According to Cambridge Dictionary, an identity crisis is defined as “a feeling of being uncertain about who or what you are”. With the rise of globalization and mass immigration worldwide, the issue of certain populations suffering from “identity crises” has become more prevalent in the political landscape, particularly in the West. In the last decade, Europe has experienced mass migration into the continent, with many of these migrants being Muslim refugees escaping conflict in the Middle East. This unprecedented migration has created an atmosphere of public vitriol from Europeans, particularly White and Christian Europeans, who feel as if their identities and place in society are under threat. We have seen major political changes occur across the Western world as a result of these fears. In several countries, right wing political parties have exploited these contentious circumstances to gain popularity. The “othering” of Middle Eastern and North African refugees by European politicians and media has led to political polarisation and fearmongering. It has become clear that preconceived ideas of identity have heavily contributed to discriminatory rhetoric which has been propagated against certain religious and ethnic groups.
A significant aspect of the societal “identity crisis” seen in many European countries is the relationship between national identity and race. Since the early 2000s, Europe has experienced mass immigration into the continent due to various conflicts in the Middle East, notably, the humanitarian crisis of Syria in 2011. Between 2004 and 2011, approximately 200,000 to 300,000 people annually claimed asylum in the EU. In contrast, 1.3 million people claimed asylum in 2015 alone (Georgi, 96-117). With the influx of Middle Eastern refugees into European countries that have historically been predominantly white, the Muslim population has been racialised and “othered” and labeled as the sole culprit regarding issues surrounding the migration crisis (Prandana).
Certain political figures in Europe have voiced concern that White majorities found in many European nations have begun to shrink. Jörg Meuthen, former co-leader of AfD, a major far-right political party in Europe, has claimed the party is against racism and xenophobia yet he also stated that “in some German cities, I struggle to find Germans on the streets” when he commented on the mass migration of Muslim refugees into Germany (Germany’s AFD) This comment alone succinctly displays the views of many right-wing individuals in Europe – if you are Muslim, you are not truly European. Furthermore, being White is a fundamental, non-negotiable feature of being a European. This is evident in racist rhetoric targeting the growing Muslim community in Western politics and media These purported beliefs that the national identities of Western nations are being threatened by mass migration have exhibited that patriotism for many Europeans isn’t rooted in their country’s history, cultural traditions or language – but in their Whiteness.
Religion and differing religious practices have historically been a point of discrimination and prejudice throughout European history and more recently, it has been a notable feature in Europe’s crisis of identity. In the 1950s, in the midst of the period of economic recovery that followed World War Two, Europe was facing a major labour shortage. Several European nations developed agreements with predominantly Muslim countries such as Turkey and Morrocco to recruit workers to come work in Europe. The aim of these agreements was that these immigrant workers would be employed in Europe, they would send their earned wages to their families back home before eventually returning to their home countries after a number of years.
However, contrary to these plans, many of the immigrants that were recruited ended up permanently settling in Europe and their families followed (Goerzig, C., & Al-Hashimi, K, 75-90). By 2011, over 12 million Muslims were living in Europe. The Muslim population in Europe only further increased following the migration crisis of 2015 where millions of Middle Eastern refugees flooded into the continent. Islam and the Muslim community in particular have been victim to harmful stereotypes and hate speech as result of their religious practices and beliefs. This is partially due to the ostensible cultural differences Muslims might have with the average White Christian European. These differences include diet, views surrounding modesty and their religious holidays and celebrations. In recent years, there has been political pressure to limit the presence of Islam in Europe and demonstrations against the public celebration of Islamic holidays such as Ramadan (Perocco, 25-40). This islamophobia however has been dismissed by many Europeans who claim Muslims are “victims of their own culture” and that the societal discrimination the Muslim community suffers is self-inflicted due to their “way of being”. It is the pervading belief that the contrasting elements of Islam do not fit the traditional mold of how a European should act so therefore Muslims in Europe have caused their own social exclusion and harassment.
A misrepresentation of the Islamic view of women is often cited by Western figures who use it to criticise the religion. It is widely purported that on a fundamental level Islam does not see women as autonomous and regards them as the property of their fathers or husbands. However, in the Quran, a woman is described as “a completely independent personality and [she] can make any contract or bequest in her own name.” (Rahman). Despite this, Islam is still targeted by political and media figures who label the religion as “anti- women”. Right wing politicians like Geert Wilders, leader of the Netherlands’ right-wing Freedom Party, have framed their islamophobia as a progressive cause. Wilders has called for the Quran to be banned in the Netherlands as he believes the book is discriminatory against women and the LGBTQ+ community (Goerzig, C., & Al- Hashimi, K, 75-90). It is notable that Wilders has never spoken against the Bible, which contains similar sentiments that could be deemed anti-gay and misogynistic.
Islamic authoritative texts are undoubtedly used by some Muslim authorities to justify hatred and violence against women and LBGTQ+ people however the same dynamic can be observed among Christians and in many other religions.
Evidently, this Islamophobia does not stem from a place of concern for women or the LGBTQ+ community, it is merely a hollow display of bigoted identity politics that aims to undermine a religion which has been specifically targeted by the media and many political groups who do not believe that Muslims deserve a place in European society. .
We can also see these Islamophobic policies that masquerade as ‘progressive’ in France, where the government has banned girls under the age of eighteen from wearing a hijab in public. The bill, which was passed in 2021, prohibits “any dress or clothing which would signify inferiority of women over men” (‘Law against Islam’). The bill, argued as a protection of women’s liberty, legally takes away the choice of Muslim girls in France to wear a hijab. In attempt to limit the religious freedoms of Muslim women in France, the French government have also limited the fundamental right of French women to wear whatever they choose. This Islamophobic hijab law can again be linked back to the crisis of European identity. Women choosing to cover themselves under religious grounds is seen as a foreign and archaic concept by Western societies. Instead of accepting these cultural and religious differences for what they are, right-wing women’s groups have been emboldened by the widespread islamophobia seen in European politics and media. They have used this hatred to force Muslim women to comply with France ‘s secular beliefs and idea of women.
The palpable sense of identity crisis amongst White Christians across Europe is rooted in white supremacy. However, with globalisation and the relatively easy movement of people due to transport developments a shift in ethnic demographics and the integration go immigrants is an inevitable reality for Europe.
Al Jazeera. (2021, April 09). ‘law against Islam’: French vote in favour of hijab ban condemned. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/4/9/a-law-against-islam
BBC. (2020, February 11). Germany’s AFD: How right-wing is Nationalist Alternative for Germany? Retrieved December 9, 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37274201
Cambridge Dictionary – Identity crisis. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2022, from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/identity-crisis Georgi, F. (2019). THE ROLE OF RACISM IN THE EUROPEAN ‘MIGRATION CRISIS’: A HISTORICAL MATERIALIST PERSPECTIVE. In V. Satgar (Ed.), Racism
After Apartheid: Challenges for Marxism and Anti-Racism (pp. 96–117). Wits University Press. https://doi.org/10.18772/22019033061.9
Goerzig, C., & Al-Hashimi, K. (2016). A Puzzling Historical Context. In Radicalization in Western Europe: Integration, public discourse and loss of identity among Muslim communities (pp. 75-90). Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. Retrieved December 8, 2022.
Perocco, F. (2018). Anti-migrant Islamophobia in Europe. Social roots, mechanisms and actors. REMHU: Revista Interdisciplinar da Mobilidade Humana, 26, 25-40.
Prandana, A. (2018, May 18). National Identity: Identity Politics in Hungary’s refugee influx of 2015. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from https://hi.fisipol.ugm.ac.id/en/iis_brief/national-identity-identity-politics-in-hungary-refugees-influx-of-2015/
Rahman I, A., Prof. (n.d.). Women in the Quran and the Sunnah. Retrieved December 10, 2022, from https://www.iium.edu.my/deed/articles/woman_quran.html#:~:text=In%20Islam%20a%20woman%20is,liberty%20to%20choose%20her%20husband.