Since September 11 (2001) a development in racism has taken place across Europe. Reported incidents of racist abuse have shifted from the identification of the victim’s skin colour or their perceived country of origin to an identification of their religion. Our colonial categories of racial classification and colour have given way to a resurgence of an earlier European sickness, that of a crusader mentality towards Islam and Muslims. While we remain more at risk of dying of heart disease than in a terrorist attack Western media has convinced us that we are under threat from Islam, and this has given permission for old racisms to be coded in a renewed language of religious bigotry.
Islamophobia might appear to some as a distinctly recent intolerance, but that it certainly is not. Unlike historical European antisemitism and other racisms, our fear of Islam is not the contempt of the powerful for the outsider. The dread we feel when confronted with Islam and Muslims is a primordial anxiety stemming from a cultural memory of a more powerful foe; one who cast us out of the Holy Land and as late as the mid-seventeenth century battered at the gates of Vienna. Recent events have merely reignited this anxiety. Europe, after all, was the place to which we retreated. It is for this reason that there remains a great deal of truth in suggesting that European Islamophobia as a new crusader mentality.
Racist voices the length of Europe make appeal to our way of life – our Christian values in particular – in their resistance to the “Islamisation of Europe.” What Christianity and what way of life are they talking about?! For good or for ill our fetish for secularism and individualism has done away with any meaningful notion of a European Christian identity, and it is unlikely in the extreme that the far-right constitutes the remnant of church-going Christianity in Europe. With the passing of Christianity in Europe we have traded its philosophy and ethics for the vapidity of economic pseudo-science, and our only real unity is to be found in a suicidal neoliberal project and military aggression.
Islam, on the other hand, presents itself to us as a cultural and religious unity, which of course, in reality, it is not. Yet we are impressed by the Islam we see in public. More Muslims attend prayers on a Friday in many European cities than the majority Christians attend church on Sunday. It is not strange to see Muslims at prayer in public places, but it would be confusing to see Christians doing the same. Whatever we think of these differences, visible Islam is a reminder that Muslims have a sense of their cultural identity and faith that we have long since lost.