At the same time, Muslims in the U.S. have become distinct from other Muslims around the world, Marzouki says: They have embraced the American tradition of civil religion, which mixes a sense of transcendent purpose with a sense of civic duty. Understanding Islam as an American religion, and understanding why anti-Muslim groups react to Islam the way they do, she argues, is the only way to deescalate the tension surrounding the religion in America and abroad.
I spoke with Marzouki about attitudes toward Islam in America and Europe. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Emma Green: What are the fundamental differences—and similarities—between attitudes toward Islam in Europe and in the United States?
Nadia Marzouki: I wanted to go beyond this notion that you have two distinct models of understanding Islam in Europe and in the U.S. I wanted to focus on the increasing convergence between modes of argument about Islam in Europe and the U.S. due to right-wing organizations that have been working together.
You have very different Muslim communities and populations in the U.S. and in Europe—different ethnic backgrounds, national backgrounds, forms of socioeconomic status, occupations, and number and percentage in the population. Despite all these very important differences, you end up having debates that are organized around the same stereotypes: the invasion of Muslims in the suburbs of America or Europe, the oppression of women, mosques turning into breeding camps for terrorism, stealth jihad, sharia.
I want to suggest that anti-Muslim movements are maybe not just an effect of distinct historical and legal traditions. These debates about Islam say something more profound about an unease among parts of the public toward democracy and the meaning of political community.
Green: People in the U.S. sometimes refer to Europe as an example of what can happen in America if Muslims don’t assimilate into their broader communities. President Trump, for example, has pointed to Sweden and France as examples of disordered Muslim communities.
Why do you think that comparison is so common?
Marzouki: The notion that the Muslim population is replacing the old European population has been very common in the discourse in right-wing and anti-Muslim movements in the U.S. Arguments do not spread just by themselves. They have been manufactured by specific organizations. There’s been an important back-and-forth—some people from the U.K. or the Netherlands or Switzerland have been invited and brought these arguments to the U.S.
Green: Don’t some of these anti-Muslim figures in Europe, including Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders, have very different coalitions than those in the U.S.—including support from some members of the European LGBT community?
Marzouki: One major difference between Europe and the U.S. is that anti-Muslim arguments in the U.S. haven’t been very prominent within the Democratic Party or the left. Maybe you can find a few exceptions here and there, but broadly speaking, it’s mostly people from the right wing of the Republican Party. In Europe, some of the arguments about the fear of Islam, etc., have been endorsed by the right, but also by the left.