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Muslim Political Participation in Europe$

Jorgen S. Nielsen

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780748646944

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748646944.001.0001

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(p.1) Chapter 1 Introduction
Muslim Political Participation in Europe

Jørgen S. Nielsen

Edinburgh University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The political participation of Muslims in Europe is complex with different experiences in different age groups and among Europe’s countries. In recent years the issue has been confused further by the heightened public discussion on security. This chapter sets a broader context for the fifteen chapters by various authors to follow.

Keywords:   Muslims, Politics, Integration, Generational change

In the media and among politicians in recent years it has been common to point to tendencies among Muslim communities which seek to either isolate themselves from the surrounding society or seek actively to position themselves in public opposition to it. This especially happens around national elections when isolationist tendencies are interpreted as a sign of a deep incompatibility between Islam and democracy while oppositional voices are interpreted as proof of such incompatibility. At several recent general elections in the United Kingdom, party election posters in some districts of Muslim residential concentration, certain districts of, for example, Birmingham and Bradford, have been defaced with slogans calling on Muslims not to vote in a kafir system. While John Bowen’s study on Islam in France (Bowen 2010) does not directly investigate Muslim activity during elections his account identifies a sector, especially among young Muslims, that withdraws from society into their own religio-cultural enclaves. At the other end of the spectrum have been the instances of political parties seeking to attract a Muslim vote (see Didero and Peace in this volume)

In fact the participation of Muslims in European political processes is not a straightforward issue. Firstly, at least in the case of Muslims of immigrant origin (mostly in the west), there is the matter of getting access to voting and to standing for election, usually associated with the acquisition of citizenship. Traditionally, this has been linked to a certain number of years of residence, sometimes linked to fulfilling other conditions. Britain and France used to have quite open regimes based on birth in the country, in Britain’s case twinned with a system whereby citizens of the Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland had political rights without having to acquire UK nationality. At the other end of the spectrum, Germany’s concept of citizenship meant that until the late 1990s, it was very difficult for anyone not of German descent to acquire (p.2) citizenship. Whatever the regime, a further obstacle has been the reluctance of many countries to allow dual citizenship, so people who were reluctant to make a complete break with their country of origin – or whose country of origin did not allow them to make the break – found themselves excluded.

Secondly, having acquired the right to vote, the more substantial issue is the decision whether to vote and, even more substantially, whether to stand for election – locally, nationally, and for which party? The general pattern seems to have been that Muslims have stood for election in local contests earlier than in national contests. Given that the practical issues which concerned them during the early phases of settlement tended to be issues which were determined locally, this would seem to make sense. This process seems to have applied also in countries such as France which traditionally had a very centralised form of government, possibly because it was precisely during these years that substantial parts of government were being delegated partly to the departments but also to the newly established regions. As the process of settlement deepened during the 1980s and into the 1990s, it began to impinge more on issues which were managed at the level of central government. In Britain this shift coincided with the growing move of government powers from the local to the central decision-making processes characteristic of the Conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher from 1979 to 1990.

In this development it is also apparent that those very few individuals who entered national politics in the early phases did not regard a Muslim identity as of any significance. They were activists in trades unions, and the overview which Sinno provides of ‘Muslim’ members of European parliaments for 2006 shows that they are overwhelmingly towards the left-hand end of the political spectrum (Sinno 2009: 72–5). The early activation of immigrants of South Asian origin in the UK was often through the Indian and the Pakistani Workers Associations, with strong Marxist sympathies, through their association with the trades unions, and thus with the Labour Party. By this route many elected local government councils had a significant number of members whose origins lay in the Muslim world, already by the late 1970s. Although a similar process took place rather later in West Germany, and because of the difficulties associated with attaining citizenship the focus for elections tended to be local ‘migrant advisory councils’, it was here also that secular activists first moved into politics – although they often were Kemalists rather than leftists, and their links tended to be with the Social Democrats.

This started to change during the 1980s and particularly during the 1990s as Islam moved up the levels of public awareness – and increasingly of controversy in public and then political discussions. In part, it could be argued, this was driven by international political developments. Already in 1979 the revolution in Iran had drawn a link between Islam and politics, and this at a time when the Lebanese civil war, which broke out in 1975, was increasingly (and simplistically) being analysed as a conflict based on confessional (p.3) rivalries, especially between Muslims and Christians. During the 1980s violent opposition movements to certain Arab regimes (Syria and Egypt especially) were marking themselves as Islamic. These events contributed to the growing number of refugees knocking at Europe’s doors and, together with tendencies among the already immigrated communities sympathetic to such movements, were creating the kinds of active links which had characterised aspects of the Turkish unrest leading up to the military coup in September 1980. Such political mobilisation, linking movements between émigré communities with the country of origin, became a critical dimension of the Algerian civil war in its relations with certain parts of the Algerian communities in France.

How deep this link spread remains a contested issue. But it contributed to the beginning securitisation of discussions about the integration of Muslims in Europe. A report published in early 1992 by the then Dutch Internal Security Services suggested:

Although it only appears occasionally in western Europe, the terrorism carried out by Islamic fundamentalist groups must still be feared, especially when its activities are under the influence of a state such as Iran. Terror violence arising out of a mixture of ideological and separatist elements also appears, still mainly abroad, out of conflicts around groups such as Sikhs and Tamils. Through the presence of representatives of these Asian populations in the Netherlands, the BVD remains attentive to the possible implications for our security. (Netherlands 1992, quoted in Nielsen 1994)

These beginnings of a securitisation of Islam in Europe coincided with the period when the children of the immigrant generation were coming of age, especially in Britain and France – this process ran up to a decade later in other parts of Europe due to the fact that, in very general terms, the process of family reunion had run that much later.1 A growing number of young people of Muslim background were starting to engage in domestic politics already from the late 1980s, as they came out of schools and colleges and entered the labour market. It was difficult to get a hearing in the traditional local political networks for all kinds of reasons, including racism and the reluctance of existing holders of power to sponsor a totally new population sector within their organisations. One alternative route was to take to the street. The first instances of young people choosing to go this way were the ‘affairs’ of 1989: Rushdie in the spring in Britain and headscarves in France in the autumn. There is little doubt that the Dutch security assessment of 1992 had these events in mind.

By now it was becoming clear that there were other routes to political participation than traditional European election processes, local or national. The affairs of 1989 had been an expression of a process of collective mobilisation finding alternative routes to influence than voting and standing for election. The outbreak of war in the Gulf following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in (p.4) the summer of 1990 was the first of a number of international political issues which were adopted as ‘Muslim’ issues, especially by these new generations. Not that their parents had not been interested in international developments, but they tended overwhelmingly to be those of the country of origin: Pakistanis followed developments in Kashmir very closely, Turks followed developments in Turkey, as we had seen during the 1980s, and Algerians looked to Algeria, as we saw in the 1990s. Their children retained those interests but they attached themselves to broader concerns felt to be Muslim. The US-and UK-led invasion to expel Iraq from Kuwait in early 1991 led many young Muslims to join forces with other groups protesting the war, something of a rehearsal for the much stronger and much more visible convergence of interest groups coming together in ‘Stop the War’ alliances when Iraq itself was invaded in March 2003, most notably in the massive demonstration in London on 15 February that year. Throughout the 1990s, the war in Bosnia in connection with the collapse of Yugoslavia, followed by the war in Kosovo, as well as events in the northern Caucasus (especially Chechnya), had strengthened the sense of a group of Muslim causes which mobilised young people and even, in the minds of some, raised questions about their future security in Europe.

In parallel with the slow progress through the formal political system of parties and elections and the rather faster, but also more provocative, progress in public campaigning under some form of Muslim identity, Muslim organisations were developing their experience and networks, strengthening their ability to participate in and have an impact on their environment. Many of these organisations had grown out of movements and organisations with long experience in the countries of origin. They had often cut their teeth on opposition to European colonial powers. Among them the Muslim Brotherhood (among Arabs), the Deobandis, Brelwis and Jama’at-i-Islami (among South Asians), the Tablighi-Jamaat (of Indian origin but very adeptly crossing over ethnic boundaries), and Milli Görüş, Süleymancis and the Diyanet (among Turks, the last representing the Turkish government) were some of the most noticeable organisations. But while they were of overseas origin, they gradually metamorphosed (at varying speeds, to varying degrees, and in different ways) under the impact of their new environments and to meet the demands of their European constituencies (see e.g. Maréchal 2008; Masud 2000). But with the passage of time the internal processes of many of these organisations, and of the Muslim communities more broadly, themselves became subject to internal challengers as newer generations demanded a say.

There remain sections of Muslim communities that have maintained separation from the various political processes which have been summarised. There are those, especially among the immigrant generations, which hardly ever connected with their new surroundings beyond the strictly economic – in employment, receiving various forms of social welfare support, etc. – or in the receipt of basic services, mainly medical care. In cities with larger interrelated (p.5) ethnic communities there are levels of collective support mechanisms which are difficult to quantify and which are largely invisible to the outsider. But there is another section, especially among younger educated people, which has deliberately sought to isolate itself from what are perceived as the corrupting, even infidel influences of society at large. Often lumped together by observers under the heading ‘Salafi’, they are not an organised group, at least not in any formal sense, but are informal networks which often identify themselves by a common attachment to one or other learned religious authority. The attachment is usually loose, and attachments can change, often without too much difficulty, although in some instances such a network can take on the character of a person-centred cult in which expectations of loyalty can be strong.

In setting out to explore the various dimensions of Muslim political participation outlined above, the starting point for the first part of the book is a series of five case studies of specific experiences in electoral politics. The case of Muslims’ political participation in Belgium represents its own distinct situation in Europe but research on this issue is scarce. Fatima Zibouh considers that, from a post-migration angle, analysis of political participation has been mainly focused on foreign origin, and more specifically on ethnic origins: Italian, Maghrebi, Turkish, or sub-Saharan. The lack of research on the political participation of Muslims might be explained by a francophone Belgian national context that is strongly influenced by the French republican tradition which tends to ignore the individual’s ethno-cultural distinctiveness. Several factors, such as easy access to Belgian citizenship, or the high demographic concentration of Turkish and Moroccan minorities in a few municipalities, make the Muslim community in Belgium a highly valuable asset at each election. In this chapter political participation is, firstly, tackled from a conventional theoretical point of view. Secondly, the analysis focuses on both the political participation of elected political representatives of Muslim origin, who represent 20% of all the elected body of the Region of Bruxelles-Capitale (Brussels), and the voting behaviour of Muslim citizens – through the so-called ethnic vote. Finally, social network sociology is used as a theoretical framework. This allows Zibouh to tackle the mobilisation of religious social networks, through the role of mosques and Muslim associations during political campaigns.

A very different kind of locality is investigated by Maike Didero, who bases her analysis on the structurationist theories of Bordieu and Giddens. In June 2009 the Confederation for Peace and Fairness (BFF) registered for the municipal council elections in the city of Bonn. This was the first case in Germany of a local voter association founded exclusively by Muslims. In spite of their Muslim membership, however, the BFF’s founders fervently insist on not being a Muslim party. Reasons for its foundation may be found in the enabling and at the same time constraining structures inherent in both the German political system and the present public discourse on Islam and integration. At the same time, the BFF’s creation cannot be explained without highlighting the activities (p.6) of the individual members. Due to their personal capabilities and resources they were able launch a successful election campaign in an extremely short period of time and to win two seats on the city council. The duality of structure and agency as displayed in the example of the BFF is at the core of structurationist theories by Bourdieu and Giddens. This chapter therefore introduces an analytical framework based on these theories. It serves to explain the emergence of this new political actor, the strategies employed by its members and the reasons for their success. Looking at the historical development of discourses and legal institutions in Germany, as structuring and structured by activities in the political field, will help explain why the creation of this ‘non-Muslim’ party seems a paradox to many German citizens and was thus heavily opposed.

Jonatan Bäckelie and Göran Larsson analyse young Swedish Muslims’ attitudes towards democratic processes in relation to Swedish political parties. Based on a survey among approximately 250 young Muslims that are affiliated to the Swedish youth organisation SUM (Sweden’s Young Muslims), the chapter outlines how young Muslims position themselves in relation to the political left-right spectrum. The analysis is located in relation to the general situation of Muslims in Sweden and to the public discussion about Muslims in local and national elections. The survey’s findings lead us to conclude that the political left-right spectrum is hardly relevant to this group of young Muslims. While the majority of the respondents self-identify as either somewhat or clearly to the left, in seven out of twenty-five specific political proposals the group show a clear sentiment towards what could be called conservative values (usually considered to be located to the right of the political spectrum). The chapter shows that no party seems to fully correspond to the full range of sentiments held by the majority of respondents, effectively leaving them without a fully representative political alternative. If anything is a problem for this group of respondents, it is not a lack of interest or knowledge about politics, but rather one of representation.

Moving to the edge of the former Soviet Union, one encounters several distinct attitudes among Lithuania’s Muslims towards participation in democratic political processes, which roughly correspond to the four constitutive components of the Lithuanian Muslim community. Egdūnas Račius shows that the patterns of the Lithuanian Tatars and Soviet-time colonists’ political participation (first of all in the form of voter profile but also in the forms of other conventional and unconventional political participation) are hardly distinguishable from those of the majority of citizens. Ultimately, of the four groups of Lithuania’s Muslims the most interesting are Lithuanian citizens who have converted to Islam because their attitudes towards participation in political processes can be presumed to have been shaped and influenced by numerous experiences and factors of both an internal and an external nature, major among which are different levels of personal and group socialisation and access to and the influence of ‘Islamic’ texts and other (especially on-line) (p.7) material. As converts are usually very keen on painstakingly observing the rules and regulations of their newly adopted religion, as they see them, it is to be expected that the ‘Islamic factor’ should have a profound influence on how converts perceive democracy as a political system per se, its compatibility with Islam, and finally their personal decision to take or not to take part in the democratic political process.

Britain and France are often presented as opposites, one with a strong communitarian multicultural heritage and the other with the individualist foundations of state secularism. In both countries Salima Bouyarden points out that Islam is itself a multicultural religion in the sense that it is followed by many different ethnic and national groups. The organisation of the Muslim communities of these countries is today still in process. This chapter on British and French Muslim communities investigates how these two multicultural societies located in two different systems are working. What are the different aspects of present Muslim political participation on both local and national levels? An analysis of their respective histories shows how relations between the younger generation and their voting patterns, their political engagement and their Muslim identity has been influenced by the past. In this context Bouyarden then focuses, through an investigation of the emergence of Muslim women in politics, on their motivations and the difficulties they might have encountered, on whether one can talk of the existence of a ‘Muslim vote’.

But political participation is not just about voting, as previously indicated. In many countries in the world, there are parliamentary assemblies where everyone has a vote but voting is organised by some form of ethnic, national or religious communal categorisation. This may be by tradition rather than by formal requirement, as in Malaysia where certain parties are conventionally defined as Malay, Tamil or Chinese. Or it may be a formal dimension of the electoral system, as in Pakistan or Iran where there are reserved seats for specific religious minority communities. Or it may be as in the Lebanese system, where the vote is free but for confessionally allocated seats in the National Assembly. In Europe, the idea of a ‘Muslim vote’ has on occasion tempted both existing political parties and Muslim individuals or organisations into seeking to mobilise it. They have often, though not always, discovered that it has been more imaginary than real. However, it emerges that the political processes are such that there are other ways of having an impact on local and national politics other than purely through elections – as any organiser of public demonstrations knows. The second part of the volume takes a closer look at cases illustrating this.

Franck Frégosi’s analysis of the larger picture seeks to demystify the subject. He reminds us of the truism that the Muslims of Europe, just as elsewhere in the world, have different visions of their religion, of what is Islam, sometimes they are almost opposed. Their attitudes towards religion range from the strictest ways of practising it to a critical attitude towards the ritual practices. (p.8) While some young Muslims are deeply religious because they believe in being concerned citizens and are politically active, numerous others do not use their faith as the only prism through which they look at their everyday lives and are active within society. Being a Muslim does not necessarily mean having a life centred only on religion; therefore Muslims do not only mobilise to achieve religious goals. In this chapter Frégosi compares these various mobilisations of people with Muslim backgrounds in order to underline the main diverging and converging lines between them in terms of social involvement (conflicted or consensual mobilisation), related or not to claims of citizenship (minority or civic mobilisation), and political partnerships with other social and political forces. He rather provocatively perhaps points also to those individuals of Muslim background who have become activists against Islam. One may ask, at what point can Muslims in the minority environment cease being Muslims, or can they not escape?

The Danish cartoons controversy of 2005–6 was a test of how Muslims might act on the political stage on an issue which touched them deeply. Lasse Lindekilde discusses the level of political integration displayed by the Danish Muslims engaged in the controversy. Conceptualising political integration as a multi-dimensional phenomenon distinguishing three aspects of political integration – a) political trust in democratic institutions, b) adherence to liberal-democratic values such as freedom of speech and secularism, and c) political participation in the polis – the chapter tests the degree of political integration of Danish Muslims against a unique database on political claims-making by the Danish Muslims involved in the cartoons controversy. In contrast to the widespread public perception of the controversy, the chapter argues that the Danish Muslims involved in public claims-making displayed a considerable degree of political integration. Despite the public uproar concerning the so-called ‘imam delegations’ seeking support in the Muslim world, Danish Muslims actually demonstrated considerable trust in democratic institutions, relying mainly on procedural forms of claims-making and turning to internationalisation of the issue only as a last resort. Furthermore, Lindekilde argues that the claims-making of Danish Muslim activists revealed alternative interpretations of fundamental liberal-democratic values and also displayed significant adherence to the basic principles of these values through commitment to non-violence and the translation of religious despair into a secular, rights-based mode of justification. Finally, the chapter argues that the level of political participation of Danish Muslims was particularly high during the cartoons controversy and that this high level of political claims-making and mobilisation should be understood as active citizenship rather than ‘cultural backlash’.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack in the US in September 2001, Madrid in 2003 and London in 2005, a new emphasis on national identity and national belonging has increasingly replaced multicultural approaches dismissed under the accusation of having nurtured homegrown terrorists. Muslims have been (p.9) the main target of counterterrorism policies aimed at monitoring and governing the ‘Islamic threat’. In this polarised environment, characterised by a mounting anti-Islamic atmosphere, it has become very difficult for Muslims to work and be recognised as a part of European society. This is particularly true for Muslim women activists, who struggle against, on the one hand, stereotypical perceptions of Muslim women while also having to cope with traditions of male social dominance in both Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Alessia Belli analyses the growing political visibility of Muslim women in Italy and the UK. The lens of gender offers a privileged insight into the two political systems and stimulates an interesting debate on national identity. The study sets out to counter mainstream research approaches on Muslims in Europe that focus on deviant behaviours and terrorism-related issues. Instead of blindly following the ‘domestication of Islam’ agenda pursued by many European governments, this research looks at and tries to understand the interesting dynamics involving Muslims that are taking place across Europe.

The last chapter in this section adopts a local focus in its examination of internal debates about political participation among Muslims in the city and banlieues of Lyon, France. Drawing upon ethnographic research and interviews conducted in mosque communities and Islamic associations, Fareen Parvez argues that beliefs about political participation in the form of state engagement differ across class and religious ideology. Middle-class Muslim activists participate in a politics of recognition, directly engaging the state and viewing political participation as a form of minority integration. Practising an avowedly ‘mainstream’ or ‘moderate’ Islam, they are critical of the growth of Salafist Islam in Lyon’s banlieues and the lack of political participation. At the other end of this spectrum, the poor Salafist Muslims in this study viewed political engagement as both profane and dangerous, after years of state surveillance and social and economic exclusion. In the aftermath of the collapse of civil societies in their neighbourhoods, they practise a form of antipolitics, whereby they have valorised private life instead of public life, retreating into moral parallel communities, withdrawn from the state. Further, they feel that major Islamic associations are loyal foremost to the state and do not represent ‘Islam of the banlieues.’ In elaborating these various dynamics, Parvez also explores the different stakes involved in being viewed as political actors. Paradoxically, it is precisely poor Muslims’ withdrawal from politics and distance from the state that contributes to their top-down politicisation. This set of arguments departs from existing literature by privileging the role of the state, local histories, and class relations – rather than struggles over immigrant identity.

Moving from the border region between individual and collective manifestations of participation, the third part of this book provides four case studies of how more institutionally based routes of participation can function. The concept of institution here is broad, covering not only formal institutions but (p.10) also collective actors with a deep-rooted history of collective identity as well as newer communities which have established a strong local identity. Certainly, the political participation analysed in these chapters relates to the wider polity, but it also relates to other Muslim actors (nationally and internationally) and also to contesting internal actors seeking to play a part in how the shared collective locates and presents itself to the wider public.

Some Muslim organisations have sought to find a Europe-level role without much success in practice. The image of Muslim representation in Europe has been aided by international organisations like the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR), whose prestigious network of scholars purportedly addresses the concerns of western Muslims while acting as one of the few representative voices of European Islam. Adil Hussain Khan argues that this image of a unified ‘European Islam’ does indeed, at first glance, appear to be an impressive accomplishment for Europe’s Muslim communities. But it is not the outcome of local efforts from European Muslims at grassroots level. Rather, organisations like the ECFR are the result of a top-down approach intended to project an image of European Islam. This is reflected in the non-European majority membership of the Council. Headquartered in Dublin, despite Ireland having one of the smallest Muslim populations in Western Europe, the relationship between such an ambitious international Islamic institution and the local community makes for tensions as the simultaneously local, continental, and international dimensions pull in different directions.

One of the oldest established Muslim communities in eastern central Europe is that of the Tatars, whose history dates back to the fourteenth century. They first settled in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the fourteenth century as prisoners of war and refugees, and later mercenaries brought by the Lithuanian Duke to fight the enemies of the country. Agata S. Nalborczyk recounts how, in return for military service under the command of Lithuanian princes, Tatars were granted land together with a social status similar to that of the local nobility. They were also granted the right to practise their religion, erect mosques and serve under their own military banners. Subsequently, they remained an integral part of the social and military structures of the country, and this narrative remains a strong dimension of the public identification of Tatars with the Polish nation. It was therefore natural that during the Danish cartoons affair, the Polish state authorities supported Muslim protests against publishing the cartoons, and stressed Tatar loyalty as Polish citizens. Nalborczyk argues that the historical role of the Tatars was the reason for their continued strong acceptance as integrated and active citizens by present-day Polish society and by the state authorities.

A very different strong community identity is that of the Alevis, a community with a deep heterodox tradition in central and eastern Anatolia. As Deniz Koşulu shows, the political marginalisation of the community in the Turkish republic since the collapse of the Ottoman empire has created the foundation (p.11) for a renewal and a degree of re-invention, as Turkish official restraints have been withdrawn in recent decades, and émigré communities in western Europe have taken advantage of the greater space for maneouvre which the political environments there afford. With a focus on France, the author shows how different strategies are being tested both internally within the community and externally in relation to the authorities with a view to maximising the political and other benefits perceived to be available.

Leicester, a medium-sized city in the East Midlands is on the way to becoming one of the first British cities where former migrants will be a larger group than the native population, a prospect which seems not to be particularly panicking the city’s general population. Carolina Ivanescu looks at how the Muslim community, not the largest of the immigrant-origin communities in the city (that is the Hindu community), has absorbed the experiences of the changing British – and local – discourses of ethnic minority. The original quite crude racialised efforts to keep out South Asians expelled from East Africa in the 1960s, which failed, gave way gradually to a local understanding of plural citizenship, in which religion and ethnicity are actively mobilised, and in which concepts of civil religion are engaged both by the communities and by local government.

It is unfortunately the case that the various aspects of these complex issues are discussed in public – and too often by researchers – as if the current state of affairs is the end of an historical process. Change and development in the past we can deal with but we find it rather more difficult to take on board that we are actually in the middle of a process, a process which continues, and whose character (let alone whose results) we can only vaguely foresee. To underline this point, the last two case studies, in part four of the book, look at boundaries, at developments which look forward rather than back.

Tim Peace examines the processes and realities of Muslim participation in both local and national politics in Britain through a case study of the Respect Party. This party is unique in Europe as it is the first party dominated by Muslim leaders that has achieved any notable electoral success. Formed in 2004 in the wake of the mobilisation of Muslims against the war in Iraq, it has had occasional electoral success both nationally and locally despite an electoral system in Britain that effectively penalises minor parties. Constituencies with high numbers of ethnic minorities have in the past always represented ‘safe seats’ for the Labour Party. The paper details how the Respect Party has played a key role in drastically reducing this support, particularly amongst Muslim voters. It also shows how Respect has changed the ‘rules of the game’ and forced mainstream parties to re-think their electoral strategies in response to its success. It is argued that relationships with civil society organisations have been one of the crucial factors in helping Respect to achieve this success. As a party that evolved directly from a social movement, it could rely on the pre-existing networks that had been built up with various sections of civil (p.12) society as a solid base for support. It has also been active in cultivating links with mosques, faith-based organisations, community groups and trade unions. Most recently, at a by-election in Bradford in early 2012, it appears that the party has also become a route for dissatisfaction among a younger generation of Muslims, significantly including women on a large scale, against their parents’ attempts to keep control of the political system locally.

In a sketch on the German elections the Turkish-German comedian Fatih Cevikollu makes fun of ethnic minorities. He repeatedly interrupts his performance to affront the audience for laughing at his racist jokes. Riem Spielhaus takes up the ways in which comedy as subversion can challenge open and hidden racism and senses of superiority while turning the surveillance of Muslims against the spectators. Most surveys on political participation concentrate on active and passive elective participation, the measurement of trust in legal and political institutions, adherence to liberal-democratic values, degrees of organisation, and protest movements. This chapter, however, looks at a different field of politics: political satire and other subversive strategies that allow subalterns to address injustice, discrimination and structural exclusion from the political field. In an atmosphere of suspicion and verbal taboos, political satire is gaining ground by addressing and criticising attempts at domestication and securitisation. Ironically – especially after the cartoon crisis – Muslim comedy and satire has entered mainstream entertainment in European countries and North America. Muslims’ contributions to politically grounded satire, the field of humour, of absurdity, ridicule and subversion is worth examining in terms of content and as political strategies for addressing the unspeakable.

In sum, the evidence of these case studies emphasises the multiplicity of experiences and circumstances which impact on the political participation of Muslims in European society. The question of whether Muslims want to take part in the political processes – or even deserve to, if one listens to certain neo-nationalist tendencies – fades into insignificance once one scratches just a little bit below the surface of public debate. The wealth of different tactics and strategies chosen, and sometimes activated simultaneously, are evidence enough of both the will and the ability. A countervailing force remains, however – the extent to which the majority is willing to accept and recognise this, for clearly many of the tactical choices made by Muslims individually and collectively are constrained and focused by what the majority allows as legitimate.

The chapters in this volume were originally presented at a conference held in Copenhagen in October 2010 organised by the Centre for European Islamic Thought, a project of the Danish National Research Foundation. In preparing the conference and this volume, I am particularly grateful to my two administrative assistants Line Stöhr and Emil Saggau. Cooperation with colleagues at Edinburgh University Press has, as I have come to expect, been exemplary. (p.13) Finally my thanks go to the chapter authors for their re-working of their writings, and for their patience in waiting for the editorial process to finish. I trust they will accept my apologies for any mistakes which inadvertently may have escaped my attention.

Copenhagen, July 2012


Bibliography references:

Bowen, J. R. (2010), Can Islam be French? Pluralism and Pragmatism in a Secularist State, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Maréchal, B. (2008), The Muslim Brothers in Europe: Roots and Discourse, Leiden: Brill.

Masud, M. K. (ed.) (2000), Travellers in Faith: Studies of the Tablighi Jama’at as a Transnational Islamic Movements for Faith Renewal, Leiden: Brill.

Netherlands, Binnenlandse Veiligheidsdienst (1992), Ontwikkelingen op het gebied van de binnenlandse veiligheid, 11 February.

Nielsen, J. S. (1994), ‘Will religious fundamentalism become increasingly violent?’, International Journal on Group Rights, vol. 2, pp. 197–209.

Sinno, A. H. (2009), ‘Muslim underrepresentation in American politics’, in Abdulkader H. Sinno, Muslims in Western Politics, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 69–95.


(1) . In Britain non-European labour recruitment was first restricted in the first Commonwealth Immigration Act, of 1962, while similar measures were introduced in most of mainland western Europe in connection with the economic downturn of 1973–4, usually associated with the sharp rise in oil prices starting in 1972. The restrictions in labour immigration resulted in a marked increase in family reunion.