Con­fer­ence: In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on Is­lam­o­pho­bia: Law and Me­dia, İs­tan­bul

Turkish Review - - CONTENTS - S. AYKUT ÖZTÜRK Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don

The In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on Is­lam­o­pho­bia: Law and Me­dia, co-or­ga­nized by the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Is­lamic Co­op­er­a­tion (OIC) and Turkey’s Gen­eral Direc­torate of Press, Me­dia and In­for­ma­tion (BYEGM), was held in İs­tan­bul in Septem­ber last year fol­low­ing a pre­vi­ous de­ci­sion made dur­ing the 9th Is­lamic Con­fer­ence of In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ters (ICIM) in Li­bre­ville, Gabon, back in April 2012. The open­ing speeches of the con­fer­ence were de­liv­ered by BYEGM Di­rec­tor Mu­rat Karakaya, OIC Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ek­meled­din İh­sanoğlu and Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Bü­lent Arınç. The fol­low­ing ses­sions of the con­fer­ence in­cluded il­lu­mi­nat­ing and in­struc­tive -- and some­times provoca­tive -- dis­cus­sions on Is­lam­o­pho­bia, es­pe­cially in re­la­tion to free­dom of ex­pres­sion and fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights is­sues across dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines and from dif­fer­ent con­texts.

One no­tice­able ten­dency among the ma­jor­ity of speak­ers and pre­sen­ters was an at­tempt to lo­cate Is­lam­o­pho­bia within the more com­pre­hen­sive and universal ter­mi­nol­ogy of so­cial dis­crim­i­na­tion. In this sense, Is­lam­o­pho­bia was no longer for­mu­lated within Is­lam­spe­cific terms, but di­ag­nosed as a wide­spread so­cial prob­lem of cit­i­zen­ship in con­tem­po­rary democ­ra­cies. Thus it was fre­quently un­der­lined that Mus­lims are no longer im­mi­grants, but cit­i­zens of the coun­tries in which they live.

All three open­ing speeches elab­o­rated on Is­lam­o­pho­bia by mak­ing con­sid­er­able ref­er­ence to is­sues of racism, dis­crim­i­na­tion and anti-Semitism in the Western Euro­pean con­texts. As the is­sues Is­lam­o­pho­bia in­volves are in­ter­twined with vi­o­la­tions of hu­man rights in gen­eral and ques­tions on the fu­ture of egal­i­tar­ian cit­i­zen­ship regimes in par­tic­u­lar, it pro­vides a per­fect de­par­ture point for a con­cise cri­tique of con­tem­po­rary (Western) democ­ra­cies. And this was ba­si­cally


what the speak­ers sought to ac­com­plish dur­ing their speeches. For in­stance, Karakaya stressed the prob­lems of Turks in Ger­many in terms of vi­o­la­tion of cul­tural rights, es­pe­cially in re­la­tion to cir­cum­ci­sion and funeral ser­vices. Mean­while, İh­sanoğlu elab­o­rated on the emer­gence of Is­lam­o­pho­bia by skill­fully ques­tion­ing the links be­tween in­ter­ests of po­lit­i­cal par­ties and their elec­toral pri­or­i­ties in the Western con­texts. He also ex­am­ined how Is­lam­o­pho­bia is in­ter­nal­ized, nat­u­ral­ized, nor­mal­ized and fi­nally in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized un­der con­sti­tu­tional frame­works in many Euro­pean coun­tries by specif­i­cally re­fer­ring to the minaret ban in Switzer­land, in ad­di­tion to fur­ther com­ments on the car­i­ca­ture crises in Den­mark and Nor­way. This ap­proach runs the risk of por­tray­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bia as a prob­lem par­tic­u­lar to Western con­texts. One could go fur­ther and ask whether Is­lam­o­pho­bia is of­ten imag­ined as a prob­lem of non-Is­lamic con­texts (as if a truly gen­uine Western con­text is pos­si­ble). These analy­ses nec­es­sar­ily de­fine Is­lam­o­pho­bia as a prob­lem of “some­where there.” They sug­gest a sup­posed ex­te­ri­or­ity of Is­lam­o­pho­bia to the Mus­lim world. It is im­plied here that Is­lam­o­pho­bia is ex­pe­ri­enced only in the West and -- more im­por­tantly -- that it is only pos­si­ble in the West.

Is­lam­o­pho­bia no doubt de­serves to be elab­o­rated upon within the wider frame­work of vi­o­la­tion of fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights, and crit­i­ciz­ing the is­sue from the per­spec­tive of both pre­vi­ous and

con­tem­po­rary Western ex­pe­ri­ences is in­deed help­ful. How­ever, while seek­ing le­git­i­mate crit­i­cism of so­cial dis­crim­i­na­tion against Mus­lims and mo­bi­liz­ing po­lit­i­cal ac­tion against it, politi­cians and bu­reau­crats may end up coin­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bia yet as an­other cliché within the jar­gon of “clash of civ­i­liza­tions” dis­course (or, sim­i­larly, the “co­op­er­a­tion of civ­i­liza­tions” dis­course).

Can’t we think about Is­lam­o­pho­bia in Turkey, Egypt or Syria in ad­di­tion to many coun­tries with Mus­lim ma­jor­ity pop­u­la­tions? It seems po­lit­i­cal anx­i­eties against par­tic­u­lar in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Is­lam are much wide­spread. Even in pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­tries, the states are not wel­com­ing of dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tions and prac­tices of Is­lam. From this per­spec­tive, one can even ar­gue that, per­haps es­pe­cially in the case of Turkey, Is­lam­o­pho­bia has of­ten been uti­lized to not only im­pose one par­tic­u­lar school of Is­lam, but also to pro­tect the in­ter­ests of the rul­ing elites (be they Ke­mal­ist or oth­er­wise).

In this vein Arınç’s comment that Is­lam­o­pho­bia should be re­garded within the wider le­gal frame­work of hate crimes both in Turkey and abroad was prob­a­bly the most solid and sub­stan­tial ref­er­ence to Is­lam­o­pho­bia in a Mus­lim con­text dur­ing the en­tire con­fer­ence. Sim­i­larly, dur­ing the later dis­cus­sion ses­sions of the con­fer­ence, Fatma Benli, who is pre­sented as among the 500 most in­flu­en­tial Mus­lim per­sons in the world, also men­tioned rel­e­vant re­flec­tions of the is­sues of Is­lam­o­pho­bia in Is­lamic con­texts. Part of her speech was based on her own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence as a cov­ered woman in Turkey. How­ever it was her crit­i­cal en­gage­ment with is­sues of wider so­cial dis­crim­i­na­tion in egal­i­tar­ian democ­ra­cies that echoed in the con­fer­ence hall. Her speech not only fol­lowed a firm bal­ance be­tween pro­vid­ing ex­am­ples from Is­lamic and non-Is­lamic con­texts, but also em­pha­sized the di­ver­sity of Is­lamic con­texts. Thus, she man­aged to re-iden­tify Is­lam­o­pho­bia vis-à-vis the con­tin­u­ous at­tempts to ho­mog­e­nize Mus­lims as a par­tic­u­lar group of peo­ple in both pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim and not-so-Mus­lim cor­ners of the world for dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal pur­poses. In a sim­i­lar fash­ion, her re­jec­tion of defin­ing any group of peo­ple by their re­li­gion (i.e., Mus­lims) or their ap­pear­ance (i.e., cov­ered women) clearly por­trayed her ten­dency to rec­og­nize the of­ten-ig­nored di­ver­si­ties and par­tic­u­lar­i­ties amongst fol­low­ers of the Is­lamic faith.

How­ever, Benli’s ap­proach to the adop­tion of Turk­ish ba­bies by gay cou­ples in Western Europe as a mat­ter of Is­lam­o­pho­bia took the is­sue to a dif­fer­ent level. It begged the ques­tion of whether the sit­u­a­tion is specif­i­cally an out­come of hate and prej­u­dices against Is­lam or some­thing else. Can all so­cial prac­tices that hap­pen to be against Is­lamic tra­di­tions nec­es­sar­ily be re­garded as an out­come of Is­lam­o­pho­bia?

What is needed here is greater rigor in the sep­a­ra­tion of “Is­lam­o­pho­bia as hate crime” and “Is­lam­o­pho­bia as non-recog­ni­tion of re­li­gious and cul­tural val­ues and prac­tices.” The con­fu­sion of these two is not pe­cu­liar to Benli. While there is over­all con­sen­sus on the def­i­ni­tion of the for­mer, the lat­ter is any­thing but set­tled. It is this very as­pect of Is­lam­o­pho­bia dis­course that is in­her­ently re­lated to the dy­nam­ics of liv­ing in su­per-di­verse so­ci­eties where one’s in­di­vid­ual and col­lec­tive pri­or­i­ties might be dis­turb­ing for oth­ers.

At the bot­tom line the dis­cus­sion por­trayed here is all about the source of le­git­i­macy of civil and po­lit­i­cal strug­gles. Does the lex­i­con of democ­racy de­fine this le­git­i­macy or is it de­fined by the lex­i­con of the Abra­hamic re­li­gions? Tak­ing the lat­ter as a se­ri­ous pos­si­bil­ity, why then should Is­lam­o­pho­bia still be iden­ti­fied through Western lib­eral val­ues (not Is­lamic ones) be­fore an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence, un­less the goal is to make use of the nar­ra­tives of vic­tim­iza­tion in the West as a source of global Mus­lim iden­tity?


In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on Is­lam­o­pho­bia: Law and Me­dia WHO: OIC and BYEGM WHERE: İs­tan­bul

WHEN: Sept. 12-13, 2013


Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Bü­lent Arınç ad­dresses the con­fer­ence.

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