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Devils from our past: liberal Islamophobia in Austria as historicist racism



This paper examines discourses of liberal Islamophobia in Austria, analysing interviews with journalists from national newspapers, magazines and TV station. Using a theoretical framework that combines a Gramscian analysis with methods of discourse analysis, it identifies “temporalization” as an effective discursive mechanism in the construction of the Muslim “Other” as a “folk devil”. It argues that liberal Islamophobia works as a historicist racism, which allows differently positioned subjects to invest into, and reproduce, a mythical space of representation where the Muslim “Other” figures as a “devil from our past”, embodying everything Austrian society has supposedly done away with in the years of political reform after 1968.
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Ethnic and Racial Studies
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Devils from our past: liberal Islamophobia in
Austria as historicist racism
Benjamin Opratko
To cite this article: Benjamin Opratko (2019) Devils from our past: liberal Islamophobia
in Austria as historicist racism, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 42:16, 159-176, DOI:
To link to this article:
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Published online: 08 Jul 2019.
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Devils from our past: liberal Islamophobia in Austria
as historicist racism
Benjamin Opratko
Department of Political Science, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
This paper examines discourses of liberal Islamophobia in Austria, analysing
interviews with journalists from national newspapers, magazines and TV
station. Using a theoretical framework that combines a Gramscian analysis
with methods of discourse analysis, it identies temporalizationas an
eective discursive mechanism in the construction of the Muslim Otheras a
folk devil. It argues that liberal Islamophobia works as a historicist racism,
which allows dierently positioned subjects to invest into, and reproduce, a
mythical space of representation where the Muslim Othergures as a devil
from our past, embodying everything Austrian society has supposedly done
away with in the years of political reform after 1968.
ARTICLE HISTORY Received 27 November 2018; Accepted 14 June 2019
KEYWORDS Islamophobia; historicist racism; Austria; hegemony; Stuart Hall; Muslims; liberalism
This paper seeks to contribute to a deeper understanding of contemporary
Islamophobia, or anti-Muslim racism,
in Europe. More specically, it examines
articulations of anti-Muslim racism that have recently been termed liberal
Islamophobia(Mondon and Winter 2017, 2162), post-liberal racism
(Tsianos and Pieper 2011), identity liberalism(Lentin and Titley 2011, 121)
or enlightened Islamophobia(Hafez 2013, 128). This is a kind of racism
articulated around the Muslim question(Norton 2013; Vakil 2013), which
constructs the Muslim as an insuciently progressive and emancipated, illib-
eral Other(Lentin and Titley 2011, 121).
Drawing on a Gramscianapproach to the study of racism pioneered by
Stuart Hall (1986; Hall et al. 1978), this contribution posits an alternative to cur-
rents within Islamophobia studies relying on agential, instrumentalist or inten-
tionalist analytical models of racism (cf. Opratko 2017). Such an approach asks
how particular racisms become part of popular common senseand analyses
© 2019 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-
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CONTACT Benjamin Opratko @bopratko
2019, VOL. 42, NO. 16, 159176
how racisms eectively construct a cross-class consensus. This theoretical
framework is laid out in the rst part of this article. In sections two and
three, I present an analysis of original data gathered from 18 interviews con-
ducted with editors and journalists from 11 major national media outlets in
Austria. Combining the theoretical framework with methodological instru-
ments developed in the eld of discourse analysis, I argue that the meta-
phor of the folk devil can help decipher the ongoing and cumulative
production of the Muslim as Otherin the discourses analysed. More
specically, the Muslim Other gures as a haunting presence from our
past, embodying what Austrian society has supposedly done away with
in the years of political reform after 1968. In section four, the paper oers
a theoretical reection of these ndings. Building on David Theo Goldbergs
notion of racial historicism(Goldberg 2002,7497) and Stuart Halls
interpretation of racism as mythical space(Hall 1992; Laclau 1990, 61), I
argue that a specically historicist racism allows dierently positioned sub-
jects to invest into, and reproduce, Islamophobia in its liberal variation. Con-
cluding, I discuss how an analysis of the production of the Muslim Other as
adevil from our pastallows wider reections about the social and political
conjuncture in which this articulation takes place, connecting it with the
ongoing scholarly debate of todaysMuslim questionin Europe.
Reconsidering Gramscis relevance: racism and folk devils
The case for a Gramsciananalysis of racism was most forcefully put forward
by Stuart Hall. From the late 1970s onwards, he argued for Gramscis rel-
evance for the study of race and ethnicity(Hall 1986). In Policing the
Crisis, a collectively authored study of the mugging panicin 1970s
Britain, we nd a Gramscian analysis in action, and one that, although not
singularly occupied with the question of race, provides some invaluable
insights and tools for any critical analysis of racism (Hall et al. 1978). The see-
mingly marginal phenomenon of petty street crime the stick-ups, often per-
petrated by black youth in English citiespoorest areas, that became referred
to as muggings”–were used as an entry point for a conjunctural analysis (Hall
et al. 1978, 18). Hall and his colleagues argued that an authoritarian cross-
class consensus on crimeexisted (Hall et al. 1978, 139), internally structured
by a number of core imagesor discursive elementsthat they distilled from
their analysis of newspaper articles, letters to editors, and statements by poli-
ticians, police ocials and judges. The widely shared interpretations of
mugging, and crime more generally, were hegemonic: they formed a frame-
work of common sense. This framework was constructed around the
mugger as folk devil”–a term adopted from Stanley CohensFolk Devils
and Moral Panics(Cohen [1972]2011). Originating in the sociology of
crime and deviance, a moral panic is generally dened as an episode,
often triggered by alarming media stories and reinforced by reactive laws and
public policy, of exaggerated or misdirected public concern, anxiety, fear, or
anger over a perceived threat to social order(Krinsky 2013, 1). At the
centre of such an episode is usually a gure blamed not only for the scanda-
lized acts themselves but seen as posing a threat to social order as such.
Although the folk devilsoriginally studied by Cohen were predominantly
white youth, he pointed out similarities to racial stereotyping:Thus Jews
are intrusive, but also exclusive; Negroes are lazy and inert, but also aggressive
and pushing; Mods are dirty and scruy, but also slickly dressed; they are
aggressive and inated with their own strength and importance, but they
are also cowardly.(Cohen [1972]2011, 56). For Hall and his colleagues, the
moral panic surrounding the gure of the muggerin 197273 ts in
almost every detail the process described by Cohen(Hall et al. 1978, 17).
But they go beyond Cohens perspective by integrating the concept of the
folk devil in a Gramscian conjuncturalist analysis, where representations of
the Other as folk devilplay an important role in the universalizing of a par-
ticular, class-specic outlook, forming the basis for the myth of a single,
English kind of thought(Hall et al. 1978, 156). By organizing their hegemony
and establishing a common sense that allows subjects from dierent socio-
economic backgrounds, both dominant and subaltern, to make senseof
their daily lives within a shared framework of Englishness, the leading
social forces are able to forge a basis for cross-class alliances(ibid., emphasis
in original). This, in turn, is seen as contributing to sustaining an order of
cohesionof the social formation as such (Hall et al. 1978, 204, emphasis in
original). Insofar as racist ideologies full a similar role, we should understand
them as contributing to the delicate balance of consent and coercion through
which political power operates, and which Gramsci called hegemony. This
forces us to consider the concrete articulations, the production of tropes,
metaphors and codes that structure the forms of racism that underpin a par-
ticular historic bloc (cf. Hall et al. 1978, 162).
To summarize, Hall insists that to understand a specic form of racism, we
would have to begin by investigating the dierent ways in which racist ideol-
ogies have been constructed and made operative under dierent historical
conditions(Hall 1980, 3412). As part of common sense, racist divisions
between usand them, become practical, orienting collective behaviour
and underpinning practices of inclusion/exclusion. Crucially, the Otherpro-
duced by racism is not just out there, Hall insists: The devils do, indeed, have
to be summoned(Hall et al. 1978, 162, emphasis in original). Therefore, if we
understand Islamophobia as a modality of racism, we need detailed analyses
of its precise ideological operations, of the systems of meaning it establishes,
and of its operative categories and metaphors. It is to the ways in which the
gure of the Muslim Otheris summoned as a folk devilin a specic spatio-
temporal context that I turn now.
Analysing anti-Muslim racism in Austria: context and
methodological considerations
Recent years have seen a small surge in academic interest in Islamophobia in
Austria (Bunzl and Hafez 2009; Cherribi 2011; Dautovićand Hafez 2014;
Fürlinger 2013; Hafez 2009,2010a,2010b; Hödl 2010; Krzyzanowski 2013;
Muftić2012). Most publications focus on what Mondon and Winter (2017,
2158.) call the illiberalvariations of Islamophobia, especially the far-right
Austrian Freedom Party(FPÖ). However, my interest is in the articulation
and reproduction of Islamophobia by agents considered and considering
themselves as liberal, non- or anti-racist. This is necessary for understanding
the broad appeal of contemporary Islamophobia across political fault lines
and well beyond the far-right (Cakir 2014,15; Leibold and Kühnel 2003,
113), and its becoming part of a wider common sense. It is also relevant
to understand the political strategies of the illiberalFPÖ, which has strategi-
cally adopted some liberal-feminist arguments in eorts to present itself as
a defender of (Austrian, non-Muslim) women against patriarchalIslam
(cf. Mayer and Sauer 2017; Mayer, Ajanovic, and Sauer 2014; Sauer 2017).
More recently, liberal varieties of Islamophobia have also become politically
eective on the left of Austrias political spectrum. Examples include
support by Austrias Social Democratic Party for the controversial Islam
lawin 2015, which has been described as institutionalized Islamophobia
(Dautovićand Hafez 2014, 54; cf. Hafez 2017) and, in 2017, for a law
banning the wearing of the full-face veil in public (cf. Hafez 2018,557). In
the same years national elections, a group led by former long-standing
Green MP Peter Pilz that had formed just two months earlier, entered the
Nationalrat. In their election campaign, the Liste Pilzcampaigned against
the supposedly growing inuence of political Islamin Austria. Pilz himself
published a book, titled Heimat Österreich(Homeland Austria), reprodu-
cing anti-Muslim stereotypes and denying the existence of Islamophobia
altogether (Pilz 2017, 85). For Pilz, to defendthe Austrian Homeland is to
defend our liberal culture, and particularly womens rights: The basics of
our culture are rights and duties. The right of men and women to be
treated equally establishes the duty to respect womens rights. Those who
do not want this can leave(Pilz 2017, 85).
To investigate the reproduction of anti-Muslim discourse in the name of
liberalism(Gustavsson, van der Noll, and Sundberg 2016), I conducted 18
interviews between February and September 2014. The respondents were
journalists working at 11 dierent news media outlets in Austria (seven
daily newspapers, two weekly magazines, two TV broadcasters). All of the
respondents identied as Austrians, and none of them as Muslim. The guide-
line-based interviews were semi-structured, oering space for the informants
to freely narrate and associate. They were asked to speak about their
experiences when dealing with topics related to Islam and Muslims in their
daily work, about how they understand their own professional role in covering
these topics, and about their personal views on some of the most widely dis-
cussed topics related to Islam.
The decision to do qualitative interviews with journalists follows from
reections on the theoretical framework sketched above. From a Gramscian
perspective, journalists full a specic role in the struggle over hegemony:
They can be considered as minororganic intellectuals (Demirović2007,
35), acting as popularizers and mediators, translating dierent elements of
hegemonic leadership into languages of common sense, and shaping it in
complex and contradictory ways. But they are also embedded in hegemony
as functionaries of the superstructures, as Gramsci put it: “‘administrators
and divulgators of pre-existing, traditional, accumulated intellectual wealth
(Gramsci 1971, 12, 13). My methodological hypothesis is that analysing the
common senseof such minorintellectuals oers a window into hegemo-
nic elements in the present conjuncture, and thus an entry point into the
analysis of actually existing relations of hegemony.
Following Stuart Halls advice to start [] from the concrete historical
workwhich racism accomplishesin the eld of meaning and representation
(Hall 1980, 52), the analysis of the interviews seeks to identify and interpret
discursive mechanisms, and explain how they operate in the historical
context of the present conjuncture. The aim is to identify (a.) the ways in
which the Muslim Otheris constructed as a folk devil; (b) the shared fra-
meworkaround the Muslim question, and the experiences, struggles and
contradictions articulated with it; and (c) structural similarities to other
forms of racism.
In the following analysis, I focus on one specic discursive mechanism of
anti-Muslim discourse that can add to an integral understanding of liberal Isla-
mophobia. I argue that one of its peculiar features is the way it interpellates its
subjects those it includes in the imagined community of Usas well as
those it excludes as the Muslim Other through the discursive mechanism
of temporalization.
Among us, from another time: Muslim devils from our past
In this section, selected passages from the transcribed interviews are presented
and discussed in order to shed light on one specic discursive mechanism,
which emerged as particularly conspicuous in the course of interpreting the
material. This is the mechanism I call temporalization, which involves the dis-
cursive relegation of the gure of the Muslimto a constructed, Eurocentric
past. For the analysis, I identied linguistic elements that operate as temporaliz-
ing markers: references to historical events, periods or personalities; adjectives
and adverbs attributing a certain temporality to their objects, such as
traditional,archaic,regressive,modernor progressive; and modal par-
ticles signifying temporal distance, such as already,not yetor still.
Arst example is in the following quote. The journalist discusses controver-
sies in public debates commonly associated with Islam. His rst reaction is to
refer to the role of the woman in society(Interview 1, m); from there, he pro-
ceeds to what he sees as dierent images of the familyin dierent religions
and cultures:
I take it for granted that a kind of liberal image of the family is already estab-
lished in Austria. And Muslims are, in societal terms, in terms of numbers, cer-
tainly less liberal. And that means and not only in relation to questions of
homosexuality. There it is certainly extreme. I am convinced that even
Muslims that call themselves liberal are very likely to reject that, and I mean,
not in a militant way, I cant accuse all of them of being violent but they are
certainly more explicit, more vehement in their rejection [of homosexuality]
even than conservative circles in Christian society. (Interview 1, m)
The rst thing to notice here is the temporalizing marker already,whichfunc-
tions to distinguish between an Us”–“Austria, which has already established
aliberal image of the family,andThem. It is clear that the referential mech-
anism of constructing a binary dierence is linked to a predicational mechanism
of evaluating the two groups dierently (cf. Reisigl and Wodak 2001,44):thata
liberal imageis something desirable, while its rejectionis discursively linked
to violence(even though the respondent immediately qualies his statement
he cantaccuseall of them). Here, the term liberaldoes not designate a
political camp within society (as opposed to conservativeor socialist)but
is used to describe Austrian society as a whole. What is crucial here is the
implicit historical reference, which comes up frequently in a number of inter-
views, to the liberalization of social norms regarding family, gender and sexu-
ality in the 1970s. Invoked by both male and female respondents, this
production of non-coevalness(cf. Fabian [1983]2014) of Muslims and non-
Muslims works through the idea that here”–designating Austria, or, some-
times, Europe some norms have alreadybeen established, but only for
us.They, while living among us, have yet to go through this process.
The next statement, taken from a dierent interview, conrms the coupling
of this particular mechanism of historization with the theme of Muslim imma-
turity. The journalist was asked what he believes to be reasons for the increas-
ing prominence of the Muslim questionin public and political discourse. Very
quickly, he relates this to questions of gender and sexuality:
We have achieved quite something, this generation of the so called 68ers, and
now all of a sudden some people come again and say, no, no, that headscarve
thing is alright, and Im the one choosing the boyfriend, and if I cant choose the
boyfriend then Ill stab the woman. And we speak about that openly. And that
has nothing to do with being on the right, but with being very far on the left!.
(Interview 2, m)
Here, the respondent summons the theme of a historical achievementand
directly connects it to a subject: We have achieved quite something. He also
makes clear who he excludes from this We:these people, referring to
Muslim immigrants. In this case, the achievementsare linked to a specic
historical marker when calls himself and his generationthe 68ers. Signi-
cantly, in both interviews, the respondents link the topics of gender and sexu-
ality with violence. The achievements of feminism and sexual liberation, and
by extension the safety of women and LGBT persons, are seen as threatened
by those who have never learned the lessons of these struggles. Hence, the
temporalization of Muslims produces not just dierence through (temporal)
distance, but at the same time a sense of threat and fear through (spatial)
Later in the same interview, the theme of a gendered Muslim threat
emerges even more forcefully. Asked how he understands his own role as a
journalist in this context, he responds:
Well, one of our jobs is to inform people, isnt it? And I dont mean in the sense of
infotainment, you know, a little news and a lot of haha no, you can actually If
you write it often enough, perhaps someone will think twice, perhaps a woman
will think twice before she decides to marry, say, an Iranian. Not because hes
necessarily a bad man, but because his mindset is just completely dierent,
and then it might well happen that she ends up locked up at home, or that
she will be beaten because she wants to see her friends. I dont say everyone
is like that, but its much more common than here. And people should know
that. I mean, you can play a game of water polo against crocodiles, if you feel
like it. But you should know before that they are crocodiles. (Interview 2, m)
Here, the construction of a folk devilagain operates through combining the
temporalization of the Muslimwith the construct of a threatening spatial
proximity. It is a textbook example of a folk devil: An inherently violent,
male gure threatening our women. The second passage makes it very
clear that Muslims or, more precisely in this case, Muslim men are rep-
resented as inescapably locked in their backwardness, as it has become part
of their very essence: They cannot escape their mindset. Muslim men are
just what they are, like a prehistoric reptile preying on the guileless.
Again, the folk devil is not just dangerous because, as a simplistic interpret-
ation of these statements as cultural racismwould suggest, he is seen as cul-
turally dierent. The peculiar obsession with it, I contend, has to do with its
representing not the strange, but the all-to familiar. As Tyrer (2013, 76) notes,
racism works by attempting to increase social distance precisely because it is
felt in proximity. The Muslim folk devil is a haunting presence, because it
stands for our ownpast, or rather for practices the respondents want to
see relegated to the past. This is made clear by statements such as the follow-
ing, taken from an interview with a female journalist. She is careful to reject
any simplistic or culturalizing argument. During the interview, she repeatedly
explains her desire to overcome dualistic representations of Muslims versus
Non-Muslims and to contribute to a normalizationof the topic, emphasizing
commonalities between Muslims and Non-Muslims, and focusing on social
issues rather than religion. However, while rejecting culturalist dichotomies,
the following segment does reproduce a temporalized Muslim Other:
I would rather talk about patriarchal structures than about religion. Because
these patriarchal structures exist in Christianity just as much. And I grew up in
the 70s in the countryside, I know all of this totally well, these interferences
from the church and all that Im a child of the Kreisky era. I liberated myself
exactly from this, with this collective dream of equal opportunities for all. And
by moving from the countryside to the city. And a lot of the things I see in
Turkish families now, I know them from my own childhood. (Interview 3, f)
Her claim that she knows all about this, referring to patriarchal structures
present in Muslim families and communities, is supported by invoking a
narrative of individual and social liberation, in which personal and political
histories are interwoven into one History. Where the previously discussed
respondent invoked the 68ersas a historical point of reference, here it is
the Kreisky era. Bruno Kreisky served as Bundeskanzler (Head of Government)
from 1970 to 1983 and oversaw a period of post-1968 progressive reforms,
including the liberalization of penal law, de-criminalization of abortions
and of homosexual practices. The reference to Kreisky invokes experiences
of personal emancipation, especially concerning gender norms and sexuality.
The discursive mechanisms described so far bear some similarities with
phenomena described by other scholars as enlightened fundamentalism
(Fekete 2006)oreurocentric Islamophobia(Jackson 2018). However, these
analyses focus on the shift from racialto culturaljustications for the
discrimination of Muslims (Fekete 2006, 7) and its spatial dimensions, where
Islamophobia emerges from a cultural anxiety generated by the notion
that previously Western spaces are being undermined by the presence of
Muslims(Jackson 2018, 145). The temporal dimension, which is crucial to
the material analysed here, does not receive similar attention. Two other pro-
minent concepts introduced recently to describe the mobilization of feminist
and pro-LGTBQ tropes in anti-Muslim discourses seem to connect more
directly with the analysis presented here: femo-nationalism(Farris 2012,
2017; cf. Hark and Villa 2017) and homo-nationalism(Puar 2007;2013; cf.
Ahmed 2011; El-Tayeb 2012; Haritaworn 2015; Petzen 2012). While not directly
concerned with temporalization, they do acknowledge this dimension at least
in passing (Farris 2017, 13844; El-Tayeb 2013). However, the two approaches,
which are quite dierent from one another, come with additional problems.
Sara Farrispolitical-economic explanation of femo-nationalism rests on the
claim that Muslim women are included in femo-nationalist discourses because
of the growing demand for care and domestic workers in Europe: The useful
role that female migrant labor plays in the contemporary restructuring of
welfare regimes and the feminization of key sectors of the service economy
accounts in a signicant way for a certain indulgence by neoliberal govern-
ments and for the deceptive compassion of nationalist parties towards
migrant women (and not migrant men).(Farris 2012, 194) As Muslim
women make up signicant portions of female migrant care laborers, and
play the role of a synecdoche for the European stereotype of the female
immigrant, Farris argues, they are being instrumentalized by far-right
parties who co-opt feminist ideals into anti-immigrant and anti-Islam cam-
paigns(186f.). This argument is based on a number of debatable assump-
tions. First, it generalizes the position Muslim women tend to take in the
division of (care) labour. Second, it misreads the far-rights instrumentalization
of feminist discourses as a genuine compassion of nationalist parties towards
migrant women (and not migrant men)(194). And nally, Farris does not
explain why femo-nationalism takes the form of a specically anti-Muslim dis-
course. In contrast to the explanation oered by her, Muslim womens role as
immigrant care workers play no role at all in the interviews conducted for this
study. In fact, in Austrian far-right anti-Muslim discourse, Muslim women are
frequently denigrated because they supposedly do not perform useful
care work: Norbert Hofer, the current leader of the FPÖ, asked his supporters
during his campaign for the Presidency of Austria in 2016: Has anyone of you
ever seen a Muslim working in the care sector, who is willing to perhaps
change our elderliesdiapers? I dont know any.(cit. in Die Presse, November
16, 2016).
In contrast to FarrisMarxist-feminist concept of femo-nationalism, analyses
of homo-nationalism mostly draw on Deleuzian theories of assemblage and
aect (Puar 2013). They do not share the shortcomings identied in Farris
work on femo-nationalism. However, we encounter a dierent problem
here. Analyses of homo-nationalist revolve around color-coded articulations
of racism, where homo-nationalism serves to naturalize the whiteness of
dominant gender and sexual politics, and the ways in which these have
often been complicit in colonial and racist projects(Petzen 2012, 99, my
emphasis). But in the versions of Islamophobia discussed in this article, we
do not nd colonial and color-coded versions of racism. Whiteness does not
play a role in the statements analysed above. Even if we accept that a critical
concept of whitenessis not necessarily linked to phenotype or skin colour,
its analytical power derives from its construction as a racial category.
However, I suggest that we need to take the reality of racism without
racesseriously. As I have argued elsewhere, Islamophobia can function as
a racism which is genuinely and literally one without races, i.e. operating
in dierent, and sometimes historically older, registers of othering, hierarchi-
sation and exclusion such as the civilised versus the barbarian(Opratko
2017, 80). The othering of Muslims as, for example, intrinsically homophobic
(cf. Haritaworn 2015) does not, in our case, constitute a white subject, but a
progressive, tolerant, free and civilized in short: liberal subject. This is
important, not least because it might be precisely the decoupling of colo-
nial/color-coded attributions from anti-Muslim racism that allows agents to
participate in the reproduction of liberal Islamophobia. In other words, only
the fact that it does not have to identify itself as white enables the liberal
non-Muslim subject to invest symbolically, aectively and materially into
anti-Muslim racism. Finally, I claim that the temporalizing dimension in
liberal Islamophobia is much more signicant here than in both Farrisand
Puars accounts. When the journalist quoted above says that she knows all
about this, she does not refer to actual Muslim families living in Austria
today. What she does know all aboutis patriarchal structures that she, as
a Non-Muslim Austrian, has supposedly left behind her. Her emancipation is
a completed act: I liberated myself exactly from this. The Muslim Other
remains trapped in the Non-Muslims past. It is this structure of argument
that allows people self-identifying as liberal, feminist or progressive even
very far left, as the respondent in interview 2 represented his own position
to invest in anti-Muslim discourse.
The temporalization of the Muslimworks not only via references to
1968,Kreiskyor other signiers for emancipation, but can exibly incor-
porate a variety of dierent historical markers. The following quote, from a
catholic conservative journalist, indicates as such. It is part of a longer
passage in which he reects on what he sees as the main dierences
between Christianity and Islam. In this context, he states:
That process is now going on within Islam, where they learn to be just one part,
and not being one hundred percent right in everything And yes, thatsan
eternal problem, for Christians too! Our religion is, in my opinion, in our
opinion, salvation and the ne plus ultra, but I still accept the fact that other
people practise other religions. We cannot solve this completely. We have
learned that somehow, painfully, the hard way [wir haben viel auf die Mütze
bekommen”–“we got slapped on our heads a lot], and now the Muslims are
learning it the hard way [are getting slapped on their heads](Interview 4, m)
While the topic of liberalitydoes play a role here as well, the dominant his-
torical point of reference is not 1968, but European secularization. That
process, as the respondent calls it, is represented as a painfulone a
claim amplied by the metaphor auf die Mütze bekommen”–“getting
slapped on the head”–but one he sees as completed as far as Christianity
is concerned. The gure of the Muslim as a subject of the not yet”–in this
case, as having not yet learned the lesson of secularization emerges as an
element in the common sense of a more traditional, Christian intellectual.
Another element of the discursive mechanism of historization is the open
or latent fear of falling back in time. This can be illustrated by segments
from another interview. Reecting on the role media should play in covering
what he called culture clashesearlier in the interview, this journalist
becomes observably agitated, speaking louder and with stronger Viennese
dialect than before:
And thats my personal point! We are reviving no, we are not reviving, there is
now, suddenly, in our society, which painstakingly struggled so much to dis-
tance itself from from a totally authoritarian society, authoritarian upbringing,
from xenophobia, from anti-Semitism, and now we have all of this all over again!
We have to start again, from the very beginning, with a signicant part of the
population now! This is something that makes me a bit desperate. As
someone who fought against prejudice, against authoritarian thinking and
fought, in part at least I think, successfully, in my segment at least, in the
segment of middle-class [bürgerliches] Austria and now all of this is coming
back! Yes, now we have it all again, these, these slogans on the street, and
this worshipping of an authoritarian leader [Führer] again. That is a little trou-
blesome. (Interview 5, m)
Two signicant historical points of reference emerge in this segment. One is,
again, the post-68 era, in this case represented as a struggle of our society
against authoritarianism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism; the other one,
closely connected to the rst, is Nazism and the Holocaust. The rst is pre-
sented above all as a struggle against the legacy of the second one. The func-
tion of the Muslim Otheris, again, to refer to the invasion of the past into the
present: Wehave defeated fascism and its legacies, but now theyare
bringing it back and, as he puts it, we have to start all over again. The refer-
ence to the Führerat the end of this quote is particularly interesting. The
interview was conducted days after Recep Tayyib Erdoğan spoke in front of
a large crowd in Vienna, a visit that also provoked a protest march organized
by Turkish and Kurdish opposition parties and organizations. Large parts of
media coverage was predicated on the idea that the Turkswere dragging
their conicts onto Austrias streets. If we read the passage carefully, the
link drawn between Erdoğan and Hitler is not so much a statement about
the Turkish President, but about those who voice their support for him on
the streets of Vienna. He starts by claiming that all of this is coming back
and uses the phrase againtwo times in the following sentence, referring
to a return of Austrias Nazi past. It doesnt seem far-fetched that the
slogans on the streetand worshipping of a Führer, alludes to the historical
event, very present in Austrianscollective memory, when Hitler declared Aus-
triasAnschlussto the German Reich on March 15th 1938 in front of hun-
dreds of thousands of cheering supporters on Viennas Heldenplatz. It has
been frequently noted in Islamophobia Studies that one important eect of
Islamophobia in Europe, especially in German speaking countries, is the
symbolic displacement of Antisemitism, singling out Muslims as bearers of
contemporary Antisemitism (Attia 2013,12.; Müller-Uri 2014, 120.). This
observation can be integrated into the broader context of the temporalization
of the Muslim Other and related to the construction of the Muslim as a folk
devil from our past. Not having learned the lessonsof the Holocaust,
Muslims represent the threat of a return of authoritarianism and anti-Semitism
and thus the danger of society as a whole falling back into theirtime,
which is at the same time ourpast. This topos can be further illustrated
by the next and nal example. This journalist mentions that when it comes
to topics such as a possible ban of Islamic veiling, this is not a question of
lower class, upper class, middle class, but I think this is in principle, this is
of interest to everyone(Interview 6, m). When asked why, he continues:
Because it [support for a ban] is precisely not just based on xenophobia, but also
on the question: Do we have a part of the population, did we get a population,
through migration, that sets us back in our striving for a better, more emanci-
pated society? Thats the big question in the more educated layers of society,
and it is also something I discuss with friends. (Interview 6, m)
Here we nd the threatening presence of the non-coeval Muslim Other in its
clearest form. Again, the temporalizing markers are obvious the Muslim
migrant population sets us back”–as is the historical reference: In this
case, Austrias history of migration. The fact that the backwardnessof
Muslims is not only elsewhere”–in what is often revealingly, as if it were a
distant planet, referred to as the Muslim world”–but, crucially, within our
society, adds a specic element to the historization of Muslims. Because
theyare among us”–oscillating, as Tyrer (2013, 41) remarks, between
invisibilityand hypervisibility”–the construction of temporal dierence
implies not just a logic of colonial pedagogy, in which the Other is to be
raised into modernity, but also the existential threat of a reversal of modernity
itself. That Europe –“our civilisation”–might descend back into the darkness
of barbarianism. The Muslim folk devil threatens, through its sheer presence,
to displace our societyinto the timeframe of the Other; to make Uscoeval
with the sexist, homophobe, anti-Semitic, violent, in short: barbaric Other. The
folk devils summoned in contemporary liberal Islamophobia are, it turns out,
the devils from ourown past.
Historicist racism and the dream life of a culture
The logic of this ideological formation is similar to some versions of historical
and contemporary racisms, and quite dierent from others. Following up on
comments by Fatima El-Tayeb (2016, 45) and Vassilis Tsianos and Marianne
Pieper (2011, 120), I claim that the example of racial historicismcan help
us make sense of contemporary liberal Islamophobia. David Theo Goldberg
(2002,2008) introduced this term to capture racist tropes which conceived
of the non-European as historically immature in contrast to European
culture and ethos rather than as naturally inferior to Europeans and their des-
cendants(Goldberg 2008, 163). While not identical, there are dynamics at
work in contemporary discourse about Muslims and Islam which are strikingly
similar to racial historicism. Because they do not rely on the category of race
and do not involve a process of racialization(cf. Hund 2012), I prefer to use
the term historicist racismto refer to the discursive mechanism portrayed
above, rather than Goldbergs original racial historicism.
In contemporary
hegemonic discourse about Islam in Austria, Muslims are interpellated as
not only immature, but as in a profound sense non-contemporaneous: As sub-
jects of the not yet. They are not yet where wehave arrived, they have not
yet gone through ourstruggles, and, most importantly, they have not yet
learned the lessons of what are assumed to be the dening historical
markersthat constitute the cornerstones of European civilization and/or
Austrian national identity. The Muslim Other is thus constructed as a folk
devil, abjected from what Morgan and Poynting, who introduced the
concept of a Muslim folk devilin Islamophobia studies, called imagined
moral communities(Morgan and Poynting 2012, 6). At the same time,
there is quite some variation as to which struggles and lessons exactly are
dening the boundaries of these communities. I interpret this as one mechan-
ism allowing the broad appeal of Islamophobia.
In her book on the Muslim question, Anne Norton (2013, 1) writes that
[t]he Jewish question was fundamental for politics and philosophy in the
Enlightenment. In our time, as the Enlightenment fades, the Muslim ques-
tion has taken its place. In this sense we can speak of the discourse articu-
lated around the Muslim Question as a mythical space. According to
Ernesto Laclau, a mythicalspace of representation functions as a
surface on which dislocations and social demands can be inscribed. The
main feature of a surface of inscription is its incomplete nature(Laclau
1990, 63). Here, this incompleteness emerges as an openness, allowing
actors with various histories, political allegiances, and class positions, to
investinto anti-Muslim narratives. At the same time, as Stuart Hall
argued following Claude Lévi-Strauss, the myths conjured up by racist ideol-
ogies give us privileged access to the dream life of a culture(Hall 1992,
15). The mechanisms of Othering that are constitutive of racist discourse,
he insists, involve more than just the construction of a world of manichean
opposites: them and us, primitive and civilized, light and dark, a black and
white symbolic universe(15). It is more complicated than that, because
they are also, at the same time, mechanisms of splitting, of projection, of
defense, and of denial(16) operating within the seemingly hermetical,
pure category of Us. In a myth, contradictions unresolved in real life are
reconciled in a phantasmatic representation, where real contradictions are
transformed into a dichotomy of opposites, and all that is undesirable, or
unbearable, is projected onto the Other.
We nd in contemporary liberal Islamophobia an unspoken, mythical
premise. The representation of European struggles against (hetero-)sexism,
patriarchy, and authoritarianism, as a success story. The project of liberation is
constructed as completed, just as the story of the Enlightenment is presented
as a smooth process of emancipation from ecclesial authority, cleansed of its
racist, sexist and colonial entanglements (Dhawan 2014). This operates as a
mythin Halls sense. In historicist racism, the Muslim folk devil represents
that which the hegemonic narrative of individual and collective emancipation
cannot accommodate: the continued presence of sexism, patriarchal violence,
and authoritarianism in Austrian, European and Westernsociety. The con-
struction of the Muslim folk devil as a devil from our pastrefers to the
impasse that struggles for political emancipation nd themselves in today,
and projects it onto an external Other.
While the arguments presented here build on the analysis of a specic case
and distinct empirical material, they can contribute to a wider, international
debate on the nature and development of contemporary Islamophobia or
anti-Muslim racism. Following the Gramscian conjuncturalist framework of
analysis discussed above, we can treat journalists as minor organic intellec-
tuals, and their statements as indicative of current hegemonic relations.
This is particularly relevant as anti-Muslim historicist racism in the name of
emancipation and progress feeds into a wider discursive eld, where author-
itarian political forces thrive on illiberal Islamophobia. The analysis of liberal
variants of Islamophobia is also a necessary element for developing a better
understanding of the recent rise of authoritarian populisms and the current
authoritarian turn within neoliberalism(Boo, Saad-Filho and Fine 2018,
247). How liberal and illiberal Islamophobia interact in this process is a ques-
tion further research might address productively in light of the arguments
oered in this article.
1. I prefer the term anti-Muslim racism over the more common, Islamophobia’–
even though the latter has emerged as the most widely used and dening
term to counter the, eect of exceptionalising Islamophobia by disarticulating
it from wider expressions or racismthat David Tyrer (2013, 22) has recently
lamented. However, as there is no putting the genie back in the bottle, with
the concept having taken root in public, political and academic discourseat
least in the Anglophone world (Bleich 2011, 1584), I will use Islamophobia
and anti-Muslim racisminterchangeably, while stating that I consider Islamo-
phobia as a form of racism. For a detailed discussion of the relationship
between racism and Islamophobia, and an argument for the integration of Isla-
mophobia in a broad denition of racism, see Müller-Uri and Opratko (2016).
2. In a somewhat ironic turn of events, Peter Pilz had to give up his parliamentary
seat in November 2017, after several women publicly accused him of sexual
3. All quotes are taken from interviews. Journalists and their employers were anon-
ymized. mor findicate the respondents gender. The interviews were con-
ducted in German; all translations are mine.
4. Goldberg (2008, 43) himself has argued that in todays neoliberal capitalism, civi-
lity, and the accompanying dichotomy of, savageversus, civilized, has become
the genteel analogue of what earlier and elsewhere I have elaborated as the
expanding hold of racial historicism on modernizing racial imaginaries across
the globe.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.
This work was supported by Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften: [DOC-
Stipendium] and by the Open Access Publishing Fund of the University of Vienna.
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