From Xinjiang to Germany: how did Islamophobia become a global phenomenon? Faisal Devji

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In fact, anti-Muslim feeling was sporadic and lacked a global dimension until recently. Despite having been classified by colonial governments in religious terms, the immigrants who came to European countries after independence neither asserted their religious identities nor experienced discrimination based on it. In the United Kingdom, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh migrants from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh rarely defined themselves by religion in public life, and were seen by government as well as anti-immigrant movements in racial or national terms.

The Rushdie affair laid the groundwork for an anti-Muslim rather than an anti-Asian or anti-immigrant response in Europe


When and why did religious identities come to define public debate and social conflict in so many parts of the world? The answer has to do with the larger processes of globalisation – economic, cultural and political – within which such identities have been transformed since the 1990s. That decade saw a worldwide surge of religious “fundamentalism”, of which Islam has emerged as the most prominent example. And the story of how this happened begins with the cold war.

For Europe, North America and Australia, the chief destinations for those leaving Asia and Africa starting in the 1950s, Islam did not become a political issue until the cold war ended. Islam impinged upon the west in events such as the Iranian revolution of 1979, but it was the mobilisation 10 years later against Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses that established its global credentials. Starting in the UK, the protests over Rushdie’s novel moved on to India, Pakistan and thence to the rest of the world.

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