Islam in Europe: The Lure of Fundamentalism and the Allure of Cosmopolitanism

French Selection for the PEN World Voices Literary Festival

Islam in Europe is a book full of striking images: the assassination of and the death threats against artists and intellectuals; violent demonstrations demanding Sharia [Koranic] law for Europe; acts of terrorism. Also detailed are European political initiatives and, in some cases, new laws that forbid the wearing of the burka in public spaces, the ban on minarets in Switzerland, and other efforts to keep Western culture “pure.” But there is another reality, as Nilüfer Göle describes it from her own life experience: Muslims who are politicians in European parliaments; scholars teaching in European universities; artists who use this creative intercultural exchange as a theme in their art.

More visible are the hundreds of thousands of students, workers, merchants, and professionals who participate in every aspect of public life without concealing their heritage. Göle sees the best hope for a modern and European Islam in the Muslim women who — in contrast to the men — demonstrate their commitment to their heritage by wearing head scarves while participating in modern Western life. In manifesting their professional and public experience in their own communities, they become the agents of change and modernism. Göle thus sees European Islam as “feminine,” in contrast to the male-dominated traditional Islam. As she said on PBS’ Frontline, “Modernity is … shaped, invented by values that were not the values of Muslim countries. That is one of the basic reasons for the separation between the modern world and the Muslim world, this either/or partition. If you are modern, you can’t be a Muslim. But now we are going beyond this division — you can be both Muslim and modern.”

This edition is translated from the French by Stephen Rendall.

Nilüfer Göle (École des Hautes Études en Science Sociale, Paris and visiting scholar at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin) is author of The Forbidden Modern: Civilization and Veiling and numerous books and articles in French, German, and Turkish.