (2020) Liberal Roots of Far Right Activism: The Anti-Islamic Movement in the 21st Century. London: Routledge, on p. 11.
 Katrine Fangen (2020) Gendered images of us and them in anti-Islamic Facebook groups. Politics, Religion & Ideology 21(4): 451–468.
 Sara Farris (2017) In the Name of Women’s Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism. Durham. NC: Duke University Press.
 Cas Mudde (2016) On Extremism and Democracy in Europe. New York: Routledge, on p. 145.
 Lars Erik Berntzen and Sveinung Sandberg (2014) The collective nature of lone wolf terrorism: Anders Behring Breivik and the anti-Islamic social movement. Terrorism and Political Violence 26(5): 759–779.
 Manès Weisskircher and Lars-Erik Berntzen (2019) Remaining on the streets. Anti-Islamic PEGIDA mobilization and its relationship to far-right party politics. In: Manuela Caiani and Ondřej Císař (eds) Radical Right ‘Movement Parties’ in Europe. Abingdon, Routledge.
 Kemal Dervis and Caroline Conroy (2018) Nationalists of the world, unite? Brookings, 26 November; available at: https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/nationalists-of-the-world-unite/.
 Katrine Fangen and Carina Riborg Holter (2020) The battle for truth: How online newspaper commenters defend their censored expressions. Poetics 80. doi: 10.1016/j.poetic.2019.101423.
 The need to engage with anti-Islamic actors is potentially important also for deradicalising purposes. However, the path to deradicalisation is not ambiguous. For example, there have been examples of dialogue meetings between anti-Islamists and Muslims, where the anti-Islamists afterwards expressed that they were interested in building bridges to the extent that this could serve to diminish the Islamization of society. See Helle Svanevik (2020) Dialogmøte mellom SIAN og Muslimsk dialogforum. Dagsavisen, 31 October; available at: https://www.dagsavisen.no/fremtiden/dialogmotet-mellom-sian-og-muslimsk-dialogforum-terrorister-bygger-ikke-broer-de-sprenger-dem-1.1795089.
 My recent article with Maria Reite Nilsen was based on interviews with leaders of Stop Islamisation of Norway, the Norwegian branch of Pegida and Vigrid (the latter in reality now more a one-man entity than a group); see Katrine Fangen and Maria Reite Nilsen (2020) Variations within the Norwegian far right: From neo-Nazism to anti-Islamism. Journal of Political Ideologies. doi: 10.1080/13569317.2020.1796347. In addition, in the project on which I am currently working – ‘Reaching Out to Close the Border: The Transnationalisation of Anti-Immigration Movements in Europe (MAM)’, based at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) – we are a group of researchers interviewing different actors in what could loosely be seen as the anti-immigrant movement in Europe (or rather, we interview different anti-immigrant actors and see what forms of national and transnational collaboration and inspiration are involved in their activities). By talking with the actors themselves, we get closer to understanding the inner dynamics of their ideas.
 Koen Vossen (2011) Classifying Wilders: The ideological development of Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom. Politics 31(3): 179–189.
 Will Kymlicka (2015) Solidarity in diverse societies: Beyond neoliberal multiculturalism and welfare chauvinism. Comparative Migration Studies 3(17): 1–19.
 Fangen and Nilsen, Variations within the Norwegian far right.
 Fangen, Gendered images of us and them.
 Lars Erik Berntzen and Manés Weisskircher (2015) Anti-Islamic Pegida groups have spread beyond their German heartlands. LSE blogs, 17 June. Available at: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2015/06/17/the-anti-islamic-pegida-movement-is-making-progress-outside-of-its-german-heartlands/.
 Sebastian Stier, Lisa Posch, Arnim Bleier and Markus Strohmaier (2017) When populists become popular: Comparing Facebook use by the right-wing movement Pegida and German political parties. Information, Communication & Society, 20(9): 1365–88.
 Carsten Schwemmer (2019) Social media strategies of right-wing movements: The radicalization of Pegida. SocArXiv papers, 21 February. doi: 10.31235/osf.io/js73z.
 Fangen, Gendered images of us and them.
 Gabriella Modan and Katie Wells (2015) Capital Dilemma: Growth and Inequality in Washington. New York: Routledge.
 Rogers Brubaker (2017) Why populism?, Theory and Society, 46(5): 357–385, at p. 363. doi: 10.1007/s11186-017-9301-7.
 Albert Bandura (2002) Selective moral disengagement in the exercise of moral agency. Journal of Moral Education 31(2): 101–119.
 Brubaker, Why populism?, p. 367.
 Cited in Brubaker, Why populism?, p. 367.
 Michelle Hale Williams (2010) Can leopards change their spots? Between xenophobia and trans-ethnic populism among West European far right parties. Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 16(1): 111–134. doi: 10.1080/13537110903583385.
 Katrine Fangen and Mari Vaage (2018) ‘The immigration problem’ and Norwegian right-wing politicians. New Political Science 40(3): 459–476. doi: 10.1080/07393148.2018.1487145.
 The Progress Party was part of a coalition government from September 2013 to January 2020.
 Possibly inspired by Robert Spencer’s (2008) book Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam Is Subverting America Without Guns or Bombs (Washington, DC: Regnery). Spencer is a leading member of the alt-right in the USA and was an organizer of the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina, in August 2017.
 Wahlprogramm der Alternative für Deutschland für die Wahl zum Deutschen Bundestag am 24. September 2017 (Alternative for Germany, election program for the German bundestag election on Seotember 24th 2017), Available at: https://www.afd.de/wahlprogramm/.
 Katrine Fangen and Lisanne Lichtenberg (forthcoming) Gender and family rhetoric on the German far right. Patterns of Prejudice.
 Rogers Brubaker (2017) Between nationalism and civilizationism: The European populist moment in comparative perspective. Ethnic and Racial Studies 40(8): 1191–1226, on p. 1199.
 See Fangen, Gendered images of us and them; Fangen and Reite Nilsen, Variations within the Norwegian far right; Fangen and Vaage, The immigration problem; Fangen and Riborg Holter, The battle for truth; and Fangen and Lichtenberg, Gender and family rhetoric.
 Aurelien Mondon and Aaron Winter (2017) Articulations of Islamophobia: From the extreme to the mainstream? Ethnic and Racial Studies 40(13): 2151–2179. doi: 10.1080/01419870.2017.1312008.
 Kundnani, Integrationism.