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Last modified: Tuesday, September 20, 2011

National conference at IU looks at Muslims in the United States and Europe

Sept. 20, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Scholars from across the United States are gathering this Friday (Sept. 23) at Indiana University Bloomington to share the latest policy-relevant research and to advance discussion of research methods to study the affairs of Muslim minorities in the West.

Muslims in the U.S. and Europe

A Muslim woman in France adjusts her flag-themed burka veil.

The conference, "Muslims in the United States and Europe: Islamophobia, Integration, Attitudes and Rights," will begin at 10 a.m. at the University Club of the Indiana Memorial Union, 900 E. Seventh St. The public is welcome.

One of the presenters at the free event will be Justin Gest, a Harvard College Fellow in the Department of Government at Harvard University and author of the well-received book Apart: Alienated and Engaged Muslims in the West (Columbia University Press, 2010). The book looks at why some young Muslim men become radicalized while others become apathetic when faced with barriers to integration.

Other presenters will include scholars from IU, the University of California-Berkeley, Grand Valley State University, Middlebury College, Reed College, Rutgers University and City University of New York. They will examine the differences between how Muslims have succeeded in integrating themselves into American society as compared to across Europe.

"American Muslims, on average, are very successful and well integrated into American society but they face a glass ceiling in politics and have become the target of hateful rhetoric by politicians seeking election and interest groups that feel that Muslim-Americans as a whole are a threat," said Abdulkader Sinno, IU associate professor of political science and Middle Eastern studies and the conference's organizer.

Abdulkader Sinno

Print-Quality Photo

"Muslim Americans have also been struggling with infringements on their civil rights and liberties and intrusive, possibly illegal and abusive, behavior by law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and NYPD," Sinno added. "In contrast, European Muslims are turning into a perpetually disadvantaged and stigmatized socio-economic underclass with limited opportunities for advancement.

"While Muslim politicians get elected more frequently and are more visible in Europe, European societies are becoming virulently Islamophobic, as evidenced in part by the huge gains made by explicitly anti-Muslim far-right parties and the cooption of their rhetoric by mainstream right-of-center parties."

Sinno said history, as well as recent news events involving a small number of Muslim extremists, have impaired the integration of Muslims into Western politics, as compared to other ethnic minorities and religious groups.

"The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as attempts by al-Qaeda, sometimes dramatically damaging, to attack targets in the West have galvanized anti-Muslim feelings," he said. "However, the nearly 25 million Muslims of Europe and five million Muslims of North America cannot and should not be conflated with al-Qaeda, a tiny organization with hundreds of members."

"The main drivers keeping Muslims from integrating in the U.S. are religious extremism and political interests: Evangelical groups and some Catholics consider Islam to be a dangerous rival faith and some conservatives, particularly extreme pro-Israel groups, view the integration of Muslim Americans to be a threat to their foreign policy interests," he added. "In Europe, the conservative rural background and poor education of most Muslim immigrants and European impatience led to rigid and intolerant attitudes, laws and rhetoric towards the disadvantaged minority and a backlash among some young European Muslims against this intolerance."

An upcoming special issue of the Review for Middle Eastern Studies, based at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, will feature articles by several conference presenters.

The conference is sponsored by West European Studies, the Center for the Study of the Middle East, the Office of Women's Affairs and the departments of political science and Near East languages and cultures in IU's College of Arts and Sciences.

Editors: For a copy of the conference agenda, contact George Vlahakis, IU Office of University Communications, at 812-855-0846 or